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In the first issue of Southern Bastards, a new Image Comics series from Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, we were introduced to Earl Tubb, a man who had grown up in the small Southern town Craw County, where everyone is obsessed with football and the place is rife with crime. He’s returned to pack up a house but finds himself involved in a physical altercation while defending someone he knew in high school. In issue #2 of Southern Bastards, Aaron and Latour give us a wider picture of the town as Tubb again flirts with leaving but seems to be getting more entrenched.
The central scene of this issue takes place at the high school football game. The local Rebels are coached by a man known as “Coach Boss,” who seems to be the crime kingpin in town. Earl attends the game just to see him, but when Dusty, the high school friend Earl defended in issue #1, shows up at the game and walks onto the field, having been savagely beaten, Earl ends up confronting Coach, accusing him of having a hand in Dusty’s beating. The standoff is short but seems like it will be the first of many between the men.
After Dusty dies from his injuries, Earl goes to the police, trying to implicate Coach Boss. However, the sheriff isn’t too receptive since Dusty was himself a lowlife criminal who had been frequently arrested and most of the town believes Coach to be an important pillar of the community. After Earl finds out that the sheriff played for Coach, he leaves, assuming that the sheriff is corrupt. While that might be the case, and Coach does seem to be a shady figure, Aaron and Latour make it credible that the sheriff has a legitimate argument. Dusty was a criminal and Earl has no evidence that Coach was involved. Why should the sheriff believe Earl?
As I mentioned in my review for issue #1 of Southern Bastards, it seem like Aaron and Latour are reaching for a story with some morally-questionable characters, and I hope that this is where the series goes. In my opinion, the promising premise of this series will be underserved if this turns into the type of story where Earl is the good guy underdog, Coach is the powerful villain, and our hero has to stand for justice even though the odds are against him. While there is nothing wrong with that type of story (and I think Southern Bastards can even involve some of those elements), it’s a very familiar trope, especially in comic books. A story with ambiguous morality and unpredictable characters feels more exciting, and I think it would be wise for Southern Bastards to head in that direction.
As with Southern Bastards #1, the art is really interesting in issue #2. It’s scratchy in a way that feels both raw and polished. Latour also has a knack for making characters look distinctive. The cover features Coach Boss in those tiny shorts that adult (often overweight) football coaches sometimes wear, and it’s a great detail. Similarly, in the issue, while on the sideline in the game, Coach Boss is wearing a short-sleeve dress shirt with a tie but also a baseball-style hat with the Rebels’ logo. This does feel like the type of thing an old-fashioned high school football coach in the south would wear. Like with issue #1, Latour excels in his use of colors. The deep reds that are so prevalent in the football scene (because they are on the uniforms and fans’ wardrobes) also link up with the bloodied Dusty, who wanders onto the field.
At this point, Southern Bastards has had two strong debut issues, but some character questions are creeping into my mind. Why is Earl so insistent on getting involved? If he suspects that the town is run in an underhanded way by Coach Boss, why does he hope to accomplish by intervening? I think Aaron and Latour have answers, likely related to Earl’s late father, a legendary police officer. So I suspect Earl’s motivations and intentions become clearer as the first arc progresses.