Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Southern Bastards #8. Written by Jason Aaron (Scalped, Thor) with art by Jason Latour (Spider-Gwen, Wolverine And The X-Men), this issue concludes the origin story of Coach Euless Boss with a horrific look at how one man’s passion for football turns him into a monster. (Warning: This review reveals major plot points.)
How far will a man go for something he loves? It’s the question at the core of a lot of crime fiction, and the object of the affection tends to have a big impact on the shape of a narrative. Some men love women. Some men love money. Euless Boss loves football, and the focus on sports sets Southern Bastards apart from other crime comics. Over the past year, writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour have created an intensely powerful, consistently surprising tale about fathers, sons, and football in a small southern county. This week’s issue #8 is a high point of the series that shows the creative team’s skill for sticking the landing at the end of each arc.
After concluding the first storyline with the shocking death of main character Earl Tubb, Aaron and Latour jumped back in time to detail the history of Earl’s killer Coach Boss in the second arc. As a high schooler, Euless Boss was willing to do anything to get on the football field, fighting against the reputation of his bootlegger/thief father to eventually take his place as part of Craw County’s Runnin’ Rebs. But his talent as a football player wasn’t enough to eliminate the negative influence of his father: Coach Forrester made sure that Euless wouldn’t have any opportunities playing college ball, and when Euless sought a position assistant coaching the Rebs, he was made the ball boy. All he wanted was to play, and when that wasn’t possible anymore, all he wanted was to coach. The sins of the father have made life hell for Euless Boss, but he takes control of his destiny in this week’s issue.
Aaron and Latour have done outstanding work making the reader sympathize with a despicable character by revealing the suffering a young Euless had to endure because of his father. But it was only a matter of time before Euless became the ruthless, power-hungry killer he is in the present. That time comes in Southern Bastards #8, which begins with Euless tracking down his father in the woods, confessing his disdain for him, and then shooting him in the back before finishing him off with a bullet to the brain. The tense scene brims with raw emotion, fully exposing the burning hatred inside Euless that compels him to murder the man who created him.
A major aspect of this title is the complicated dynamic of fathers and sons, and Euless’ killing of his father is the most brutal example yet, showing an extreme reaction to a lifetime of abuse and shame. That first shot in the back is presented in a splash page that highlights the hugeness of this moment for Euless, and Latour’s haunting image speaks volume through composition and color. Trees are an important recurring visual in this story about characters confronting their roots and dealing with the rot that grows there. The branches in the background and foreground of the splash page symbolize the familial relationship at the core of the murder scene.
Latour uses a very limited color palette of muted earth tones for most of this sequence, but he pairs moments of violence with a deep red that cuts through the dull shades to hit the reader even harder. Red, the dominant hue in the shooting splash page, creates an association between the color and the action that informs a later scene between the new Coach Boss and Big, the blind man that was the closest thing Euless had to a father figure growing up.
Standing on the sidelines before Euless’ first game as coach, Big tells his former protégé that he knows how he got the position and fears for what he’s turning into. Euless insists that his sole goal is to be a football coach, but immediately afterward he starts talking about how he will need to take care of Mozel, the crime boss that thinks he owns Euless because he got him the job. “You know what I always say, Big,” Euless tells his mentor. “It’s football. It’s worth the blood.” Because of that earlier association, the red color palette for this scene serves as a constant reminder of whose blood was spilled for Euless’ success, but also foreshadows Big’s sad fate. Promoted to defensive coordinator after the rise of Coach Boss, Big was Euless’ secret weapon on the sidelines for years until the day he shot himself in the head in his office, leaving a suicide note of four words: “Ain’t worth the blood.”
Southern Bastards is a fascinating exploration of an overwhelmingly masculine culture, but it could really use a good female character. Thankfully, it looks like that will be happening soon. The first arc ended with the reveal of Earl Tubb’s daughter, Roberta (“Bert” for short), and this week’s issue ends with another tease of Bert, who is preparing to leave active duty as a soldier in Afghanistan to head back home to Craw County. (The other soldiers are playing football in the background, of course.) The slow introduction of Bert to the narrative has brought a lot of gravitas to the character before she even does anything substantial, and it’s clear that her arrival is going to mean problems for Coach Boss.
Readers will have to wait until June for the next issue of Southern Bastards, but Latour’s rich artwork is worth the short hiatus between arcs. The first page of this week’s issue immediately pulls the reader deep into the setting, thanks to the lush details of Latour’s forest environment. The zoomed-out shot of Euless walking out of the sun and into the dense foliage hints at the darkness that will soon engulf his soul while still projecting an atmosphere of serenity and calm. This beautiful image starts a scene that highlights the cruelty and spite inside these two men, but that contrast is a big part of this book’s appeal. Southern Bastards is a gorgeous book about an ugly place, and the conclusion of this current arc leans into that dynamic to deliver an unforgettable finale.