We often compare human behavior to that of animals. Think of the last time someone backed you into a corner. What did you do? Did you come out biting, clawing, howling? Or did you accept that the fight wasn’t worth the cost? As much as we discuss the primal aspects of our nature, it’s rare they really come out and the meaning of a phrase like “backed into a corner” is revealed. Southern Bastards isn’t a comic about ordinary people though. It’s a comic about human beings far more in touch with their animal instincts, both metaphorically and literally, and Southern Bastards #19 finally lets some of these men and women loose.
“Gut Check” has been a simmering plotline. Each new issue has heaped humiliation on Coach Boss, while those around him played through minor morality plays with consistently tragic origins and endings. Aaron and Latour have treated their subjects like abused animals, hitting them again and again just waiting for them to snap. And that effect has permeated the comic and its reading experience. Every action has heaped a new wave of horror or humiliation that begs the question of when it will be enough. The resulting tension and, frankly, impatience has been purposeful and it pays off in a big way here. Southern Bastards isn’t a superhero comic where every slight can be met with a quick punch, it has to earn its violence and it has done so with the arduous timing of thumbscrews.
The question when tension snaps shifts to whether the wait and build were worth it, and Southern Bastards knows how to pay off its build. No one can deliver violence in comics quite like Latour. The coloring on his chiseled, squinting characters remains a driving force within the pages, and #19 offers a mighty visual metaphor. Throughout “Gut Check”, yellows and blues have invaded Craw County and pushed back on both the bloody reds and dull, earthy tones of its inhabitants. When vengeance comes, red is smeared across the page in an unexpected form. Its tint colors everything like gel sheets denoting the darkest moments of a tragic play. The effect is astounding.
While Southern Bastards #19 doesn’t resolve “Gut Check”, it plays the penultimate chapter almost perfectly. Impulses long raging are let loose and the results are visceral and often unpredictable. There’s rage and lust smeared across the second half of the issue, with no clear resolution beyond their release. And therein lies the animalistic impulse of the comic. The series is not just about ugly impulses, but their suppression and build. An animal knows when it is backed in a corner and responds quickly with fight or flight. These bastards let the rage boil their brains, and the results are far more savage.
Southern Bastards #19 is awkward in moments, cramming a few key subplots into the cracks of a football game. That awkwardness in easily missed given the impact of its final few sequences. After 4 issues and almost a year of waiting, the story has seized its turning point and painted its consequences across the page. The series is at its absolute best when allowing violence to sprawl in its messy, uncontrollable nature. Southern Bastards has truly returned home this week, for better and worse.
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour