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Includes Issues:Sweet Tooth 1-5
Issue Dates:November 2009 – March 2010
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This review contains minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

I didn’t mean to pick up Sweet Tooth. I’d heard a lot about it, sure, but I had a lot on my plate already.

I just happened to be in on the bookstore level of the building my fiancée works in and slipped it off the rack while I was waiting for her.

I accidentally finished it.

Like the tempting candy that eventually lends the main character his nickname (along with the title of the comic), Sweet Tooth is undeniably seductive.

As the newest celebrated Vertigo title, in a long line of successes for that extraordinary imprint, it starts right off with the weird.

Artist/writer Jeff Lemire knows how to get pages turning and he isn’t afraid to take risks. Three sets of eyes and some feet? It’s not what you’d expect as the first page of a new ongoing, at least not if you’re used to comics-by-committee.

But, accompanied by Gus’ dialogue, innocent and frightened, it’s the right first page for this book. As a nightmare, it doesn’t hint at much besides tone, but the opening sequence makes things clear without feeling at all like exposition.

Gus has been living with his father alone in the woods. Something has happened, bad enough that Pa warns about lands of fire and brimstone, only sinners left, and keeps Gus close. He warns him not to go beyond the fence, teaches him to live on his own and run from the others.

Oh, and Gus is a hybrid – “My dad says so few kids was born after the accident, that god decided to make ’em special. So we got fur, or tails, or antlers.” (It’s almost a shame that the antlers are all over the promo materials, because it’s a few pages until we see them and I appreciated Lemire’s slow reveal.)

This “specialness” has resulted in the hybrids being hunted, hated. And Gus’ father tells him he’s the last left – and then, just 15 pages in, Pa dies. Gus is alone (and because the plot must move forward) the bad world outside soon finds him.

Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out Of The Deep Woods collects the first five issues of Lemire’s new Vertigo series. The creator is probably best known for Essex County, a small town epic now collected in one hefty volume, but he also received acclaim for his first Vertigo publication, The Nobody.

Sweet Tooth is his first major ongoing series (which he started just a little over a year ago), but Lemire is now a signed DC exclusive (though his contract allows him to work on his current Top Shelf project “The Underwater Welder”). In addition to this self contained creator owned work, he is currently penning Superboy. This Smallville-centered DC property is probably a good match, since Lemire is a writer very invested in strange little towns and equally strange young men.

In Sweet Tooth, this theme is distilled by the apocalyptic setting – with most of society gone, the entire world is like a small town. It’s disconnected, off the grid, populated by a few gruff characters. Gus, of course, a variety of crazies, and the other star of this first volume – Jepperd. The Big Man.

While there’s no telling what’s to come in this story, so ripe as it is for twists and turns, Out Of The Deep Woods is a fairly straightforward start. Gus is lost, new to a harsh world, and he latches on to Jepperd. As a manly figure that makes no move to hurt him, he’s the closest thing to a positive role model the boy has.

But it’s not likely we’ll be seeing blurbs such as “A heartwarming tale of family bonding – when all else is lost. A boy… who needs a father. A man who never knew he needed someone to love..” This isn’t a Hallmark Channel movie, it’s a Vertigo title.

This brings me to one of the weaknesses of the story so far. While the pacing and development is excellent, and there are enough hints of something interesting under the surface, this first volume is a little predictable in its general make up. The setting – while no zombies in sight so far, thank god – isn’t particularly original and neither is the small cast (young boy, gruff old guy – think Wolverine team-up.)

The hints of paranormal, scattered profanity, and the sudden spouts of violence are exactly what we’d expect from a Vertigo title. To compound it, I found myself blowing through this volume. It was over before I knew it, without much happening that wasn’t hinted at heavily from the first issue.

These problems are relatively minor and may indeed become irrelevant altogether as the series goes on – often the self contained Vertigo titles read best in a stack of trades. If I had discovered Sweet Tooth later in life, I could see myself sitting down with the complete run and devouring it in the course of a single afternoon. Even if the slightly predictable personae and situations persist throughout, the writing style and characterization is still a total treat.

Sweet Tooth is made even more delectable by Jeff Lemire‘s art. It’s a style that, after just five issues, I’d have no problem picking out in a crowd. And the art gets better as the title goes on (a natural progression – but also perhaps because a more successful title might allow more time, especially for the colors.)

Full of dark crevices, spilling deep shadow, his pages ooze the dusty nothing of a dying America. ‘s color palette is masterfully picked, accompanying Lemire’s work in complementary amounts of bright searing red or dark muddy tones (watercolor-esque, though they must be computer generated due to the overall consistency.)

It’s not all dreariness. Lemire throws in the occasional bright sunset, strange dream sequence, or stylized set of imagery. A personal favorite is the amazing bordered spread of Gus considering his father wasting away while seasons change in the background – all set inside panels adorned with green-vined framing.

Lemire is a comic artist with a more free-form approach to human figures and faces (and even backgrounds at times) so I can understand if his art doesn’t work for everyone. It’s odd, like the story, and (also like the story) sometimes brutal in the use of line and anatomy. Somehow this brutality leaves room for bright cartoony eyes and exaggerated emotion.

Personally, I love his figures, especially their shoulders, dynamic and expressive without being over idealized forms. Lemire tends to elongate arms and emphasize the upper torso, using this to exaggerate motion, from shrugs to painful convulsions.

The characters have faces hewn from rock, craggy things that posses the ability to move into forms of delight, but default to slates of prolonged pain. Faces of the world post-apocalypse.

I could go on longer about this Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out Of The Deep Woods‘s intricacies, but I’ll save further discussion for the next volume. I have no doubt that I’ll be looking at it soon.

The series is off to a great start. If you’re looking for a new monthly to pick up (with the first two trades already on the shelf) – this is one to support.

With my slight reservations about the few predictable elements, the real shame would be if Sweet Tooth never gets a chance to bring its extremely intriguing set up to a satisfactory conclusion. Far too many creator owned titles end before their time is up. My real fear is that this story, which could be an epic alongside Preacher or The Walking Dead, will be cut short. Unless Vertigo makes a move towards continuing in OGN form, that means we have to support titles like this while they are in floppy – no matter how good the story is, recent cancellations have proved that the bottom line will always be a factor.

Ideally, in a few years, I’ll be sitting down with a tall stack of Sweet Tooth trades, ready to experience the whole story through in one sitting.

4 out of 5.  Definitely worth getting into. Even with some things you’ve seen before (and hopefully much you haven’t!) the title is amazingly irresistible. It’s executed very very well and makes for an enjoyable read.

Essential Continuity:
This is a self contained title and the start is here – like most self contained ongoings, you should read it through by the volume numbers.

Read first:
This is the first book in the series. Lemire has other works, but there’s no pre-gaming required for this one.

Read next:
The next book is Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity.

If you can’t stand the wait for the third volume and need more Lemire now, check out Essex County and The Nobody.

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12 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar Dirt55 wrote on at January 21, 2011 9:37 pm:

    The cover alone would make me shy away from this. Creeeeepy. It will be very interesting to see how the series progresses. I’m so inpatient about waiting for the next trade to come out after reading a ton back to back (I’m looking at you ‘Fables’) so I’ll check back in a few volumes to get a good fill. I can’t express how much I enjoy the additional recommended titles in your reviews. It’s always nice to hear about other titles.


    avatar Ian replied on January 21st, 2011 at 9:56 pm:

    yeah, same here – I’m having the same issue with Fables. I’ve got a huge stack of those trades, now, and won’t be diving into em until the whole series is finished. Even if it takes another ten years.

    I’m kind of scared that it will become another unending franchise, though. It’s hard enough trying to keep up with Marvel and DC!


    avatar Simon replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 7:57 am:

    I prefer the unending self-contained titles as you know they wont spiral out of control crossing over with a million other titles, only to have them dismissed 5 years later as non-canon.

    I read the preview to this series in the back of one of the single issues way back and wasn’t left impressed by it, but it’s not often those previews work well as it’s impossible to sum up a new story in 8 pages. I will have to give this a look a year or two down the line once it has a few more trades out.


    avatar Ian replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 9:03 am:

    See the problem is that if everyone thinks it looks interesting but wants to wait, it will probably get canceled for poor sales. That’s probably what happened with Unknown Soldier.

    It sucks, cause with comics that might mean we never get a satisfactory ending


    avatar Simon replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 9:11 am:

    That is true but Dysart managed to write an ending for Unknown Soldier that seemed natural for the series; looking at it I think that series was better plot-wise to end rather than stretch on for too long, it might have lost it’s message.


    avatar Ian replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 1:29 pm:

    I guess the editors agreed with you. In any case, I hope Lemire gets to tell the story he’s planning on with Sweet Tooth.


    avatar Simon replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 1:42 pm:

    Yeah I hope so too, from this review it sounds like worth checking out, but I just happen to be a several volumes at a time person.

    Despite all the negative press directed at the editors, and all their cancellations of titles, they do tend to call the right shots often. I think I read somewhere that Y:The Last Man was only meant to be 6 issues long but instead ran to 60 issues, and we have them partially to thank for that decision.


    avatar Dirt55 replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 2:49 pm:

    Yeah, that’s a problem too. There are SO many things that start and then are cancelled that it makes me quite cautious about getting into anything new. TV shows are the worst ones with this. Then again lack of support is probably why they get cancelled. Hard to weed out what is worth getting into and what you should avoid completely (ie. “The Cape”).


    avatar Ian replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 7:25 pm:

    yeah. When I’ve made a decision, I tend to just buy the trades and hold them to the side to read later. I’ve been doing that with Ex Machina, Powers and Fables.


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  1. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 21, 2011 10:23 pm:

    That is what I’m doing with the Walking Dead. I opened the first trade after buying it, read the authors notes, saw that he hoped that it would be a never ending story and then said “oh crap. I guess I shouldn’t read the second one.” As interesting as it was I just don’t know if I can commit to 30, 40, 50+ trades for one series. I gotta spread my trade/GN love around :-)


  2. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 7:44 pm:

    Fables started out super strong but after the initial plot/goal was reached it’s waxed and waned a bit…at worst still good, at best stellar.


  3. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 7:51 pm:

    That matches what I’ve heard about the series. I wonder what it will be like to sit down with the full stack some day.


  4. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:04 pm:

    Have you heard anything about Jack of Fables? I know it’s a fairly popular series as well, I just can’t stand Jack in Fables. Hrs such an ass, I can’t imagine reading a whole book (or more) with him as the focus.


  5. Simon
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:11 pm:

    It’s written a little differently to Fables, focused more on the humour. Not as good as Fables but very good all the same; while the main one dipped off Jack stayed strong up until the crossover


  6. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:14 pm:

    I read the first couple trades and enjoyed it. I think it’s a nice complement to the main series.


  7. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:17 pm:

    Oh so you guys have read it? Cool. Explain something to me. In vol 13 of fables it was the great crossover. Where the he’ll did the Literaries come from? That’s what they were called right? It’s been a while since I read it. It was basicall the fable cast, Jack, and then another set of characters that just seemed to come out of nowhere.


  8. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:18 pm:

    (double post, sorry)


  9. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:21 pm:

    I haven’t read that far, so I couldn’t tell you. I’ve only read the first 3 or so trades of Jack and the crossover doesn’t hit until around book 6. At least according to my reading order which might need a little tweaking. But I think it’s accurate.


  10. Simon
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:22 pm:

    Basically you find out in jack of fables that it’s the mundy realm that gives them their powers by being popular withthe mundys, jack is invincible as he is so popular etc; there are these creators (the writers) that control their universe and from these spawn the literals. They were new for the crossover but make more sense if read jack series too.

    Speaking of fables… they are finally introducing superheroes into the fables universe this year!!!! Going be interesting.


  11. Simon
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:22 pm:

    Basically you find out in jack of fables that it’s the mundy realm that gives them their powers by being popular withthe mundys, jack is invincible as he is so popular etc; there are these creators (the writers) that control their universe and from these spawn the literals. They were new for the crossover but make more sense if read jack series too.

    Speaking of fables… they are finally introducing superheroes into the fables universe this year!!!! Going be interesting.


  12. Simon
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:23 pm:

    your reading list for fables is fine btw Ian, I recently read them in that order and they fitted fine


  13. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:28 pm:

    I knew thee role, I just thought they were from Jack or their own title that I haven’t heard about. They were just thrown in and away tue story goes. It’s one vol I might actually enjoy a second reading of.


  14. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:30 pm:

    Thanks Simon, it’s always good to have confirmation, especially when I put a list together from research and haven’t read through and tweaked yet.


  15. Simon
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:33 pm:

    no worries, I’ve been playing around with my trades recently trying to fit Vertigo ones into main DC line, but only the ones that aren’t world shattering like Y or DMZ; so have been using publication dates to place 100 Bullets, Pride of Baghdad etc.

    Now just waiting to see which super-heroes come into fable universe, because that could lead to fables being swallowed up by the DCU too.

    Also it’s 1:30am here so night all


  16. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:40 pm:

    huh, interesting. I’ve placed some stuff like that (like Tor) but not most. I was thinking of putting Loveless with the other DC Westerns.


  17. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:40 pm:

    Superheros will be a little odd I wonder how they’ll pull that off. I guess they would be able to pull from the DCU then right? Hmm.


  18. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:42 pm:

    probably people embodying superheroic concepts. I don’t want to think about it too much before reading it, in case my ideas are better, haha


  19. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 8:51 pm:

    I’d just rather not think about it at all. The lack of superheros is what males Fables what it is. Great story without having to rely on too much action. Watch…I’ll be here later going “Fables Vol 22: Black Adam loves Cinderella is the best trade ever written!”


  20. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 9:20 pm:

    I mean, you could have superheroes and not have an action book. It’s been done, to varying degrees of success.


  21. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 9:57 pm:

    Like JLA 19: World Without a JLA. They did a hell of a job of having a ton of action heros with little action. 10% action, 60% Green Arrow whining and 30% bickering among other DC characters. Ugh.

    I read this RIGHT after JLA: Red Tornado. Talk about going from a High to a Low.


  22. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at January 22, 2011 11:02 pm:

    There are some really good examples of top notch non-action superhero issues also, but I’m too pooped to think of any right now.


  23. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 23, 2011 2:07 am:

    I would be very interested to hear some recommendations. My favorite books, stories, movies are all character driven. That’s what I loved about 52 and pretty much the main reason I fall in love with some of my favorite books and movies. Give me a well written book of the DC trinity sitting around a table talking and make it interesting and I’ll eat it up. That’s one big reason I loved JLA: Red Tornado so much.


  24. Simon
    wrote on at January 23, 2011 2:55 am:

    I think they wont add main DC characters but will instead have characters that look like them, Watchman style.
    I am thinking that they will argue that comicbook heroes are just modern day fables and include them that way


  25. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 23, 2011 11:15 am:

    It actually looks pretty interesting after seeing the covers.


  26. Simon
    wrote on at January 23, 2011 2:04 pm:

    It does look interesting and seeing that one insert page pretty much gives me a good idea for how it will come about but want to avoid spoilers on here


  27. Chris D.
    wrote on at January 23, 2011 2:36 pm:

    Yeah. I agree about the spoilers. After seeing this I’m all in :-) (yes I’m easily convinced)


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