Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: June 17, 2015

Just over two months since Aaron and Latour wrapped up the second arc of their critically acclaimed Southern Bastards, the duo take readers back to Craw County for “Homecoming.” It’s Homecoming Week, the big game lies ahead, and the loss of a valued member of the staff hangs over everything. One of the best independent books around has returned, and it continues to hit all the sweet spots.

Southern Bastards isn’t your typical comic book, and that is one of the reasons it’s so great. Aaron and Latour killed off what appeared to be their main character at the end of the first arc, introduced his military daughter in the epilogue, and left readers chomping at the bit to find out what could possibly happen next. So of course the second arc focused strictly on Coach Boss, the book’s antagonist who has the entire county under his thumb, and murdered Earl Tubb in front of everyone. Not only did the arc focus on this man, but it made readers feel sympathy for the monster. As we head into the third arc we’ve come to expect the unexpected with this series, and that continues to hold true. Issue nine presents a stellar character study into yet another one of the citizens of Craw County. This time Sheriff Hardy gets the spotlight, and yet another fascinating cast member is explored.

The events of last issue where Coach Boss’ mentor Big committed suicide hangs over this issue, and seems like it will be the driving force behind this arc. The suicide informs the actions of everyone this issue, and illuminates each character wonderfully. It’s Homecoming Week, and that means it’s time for the Rebs to play Wetumpka County, so Coach Boss can hardly be bothered by the suicide, and only worries about how it will effect the game. Any sympathy readers may have gained for Boss over the past several issues is quickly evaporated when he is convinced that Big was murdered despite evidence to the contrary. What he does with that information is so manipulative and immoral that you can’t believe he would, until you remember everything else he has done. It just goes to show what a creative team can do when they slow down and take the time to craft complex characters. Yes, we know Coach Boss is a bad man, but we have been given plenty of reason to see it far more than just a black and white issue. This book is just as much about how Craw County, and its people have shaped one another over the years than it is anything else.

The tradition carries on as the focus character of this issue is Sheriff Hardy, the man that stood there and let Coach Boss walk away from killing Earl Tubb. He knows why Big killed himself, and it gets him thinking about his own life. Despite the plot moving relatively slowly because of the character studies, the creative team does a great job of tying every big moment back to the inciting incidents. Coach Boss kills Earl Tubb which leads to the origin story of Coach Boss. Big is ashamed of Coach Boss so he commits suicide which leads to Sheriff Hardy struggling to reconcile what has happened with his own conscience. Once again Aaron and Latour tell a tragic tale of a kid that gets stuck in the hellhole that is Craw County. Hardy’s story is especially tragic, as he could have gotten out. We find out why he stayed behind, and how it ties in to the events of last arc with Boss. Readers see a man pushed to his limits by a powerful man, and just as you start to wonder why Hardy deals with the crap he deals with he has enough. Then leave it to Aaron and Latour to pull a trick like one seen in the pilot episode of Mad Men to deliver a gut punch of a last page that explains so much, yet has you dreading what lies ahead.

There are ao many complex, wonderful characters in Craw County, and they all tie back together in way that allows for the story to be moved forward concurrent to these great character studies. The story may be moving too slow as a whole for some readers, but this is some of the most compelling character work being done in comics. Just when you think they are done getting into the minds of characters they go ahead and add what appears to be another major character to the mix. Craw County doesn’t just feel like a place where a few main characters live. It feels like its own character full of interesting people that can be fleshed out completely at any time in any issue. It is a structure that bodes well for continuing success, and a nice long run.

Jason Latour is the perfect artist for this book. Nine issues in, and I can’t imagine there ever being a possibility that he wouldn’t be the artist. I don’t know the book’s origin story, but I can’t imagine Jason Aaron ever having anybody else in mind, Latour has established a unique look for the book that can be picked out from a mile away, figuratively speaking. It feels distinctively of the American South without being too on the nose. The characters are weathered, and Coach Boss’ ugly mug stands out especially. The art also does a great job of conveying motion. Whether it’s on the football field or in a fight, Latour’s layouts in this regard are impressive. I think the best part about the art in this issue is the use of lighting and color. The scene in Big’s dark office with Coach Boss, the Sheriff, and Big’s dead body is a prime example. The only light is the light seeping through the window, and it leaves shadows on Coach Boss’ face. Not only does it look cool artistically, but it adds such a sense of dread to the scene, and makes an already frightening character in Coach Boss even more so. Then the way Latour uses the color red stands out. In the scene I just described it is Coach’s red shirt that sticks out. During the flashback sequences everything is in red, and it really pops off the page. It adds another distinct element to the title that helps it stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Southern Bastards is a great comic book. The ride might be a little slow for those that want to keep seeing the plot move ahead full throttle. That’s not the type of book Aaron and Latour have crafted here. Eventually there will be some reckoning, and shit will hit the fan. Along the way, this creative team are going to make sure we care about Craw County, and get to know her citizens, warts and all. This month it was Sheriff Hardy’s turn to be exposed to readers, and his story stands up right next to everything we’ve seen so far. He went from what seemed like a supporting character to what could be a main character in the span of one issue. The fact that Southern Bastards can pull that off is a beautiful thing.

The Verdict: 9.5/10

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