By Andy Frisk
February 21, 2010 - 18:58
After the striking but not unpredictable events at the end of last issue, the character of Tommy Jepperd (simply “Mr. Jepperd” to Sweet Tooth) couldn’t have been viewed in a more despicable light. At the end of the current issue, he can’t be viewed in anything less than a slightly more sympathetic light. Again not a completely unpredictable development, but a solid one storytelling wise anyway. Jepperd had his motives for turning Sweet Tooth, the young boy with the antlers and deer ears, over to the militia camp of scientists and ex-military types. They are conducting experiments on the new species of animal/human hybrid children populating the countryside in this post-apocalyptic world which has been destroyed by a virus that killed off most of the population. It seems that Jepperd isn’t completely heartless though…
Finally, in Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth #6 we begin to get some of the history of events which occurred during and just before the onset and rapid spread of the virus that ended civilization as we know it. The events are viewed through the eyes of Jepperd, an aging hockey player, and his wife. Jepperd played for the Minnesota Wild(cats), and he and his wife lived in secluded rural Minnesota. As the virus spreads and the TV goes dark, Jepperd decides, contrary to the wishes of his wife, that it is safest for them to travel to Chicago where a “safe zone” is being set up. His decision has disastrous consequences…Meanwhile; we get ominous snippets of information about Sweet Tooth’s current predicament, his captors, and the nature of some of the other hybrid children.
Jeff Lemire’s tale shares some similarities with his fellow Canadian artist Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam novels. There are major differences as well though (Lemire’s future world is much closer to the current time's world), but the theme of nature overtaking man and the creation of odd hybrid animals and people are two major themes and ideas that both employ. Where Atwood’s hybrid animals and humans are the result of genetic experimentation, the circumstances behind the development of Lemire’s human/animal hybrids isn’t clear. Post apocalyptic tales are quite prevalent in film, comics, and literature right now and have been for a few years, but few are as intelligent and literary as Atwood’s tales. We can only hope that Lemire’s Sweet Tooth turns out to be as literary.
Artistically, Sweet Tooth is already, like Lemire’s previous works, quite unique and interesting exercises in expressionism. His distorted anatomies and facial expressions, along with the distortion of the surrounding environment, communicate volumes with their look. One small example of this is the incredibly disproportioned wide-eyed looks on Sweet Tooth’s face when faced with a horror and Jepperd’s wife’s face as she watches the news coverage of the early onset of the virus outbreak. They have the look of a deer in the headlights (quite appropriate literally for Sweet Tooth), and little dialogue is needed to express their emotional states. The series has been pretty thin on dialogue overall thus far. This allows Lemire to let his story unfold artistically in an expressionistic way.
The only drawback thus far is that the story is unfolding quite slowly at this point. There is a wealth of history and mystery that the series has barely scratched the surface of. The details of the whys and wherefores behind the plague that wiped out civilization obviously aren’t important to Lemire’s plot yet. The circumstances behind the development of the hybrid children, like Sweet Tooth, isn’t important yet either. We have been treated though to a vision of a lawless future world populated by post-apocalyptic road warriors, mad scientists, and shell shocked types that have been interesting, albeit mildly. We’ve seen such characters and situations countless times before. What we haven’t seen much of is the types of characters that Sweet Tooth represents. The more we see of the hybrid children is the more interesting the story will be.
Being only 6 issues in, we really can’t complain too much about the pace of the plot. The first story arc established the state of the world and the character of Sweet Tooth quite effectively. This second story arc looks to do the same for Jepperd. Once he’s established, hopefully Lemire will get down to some real thematic developments. Given Lemire’s strengths as a writer and artist, this should be a given.
Rating: 8 /10