A look at what Image is offering this week, including Southern Bastards #1, Black Science #6 and Deadly Class #4.
Southern Bastards #1
I’ve been a fan of Jason Aaron ever since I first read Scalped, his original series for Vertigo, which, if you’ve never picked it up, you really should. Scalped was the story of Dashiel Bad Horse, a young Native American man who, years after leaving, returns to the South Dakota reservation where he grew up, finding that as much as things change, they have stayed the same. Besides being an excellent story – set against a decades old shooting of FBI agents on the reservation, loosely based on the Pine Ridge incident – Scalped managed to raise very real issues in a thoughtful and intelligent manner, touching on poverty, alcoholism, gambling and the strain between traditionalism and modernization present in reservation life.
All of which is to say that I was excited for Southern Bastards, Aaron’s creator-owned work from Image. I’ve long been of the view that the Deep South is one of the most readily dismissed and least understood areas of these United States, at least when it comes to its depiction in popular culture, which typically falls somewhere on the spectrum between caricature and stereotype. So the idea of Aaron, a native Alabamian, giving the South a similar treatment to Dashiel’s South Dakota reservation piqued my interest, to say the least. If nothing else can be said for Aaron – and plenty else can be – he is willing to take the risk of writing about characters who, in other writers’ hands, would become simple tropes, instead attacking easy stereotypes head-on and addressing their root genesis with very real and honest characters.
Having read through the first issue of Southern Bastards, it is clear that Aaron and artist Jason Latour are on the right path to telling a gripping, character-driven crime drama, but also giving life to the Deep South in a way that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been done in comics. Southern Bastards is the story of Earl Tubb, a sexagenarian (or thereabouts) who returns to his family home in Craw County, Alabama, after decades away, his parents long dead and his uncle, who had been living in Tubb’s parents home, shipped off to a nursing home. With the house empty, Tubb is set to quickly clear the home and leave – only three days, he claims. But on arriving, Tubb sees that the town he grew up in – that his father was the heavy-handed sheriff of — is now awash with crime, subject to the whims of someone referred to as the “Coach.”
Issue #1 primarily sets the scene for the series, giving us glimpses of the acrimonious place that Craw County has become, while hinting at Tubb’s past and the role of his sheriff father in eradicating pervasive crime throughout the county. In just one issue, Aaron manages to create Tubb as a conflicted character, pushing against the weight of his roots in Craw County with his desire to move on, burdened by conflicting pulls of duty and personal desire, as well as broader concepts, such as the influence of religion and Confederate pride, that we can expect to run throughout the series.
Certainly, fans of Scalped will feel some thematic familiarity, as Southern Bastards is about returning home, growth versus stagnation, and the weights of family and history. But while Scalped always held a degree of the sanctity about its subject matter, Southern Bastards has an air of familiarity that can only be offered by someone who has intimate familiarity with the subject matter. Moments of stark honesty or irreverence come through with striking ease, almost as if Aaron is more ruminating on, or poking fun at, himself more than his characters. And there is no small bit of wistful nostalgia in Aaron’s writing, that strange sense of pride about a hometown that someone feels, notwithstanding a lifetime trying to escape from it. The end result is a promising start to what will be a coarse, character-driven crime drama giving honest life to the Deep South.
I also read this week:
Black Science #6. This series keeps getting stronger and stronger, with #6 the best to date, leaving us with a painful cliffhanger as this book slips into a brief break before returning in July. Rick Remender’s writing is tight throughout, with the inner monologue of protagonist Grant MacKay moving between profound and touching. And just reading this series, you can tell how much fun art team Matteo Scalera and Dean White are having making new, different worlds each issue; for #6, they indulge themselves in a world of monkey-like warrior creatures that are possessed by ghostly spirits grown in plant-like orbs.
Deadly Class #4. This week is a strong week for Mr. Remender. Deadly Class has been a series that I’ve been going back and forth on, as there are some elements that are just fantastic – namely the lead character who, when given his due, is engaging and funny and heartbreaking all at once – and others that just don’t resonate for me, such as the idea of a high school for assassins, which just feels too cute for its own good. All of which may be why I liked #4 as much as I did. In this ode to Hunter S. Thompson, which is always an easy sell for me, Marcus Lopez and a handful of his classmates hit the road to Vegas, loaded down with mind-altering substances and a pistol. This was simply a fun issue to read, and puts me back on the Deadly Class wagon, at least for now.