Review by Ian Keogh
Coach Euless Boss has been the de facto ruler of Craw County by virtue of drilling a fantastic football team year by year. However, without his running coach to supply tactics the Runnin’ Rebs were slaughtered by local rivals Wetumpka during Homecoming week. It’s an indignity that’s cost Boss considerable standing. Worse for him, marine Roberta Tubb arrived in town during Homecoming, looking to discover how her father died. She doesn’t know for certain he was murdered by Boss, but isn’t far from confirming that.
Of the three previous Southern Bastards collections, the weakest was Gridiron, explaining at slightly too great a length exactly what forged Boss into the man he became, and why football is all that matters to him. That comes home to roost in Gut Check, where he’s no longer the man he believed himself to be, so much of his reputation and self-belief founded on the skills of his now dead running coach. In thrashing about for an alternative he escalates circumstances beyond his control. As in Gridiron, it drops Southern Bastards back into more predictable territory, at least until the final chapters. Jason Aaron is still playing with powerful archetypes, and introduces an appealing new character in the form of a carpetbagger made good, but over the first half of Gut Check too much is too obvious.
As he did for Homecoming, Latour also writes a chapter illustrated by Chris Brunner, this more effectively slotted in as a direct continuation of previous episodes and showing Roberta Tubb arriving at a turning point and embracing her heritage. Having drawn most of it and designed the chiselled inhabitants, Latour knows his way around Craw County and he matches Aaron’s tone. Brunner has his own style, and it’s heading more to cartooning than Latour, so not always an ideal fit. His characters are more inclined to visual exaggeration, whereas Latour nails the emotional suppression underscoring the entire series.
Any qualms about the series as a whole evaporate with the roller-coaster ride Aaron provides over the final two chapters. With the production delays since Homecoming, the last episode could serve as a series finale, a viable question being whether or not we want to see what’s now apparently inevitable roll out. Hell yeah! Of course we do.