The Gospel According to Esaw Goings: Southern Bastards, Issue Ten

Untitled

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #10 IMAGE COMICS
ARTIST: JASON LATOUR WRITER: JASON AARON
LETTERER: JARED K. FLETCHER

Southern Bastards #10 certainly comes off a bit less rounded than most of the issues preceding it, character-wise. When we focused on Earl Tubb, Euless Boss, and finally Sheriff Hardy, we saw complicated men, some better than others, but all coming from conflicted perspectives and backgrounds. But that’s blatantly not the case for Esaw Goings, and Jasons Latour and Aaron want you to know it. Esaw is simply flat-out horrible, and that means some tweaks are required to make an issue about him work- the addition of poor kind bible-thumper Donny Ray, and the loss of any small amount of nuance the book usually has. That may seem a bit disappointing at first, but there’s no other way to go about depicting Esaw; if there’s a most Bastard-y bastard in this book, it’s him.

So Southern Bastards #10 has to be as straightforward as possible (that’s what Esaw is, after all). Donny Ray is far from a subtle character; the first few panels he appears in, alongside his equally stereotypical wife Shelby Anne, come off more like a Lifetime movie than a scene in one of the grittiest comics on the stands, complete with the good ‘ol “Footprints” story framed on the wall. All that said, the blatant nature of so many of the issue’s scenes doesn’t detract from the fact that while it doesn’t necessarily develop Esaw, it certainly works as a character piece. We don’t need a flashback to get what kind of environment Esaw came from: he’s open about how the religious home he came from backfired and turned him into the scumbag we know today. Even his views on football easily summarize his character. Tasked with coming up with Craw County’s defensive game plan after Big’s death, he can’t make heads or tails of how defensive moves could be better than offensive ones, and why strategy even matters- as far as he’s concerned, football is about “linin’ up across from your man and beatin’ his fuckin’ ass into the turf, no matter what goddamn play is called.” That’s what life is about for him, too, and it’s lead him to try to prove just how tough he is to everyone he can. That desire sets up the issue’s climax, where he brings Donny Ray to meet Boss’ criminal compatriots from Mobile in an attempt to prove his power, only to come off like an idiot, and to feel even more defeated when Donny Ray’s bible protects him from otherwise certain death.

Jason Latour’s art feels more appropriate than ever in such a crude issue, and it especially elevates the final sequence into an engrossing, frenetic show of violence. While it starts with the seemingly minor act of Esaw shooting road signs, Latour already makes Esaw’s anger evident by using bright, burning colors, using an almost painting-like style before moving into jagged, harsh lines.

Capture

Two pages later, when Esaw starts to beat Donny Ray for his refusal to pick up a gun, Latour splits what would usually be three panels into a grid, leading the viewer to spend more time looking over which would otherwise be a simpler page. It also makes the beating Esaw gives Donny Ray feel longer than it would otherwise, which is a clever way to simultaneously extend the fight and condense page space.

Considering where Southern Bastards takes place, it’s remarkable the book has barely touched upon religion before this, and it’s interesting that the main character of this issue doesn’t believe in religion at all. Even this issue’s conclusion, in which Donny Ray is miraculously saved from death by his bible, still doesn’t make the book feel as if it’s inherently focusing on the “superior power of religion” or anything of the sort. Donny Ray is a thin character, and that’s on purpose; he exists to show just how pathetic Esaw is. When Esaw fails to kill Donny Ray, it’s not portrayed as the work of god as much as it is proof of Esaw’s lack of the power he desires. It’s yet another part of Southern Bastards #10 that isn’t exactly subtle, and yet another reason that it’s remarkable that this issue works as well as it does in comparison to previous issues of the series.

EXTRA NOTES: 

  • Donny Ray and his wife each referring to each other with two names is so on-the-nose it just comes back around to being completely appropriate.
  • Despite the fact that we get to see more of the people Boss works with in Mobile, we still don’t know exactly what their deal is, and what Esaw gets from them. The automatic answer is guns or drugs, but who knows.
  • We get another scene with one of the Compson twins, and an extra detail about their lives- there was at least a rumor going around that the twin we haven’t seen much of was sexually abused by their father. Last issue, there were references to a death in the family when the girls were teens that Boss and Hardy were involved with- could Hardy have enlisted Boss to kill their father to protect the twins?
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