The Rath boys are the urban myth you use to frighten teenagers away from wandering down a bad path. Mean as can be, violent and murderous, the trail of blood in Men of Wrath can be traced down from father to son for several generations. When Ira Rath, arguably the most dangerous man in Choctaw County or anywhere near it, is given a task that most men would balk at. However, bad blood drives him forward to undergo a job the likes of which he never has before. But for a man that’s slaughtered families, taken the lives of babies, and buried secrets in his own backyard, is there a limit to what money and a lack of morals can buy? Probably not.
Men of Wrath is a comic series from Image Comics and co-created and writer by Jason Aaron (Thor, Ghost Rider, The Other Side) that runs in a similar vein to his other the wildly popular comic, Southern Bastards. The introduction to the story is written by Aaron himself and begins like this:
“Sometime around 1900, my great-great-grandfather Ira Aaron stabbed a man to death in an argument over some sheep. His young son, Sammie, was there and witnessed the killing. It was his knife used in the stabbing.”
Based loosely off of his family history, Men of Wrath is a wonderfully twisted and dark tribute to Westerns and murder-based thriller stories everywhere. Jason Aaron is from the South so his special connection to the rich and colorful culture shows through his work. Aaron is a master of Southern dialogue, and the authenticity in his characters voices and words truly puts Men of Wrath above the rest. You can hear the drawl in Ira’s voice and the grit in his tone.
There’s not much for character development in Men of Wrath, and most of what’s shown are in flashbacks throughout the trade that gives you a peek into the history of the Rath family. It’s done in a way that shows how realistic it is for our family backgrounds to become a snare that entraps us, setting us up on the paths of our lives with little care to who we are or what we want. It also raises interesting questions that science and psychology have discussed for ages; is violence and the proclivity to murder something that can be inherited? Aaron paints it as a Southern fact of life, the sins of the father lives on.
Jason Aaron remains one of my favorite writers in comics, and especially in his creator-owned work, where I believe he excels in a unique and interesting way. Men of Wrath is the perfect example of where Aaron does his best work; centered around family, convoluted Southern charms, and a whole helluva lot of killing.
As far as introductions to creators go, Men of Wrath was the best way for me to discover Ron Garney (Hulk, Captain America, Silver Surfer.) As a fairly new fan of comics, it’s one of my greatest joys to find creators to love and support, and Garney hits the mark for me. With an arsenal of panel views, creative layouts and detailed refinement that brings the Alabama scenery to life, Garney is an absolute asset to Men of Wrath. I’m in love with his facial expressions and the emotional visibility that’s apparent throughout the entire story within every living creature, human and otherwise.
Garney’s linework is gorgeous. In the scene above, you can see the muscle of the horses as they flee from a threat in the night, and it brings the entire panel to life. The imagery is active and lively with pages that are easy for readers to immerse themselves in the lethal shenanigans of Choctaw County. The poses of the characters, even in the parts of Men of Wrath that’s riddled with action and gunfire, are fluid and natural and lacks the stiffness that some artists inject into their work for the sake of aesthetics.
Of course, there’s only so much genius that can be credited to the artist alone. With beautiful lines and perfect depictions of humanity on paper, it’s only heightened by Matt Milla‘s (X-Men: Blue, Daredevil) coloring. I loved seeing the variations in his palate and the way the colors shifted from panel to panel. Shades differed from flashback to present time. It works with the shadowing of much of the story and a creative device that reminded me of covers of dimestore Westerns. Milla uses a wide range of shades to add depth and nuance to the already stellar artwork. A lot of Men of Wrath’s appeal is tone which is set almost exclusively by coloring. There’s not a single misstep in the interior art, and the coloring is consistently true. To be honest, the Rath boys and Choctaw County have probably never looked so damn good.
Akin to coloring is lettering, the other unsung hero of comics. Lettering can make or break a comic book, and Men of Wrath was blessed by Jared K Fletcher (Batgirl, We Are Robin, Midnighter.) With a fair amount of text squeezed into the Men of Wrath trade, Fletcher rocks the word balloon world with his skills. From font shifts to outlining the text in ways that fit the mood of the panel, Fletcher illustrates just how technical and important lettering is and there not a single unnecessarily bolded word was to be found in the entire 100+ pages of Men of Wrath. It truly aided Aaron’s script in becoming all it could possibly be.
Men of Wrath is about a lot of things, but mostly it’s about a dying man who causes some more dying, broken families and a little bit of redemption that’s snatched away with a twist ending I didn’t see coming. From start to finish, it’s a wild ride that you won’t want to get off from. I highly recommend it on the basis of it’s just that damn good.
Can I do more than five stars?
Rating: 5/5 Dead Bodies