“Homecoming” finally reaches its conclusion in “Southern Bastards” #14 — and “finally,” because this series is so goddamn good that the year-long stretch to complete this arc felt even longer; Jasons Aaron and Latour make such a gripping, nasty piece of fiction that the time between issues feels more like withdrawal than waiting. Regardless, this chapter is a big move for the series, heralding the Craw County arrival of a character we’ve been waiting on for almost 2 years. Roberta Tubb is here and she’s just as stubborn as her father, which is great news for readers.
Aaron’s characters are nasty people. Craw County is filled with the filthiest, most awful racists, full of entitlement and misplaced pride in their ignorance. The writer pushes them to the brink of redemption, only to pull it back at the last moment. For example, Roberta returns to Earl’s dilapidated home, which is desecrated by his thieving neighbors and filthy dog. This neighbor is a nasty father, who is clearly okay with robbing a dead man as well as beating on his son for merely eavesdropping on his conversation. Roberta sees it and files it. Later, when she kicks the tar out of the guy — just like you knew she would, since this is “Bastards” we’re talking about — she turns to the kid and tries to make friends with him, showing him his father isn’t as big and strong as his mouth makes him sound. The kid’s reaction is to call her a racial epithet and walk away. This is the teachable moment, which — in most books — would be one of empowerment for the kid. Instead, Roberta learns just what, exactly, she’s fallen into.
This is exactly what’s so great about this book: it’s real. Things like ingrained racism don’t just go away cleanly. Aaron hasn’t been afraid to hold up the mirror that shows us the darkest parts of society. No one is a saint, period. Likewise, Roberta could have handled the whole situation differently but chose to treat it like a combat situation. After spending years in Afghanistan, she’s bred for war. Again, these things don’t go away cleanly; Roberta won’t suddenly stop thinking like a soldier just because she’s not on the battlefield. Even her inner monologue is full of instructions to herself, a drill sergeant for an army of one.
The issue is a great introduction to a character who’s cast a large shadow over the series after only a single on-page appearance. She’s dropped into the story in a smaller setting, which Aaron uses to give readers a feel for who she is and how she handles stress. Just like her old man, she hops in the pickup and heads into the County to find out just how, exactly, her father died in a town full of assholes.
Latour’s art looks a little different in this issue. It doesn’t dramatically change his style; the linework just feels tighter. The colors are brighter, using a wider palette than the series has to this point, indicating a ray of hope shaped like Roberta Tubbs, though there’s still plenty of the deep reds and sapped out yellows the series has featured since its launch.
Latour’s work gets readers to really see the world through his eyes, like the red-drenched shot of the overstuffed mailbox or the final look at the truck driving into the county as the sun sets. His sense of action is great; Roberta’s reaction to what the neighbor’s kid calls her conveys the just right amount of shock.
Every issue of Aaron and Latour’s “Southern Bastards” is a trip down the nastiest road you could take. It’s a dark book full of scared people driven by fear, but Aaron and Latour position Roberta as a character for whom living in fear has never been an option. Earl tried that once, and it got his head caved in by the high school football coach. Now that Coach Boss is even more unstable following the Homecoming loss — he drunkenly beat the hell out of a high school kid after the game, after all — Craw County is headed for a bloody showdown. Lucky for us, we get a front row seat.