There are eerie and tempting parallels between Coach Boss and a certain American President-elect. Both are brutal, simple-minded, deeply insecure tyrants, and both have a tendency to move the goalposts and declare victory when an honest win isn’t forthcoming. As the latest issue of Southern Bastards begins, Coach Boss’s Running Rebs have lost two games in a row, and as the introductory text tells us, he isn’t about to make it three. Boss put himself in this situation, as longtime readers will remember, by alienating defensive Coach Big, a man who actually had a conscience. A conscience doesn’t bother Coach Boss — just about the only thing that seems to bother this character is feeling his grip on power and popularity ever so slightly loosen. Like all bullies, Coach Boss can dish it out, but he can’t take it. And violence is his answer to everything.
Neighbouring town Locust Fork has been beating the Rebs at their own game of late, thanks to the Reb’s crippled defense and a star wide receiver for the Locust Fork team, Theron Goode. Since Coach Boss can’t seem to win a game honestly, on the field, he naturally just turns to cheating, but his version of cheating is as ugly and petty as one could possibly imagine. Because for Coach Boss, whose ego and feelings are hurt, there can be no quarter given. Football is never simply a sport in the anthropology of this society: it’s about pride and that most southern of notions, honour. The cognitive dissonance on display here around the concept of honour is rather substantial, because what Coach Boss actually does has little or nothing do with how most people understand the meaning of the term. Then again, Boss, as other soon-to-be world leaders, acts as if the rules don’t apply to him, and gets enough people to go along with that presumption until he wins.
Another interesting development in this issue is the introduction of a new character, “Colonel” Quick McKlusky, of Locust Fork’s Lightning Auto Sales. Looking more than a little like an ageing Burt Reynolds, Colonel McKlusky is rarely seen out of his stretched yellow convertible, sports more “bling” than your average Hip Hop star, and is accompanied everywhere by a small monkey wearing a football uniform. More playful and flamboyant than Coach Boss, by the end of this issue, it’s clear that McKlusky can claim no moral high ground over his opposite number. He’s just as brutal, but with a little more style.
And further discussion would lead us deep into spoiler country (although the cover this issue gives a rather large hint of what’s in store), so we should simply note that this issue of Southern Bastards continues the traditions of this great comic by featuring literate, complex metaphors and wonderfully brutal and grotesque art. Jason Latour moves with ease between scenes of violence carried out in mobile homes (naturally) and iconic sequences set on the football field. That strange mix of old-fashioned Americana and deep, violent tribalism captures something authentic about the American experience in all of its contradictions. As the United States begins a remarkable political experiment, perhaps Southern Bastards hits upon something heartbreakingly true about how power and authority works in that country.