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.
In middle school, I felt friendless. In high school, I had no idea who I wanted to be. In college, I had an unhealthy schedule and lifestyle that resulted in less than stellar grades for a semester. After college, I read Sweet Tooth, and I’m still reeling from the pain imposed upon my delicate heart. Am I overreacting? Considering TV commercials can get to me, probably, 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, the art took risks with paneling that didn’t always pay off, but when it did, it fucking did. The lettering was delicate, unobtrusive, and framed the characters like portraits, and Nate Powell drew his scenes with a calm but intense passion. I’ve been lucky in that this book, and my other Run Through, Locke and Key, have turned out to be some of my favorite comics. It really is a great age to be a comic reader.
This volume began like the last one: horizontally. We get moments of sadness as they bury Lucy, moments of joy as they sing something akin to Old McDonald in a car, and an overdue bromance, as Jepperd and Jimmy share a bottle in front of a bonfire. Last time this horizontal style was used, I liked it. This time, I adored it. The distance it creates allows for an objective portrayal of the character’s emotions. 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 the painted intricacies of the human mind, we see these people as a simple, struggling, heartbroken family, and it’s definitely relatable.
After the horizontal portion, we learn about Abbot and Johnny’s past, including their abusive father and Abbot’s early penchant for solving problems with murder. We see the strained, unhealthy connection between the two, and it’s there to show how depraved a man can become because of power and the admiration of those around him. Abbot had lost most of his humanity, considering his treatment of the hybrids, but it could have been argued he still retained hope within his brother, Johnny. After their present day confrontation, Johnny sticks to his guns, and so does Abbot. Before being shot, Johnny tells his brother that he knows Abbot won’t kill him. He used to be right, but, unfortunately, he isn’t anymore.
I could go page by page and talk about how every section had something significant for each character, 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, and the violence in the characters. And we still get his expert paneling, which does wonders for the dynamics of the book. Instead of boxes, rectangles, and the occasional character overlay, 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 sets the most appropriate moods for any scene. Explosions, gunshots, and wounds all feel fierce because of him. He accents the action scenes with his strokes of color, emphasizing the right parts and drawing your eye like a rolling camera. It may be an outdated comparison, but I’ve been watching a lot of Bob Ross online recently (don’t even pretend you’re too cool for that) and the way Ross mixes his colors reminds me of what Jose Villarubia has done throughout this book.
Finally, there’s much to be said about the story; about Gus and Jepperd, though I won’t over indulge. Jepperd was a strong man, with eyes for the world as it was: bloody, mad, and greedy. He learned how to live in it, and didn’t find obstacles a problem. If it wasn’t for this oddball group of people and hybrids, he surely would have died, or killed enough people to basically be dead. 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 the compassion that grew within him. This is the kind of love one is envious of, but it couldn’t have been given to a more deserving boy.
Gus was just a boy up 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 tall when he needed to, and ceased victimizing himself whenever talk of the disease or something new and dangerous was brought up. There are scenes when Gus’ eyes say it all: instead of buckling like a child, his eyebrows would furrow and his gaze stayed on mark. Future Gus and Bobby are the embodiments of Jepperd and Jimmy, 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. And if that isn’t an unobstructed parallel for the struggle of demonized people in this world, where the humans are appropriate stand-ins for bigots, than our history books are probably still missing some chapters.
Sweet Tooth is one of the better comics out there. Despite some misgivings about Jepperd early on, the story had me scared for this band of survivors. It made me wish I was a faster writer, so I could get to the next volume already. 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.
Ouch. But yeah.
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