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Southern Bastards, the crime series set in the American south from writer Jason Aaron and illustrator Jason Latour, is back after a shocking issue #4 and a short break. The first four issues of the series followed Earl Tubb as he comes back to Craw County, where he grew up and his late father is a law legend, but Earl finds it under the thumb of crime lord/high school football coach (yes, you read that right) Coach Boss. Earl tries to stand up to corruption and for his trouble gets straight murdered by the Coach.
Considering that the main protagonist of the series was brutally killed at the end of issue #4, I was curious to see where Aaron and Latour were going to take Southern Bastards #5. The issue is split in two story threads. One is the aftermath of the Tubb death and the other is some backstory about Coach. It turns out his name really is Boss – Euless Boss. Overall, Southern Bastards #5 is another really strong issue, delving into what makes Boss an interesting character in the way that Earl was.
One might think that there would be some repercussions to killing a man in public and in front of witnesses. However, Coach has the town under his control so completely that he has faced no blowback for his crime. Everyone has a different story about how Tubb died. When Earl’s ill uncle comes to the funeral (one of the few attendees), he is confused by the inconsistencies surrounding Earl’s death but mostly thrilled to meet the legendary Coach Boss.
The problem is that Coach doesn’t want people to ignore what he’s done. He wants to shove it in their faces. He thinks people are covering up because they want to forget what he’s done because they are ashamed of him. He wants instead for them to be afraid. So he goes to the BBQ joint he owns in town and places the murder weapon on the wall while ordering a slice of pie for everyone. It’s a sick but fascination moment for a character that has everything but still isn’t satisfied.
By contrast, the flashback of Euless Boss trying to make the football team is a little less stirring. It’s still well done and somewhat enlightening to see Boss being bullied so completely by the football coach and players. We learn that he comes from a broken home and that his mom may have been a prostitute. It also seems that Boss is not especially gifted at football, though he still refuses to quit.
This is the type of series that seems very collaborative on all levels – not just a matter of a writer handing an artist a script and the artists trying to figure out how to visualize it. So Latour is doing a lot here, and Southern Bastards #5 has a look that is slightly different than the previous issues because we’re following different characters in different locations. Latour still makes all of the faces look weathered and busted, and even throws in some great thematic moments, such as the establishing panels of Coach’s McMansion, followed a few pages later by the establishing panel of the broken-down Tubb house.
Killing off a major character isn’t exactly unusual in comic books (Wolverine being the latest example) and both Aaron and Latour are writing books at Marvel. Still, what they have done in Southern Bastards feels different. The end of issue #4 felt dramatic and risky, and it could have been a poor decision if Southern Bastards #5 fell flat. The Jasons must have known they had the story to sustain after Earl, and they were right. In Southern Bastards #5, they’ve reset the deck and established a really compelling different direction to take.