Southern Bastards #1 Review

Jason Aaron (w), Jason Latour (a)

Jason Aaron is a writer I’ve always had trouble warming up to.  His work tends to be great at evoking a strong atmosphere and sense of place, but it often falters a bit for me when it comes down to really telling a great story, relying on rehashed pop culture mash-ups and fairly basic genre tropes to drive his books. But, man, what he can do when he really sits down and builds a setting…Whether it’s the Rez from Scalped, another rural noir focusing heavily on ideas of poverty, crime, and family or the elaborately constructed Jean Grey School for Higher Learning in Wolverine and the X-Men, Aaron is excellent at crafting a place and then giving it a sense of community that feels vibrant and alive.

Thankfully, Southern Bastards #1 is all atmosphere and place – and all the better for it. Earl’s father was once the Sheriff of a small Alabama town, a local hero who took down a gang, in true Stand Tall fashion, with nothing more than grit and a big ol’ stick. Earl left decades back, though, his father dead and his family broken. Now, with no family left in Craw County, Earl has returned to deal with his father’s estate, but he’s in town for less than a day when the county’s criminal pull begins to draw him back in. It’s a slim story so far, but it’s in a genre Aaron is familiar (and talented) with, and he’s brought his considerable gifts to bear at making Craw County feel distinctive, starting with an opening two-page spread that’s at once wordlessly vulgar and surprisingly elegant at setting the mood.

Jason Latour is an artist who really brings out the best of Aaron’s talents. For a series so heavily dependent on its feel, it’s vital to have an artist with the flexibility to bring that world alive. Latour imbues Earl with a bone-deep weariness – look below, for example, at the slump of his shoulders; even his mustache seems tired – that tells us everything we need to know about the character for now, and a town that’s almost the physical embodiment of that exhaustion. I used to live in the South, and I’ve driven through Alabama a number of times, and while Latour’s art is stylized, he captures the feel of these small towns perfectly. His work lacks the shadowy menace that’s defined a lot of Vertigo’s crime books, Scalped included, opting to go with a slightly warmer color palette and less populous environments that really give Southern Bastards #1 a genuinely Southern feel.

There are a number of different things a good first issue can do to really sell the series. The most common (and easiest) are to just dive right into the story or main character, introducing the premise or taking us deep inside the head of someone interesting. While Aaron teases us with both, neither gets very fleshed out in this particular issue. Ultimately, Southern Bastards #1 creates a world worth exploring, regardless of anything else. It is through a strong evocation of place that we can see what kind of book we’ll be reading, common themes that will likely pop up. Aaron does a great job at bringing us to the edge there, but a series like this lives and dies on its artist’s ability to craft a place that feels real and lived-in, and Jason Latour absolutely knocks it out of the park. Southern Bastards is one to watch.

My Rating: 4.5 / 5

Southern Bastards 1

 

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