Comics You Should Be Reading: Sweet Tooth
A few weeks ago, we told you about Jeff Lemire's excellent superhero comic Animal Man in this very column. It wouldn't be right if we didn't also take the time/space to acknowledge Lemire's excellent un-superhero series being published right now, the amazing Sweet Tooth.
Sweet Tooth follows a young boy named Gus (also called "Sweet Tooth" because of his love of candy bars), a human/animal "hybrid" with deer antlers on his head. Gus is presumably one of the last people left alive on Earth after a terrible plague has decimated most of its population. In fact, Gus and other hybrids seem to be immune to whatever killed most normal people, and his kind started to be born right about the time the plague first hit. Could the two things be connected? Gus doesn't know anything about that—he's basically lived his whole short life with his dad in a nature preserve walled off from the rest of the world, which the few surviving humans have turned into a pretty ugly place. But when his dad dies and Gus is tricked into leaving his sanctuary, he might just become the most important person alive.
Beginning in September 2009, Sweet Tooth has to this point released 31 issues that star Gus and a group of survivors—both hybrids and regular humans—as they try to stay alive and beat the plague. Chief among them is Jepperd, a hardened older man who comes into Gus' life as a bounty hunter (militia camps pay big money for hybrids to conduct experiments on) but ends up becoming his protector. Gus and Jepperd travel with a number of other misfits as well, including Dr. Singh (a scientist determined to get to the bottom of Gus' origin) and a group of other hybrid children who've fallen under Jepperd's care.
Jeff Lemire not only writes every issue of Sweet Tooth but, with a few exceptions, has drawn them all, too! This is especially a treat for people who first came to know Lemire through his independent work like The Essex County Trilogy. No one else really draws like him. The art's sparse and scratchy, which suits the dire tone of the book, but it's also incredibly expressive; he makes us care about his characters with only the detail in their faces, and we can learn a lot about the type of people they are just by how they're drawn—Gus is naïve and hopeful, Jepperd weary and beaten, etc. It's pretty stunning. Add to that Jose Villarrubia's incredible colors and you've got not only a great-looking book but one unlike any other on the stands.
And of course the story here's fantastic. If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic scenarios (think The Stand, I Am Legend, even Zombieland), this is an easy sell, but there's a lot more to this book than watching people survive. Really, just like Lemire's Animal Man, Sweet Tooth is all about the relationships between these characters. Gus and Jepperd are both people who've lost something dear—a father, a wife, a son, any semblance of a normal life—and are doing their best to reconstruct a familial unit they feel comfortable in, even if they don't know it. That's made trickier, of course, by the fact that the rest of the world wants Gus to be a science project. Everyone you meet in this book has some hidden agenda, and you don't know who to trust. So far Gus and Jepperd have dealt with angry ex-military officers, thieves, murderers, mercenaries, abandoned shopping malls, and bears. Don't forget the bears. They're currently on their way to Alaska to learn the truth behind Gus' origin (Singh possesses journals that suggest it can be found there), but wouldn't you know it, stuff keeps popping up to cause them problems.
Yes, Sweet Tooth has almost been running for three years now, which might make it seem a little daunting to get into. However, DC Comics wants to make it easy for you to start reading; they've priced the first trade paperback collection of Sweet Tooth comics (that's the first five issues of the series) at $12.99. Additionally, you can check out the first issue online at Comixology for $1.99. If you're into great adventure stories with incredible characters and beautiful, unique art, Sweet Tooth is definitely a Comic You Should Be Reading.