Previously: Southern Bastards #17
For over three years, I have come onto this site and reviewed all of the preceding seventeen issues of Southern Bastards. The consistency of those reviews has, of course, ebbed and flowed with that of the series’ publishing schedule, but I am quite sure I have not disliked any of the issues in those three years. Quite often, in fact, I spend a lot–probably far too many, sometimes–of words finding different ways to say how much I liked an issue. Even so, reading Southern Bastards #18 has terrified me; it has chilled me to my core because I now worry I simply have not been at all clear enough in saying how much I absolutely love this, so here goes, succinctly put: Southern Bastards is fucking incredible.
For just the second time in the series’ run, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour were not the creative team on this issue. Instead, as was previously the case with Southern Bastards #12, Latour shifted to writing duties and artist Chris Brunner tagged in to cover the artwork. I remember the first time Latour and Brunner teamed up on that twelfth issue; it followed, obviously, Southern Bastards #11, which is the issue I would probably list as my favorite of the series. In fact, if you read my review of that eleventh issue, you’ll see I was worried about the change. What a fool I was because I can now say Southern Bastards #18 is my favorite of this series full of incredible issues.
I suppose we’ll start with the writing. Oh, boy, will we. This issue tells such a fucking story. You know, we’ve known Earl Tubb for 17 issues. We saw who he was to himself, and we saw who he was to this town he tried so hard to leave behind. Here, though, we are introduced to Earl Tubb anew; we see the Earl Tubb his daughter knew. We see who he tried to be for his daughter, and we see how he failed. Even in that failure, we see how Roberta Tubb became a success. Much like with Earl and his father, Roberta and Earl did not have a perfect relationship. We know Earl didn’t like his father. We know, and hear Roberta reflect, Earl did not like the parts of himself that were his father. But Earl still named his daughter after his father, Bert, and he still went back to Craw County. Now Roberta, whether she likes it or not, is being a Tubb.
When I tell you I love this writing, I honestly don’t believe you’re capable of hearing just how much I mean it. Earl Tubb, the series’ protagonist, died in issue #4. The fourth issue, three years ago, and yet he’s still so alive in the character of Roberta that I genuinely felt tears in my eyes every time she calls him “daddy” in this issue. It feels so good to read a series for this long and continue being rewarded this handsomely.
As for the art. I have adored Jason Latour’s artwork for this series because he not only is a great artist, but he also brings Jason Aaron’s terrific writing to life with every panel. Just look at the aforementioned issue #11 or issue #16 from January this year for individual examples. However, it’s nice to see things through a different eye sometimes, and while Chris Brunner’s artistic style is not wildly different from that of Jason Latour–at least within the pages of Southern Bastards–it is still a different person, and there are subtle differences. There are two things I want to highlight here.
First, Jesus, the fucking line work in this issue. The coloring in this issue, done by Latour, is great; the use of differing color schemes for time periods is fantastic. You know, the use of intense, hot reds for the past and dark, moody blues for the present works really well and reminded me of a series I recently finished reviewing, Hadrian’s Wall. However, I simply cannot get past, in a good way, Brunner’s line work. There’s a frenetic feeling you get when you look at the hatched shading the many muscles, wrinkles, and injuries are given throughout this issue. It lends a grittiness; it’s almost a neo-noir tonal shift.
Second, Brunner knows how to fill a space. Of course, I’m certain many of the choices as to what exactly is used to fill each panel were a collaborative effort, but you get it. This issue does not deal with very many characters, and several of the characters it does deal with are brand new. These characters must be introduced and explained within a panel or two. There are several simple establishing shots, something comics often cut to save space, which instantly tell you everything you need to know about the character being introduced. He’s a Trump-supporting motel manager in Wetumpka County; of course he’s willing to look the other way. She’s a college girl with a bong, a milk crate full of records, and a giant dispenser of cocoa butter; I know this woman. It’s all right there on the page.
The letters section sees the returned involvement of Jason Aaron. There is a hilarious running joke throughout his replies to readers’ letters, but I’m not going to spoil it; I’ll just say it’s a ballsy move. Beyond the back matter here being funny, we actually get two very interesting bits of information. One, in answering a question, Jason Latour provides a bit of insight into his artistic process; very cool. Two, Jason Aaron mentions the long-gestating television adaptation of this series and suggests it is still very much in the works; I want this so badly. Particularly after it was recently announced another one of the best series in comics right now, Lazarus, is being adapted by Amazon. I don’t want to be greedy, but if I could have both of these series at the same time? I absolutely want that.
Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the variant cover for this issue. Each issue of the “Gut Check” arc has seen a different variant cover by a different artist, and each cover has featured Roberta Tubb. This time, the variant cover comes from the one and only Fiona Staples (Saga, Archie, Mystery Society). Needless to say, it looks awesome.
We have been waiting so long for Roberta Tubb to make it to Craw County and avenge her daddy’s death; fight for her name. It finally happened, and it did not disappoint. She has literally crossed the Rubicon (Motel) and declared absolute war on Coach Boss. Alea iacta est – the die is cast.