As “Southern Bastards” #20 brings the fourth arc of the series, ‘Gut Check,’ to a close, the world seems to finally be closing in on Coach Boss. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s stunning series comes back for another issue, and no surprise, it’s fantastic. Read on for the rest of the review, but watch out, as some spoilers follow.
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Jason Latour
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
“GUT CHECK,” Finale As his enemies close in to take him off the field for good, Coach Boss has one final play to make. JASON AARON and JASON LATOUR bring the fourth chapter of Eisner-award winning SOUTHERN BASTARDS to a stunning and brutal conclusion.
The structure of “Southern Bastards” as a series is fascinating. The first volume seemed to be setting up a kind of revenge story between Earl Tubb and Coach Boss, but instead ended with the Earl’s death. Then the series took a left turn in its second volume, showing us who Coach Boss was, letting us learn about his history and what made him the way he is. The third volume took readers in a completely different direction, taking six issues to do one-off deep dives into background characters from those first two volumes. Now, in the fourth arc, Aaron and Latour have brought Coach Boss’s chickens home to roost. But, even though “Southern Bastards” #20 is the end of this arc, it isn’t exactly the satisfying conclusion that one might expect. Aaron and Latour are not nearly finished with these characters or Craw County yet, and you can tell from this issue.
While it doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion, what it does have is a brutal, bloody fight stretched from football field through the forest and finally coming to rest in at the house of Old Big. Latour, as has been the case with this series from the beginning, makes the violence that is so central to the heart of this series ugly and gut punching. As Coach Boss is chased by Boone and Berta, as people are pierced with arrows and bullets, every part of this issue lands with a solid impact
The way Latour uses color to highlight these moments is particularly well done. As Boone follows Boss, shooting him full of arrows, the arrows become a golden color in the panel where they make contact. Before they hit and after when they are resting in his body, they are just arrows. But for that moment of impact, Latour highlights them, drawing the eye to the arrow and the small splash of blood that accompanies it. And this is just one example of the way Latour brings this kind of impact to the page.
It’s not only the violence that has an impact here. “Southern Bastards” has taken its time letting us get to know each and every one of these characters, and Aaron uses that to his advantage in this fight. There are so many moments of significance woven throughout the fight. We see little flashes of the people who Boss and Berta are from these flashback panels, the way their pasts have shaped them. These flashbacks are rendered in the same way the most violent panels are, in stark red and yellow, giving these little flashes to the past the same kind of impact as a gunshot or an arrow through the arm.
There is one specific page, about half way through the issue, where all this history and violence comes to a head in a really spectacular fashion. After being chased by Boone to Old Big’s house, where he used to train, Coach Boss has nowhere to run. Standing next to the tree he used to use as a tackle dummy, he tackles it one more time and finally succeeds in taking it down. Latour draws a double page spread of the tree crashing down on Boone, all fiery reds and yellows, fitting the pattern of the earlier panels as it is both an act of violence, and a kind of memory all in one.
So many of the Chekhov’s guns that have been shown throughout this series seem to go off in this issue but not in the way readers might expect. We see for a moment the pack of stray dogs that have been building up in the background of Craw County, but we don’t seem them actually do anything. We see Colonel McKlusky’s monkey come back for brief attempt at vengeance. Berta gets to confront the man who killed her father, but this isn’t a final confrontation, though it feels like it could have been.Continued below
Latour and Aaron walk a tight rope of both giving a satisfying pay off to all of these set ups, while still allowing the series to continue forward, and they do a great job of it. There is a weight to all the events of this issue, all the history these characters have, and the shift in the status quo of this series after this issue is a big one. But, at the same time, there are still mysteries in the background, and still things to pull a reader further into the series. “Southern Bastards” #20 manages to bring both a satisfying pay off, and leave you wanting to read more. If there is anything negative to say about it, it’s that I hate having to wait for the next issue. But, when it comes, if it is as satisfying and fantastically put together as this, it will be worth it.
Final Verdict: 9.5 – “Southern Bastards” #20 is a drag out fight of an issue that has the weight of history behind its punches, and it’s fantastic.