Sweet Tooth #1 (November, 2009)
“Out of the Deep Woods, Part One”
Story, Art, & Creator – Jeff Lemire
Colors – Jose Villarrubia
Letters – Pat Brosseau
Editors – Brandon Montclare & Bob Schreck
Cover Price: $1.00
I remember kinda giving up on Vertigo in the mid-late 2000’s. Right around the time that Y: The Last Man wrapped up I figured I’d be done with imprint. I’d foolishly passed up on Fables a few years earlier, and the next book I tried was unwritten, which really wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I came across a nice set (the first half) of Sweet Tooth in a discount bin that I decided to give it another go.
Was it a good idea? Well, I already know that answer, but we’ll save it for below the usual spoilery synopsis…
We open during a dream sequence. A young boy frantically runs through the woods, being chased by someone. He is awakened by his father, who is talking to God. The pair share a set of bunk beds, with the young boy on top. The next morning, the boy heads outside to chop wood. It’s here that we learn that his mother had passed away, and that he’d never seen her. As a matter of fact, the only other person he’s ever seen… is his father.
The “camera” pulls back, revealing a set of antlers atop the boy’s head. Not much of a shock, considering the cover… but fair enough. He mentions that there was an “accident” some time back, and ever since, very few children were born. Those who were born, were “made special by God”, in other words… they were humanoid hybrids.
The “camera” moves behind the boy’s back, and we see that he is standing before what used to be the Nebraska State Wilderness Sanctuary. On the ground outside the gate, he sees a wrapped Crunchy candy bar. Curious, he reaches for it. A loud cracking sound in the distance grabs his attention, and he heads to the safety of his home.
Back home, he shares a meal with his father… during which, his dad begins coughing up blood. He insists that he’s okay. Later the boy practices using his slingshot against a “sinner”, in the form of a sorry looking scarecrow. His shooting is interrupted by another loud crack. Between the trees, he spies another Crunchy candy bar. This one, however, he’s able to get… and better yet, taste!
Back home, his father is very troubled by the sight of his son eating a candy bar. It means that there are very likely other people around… and with people comes danger. He makes his son, who we now know as Gus, promise to be more careful… especially as he knows his own days are numbered. He has the same sickness Gus’ mother died of, and it’s not entirely clear what that sickness is… likely cancer, or a cancer analogue. It isn’t long before Gus’ father succumbs.
Gus waits until Spring so the snow can melt before giving his father a proper burial, right alongside his mother. He hears another loud crack, and finds himself confronted by a large stag… with similar headgear to his own.
Their eyes meet… and a second later, the stag is shot in the head! Gus runs off to hide as two hunters creep up on their kill. They’re both disappointed… figuring that they’d just bagged the hybrid child with the antlers, rather than an actual antlered animal. The fellas argue a bit, until they are interrupted by Gus’ sad little slingshot.
The hunters spy the odd boy, and immediately give chase. A teary-eyed Gus is making a pretty good getaway, until he trips over a fallen branch. With the boy cornered, the hunters evaluate their prize. The bald hunter appears to be real keen on using his rifle, while the other appears to be having second thoughts. He sees that poor Gus is just a terrified kid, and suggests they simply leave him be. The baldy ain’t digging that thought, however, before he can pull his trigger… his head gets blown to bits!
The chapter concludes with the arrival of Gus’ savior… who assures us, he is not God.
Sweet Tooth pretty much restored my faith in the Vertigo line. After reading this, I started dipping my toe back into the line… “discovered” things like Fables, and iZombie which I quite enjoyed as well. I was happy to see that this imprint was still capable of delivering top quality, creative, and wonderfully weird content.
What we get in this opening chapter is, well… a lot of questions. Questions that, based on the strength of the narrative, I am captivated enough to want to learn the answers to. The character of Gus is presented in such a way that we want to learn more about him. What was up with his father? What happened to his mother? Did they succumb to cancer, or something more story-centric? There’s just so much tragedy surrounding this scared boy… despite his odd (and perhaps off-putting) appearance, you almost can’t help but to feel something for him.
The world of Sweet Tooth also gives us a lot to wonder about. Just what happened? There is talk of an “accident”, however, that’s all we get for now. We meet hunters, looking for hybrids… what caused there to be hybrids? So many questions… and I remember wanting to know the answers to all of them. That’s pretty much all I need in order to say that this was a great first issue. Doesn’t hurt that Jeff Lemire provides some great, atmospheric, and appropriate-feeling art as well.
Overall… I’d say Sweet Tooth as a whole comes highly recommended, which is also to say, that Sweet Tooth #1 is most definitely worth snagging. The entire run is available digitally, and has been collected in trade.