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This Year’s Finest 2015: Southern Bastards Got Something To Say

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In the beginning of the series, Southern Bastards felt like a very straight forward crime story. A very good, straight forward crime story, but a straight forward crime story none the less. Yet in the final issue of the comics first arc; creators Jason Aaron & Jason Latour completely upended expectations in the books conclusion and from there, it felt like anything could happen. Aaron & Latour made good on that implication into the series second and third arcs as the comics scope continued to expand exponentially. Southern Bastards is still a book about organized crime and high school football in a small Alabama town, but it’s gone in deep on exploring the minutia of it’s setting and peoples history. It’s not just about organized crime and high school football in a small town, it’s about the who, what and why of organized crime and high school football in a small town. It’s about all the different people that make it possible, about their differences and similarities, about how their shared history makes for an engrossing saga about greed, power and community. Because of that, Southern Bastards has become the best ongoing comics series of the last twelve months; everything about the book defies expectations but it does so with a level of craft and singularity that in unmatched.Creators Jason Aaron & Jason Latour came together on Southern Bastards in similar tracks. Both worked on great but under appreciated creator owned rural crime comics in Scalped & Loose Ends respectively. Both worked their way up through the Marvel Comics farm system before breaking out with wildly original and fan favorite takes on long time properties in Thor God Of Thunder & Spider-Gwen.  Moreover, both Aaron and Latour grew up in the southern region of the United States. I’m a transplant New Yorker, I grew up in Minnesota & went to college in New Jersey after high school. I’m about as Yankee as they come but most of my favorite cities in the United States, outside of the one I live and work in, are Southern. Spend any time in New Orleans LA, Austin TX or Miami FL and they’ll each give off a unique vibe and lifestyle that is singular to the city and regions past. Those of us that aren’t from there will often paint the Southern United States with broad brush, but I can say without hesitation that I’ve found my experience in each city or town I’ve visited in the region to be totally different from one another. That doesn’t mean they don’t share similarities, the weather and scenery is gorgeous, the people are warm and accommodating and the culture is unpretentiously brilliant. There are very few regions in the United States with the diversity of excellence in it’s art and cusine the way the South is and it’s often done so in a way that is without pompous or ego. We often forget, but the south is the birthplace of jazz, rock & roll, rythm & blues & country music. It’s produced some of our most important authors and artists from William Faulkner & Elvis Presley all the way to Steven Sodebergh & Andre 3000. We overlook the South in that respect but there’s a reason for that; because for all the South’s greatness, there is a darkness that starts at the inception of it’s attempted separation from the rest of the United States over slavery and has continued to hang over the region to this day.

The Civil War, it’s intent, it outcome and it’s legacy has loomed over the region since it’s inception. The legacy of slavery and discrimination against people of color has left the region with widespread income inequality, poverty, mass incarceration and four of the ten states with the highest crime rate per capita in the country according to the most recent US Census or, in a more recent ranking by 24/7 Wall St one year ago based on 2013 statistics, seven out of ten states. Because of it’s proximity to the border of Mexico, Central America & the Caribien; the Southern region of the United States has become the gateway for drug trafficking of illegal narcotics and as such, has bared the brunt of the destruction that the US’s War On Drugs has left in it’s wake. In terms of education, eight of the ten States with the lowest High School Graduation rate are in the South (nine if you count West Virginia) while the seven states with the lowest population of bachelors degree holders are all in the South as well. Partially a byproduct of the income inequality that has existed in the region since the times of slavery, partially a lingering symptom of the regions former agricultural based economy and partially just the end result of embracing government deregulation whole heartedly; the southern region of the United States is the least educated, poorest and most dangerous place to live in the country.

In Southern Bastards, Aaron & Latour have dived deep into that duality between the regions culture and the cold hard reality of it’s problems. In that way, every story and character moment becomes a microcosm of the fictional Craw County setting, which in turn act’s as a microcosm for the region. Southern Bastards had two arcs in 2015 and both were centralized on the personal story and histories of it’s main cast. Whether it was the multi issue arc of Coach Boss’s ascension or the series of character focused one shots on the expanded cast, each story was richly detailed and lived in, exploring the tragedy of the individuals corruption and how that extends to the society at large. The people of Southern Bastards have often made compromises morally out of a desperation for comfort with Coach Boss acting as the towns king, dispersing those comforts as he see’s fits based on how well it suit’s his own needs. In the years second arc of one shots that’s lead up to this months upcoming conclusion, there is a palpable rage and anger being felt amongst the cast; the cost of the comfort is becoming too steep and each individual highlighted is reacting violently to that in their own way. The last four issues have been some of the best in the series with it’s in depth and very real exploration of the suffering and hardship of each individual. Moreover, each issue kept moving further into the realm of surrealism, issue #9 is about as straight forward as it get’s but by the time the book got to issue #12 being written by Jason Latour with guest artist Chris Brunner, the series had moved into straight cartoon hallucinations and it was spectacular each step of the way. That’s why in spite of the odds, Southern Bastards ascended to the best ongoing comic in 2015.

Southern Bastards is unlike any other ongoing series in almost every way imaginable. It completely goes against current trends of what most comics are doing. Crime comics generally don’t sell well; crime comics about high school football teams should be impossible. Yet Southern Bastards succeeds in every way imaginable because Aaron & Latour understand the story better then probably anything else. They’ve been making comics for years and they’ve spent the majority of their lives in the South, they understand that region and it’s people. In Southern Bastards, they got something to say.