Earl Tubbs is dead. After the absolutely brutal sucker punch of an ending last issue, Coach Boss still controls town with an iron fist but the cracks, however tiny, are showing. "Southern Bastards" kicks off its second arc with a focus on Craw County's favorite high school football coach. It balances masterfully between an early scene that shows the tenacity and drive of the character and moves the story forward incrementally in the present with scenes that underline Boss' place in the county and his motivations for what he does.
After curb stomping our hero to death in the full light of day outside his restaurant, Coach Boss attends Earl's funeral and promises the family to pay for the burial. Afterwards he reflects on his recent and distant past, shedding some light on the whys behind the whats. For a moment, Jason Aaron makes readers feel for Boss -- flashing back to his scrawny days on the field, hitting a tackling dummy over and over after practice while his coach patiently explains that he isn't cut out for football, then seeing him tell the family that he'll pay for the funeral. All of that is erased in an instant as the reader is reminded about whom they are reading -- when asked about what should go on Earl's tombstone, Boss replies, "His daddy's says 'Here Was A Man.' I reckon Earl's oughta say 'Here Wasn't.'" It's a testament to Boss's need to not just win, but dominate. His coaching philosophy applies to his life. He is not satisfied with a W; it's ingrained deep within him that he has to be seen as the king of the mountain.Â
Boss is frustrated that the town has shown they will pretend that they never saw him execute Earl in the street with a whoopin' stick; he needs them to not just remember, but never forget. Coach Boss is a driven man, but that drive is rooted in deep lack of confidence. It fuels the rage that exploded out of him last issue, and it fuels the insane stunt he pulls later in the issue -- Boss walks in to his restaurant and mounts the stick on the wall like a tchotchke at Applebee's, a token of community to make everyone feel like they are one when they step in the doors. Only in this case, they are one underneath Boss's clenched championship fists.
Latour patiently paces the story with gritty focused artwork that accentuates the hard men in this hard tale. The lives of these characters run deep within the lines on their faces, the expressions showing how Boss affects them as he strides across the story. Boss's own expressions belie a man who may question the means to his ends -- when he says that it's not the first time he has killed a man, he's not only frustrated that he has to explain himself to one of his inferiors but also by the fact that he knows his rage won again, and that puts him in the Loss column.
There's no development on the tag from last issue but keeping Earl's daughter off the table for now helps the story. She remains a looming spectre in the mind of the reader, the comeuppance that the County needs and the vindication of Earl's life that he deserves. Allowing for the development of the side of the devils will only add to that build and make her arrival that much stronger. Month in and month out, "Southern Bastards" is a top-of-the-pile must read comic book that, much like Coach Boss, demands your attention. Grab the first collection, released this month, and catch up now.