Previously: “Southern Bastards #7”
With its eighth issue, Southern Bastards‘ second arc “Gridiron” comes to an end, and boy do Jasons Aaron and Latour know how to end a fucking arc. The series’ first arc “Here Was a Man” culminated in Southern Bastards #4, and I said then it was probably the best arc I had ever read. With its second arc, this series has only managed to improved upon itself.
In “Here Was a Man”, we were introduced to Earl Tubb; Craw County, the hometown he hated; and the many colorful characters who inhabit this horrible, yet oddly quaint, county. That arc laid the groundwork of a taut and thrilling southern crime drama, with Goodfellas-level potential. With its world constructed, complete with its hero and villain identified, Southern Bastards could easily coast on that potential for who knows how long, but no. The Jasons chose to crumple that potential up into a ball, throw it on the ground, and piss on it. That sounds like a bad thing, but it was such a badass move. If “Here Was a Man” rewrote the book on how to establish a world of characters in just four issues, “Gridiron” has already thrown that book into the furnace and is now working off-script.
In case those metaphors were too convoluted to follow, I’ll say it as plain as I know how: Southern Bastards is storytelling that will make you slap your mother.
Not content with just building a suspenseful southern crime drama and peppering it with southern cooking, high school football, and backwoods violence; after the series first arc finale deconstructed everything you thought you knew about Southern Bastards, Aaron and Latour completely abandoned that storyline and took us back to a simpler time. This was a time when Euless Boss was just a boy and dreamed only of making the football team. You didn’t know it at the time, but you would soon be rooting for the character whose blood you had just wanted. Somehow, the southern crime drama detoured into a feel-good sports story; like, ESPN could do a 30 for 30 documentary on the life of Euless Boss (it would be called “From Useless to Ruthless”, of course).
Now, don’t get me wrong; series do this all the time. In one series, you’ll often have different themes and storylines over time, of course. What makes this great is how quickly it was done; Aaron and Latour have built two very different stories using two very different genres, and not only have they nailed both of them, but they’ve managed to create a world where both organically live together. I’m sure that’s thanks in part to the nature of football in the south; to many, it’s like religion, so that innate intensity lends itself very well to mixing with crime drama. However, that’s like saying BBQ is good because the pig was happy; it ignores the level of craftsmanship it clearly takes to make this happen. Both Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have created a series in Southern Bastards that rivals any story you’ve ever read.
The whole point of “Gridiron” has been to tell the origin story of Euless Boss and how he became the Coach Boss we loved hating in “Here Was a Man”. That origin, of course, was told through the prism of high school football, daddy issues, and the Pyrrhic nature of crime. The arc’s first three issues were largely built on Euless’ plight and his struggle to be better than anyone–save one person–ever thinks he has a right to be; what we get in issue #8 is that cold-blooded realization that he is not better. We knew exactly who he was before we started this arc; we already saw who he is, and yet, we were still forced to think he could escape his future. How Aaron and Latour are able to tie these two disparate tales together so quickly and so neatly cannot be praised enough.
It should be clear, but if not, I will say it as many times as it need be said: if you are not reading this, for God’s sake, read the damn thing. Every page of this series screams that it could easily be a movie or television series, but with each passing issue, I get further away from that idea; I honestly don’t know that a movie or television series could tell this story as well as it has already been told, and it’s only eight issues in. Another arc as good as these first two, and the Jasons might well have just published themselves right out of a potential adaptation.
Speaking of the next arc, in this issue’s letters section, Jason Aaron reveals the next arc will be titled “Homecoming”, and it will change things up, yet again. This arc will have each of its issues following a different character, and each issue will take place in the week leading up to Craw County’s homecoming game against their hated rivals. Reading that, I honestly have no idea what to expect; all I can confidently predict is I will eagerly await the day in June when this series returns with that arc’s first issue.