• Southern Bastards #4


    Published by: Image Comics
    Released on: Sept. 3, 2014


    Just hopping into this series, I wasn’t sure what to expect; the opening page text, though, set me on the right path: After more than 40 years away, Earl Tubb came home to Craw County, Alabama. It hasn’t gone well.”

    [SPOILERS]

    This issue begins with Earl as a young man in Vietnam, fresh off the plane, getting some help from his sergeant. He promises to get Earl back home soon and safe but that’s not a place he wants to return at all, apparently.

    Cut to the present day and Earl sits on the trashed-out remains of his old house, the message spelled out plainly to him (in expletive-laden graffiti) that he’s not welcome there. He sits alone and sobs over this life and this present situation. He thinks to the badly beaten boy lying in a hospital bed, barely alive. He regrets it getting to this level and not leaving town sooner. But he knows that not everyone in that county can be just pure bastard so, not having any comforts afforded him, Earl figures “anger will do.” He leaves a message for his child telling them all this and asks that they return his call.

    He then grabs his daddy’s old whuppin’ stick and heads into town, noting these geniuses wanting him to leave also slashed his truck tires, essentially stranding him there. The locals are gathered outside a bar/restaurant, betting Earl’s not stupid enough to come back. But into town he does come, first confronting the black sheriff who pleads with him to just leave all this behind. That’s not good enough today for Earl, though, so he walks right up to the group.

    One of the main thugs confronts him, offering him the chance to escape to another town’s Waffle House. But Earl speaks to the non-thugs in the town, the scared people, telling them that people have been in a bad way and it’s the fault of this thug and the fella he works for. Earl speaks to what he believes is their better side, offering to go inside the bar and talk this out. But a rock upside his head convinces everyone it’s only going one way…

    The fight that breaks out is brutal as the old man Earl and the young but not that young thugs begin to whomp up on each other. Earl then has flashes of those times in his life when he most needed to be strong: On the football field, in Vietnam, when his sheriff-daddy died. It serves him well as, finally, his opponents lie around him and he hobbles into the bar, wanting just some sweet tea.

    But inside Coach Boss is just finishing his meal, the main bad guy in all this mess. So Earl confronts him for answers. He tells Coach that what’s outside is what will happen every day until he gets those answers. But Coach calls him on his age, that he doesn’t have that level of fight left in him, that he’s not strong enough, that that big stick doesn’t make him his daddy and that Earl should just admit that he - like the rest of the people in the county - were happy when the old man died.

    Earl fires back at him, though, acknowledging some of that but also “remembering” Coach from when they were both in school. He was apparently the scrawny kid always trying to make the team but never getting through, the seniors and others just making fun of him incessantly. Earl says he figures he could’ve stopped them but he just didn’t care about this little man. That sends Coach Boss into overdrive, though, and he launches himself at Earl. They fly out into the street, with Coach boss screaming at him that it’s his team now, his county, and his stick as he picks up that big weapon and finally silences Earl as The Answer to all his questions.

    Earl’s cell phone begins ringing then, leading to the epilogue, which is Earl’s kid leaving a reply message. They’re at a Marine military base, wondering why Earl returned to the place he clearly hated so much. They’ve got to ship out soon but hope to get in touch soon, maybe even visit. They close with, “I love ya, Daddy,” as the final shot reveals Earl’s gun-toting, military-trained black daughter. Somehow, I think this story isn’t quite finished…

    Jason Aaron’s story has the hallmarks of cliche but this story is far from something that’s played out before. It’s taught, brutal, honest and unrelenting, aided as well by the dark artwork of Jason Latour. An excellent series, I’m very excited to see where they’re going to take it now that what we thought was their main character is now gone.