Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason LaTour
Publisher: Image Comics
There aren’t a lot of comics that could make a stick the thrilling hero we’ve all been waiting for, but then again there aren’t a lot of comics as stone cold great as Southern Bastards right now. After two issues introducing us to Earl Tubb and his return to his corrupted hometown, Craw County, the third issue of Jason Aaron’s and Jason Latour’s Image Comics series delivers what we’ve all been waiting for: a beat-down of some bastards with a giant Alabama stick. As wizened and fiercely tough as Earl has seemed so far, man, that beating stick fits him like adamantium claws fit Wolverine.
Of course, Earl has good reason to be laying down southern vigilante justice. “Southern Bastards #2” revealed Coach Boss and his football lackeys were responsible for the brutal murder of Earl’s former friend, and after Earl discovered even the Craw County sheriff was in Coach Boss’s back pocket it became time to take matters into his own hands. I’ve said this in previous reviews, but Southern Bastards continues to bring to mind FX’s Justified, although with more of an emphasis on the cruel heat of the South. Replace much of the playfulness of Harlan County with fried pie and American high school football, and replace Raylon Givens’s cocksure swagger with a forlorn Vietnam vet, and you have the heart of where Southern Bastards carves its own trail.
“Southern Bastards #3” is essentially the issue you’ve seen coming since Earl Tubb wheeled into town, and Aaron and Latour don’t waste a second delivering the goods. The first half of the book is a man, his bat, and his vengeance, and hell hath no fury like a linebacker scorned. Tubb’s toughness and moral compass are well documented at this point, very much old man Wolverine with a touch of the Punisher mixed in, but the real star of this issue is the stick. We’ve heard rumor of the stick throughout the first two issues, and of course we’ve seen it in reference to Earl’s dad (who apparently carried a bat signed by Bear Bryant when he was sheriff of Craw County) but actually seeing it lay a whooping is a new treat. Jason Latour draws the ever-loving heck out of the bat, giving it a life of its own as it bends, twists, whooshes, and smashes up some of Coach Boss’s thugs. If it seems like I’m obsessed with this awesome choice of raw weaponry, I’m not the only one; Coach Boss’s thugs can’t stop talking about the stick either.
The lone knock on Southern Bastards so far is simply that all the beats are playing out like you’d expect them to. I’m not saying I have the plot down note for note (and the ending of “Southern Bastards #3” here is a great example of a curveball), but on a macro-level it’s unclear what kind of a shelf life this book could have. Issue #3 felt very much like the big moment we’ve been building towards. There’s a moment in the first episode of the final season of Breaking Bad when Walt comes face to face with another main character (just in case you haven’t seen it) in what feels like the ultimate confrontation. For Breaking Bad, it felt like the showdown the series might end with, and the fact that they tackled it so early in the final season was both thrilling in the moment and because of the futures it revealed. If this confrontation isn’t truly the ultimate showdown… then what twists and turns do we have in store?
Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
This is where we leave off with “Southern Bastards #3.” Earl has a final boss showdown with the big bad Coach Boss, and undoubtedly that will take some time to build. But with Boss’s men on the hunt for a vigilante Tubb already, there’s no way we can go back to the relative calm of Tubb simply inhabiting the same Craw County as these crooks. Does he become a Mountain Man and roam in with his bat for ceremonious beatings? Does he win out against Coach Boss and become the new sheriff in town? Does he lose and Southern Bastards takes a new direction with a heavy shift towards the Bastards? The thrill is in the possibilities of one of the best comic books on the stands.