“Southern Bastards” #8 wraps up the series’ second story arc, a flashback to when Coach Euless Boss was still a high school student playing football in a town that hates him because of his family. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour continue to walk a perfect line between evoking sympathy and revulsion for Boss, who was unmistakably the villain of the first story arc.
Throughout the “Gridiron” storyline, we’ve watched as Boss desperately tried to pull himself out of his awful father’s shadow. Tainted by his last name, Boss succeeds against all odds; not only has he made it to the football team, but he’s the most feared player. He’s able to confront his feared father and take control of his own life. What’s so great about this is that Boss is a character who most readers loathed throughout the first four issues of this comic but, here, it’s almost impossible to keep from cheering him on. We’ve seen the character rise up and pull away from the unfair reputation cast onto him; for a brief shining moment, he’s making something better from his life. In any other hands, this story might have been about how Boss succeeded despite the swirling cloud of negativity around him.
What makes “Southern Bastards” #8 work so well, though, is that Aaron is able to flip this story in the blink of an eye. As Boss’s life comes crashing back down around him, we see a series of truly awful events unfold. Some of them are unfair and show that, no matter how hard Boss tries, the deck has been stacked against him. Some of them are, unfortunately, Boss taking everything awful that people think about him and running with it. It’s a horrible turning point for the character; he had a chance to break free once and for all and, instead, the town continued to treat him so badly that their punishment is stuck with him. Craw County created Euless Boss to be the awful man that he is in the present day and, in the end, Craw County deserves him. By the end of the issue, you’ll remember just why you hated the character so much in the first story arc, even as you now understand how he became that way. It’s masterful storytelling and I’ve found myself that much more engaged in the series as a whole; a slavering, evil, one-dimensional villain gets tiring quickly, but Coach Boss is fearful because we know what made him that way and how truly dangerous he is as a result.
It doesn’t hurt matters that Latour’s art is killing it on every single page. Just look at page 2, which serves as the title page for the comic. The top third of the page moves the reader’s eyes across the panel perfectly; you start with Daddy Boss, then move (with impeccable perspective) from his craggy face along the barrel of the shotgun, to where Euless Boss’s head is directly in the line of fire. Daddy Boss’ eyes are little hard dots, squinting down the line-of-sight to his son, while Euless’s head is turned to the side, eyes closed, unable to look at him. The red tinge that suffuses the panel is gorgeous, giving a hazy bloodshot look to the entire scene. Even Jared K. Fletcher’s lettering placement is in perfect sync, the three balloons moving down the length of the barrel to help move you along. When you get the two panels below — first with Euless’s desperate plea, and then the title card for the issue to create a forced pause in the narrative that lets what just happened sink in — you end up with a page that truly understands how sequential art works.
“Southern Bastards” #8 is a dynamite comic, one that gets the language of comics and tells us a dramatic, hard-to-put-down story. I’m already eager for the series’ next arc to kick off this summer; Aaron and Latour’s journey into rural Alabama has just gotten more terrifying and enthralling with each new installment. If you aren’t reading “Southern Bastards” yet, take advantage of this break in the action and catch up. It’s not just well worth it; it’s bordering on required reading. Check it out.