Stories taking place after a virus, zombie outbreak or monster invasion have proliferated Hollywood and have certainly made their way to comics. Heck, often the stories are one in the same, with post-apocalyptic TV series like The Walking Dead and Y: The Last Man having initially got their start in comics. Sweet Tooth is not only the latest of these post-apocalyptic comic adaptations, it’s one of the more unique in its approach and perspective of its characters. With the second season of the Netflix series now streaming, and a third and final season confirmed, there’s no better time to return to the original story that started it all. Let’s dig into the first volume of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth.
Our main character is Gus, and he’s both our POV character and emblematic of the new world we’re thrown into at the start of the series. A nine-year-old, recently orphaned child, Gus isn’t like other boys. With deer-like antlers and a deer-esque face, Gus is a living embodiment of a mysterious plague that has devastated the populace while giving birth to a growing number of half-human, half-animal hybrid children. Living in Nebraska on his own after his father died from the plague, Gus has never known life beyond the landscape of the woods in which he lives.
When he’s set upon by two hunters, Gus is saved by a gruff, muscular man named Jepperd who promises to take him to the “Preserve”—a haven for hybrid children. The two depart on a trek across the country, encountering awful dangers as they make their way towards the fabled Preserve.
Let’s Talk Talent:
Jeff Lemire is a master of creepy and weird storytelling. In Sweet Tooth, we encounter true dangers, and they’re not from anyone animalistic. Strange cults, hunters of half-animal children and traffickers looking to get into the latest disturbing fetish besiege Gus and Jepperd as they try their best to make it to the Preserve in one piece. What Lemire excels at is utilizing the violence and graphic imagery to accentuate what’s at stake in this world, which is Gus’ innocence. Lemire skillfully tightens his focus on Gus’s reactions to someone getting pulverized and pulls back frequently to emphasize the isolation of the story’s rural and depopulated settings. This keeps the story engaging, without becoming too unsavory or exploitative.
In the first five issues, Lemire presents everything we need to know about the world, the stakes and why we should care about the little guy moving through the hellscape that the United States has become.
A Few Reasons to Read:
- Despite all the doom and gloom, the action scenes are intense and hard-hitting, with the realism of our heroes’ situation quickly established in kill-or-be-kill scenarios. Often outnumbered or low on weapons, no fight is easily won, making it easy to root for the unlikely duo of Gus and Jepperd.
- Sweet Tooth’s hybrid children pose no threat, yet they are hunted, abused and discriminated against seemingly worldwide. This gives this post-apocalyptic tale a new twist on the format, in that survival isn’t on the line so much as morality.
- Despite taking place after a mysterious virus devastates the planet, the first volume is an incredibly quick read. Lemire deftly sets the mood for the story, letting his artwork speak volumes over mere exposition. Gus’s near-constant look of fear contrasts with Jepperd’s unending grimace, communicating that the world is something to be frightened of or perhaps to fight against.
- Sweet Tooth’s first volume certainly leaves you hungry for more, with a killer cliffhanger and so many unanswered questions. What is Jepperd’s backstory? What really happened to Gus’s mother? What’s the cause of the virus? Can humanity be saved, or is it doomed to the worst instincts of itself? In this initial storyline, Lemire perfectly captures the reader’s attention with enough action and characterization without giving away every secret.
Why It’s Worth Your Time:
Despite the abundance of post-apocalyptic stories out there, there isn’t anything quite like Sweet Tooth. Yes, it’s dark and violent, but the sweetly innocent character of Gus (or, the eponymous “Sweet Tooth,” as he’s affectionately called by Jepperd) keeps us deeply invested in the action. With more questions to ask, and answers leading to more questions, Lemire has given us an engrossing mystery box of a horror book that seems to surprise, delight and horrify with each new page—sometimes all at the same time. It’s no wonder it’s also found success as a streaming series. Still, there’s enough of a difference between what’s on screen and what’s in Lemire’s comic that you’ll likely want to experience both. And with the premiere date of the final season of Netflix’s series still unknown and probably a good deal away, now’s the perfect time to discover Sweet Tooth’s amazing source material.
Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire is available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel. It can also be read in full along with the rest of the series on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.