We’re Sweet on Sweet Tooth (Mania.com)
Date: Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Everybody loves a good post-apocalyptic tale. Whether it’s the Walking Dead with it’s zombies and gore, Planet of the Apes with a cautionary tale of social commentary, the wastelands of Mad Max or the strange world of science and sorcery that is Thundarr the Barbarian, there is one constant – the world as we know it irrevocably altered, as though the earth was a snowglobe given a huge shake by a collossal set of cosmic hands. At least… we love a good post-apocalyptic tale. Heck, we even love a bad one. Have you ever seen Damnation Alley? Or the second Planet of the Apes movie? We have, and we’ll likely watch ‘em again. So it should come as no surprise that we’re big fans of Sweet Tooth, the Vertigo series written and illustrated by the Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated Jeff Lemire. And for those of you unfamiliar with the man or his work, don’t worry: it’s a hell of a lot better than Damnation Alley.
Sweet Tooth has been described by some as “Mad Max meets Bambi”, which is a pretty accurate nutshell. Being the enormous Jack Kirby fans that we are, we can’t help but see the influence of Kamandi, another post-apocalyptic story featuring animal/human hybrids. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. And let’s face it: we see Jack’s influence in every comic… which is probably because it’s tough to escape the man’s reach, especially if we’re talking about any sci-fi or adventure comic published in America. But we’re not here to talk about Kirby; we’re here to talk about Sweet Tooth.
So the relatively spoiler-free long and short of it goes something like this: some sort of plague has wiped out a good portion of humanity. As you might assume, governments have fallen to the wayside and band of roving marauders are running the show. It’s unclear exactly how long ago the plague hit, but it’s been long enough to see the next generation of humans born and raised to their early teens. Funny thing is, a lot of those kids aren’t exactly what you or I would call normal. Take Gus, for instance. He’s the star of the book, so we probably oughtta mention him. Gus is a fairly normal kid, maybe a little on the lean side, but his ears are a little on the pointy side and his forehead… well, the kid’s got antlers.
And Gus isn’t the only one. In fact, all of the kids born after the plague bear striking resemblances to dogs, cats, sheep, pigs or other animals. Now, Gus was raised in a secluded cabin in the wilderness with his father, but once his father dies, a mysterious man known as Jeppard shows up and that’s where our story begins. Without giving too much away, for those who might be unfamiliar with the book, there’s some twisted scientists performing some nasty experiments in order to find the cause of the plague and hopefully a cure. There’s this pesky habit that Gus has of seeing the future in his dreams. And there’s his father’s journal, which reads like some sort of religious text and might just indicate that Gus is some sort of messiah. It’s a sprawling, epic adventure that mashes up sci-fi and horror, as well as a whole bunch of weirdness. And it’s highly recommended by Comicscape.
While the first, six-issue story of Sweet Tooth followed a fairly predictable arc, the book still managed to grab us by the balls as well as the heart with it’s likable characters, horrifying setting and captivating mystery. And once Jeff Lemire established the world and its inhabitants, that dude hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back. With every issue of Sweet Tooth, we see the book reinvented and taken in unpredictable directions. For as much fun as we’re having reading it, we have to admit: it’s a downer. From Lemire’s somber art to the soul-crushing reality of the future presented every month, Sweet Tooth isn’t exactly a pick-me-up. But it is the first book we read when a new issue is released, because it’s that damn good.
We have to admit that we haven’t read any of Lemire’s other works. We haven’t read The Nobody or Essex County, though we understand both come with excellent reviews. We haven’t even read his stint on Superboy, and we’re not really sure why. But sooner or later we will (and if you already have, let us know what you think in the comments section). What we can tell you is that Sweet Tooth toes an interesting line between the avant garde world of indie comics and a crazed science fiction world more akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Tim Truman’s Scout. And since we’re partial to both sides of that fence, Sweet Tooth suits us just fine.
There’s an odd quasi-religious and semi-mystical side to the book that sort of lingers in the background quietly while still influencing every aspect of the story. There’s a constant sense of terror on every stress-filled page as well as an odd calm that comes along with Gus. It’s saddening to see this naïve young boy quickly become aware of the harsh realities of the anarchistic society he resides in, but he’s got a heart of gold and it’s easy to admire him. The rest of the cast manages to be 3-dimensional and completely well-rounded, not quite heroes though not exactly villains. Not too different from the real world, despite the setting.
Long story short, Sweet Tooth is a tasty treat: an ongoing series worthy of carrying the Vertigo banner and definitely worthy of a spot on your bookshelf. If you’re not reading it yet, you’re in luck: con season is just around the corner and with comic conventions come discount trade paperbacks. Do yourself a favor and pick up some Sweet Tooth – it’s delicious.