SPOILERS. THERE'S A BUNCH OF 'EM.
In The Run Through, we’ll be looking at completed comic book series, one volume, one week at a time, from the critically acclaimed to the virtually unknown. The goal is to provide our readers with something new to bite into. This isn’t a review, it’s barely a recommendation. It’s an informal glance at comics that made it to their final issue, and we want to read the stories arc by arc, as they were ultimately intended to be consumed. While there may be minor spoilers, any major developments will be vaguely referred to, so don't worry. No stars, no bashing, just what we did and didn’t like. And yes, we want to hear from you too.
I'm no stranger to getting my heart broken by books. I mean, the first novel I read was Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it nearly a dozen times as a child, so you'd think dog deaths at such a formative age would have made me calloused. And they did. But that doesn’t change what happened at the end of the day: Jeff Lemire broke my heart, and told me I deserved it.
What Jeff Lemire, Jose Villarubia, Carlos M. Mangual, and guest artist Nate Powell have done on Sweet Tooth: Wild Game is wonderful. The story was somber and implosive, and the art took risks with paneling that didn’t always pay off, but when it did, it fucking did. The lettering framed the characters like portraits, and Nate Powell drew his scenes with a calm but intense passion. I’ve been lucky that this book, and my other Run Through, Locke and Key, have turned out to be some of my favorite comics, with Jeff Lemire immediately becoming a a buy on sight name.
This volume began like the last one: horizontally. We get moments of sadness as they bury Lucy, snippets of joy during an impromptu sing along, and an overdue bit of bonding, as Jepperd and Jimmy toast in the audience of a fire. Last time this horizontal style was used, I liked it. This time, I adored it. The distance it created allowed for an objective portrayal of the characters as a whole. Along with the addition of a narrator, we’re able to empathize with the characters in a way we couldn’t when inside their heads. By removing their emotionally biased thoughts from the narrative, we see these people as a picture frame: a simple, struggling, heartbroken family. Of course, we feel this when we're sitting on the log next to them, but to see them from the outside is real. We know these families in a grocery store.
Later, we learn about Abbot and Johnny’s past, including their abusive father. We see the unhealthy relationship between the two brothers as they grow, demonstrating how power and admiration can turn an abused man into something more depraved, and another into a stepping stool. Abbot had already lost his humanity, but it could be argued he retained some hope because of his little brother. After their confrontation, a changed Johnny sticks to his guns, unafraid of his older brother. Unfortunately, do foes Abbot. Before being shot, Johnny tells his brother that he knows Abbot won’t kill him. I don't know why this scene clings to me. Maybe its the lost hope? Or maybe I'm thinking of my own brother? Regardless, Johnny was tall in that scene, and it doesn't go unnoticed.
I could go page by page and talk about how each scenes was deftly utilized, but then this piece would quadruple in size. So let’s talk about Jeff and Jose’s art. Jeff’s ability to draw sorrow, horror, and desperation into faces, and especially the faces of hybrid children, is breathtaking. Even with Jeff Lemire’s messier, sketchy style, his lines are impeccable, and you can feel the steps, the hesitation, in the characters. We still get his expert paneling, which does wonders for the dynamics of the book. Instead of boxes, Jeff plays with angles and borders to simulate not only the action of the scene, but the sentiment.
Jose Villarubia is one hell of a colorist. I’ve talked about his palette, and his perfect contrast, but I haven’t mentioned how much his blending comes into play. His backgrounds, the skin or fur of the humans and hybrids, and especially the sky, are all perfect examples of how Jose Villarubia adds weight to the scene's tone. Explosions, gunshots, and wounds are fierce because of him. He accents action with his splashes of color, drawing your eye like a rolling camera. Even the quieter scenes, like the one above, are laced with anxiety. Take note of the trash along the street and how many bags Johnny is carrying.. There's too much for a character to not feel like the world is creeeping up on them.
Finally, there’s much to be said about the story; about Gus and Jepperd. Jepperd was a strong man, with eyes for the world as it was: bloody and mad. He learned how to live in it, and saw obstacles as commonplace. If it wasn’t for this oddball group of people and hybrids, he surely would have been lost. But I’d be damned if I ever saw a stronger man have his heart thawed. Despite the loss of his wife, and the apparent loss of his son, he was able to love and sacrifice like a father would. While it was only moments before his death that he said he loved his new family out loud, his actions from nearly the beginning showed his growing compassion. This is the kind of love one is envious of, but it couldn’t have been given to a more deserving person.
Gus was just a boy when we first met him. While he didn’t age much, he sure as hell grew. He protected the group in Jepperd’s absence, stood up when he needed to, and ceased victimizing himself. There are scenes when Gus’ eyes say it all. Instead of buckling like a child, his eyebrows furrowed and his gaze stayed on mark. Future Gus and Bobby are the embodiment of Jepperd and Jimmy, right down to the hatchet. And while they became stronger and more influential than their mentors, they resolved to remain steadfast against the temptation to attack the humans who had harmed them so much. Buddy, Jepperd’s son, may think differently, but together they created a community, a home, for a race of people hunted and prized for their appearance, with humans appropriately standing in for the bigots.
Sweet Tooth is one of the better comics out there. Despite some misgivings about Jepperd early on, the story had me afraid for this band of survivors. It even made me wish I was a faster writer so I could begin the next volume. And with so many Jeff Lemire titles coming out this year (Descender, Extraordinary X-Men, Old Man Logan, and Hawkeye), we’re all very lucky. Even if Jeff Lemire believes some of us are due for some pain.
Fermin Gonzalez sometimes writes things, sometimes makes videos, and does a lot of nonsensical rambling on Easy Mode Ultra. He's also not very tall. Follow him on Twitter @koky_sorta