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.
About a year ago, I read Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. The film adaptation had been out for a while, and when asked about it, friends would reply with a guttural sigh, leaving the rest to imagination. I’m not sure if Jeff Lemire, the writer, penciler, everything-er of Sweet Tooth, cites The Road as inspiration, but the parallels are there, and the first volume has me really fucking nervous for the rest of the series.
Gus is the titular Sweet Tooth, a young boy, about nine years old, with a few childish quirks (antlers, hooves, an accent, ya know). Apparently, this is pretty common after the disease hit, killing off his mother and many others in the world. The story is post-apocalyptic, but doesn’t lean towards the fashion that surrounds most stories fitting that genre. Instead, we get the art. The world feels thin, as if the snow and the sky are starving, while Gus’ eyes dart back forth, suspicious of every tree. His mind is filled with the warnings of his father, making the thoughts less individual, and more paternal in origin.
Jeff Lemire doesn’t keep his gloves on when it comes to how horrible the world has become. Piles of bodies, head shots, human trafficking, it’s all in there, and it’s all expected. But what really shows the desperation in Jeff’s art is his use of shadows and lighting. Sometimes it’s a little heavy, but more often than not it gives the world enough body that you feel the threat linger in an invasive manner. The black shadows seem to creep at times, looking like an obstacle Gus and his protector, Jeppard, must step over.
Jeppard. We’ve seen this character before. The powerful, take-no-bullshit, towering man who protects the defenseless is less of a hero and more of a caricature. He’s cold, nigh unstoppable, but doesn’t go out of his way for others. That is, until Gus comes along, flicking the switch in the darkened humanity section of his brain, though it’s still a little faulty. As happy as I was to see Gus being taken care of, I hoped for more of Jeppard. I understand that it’s still early, and that Jeppard’s real motivation isn’t shown or earned yet, but a few more hints would have fleshed him and given the readers something to toss around in their head’s for a while. Then again, we know as much as Gus does. He’s still scared of him, but he trusts him, though that trust might be misplaced, considering the end of the arc. Hearing Gus’ cries of disbelief was shattering, and it’s obvious where the story is going, but I’m worried that Jeff Lemire might not take any risks.
But I’m confident that he won’t board an easy train when it comes to a story like this. His other comic, Descender, whose art duties are handled by Dustin Nguyen, was optioned for a movie by Sony before the first issue hit stands. Trillium, another fully Lemire book, and All-New Hawkeye, with art by Ramon Perez, have also been well received. Even if I’m not sold on Jeppard, and if Gus veers in the precipice of too innocent, some of the scenes set up by Jeff are enough to warrant a buy.
Specifically, the dynamics of the story, which allow for breathers in the right spots, give the comic a smooth pace. Long nights feel long, and the tense moments are bottled and ready to burst. One specific page focuses on Gus, nearly asleep behind Jeppard as they ride their horse, and the crescendo culminates like the jolt that wakes you from a deep sleep. If anything, it’s the atmosphere that carries the story. Jeff Lemire has constructed a believable world, where nothing is over the top, and even the concept of animal/human hybrids feels natural.
Again, this is only the first arc, so not much has been divulged. Characters need to be spoken with, the scenery is going to change, and new people will pop up in fortunate and unfortunate circumstances. I care for Gus, I…think I have faith in Jeppard, but Jeff Lemire worries me. That’s a good thing though, right?
Fermin is sometimes a substitutes teacher, speaks quite a bit of Spanish, and isn't shy about his emotional reaction to reality shows, but is slightly ashamed. Make fun of Billy with him on Twitter, or just follow him @koky_sorta.