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The death of Earl Tubb, which drew the first arc to its thunder-clapping conclusion, took many by surprise and left many of us wondering where writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour could go next. I certainly didn’t expect that they would dive headfirst into the backstory of Euless Boss, established as the early villain, with such verve. The quality of the story-telling has shaken the shackles of the changed perspective and given us another engrossing tale of bad men, the things they care about, and the things they’re willing to do for them.
The remarkable talent of this creative team effectively irons out the wrinkles that might otherwise detract from the enjoyment of the comic. At least from a script standpoint this arc is much more “by the book” than the previous one. Aaron whose stories normally stay far away from stereotypes, relies on some overused clichés to deliver definition and detail to the story. In lesser hands, this reliance on, say, a daddy who refuses to acknowledge that his son could amount to anything, would drag the story into a quagmire of pent up aggression. But the whole experience feels more genuine than that and Aaron has made the baddest bastard of all, Coach Boss, into an empathetic anti-hero who we can’t help but grit our teeth and cheer for.
Most enjoyable this issue is Latour’s impressive visuals, which bring a moodiness and anger to the book. The tone and atmosphere of this series has been encapsulated so perfectly by Latour that seeing this story through any other lens would seem wrong at this point. Each page and panel is framed to show the violence and misery that are the cornerstones of Southern Bastards. The final page especially, showing a proud man brought low by the only thing he cares about, is strikingly powerful and perfectly conveys the gravitas of the moment.
It seems like the Coach Boss arc is following a predictable path but it is interesting to note that the strength of the setting and the atmosphere of this series can keep it interesting despite an unsurprising plot. It’s unusual for Aaron not to turn conventions on their heads but there is still time for this story to take some compelling twists but so far it hasn’t taken as many chances as I think readers would expect. Until story manages to recapture the terse tenacity of the artwork I expect excitement around this series to wane a bit after the fever pitch it reached with the stellar conclusion to the first arc.
Strong art and a unique atmosphere prevent “Southern Bastards #7” from slipping into a sinkhole of familiar story beats. A weak plot and some predictable characters represent an earlier stumble for this series but Latour’s art shows no signs of weakness yet and Aaron’s dialogue has yet to miss a beat. Making Coach Boss anything even remotely resembling a sympathetic figure is an achievement in and of itself as well and this creative team has somehow managed to pull that off. Don’t give up on these bastards yet, this issue might not be a masterpiece but it still shows plenty of signs that this series still has some life left in it.
“Southern Bastards #7” earns 7/10