Today is as good a day as any to write about Southern Bastards, but today seems a bit more fitting than usual for me. Firstly, I picked up a bag of Lays potato chips, nothing too overt there, except for the fact that they are Southern Biscuits and Gravy flavored chips, and that they are my “pregame” food for lunch this sunny July afternoon, where my wife is fixing Spam and cheese sandwiches. These things do not MAKE me a southerner, nor do I feel as though I have been somehow transported to some Deep South plantation porch to dab at my sweat-dappled brow and sip on iced tea. But these things help to set them mood to talk about Southern Bastards, so here I go:
This issue was a pretty severe change in tone from the story so far. Esaw Goings is not someone who has been the focal point for this series, and I don’t think we have ever once seen his internal monologue (more on THAT in a bit). So I was unsure of what to really expect from this issue going in- my mind had been more focused on the Jasons and their stance on the recent Charleston shootings, and the measures taken recently to remove the confederate flag from any and all government locations. The variant cover for this issue (that of the mangy dog from the first arc, ripping apart the confederate flag with the phrase “Death to the flag, long live the South” splashed across the front) really stuck with me, and I was glad that Jason Latour included his essay “On the Rebel Flag” at the back of the issue. Without delving too deeply into the issue, because I don’t want to get too high up on my soapbox on this issue, I thought that what he said was poignant and meaningful, and it comes with quite a bit of inbuilt credibility- being that the Jasons are good Southern boys (from Carolina and Alabama)…
But to get back to the issue at hand- This story jumps off into the oh-so-very deep end from page one; Esaw Goings is having sexual relations with a woman very prominently displayed across the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE. Not only that, but he is thinking some absolutely repugnant things in order to… let’s say “prolong” the experience. So these two things- graphic sex and disgusting language and sophomoric hyperbole are pretty much the mainstays of Esaw’s existence in Craw County.
Then we meet Donny Ray- a good Church going Southern man, who thinks that it is his duty to reach out to those who need to be saved- and for some reason (the phrase “God Forsaken reason” jumps to mind here- would that bee too much???” Donny thinks that Esaw is the first person that needs to be saved: Esaw, who has a neck tattoo that says “REBEL” and a giant goats-head pentagram tattoo across his chest. Not to mention all the terrible things that Esaw thinks to himself- he is no “good Christian man” by any stretch of the imagination.
Seeing Esaw making very overt sexual advances towards the attractive female bank employee is yet another example of his crassness. His internal monologue is like a broken record of a sex obsessed teenager with Tourette’s. The way he fixates makes ME feel dirty, and his mind is just a morass of bleak and terrible thoughts. I did like how after Esaw drags Donny Ray around to Coach Boss’ office, that Coach Boss basically gives Esaw the bum rush out of his office, while only BARELY mentioning that Esaw should be helping to draw up defensive plans for the Runnin’ Rebs’ big Homecoming game this week. Then you see what few gears Esaw has left in his head start running at lightning speed- only to fumble all over themselves to find anything remotely close to “solid football stragegy”. I loved that his solution for the defense, rather than planning, running any sort of mixed formations or anything even CLOSE to a game plan- was that “we’ll just… we’ll blitz ‘em. We’ll blitz the $#%@ out of ‘em the whole #%$&ing game! Right up the damn middle with the linebackers!” and I am no football coach- but as a former player (high school, anyway) and as a current fan (of the Chicago Bears) I would have to say that is a TERRIBLE #%&&ing idea! I am not the only one to think that- Esaw is told so by the waitress as Boss’ BBQ and by Donny Ray- who hasn’t stood up and said much of anything as of this point. But this is Craw County football, and people take this stuff seriously!
The last half of the issue ran a bit fast for me- the pacing may have been a bit off here, or maybe I was just racing to get this over with, because I knew that if the story focused only on Esaw and Donny Ray, that it wasn’t going to end well for someone… I liked the visuals used in the scene where Esaw goes to meet with the “Mobile boys” and trading that $300,000 from the “football fund” for a bunch of fully automatic weapons. I thought that the masks and dark clothes worn by the other two men really drove home the fact that what they are doing is very shady, underhanded and ILLEGAL; while Esaw dragged a meek Church-goer along for the ride, to try and break him? To drive Donny Ray crazy? To convert him to the Boss’ crime family? I don’t really know what any of Esaw’s motivations were up to this point, except for the ones that drove him physically.
The end of this issue was a very dark (no surprise there) and very cinematic sequence that plays out between Donny Ray and Esaw. I was not expecting the last page of the book to be what it was, but knowing what I learned about Esaw in this issue, it shouldn’t have surprised me at all. Donny Ray seems to have changed his outlook a bit, though- and rightfully so. Donny Ray had been put through the wringer with Esaw, and Esaw had even put a lot of strain on himself doing the things that he did. I really don’t know where this story is going from here- Esaw is in NO SHAPE to try and run the Rebs’ defense for the Homecoming game, Coach Boss is obviously shaken by the death of his best friend (only friend?) and mentor- Coach Big. So I honestly don’t have any idea what this story is building to, but I can safely say from the comfort of my own home, with biscuits and gravy chip dust on my fingers and spam and cheese sandwiches on the table- that my week is going a WHOLE LOT BETTER than anything that could be happening to Coach Boss, Esaw or Donny Ray this week.
This book has been fantastic. It is not a fun or lighthearted read- I would never, EVER recommend this book to small children or the faint of heart. But I would, in fact, recommend this book to anyone who isn’t much interested in comics, because this book is nothing like any other comic book out there. This story is so far beyond just your run-of-the-mill capes and cloaks punchfight story. This is a cinematic and grand undertaking by a pair of creators who really are at the top of their games. Which is why this comic series has been optioned, and the Jasons are being brought in to write the adaptation and the pilot as well.
Go check out this book, prepare yourself for the worst, and when you’re done- go sit down to some grits and fried okra, and do it up the Southern but un-Bastardly way…