Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods

About ten years ago, the apocalypse hit. Since then, the only children being born are human/animal hybrids. Gus, a human/deer hybrid is one of these new children. Gus has no memory of his mother, and he lives in a small cabin, in the woods with his sickly father; the only other person he has ever seen. In this harsh post-apocalyptic world, kids like Gus have a price on their heads, and while Gus is out foraging each day for food and firewood, he wanders a bit, trying to figure out why the land beyond the edge of the woods isn't all "fire and hell" like his dad told him it was. Gus' wanderings attract the attention of hunters, and as they attack Gus' home, he is saved by a mysterious and violent man calling himself Jeppard...the same man who has been troubling Gus' dreams.

Despite Gus' misgivings, Jeppard appears to more friend than foe though and he promises to lead Gus to The Preserve, a supposed safe-haven for hybrid children. As this unlikely pair strike out across the new post-apocalyptic frontier, they begin to form a tenuous bond.

The bond that develops between the two is quite interesting. Jeppard nicknames Gus "Sweet Tooth" thanks to the latter's affinity for candy, but beyond that Jeppard's gruff demeanor seems hard to crack, even for the the sweet, innocent Gus. However, as we all know: the road is fuckin' hard, and as they get in and out of some deadly scrapes, they do indeed bond, and maybe, in some ways, they each need the other.

Jeppard is a hard guy to trust though. Jeff Lemire, who does double duty as writer and artist, deos a fantastic job of creating trust issues between the reader and what you see and read on the page. Lemire's pictures literally tell a thousand words, and I found myself heavily scrutinizing each facial expression, trying to glean insight from them. The amazing thing is that this "gleaning" is actually possible, so great is the art. Lemire seems to know it too, cutting away to show only a character's back at crucial moments, preferring to keep certain qualities about the characters ambiguous. Lemire has a strong knack for maintaining the tension by revealing just enough, or obscuring certain things at just the right moments.

Living a secluded life, Gus knows little about the outside world, and while he learns; the reader learns as well. I thought this was a nice touch to the book. As a reader, I very much felt like I was along with Gus and Jeppard for the journey. Every post-apocalyptic setting has it's own unique qualities about it, and experiencing them through the eyes of a character who is also experiencing them for the first time is a really great way to get a feel for the setting of Sweet Tooth.

The contrast of the sweet innocent Gus with the brutal, severe Jeppard is quite interesting, and I found myself relating equally, in very different ways to each character. The way they took things in: Gus with wide eyed wonder, and Jeppard with narrow eyed scrutiny tells a lot about the two characters.

I've read a lot of great stuff in the comics medium lately, yet Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods is a major standout. Lemire's work on this book is quite remarkable. Both the writing and the art, while somewhat sparse, is quite fantastic. Lemire has written a story that I'll be happy to visit again.

Grade: A

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