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Southern Bastards Volume Two: Gridiron

    Ian Jane

  • Southern Bastards Volume Two: Gridiron

    Southern Bastards Volume Two: Gridiron
    Released by: Image Comics
    Released on: April 29th, 2015.
    Written by: Jason Aaron
    Illustrated by: Jason Latour
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    Writer Jason Aaron and illustrator Jason Latour once again take us back to Craw County where we catch up with Earl Tubb, an older man who went back to bury his father but wound up digging up a whole lot of trouble with the local 'Coach Boss.' In fact, before we watch up with Earl, we see a flashback to Boss' high school years where his own coach put him down and tried to talk him out of playing football himself. He didn't listen and told him 'It's football sir, it's worth the blood.'

    Back in the present day at Boss' house, his two lackeys, Esaw and Mater, come in (hey, the door was unlocked, you can do this in the south) and find the man starring at Earl's stick, now all covered in blood and gore. They offer to get rid of it, hide the evidence for him but he's not having any of it. The three of them get in a car and head to Earl's daddy's place where a funeral is going down - Earl Tubb is being planted six feet under, an American flag draped over his coffin. The coach even has the gall to approach Earl's uncle and offer his condolences. When the old man, confined to a wheelchair, asks what really happened to Earl, the coach tells him no one knows for sure but volunteers the sheriff's services to help him get to the bottom of it and then he offers to pay for Earl's tombstone.

    Coach Boss knows that everyone in town is well aware of what he did to Earl Tubbs and he also knows that they're keen to forget about it. He also knows that the reason they want to forget is because they watched him kill Earl and didn't lift a finger to stop him...

    The first few pages of issue six detail an incident where he stood up to his own coach, a man who saw him as unfit to play, out of sheer determination. The other plays beat him up when the teachers aren't looking, tell him he's trash, just like his old man.

    An old, blind black guy approaches him after his latest shit-kicking, tells him that even if he can't see he knows he's not a good player - but he admires the kids' guts. This guy's name is Ol' Big and he's been around town for God only knows how long. Young Euless goes home to his drunken old dad standing there naked as a jaybird, pistol drawn with a partner in crime banging a hooker in the background. He's kicked out of the mobile home, the fact that it's a school night meaning nothing to the inebriated patriarch of the Boss family. The next day at practice he gets his ass kicked again and Euless winds up begging Ol' Big to help him out. The old man obliges him, again he likes his guts, and he goes about training him his own way using primitive methods… kind of like how Rocky prepared to meet Drago! After a few days, it makes a different to those watching, but not to Euless' teammates, at least not the white ones. The black ones who know he's been training with Ol' Big seem to have a newfound respect for him.

    Back in the present day, Coach Boss is still an asshole, but Ol' Big, he doesn't seem to have changed all that much. But then we flashback to Euless' attempts to tell his dad he made the team, and that's when things get bad.

    A big game is on but Boss is on the sidelines, a cast over his leg, crutches under his arms. The Rebs are winning by a big margin but he's upset he can't do anything. On the way home, the cops stop him - they're looking for Olis, his old man, suspected of some petty robbery action in town. When he gets back to his trailer, two other men are looking for his dad. He tells them off.

    Inside the trailer, he's surprised to find Mozel sitting down all comfy like. He tells him he figures Olis is hiding out in the woods and he's not looking forward to going in after him. Mozel leaves some cash on the table and tells him there's life after football and to come see him once he figures that out. Later on Ol' Big comes by to visit and to watch the game on TV. Olis shows up, not too happy that his son has let a black man into his trailer, and when Olis smacks his son, Ol' Big, blind as he might be, goes all Bufford Pusser on his racist ass. Euless proves then and there that he's got plenty of fight in him and Olis is sent packing.

    The next time we see Euless he's on the field and doing just fine. That old familiar dog shows up and Euless tells Ol' Big that his foot feels like it's in a wasp's nest but there's no way the kid is going to quit. The game doesn't end well though, not for the Rebs and not for Euless - he's determined that his football career will not end with this loss. But with his dad gone he's got bills to pay and he's not sure how to make that happen…

    Euless, no longer a skinny teenager, walks out into the woods to find his father, who has been living out there, only for the old man to pull a gun on him. Euless wants his help and tells him as much, but not surprisingly he's not having any of it, at least not at first. Euless catches him up on how Big made him into the best damn football player around, until it all ended. Euless wants it back, he doesn't want to work as a ball boy anymore, but his dad? He just clocks him upside the head with the butt of his shotgun. They fight, it's been a long time coming and they just let it all out, but once they work it out of their system, they get to talking.

    The old man would like to help, but after robbing three of Mozel's juke joints, he's got to stay in hiding, or so he says… and then BLAM! Euless does something so cold blooded your jaw will hit the floor. Damn! Euless returns to a certain someone, who addresses him for the first time as Coach Boss, and the next day on the field, that's exactly what he is and how everyone else in town addresses him. Big is no fool, he figures out pretty quickly what's happened and how, but Euless reassures him… “it's football, it's worth the blood.” From there we cut to the present day, and… we'll leave it at that.

    After a few issues that were, comparatively speaking, a little on the quiet side this latest chapter in the ongoing saga that is Southern Bastards kicks like a mule and bites like a crocodile. Yeah, fine, it's about football and not all of us give a good God damn about football, but it's only about football in that football happens in it. Really, this issue is about a man's ambitions, a man's attempts to pull himself up by the bootstraps and make a go out of what he wants in life. If he has to get his hands dirty, and good golly miss Molly do Euless' hands ever get dirty this issue, then so be it. While the shock value inherent in a few different scenes in this issue is worth its weight in gold, in the grand Southern Bastards tradition, this isn't just blood and guts but serious character development, tense and sweaty poor southern American atmosphere and gritty, hardboiled storytelling done right. Jason Aaron knocks this one out of the park (or kicks it over the goal posts, choose whichever analogy you prefer) and not only that, but he ties it into the first story arc beautifully. If you've been following this series at all there's no way, once you make it to those last few pages, that you won't be chomping at the bit to find out what happens next.

    Jason Latour's artwork is as fantastic here as it has been in issues past. It suits the earthy writing really nicely and still relies heavily on lots of reds to keep that sort of hot tone that we've seen from the first issue a big part of the visuals. Thick line work helps to create some stocky, tough looking characters, the kind that you'd expect to populate a world like this, and the way that the big surprise of the issue is illustrated and laid out couldn't be more perfect.

    If you've already got the four individual issues that make up this trade paperback release (that'd be issues #5 - 8), completists may want to know that this collected edition does contain an exclusive intro from Ryan Kalil that talks about the importance of football in the culture of the southern United States and how that ties into the character of Euless Boss. It also features a cover gallery and a sketchbook section that's interesting to see.

    Honestly though, if you're not reading this book you're insane. It's consistently one of the best reads on the racks and you're doing yourself a huge disservice. Get hip to this series now. BLAM!

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