This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 1, 2016.
One thing Southern Bastards has done consistently well since its debut is provide a complete package with each issue. The series is still defined and packaged in story arcs, but they are not stories that happen to be butchered into individual issues for sale. This is a comic where each issue offers an emotional arc, a build, a story, something that makes it stand apart from the larger saga. It’s this strength that allows Southern Bastards #15 to surprise readers.
It has been half a year since the series’ previous issue was released and #15 starts to read like a much-needed recap. There’s a recounting of recent events and reactions to losses (both of men and football games). While this is often a necessary mode for serialized storytelling and is often used to great effect in other Image series like Saga, it seems out of place in Southern Bastards. The language and behavior are as harsh as ever, but the pacing feels soft in a way it never has once before. This first portion of the issue is a television style scattershot of sub-plots that questions whether Southern Bastards may be devolving into something more traditional.
That is, until exactly the moment when it stops doing this and snaps into focus.
All of these minor moments are not accidental, they are additive in nature. Craw County is changing in the wake of their loss to Wetumpka County and that change is weight heavily on the series protagonist: Coach Boss. Boss may not be a hero, but it is clear that this story rests on his shoulders. He is the connective thread between every other character and their actions are all ultimately reactions to his own. Read as a character study Southern Bastards #15 is about the changing of a man under incredible pressure.
Jason Latour helps highlight this mounting pressure through the series’ stunning color palette. The dirty, blood red that defines Craw County continues to dominate the landscape, but more and more blue is seeping in. Whether it’s in the form of another opposing football team, a police officer’s jacket, or Roberta’s outfit, cool tones have begun to erode the monochromatic stage that Coach Boss owns. This accompanies a half-dozen dissidents and plots in Aaron’s script (much more bluntly handled) to create a scenario in which Boss is capable of losing everything at any moment. His situation is as precarious as King Lear’s at the start of his own tragedy.
This isn’t clear until Latour snaps all the pieces into place in an explosive splash page. It is a moment that dominates the issue and serves as a thesis both for this story and the series so far. No matter how much readers may miss Earl or root for Roberta, Coach Boss is the center of this narrative. He is the monster who defines this world. Latour applies his bold line work along with some stunning lettering to declare it as loudly as possible, then follows that with a much more quiet statement, every it as clear, soon after.
If there’s something to take away from Southern Bastards #15 after such a long hiatus, it’s that this series has not missed a beat. What easily could have been a fine recap issue, exists as another bold statement among the 14 that have preceded it. Latour’s art and colors are as skillful and packed with meaning as ever. The rage that fuels this series is just as potent. This is one return that was certainly worth the wait.