Friday, December 4, 2009

Sweet Tooth #4 Review

Gus might be the answer to the world's problems.

by Bryan Joel

Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth is a monthly revelation, but it's not the fresh take on a post-apocalyptic world where the true genius of this book lies. Rather, it's in Lemire's brilliant character work and the seamless integration of it into his artwork. Sweet Tooth is far and away my favorite monthly comic, and issue #4 perfectly demonstrates why.

This issue finds Jepperd and Gus stumbling into a prostitution operation. It's the first time that the duo have really run into non-hunters in the outside world, and it's a chilling indication of how twisted the world has become. Sweet Tooth has more than a few childrens' storybook qualities to it normally, and the prostitutes are another example of this. On the surface they seem like one-dimensional figures intended to serve a specific purpose, but by the end of their story they've grown into something else and serve a new agenda. The simplicity of their one-issue story arc is genius.

But the real meat of the issue for me is the same as it has been in the previous three: the effect Gus and Jepperd are having on one another. Jepperd is positioned as the grizzled, jaded soldier figure and Gus as the timid, innocent neophyte, and every passing issue, each character drags the other further into their respective state of mind. This issue, it's Gus's naive, simple notion of right and wrong that alters Jepperd just enough that he's willing to help the prostitutes. Likewise, it's Jepperd's brutal handling of their pimps that brings Gus out of his sheltered mindset to appreciate the reality of their situation. Ultimately it seems to be leading towards the characters meeting somewhere in the moral middle, but the journey there is the true joy of Sweet Tooth.

Neither of these character movements would have come off quite as brilliantly if it weren't for Lemire's artistic cues. Whether it's Gus's (literal) doe-eye peeking around the corner to witness Jepperd's extreme violence, or Jepperd's clenched fist at the realization that Gus's black and white stance on morality is probably more admirable than his loner tendencies, Sweet Tooth #4 represents the zenith in art/script fusion. Even when the action dies down as the issue ends, Lemire treats readers to some stunning visuals, even when it's simply some rain falling, or the dysfunctional duo riding horseback. Lemire's artwork tells the story just as much as the words do, and this issue of Sweet Tooth is a true visual experience to be had.

This title continues to prove what the comics medium is capable of outside of spandex and muscles, and issue #4 is probably my favorite installment yet. Lemire is creating a fantastic world full of mystery, grit, and deceit, and a team of characters with real synergy and charisma.