In a story that’s sure to make the Alabama Bureau of Tourism cringe, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour make sure they present the south exactly the way it’s feared to be by those who don’t know better. “Southern Bastards” #1 plays on the many irrational concerns of all who fear to tread there, complete with leg breaking thugs brandishing confederate tattoos, an inbred-looking kid sitting in a tree a la “Deliverance,” and the always-unfriendly local telling a hungry stranger in the city diner to get out of town. Similarities to actual persons might be purely coincidental, but similarities to actual stereotypes most definitely are not, as Aaron and Latour’s portrayal is clearly over the top, almost to the point of parody. It’s likely going to offend some die-hard southerners, sure, but it’s really a swipe at a state of mind, rather than the state itself.
The tongue-in-cheek attitude slams readers in the face like a hot, muggy night; on the very first page, a trio of roadside signs compete for which God-fearing church passers-by should attend on Sunday, with a mangy mutt doing his business in the foreground. The splash page sends a message, almost a disclaimer of sorts, that the stereotypes about to be seen should be interpreted as the steaming pile of lawn sausages that they are, and are only included for dramatic effect. The result is rather comical, as well, as a turn of the page shows a “no dumping” sign nearby, as a moving truck with a “Y’all Haul” logo on the back drives past. It’s a jab, to be sure, but it’s one that’s hard not to laugh at.
With the tone and nature of the story already established, Latour makes sure that the backstory is next, in the form of well-placed bits of info on signs, storefronts and wherever else possible when necessary. It’s clear almost immediately that central character Earl Tubb is returning to his small town home after a considerable amount of time away, and easy to see shortly thereafter that despite the apparent changes, the status quo of this sleepy town remains unchanged.
Latour inserts flashback panels from Tubb’s childhood in between those of present day, and explains the character’s motives in the process, using these flashes to tell exactly what needs to be known — nothing more and nothing less. This makes for a punchy, fast-moving summary that occurs in conjunction with the story’s progress; it’s an amazing writer/artist synergy that slowly increases the tension as Tubb faces the current incarnation of same threat that forever scarred his childhood.
There’s also a deliberate sense of ugliness given to the story; all of the characters looked gnarled and grizzled, and leave the impression that there’s not a dentist to be found in Craw County. Some characters looked like they’ve lived their entire lives at a truck stop or as a gang member. And a slice of fried pie doesn’t necessarily sound like a thing of health or beauty. Attitudes range from downtrodden to sinister to outright hostile; Aaron and Latour’s Alabama is not a place anyone would want to be, which is exactly their point, one that’s vividly made in its pronounced repulsiveness. In the real world, the state is known as the Heart of Dixie, but this alternate version is instead the armpit.
Aaron and Latour completely, and wisely, stay away from any racial topics, as their story isn’t about race or social issues; it’s about attitudes, and how the wrong ones on both the part of the observed and the observers can unfairly and negatively impact an entire region. “Southern Bastards” #1 beautifully shows how ugly such broad and misguided assumptions can be, and it’s an increasingly tense and captivating lesson.