As of late, the duo of Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have diverged from the pattern of their first two arcs on Southern Bastards, which followed a respective character each, by doing single issues that provide new focus on specific characters while still keeping the ongoing story plodding along. It’s a new shift in focus that has been splendid so far, this issue focusing on Esaw, a character briefly a part of past issues. This series has always been a difficult read thanks to its explicit and unrelenting nature, but it continues to pay off with one of the most brutal issues yet. Southern Bastards #10 hits hard, telling a provocative, fascinating and ultimately sad story about a man lost and frustrated in a sea of his own attempts to exert his masculinity.
Enter a sort of henchmen for Boss, this book’s closest approximation of a villain, Esaw: a man with the bars of the rebel flag tattooed on his arm, an arm that at one point supports the wielding of a gun, another time extending the grip on a bottle of hot sauce dripping on a woman he is having sex with, in plain sight for unsuspecting visitors of his home to witness. One such visitor is a pure-hearted priest introduced in this issue, someone who is tired of preaching about petty sins to kids and aspires to follow in Jesus’s footsteps by helping the most troublesome outcasts. Whenever the priest approaches Esaw for simple, genuine spiritual advice, Esaw finds the sentiment amusing and drags the poor man along his errand-running for the day.
Aaron and Latour do an excellent job here of showing rather than telling, their dedication to no-holds-barred storytelling essential to this pursuit. It’s clear that this man, dripping with masculinity in everything he does, speaks of a certain desperate yearning for power and control. He projects himself onto the kind priest, thinking he is full of it and just as ravaged by a lust for dominance, but it’s just as clear that he, in fact, is full of it. He’s a product of insidious facets of the local culture that’s controlled effectively by Boss, but he, alone, is an example of a reprobate, unrepresentative of men as a whole.
The book looks just as ugly as always, in its own brilliant, enthralling way. Latour’s art shines in action, which this chapter is comparatively light on, but it’s still good stuff. There is a certain crudeness to the faces of the most repugnant characters, alienating them in such a way that adds a sense of intimidation and ugliness. When the book does go into action, it’s as discomforting as its always proved capable of being, with bloody, beaten flesh drawn to portray the pain the story contains, aided by some artistic diversions like the panels drowned in red to heighten the atmosphere.
Another issue, another fantastic bit of the world of Southern Bastards. With each chapter, the town this comic takes place in becomes richer. It’s a town of brutality, a town of southern bastards.