It's a little over a year since "Sweet Tooth" first debuted, and it's hard to recognize the title now in comparison to how it began. Jeff Lemire has used a slow build-up of plot since its debut to turn the title into a quietly compelling title, one that manages to push all the right buttons for its readers.
"Sweet Tooth" is a title where you need to get at least a slight grasp on the characters for it to work its magic. Getting to know Gus, the hybrid human/deer, means that you understand why his killing the beast that attacks them in the sewers is such a big deal. For such a gentle person to have to smash in an enemy's head with a brick, it's a turning point for both him and the book as a whole; we're seeing this young, formerly sheltered boy being transformed by his new environment into something much tougher and able to survive. And in doing so, Lemire makes it a sad event.
It's not something that you cheer on, even as Gus saves one of the other hybrids. It's instead treated as a melancholy moment, complete with lingering glimpses at the body of the attacker left behind in the sewer. Gus being forced to change and lose his innocence might be a positive moment in another title, but here it's served up with regret even as it's also presented as a matter-of-fact moment. He has to make this decision to save a friend and fellow captor, but it's still a horrible thing to do.
This story is juxtaposed with Jepperd raising an army to attack the holdings of the militia, and having already seen Jepperd's story and learning how he became more hardened and tough, it's an important contrast. When Jepperd starts to wonder just what sort of beast he's unleashed, it's the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Gus has become more tough in order to survive, while Jepperd's own toughness is being called into question on how much of a good thing it really is. Lemire's rough and ragged art style is especially good in the scenes where the army is being raised; the masks worn by the troops remind me a lot of African tribal headdresses, and the snarling faces of the dog/human hybrids are scary and creepy. Add in the dark and moody coloring from Jose Villarrubia, and this is a visually striking book. I'm impressed and pleased with how well Lemire's done with writing and drawing the book every month while not sacrificing its visual style.
"Sweet Tooth" may have not instantly grabbed me when it debuted, but I'm a believer now. The "Animal Armies" storyline looks to be the strongest one to date, and what I think I like best about it is that I have absolutely no idea how it will end. Lemire's not afraid to pop surprises on us, and I'm already looking forward to the next issue. "Sweet Tooth" is a strong and compelling comic that you really should be reading.