Images & Words – Sweet Tooth #17

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Life can be too damn busy at times. Too much work to do. Too many errands to run. Too many cults to join.

With free time a commodity, one has to be very careful about prioritizing. As much as it pains me, there’s no way that I’m going to get through this week’s stack of comics before next Wednesday. It sucks, but I’d feel like a real sonofabitch if I sat around reading comics instead of going to the pharmacy to pick up Grampa’s prescription.

So this week, I looked through my funnies and tried to determine which single issue would receive my attention. Again, this wasn’t easy – it sucks to have to put off reading Choker as Templesmith’s art is fantasti-gorgeous, and Wolverine: The Best There Is since it seems to be specifically designed for my ultra-violent sensibilities.

Nevertheless, I decided. This week’s featured collection of wordy-scribbles and colorful-doodles is Sweet Tooth #17.

With this comic, Jeff Lemire once again proves that he might be the best writer/artist publishing regularly. This issue of Sweet Tooth is both narratively sound and visually enthralling, bringing the reader into a stunning conclusion of this series’ third book, Animal Armies. Seriously, Lemire ain’t fuggin’ around, folks.

And neither is protagonist Tommy Jeppard. At this point in the series, we’ve seen Jeppard put through a veritable shitstorm – he’s lost his wife, been beaten more times than can be recounted, decided to trade Gus for his wife’s remains, regretted said decision and then led an army of hybrid-fanatics into the compound where Gus is being held. Yeah, it’s just a wonderful post-apocalyptic existence for Jeppard.

As the last issue ended, the nefarious Doug Abbot revealed to Jeppard that his son didn’t die at birth – in fact, he’s a hybrid and he’s still alive! We now see the former hockey-thug more determined than ever to save Gus and the other imprisoned child-halfbreeds. Looking about as put-together as McClane at the end of any Die Hard, Jeppard makes his way into the compound’s inner recesses. The kids are there all right, but they’re under attack by the leader of the religious zealots and his raving pack of wolf-sons.

What follows is one of the most emotionally trying sequences I’ve ever read in a comic. A compromise is made that, although seemingly necessary, pushes Jeppard into a psychological abyss that even he couldn’t have fathomed. When I realized what had happened, the way that Lemire had masterfully misdirected me, and the ensuing implications, I just stopped reading. I stared at the page for a minute, nearly gasping for breath, and re-reading just to make sure.

It can be said that Lemire knows how to beautifully construct a horrifying nightmare.

Sweet Tooth is a book about human/animal hybrids being born in a world of pestilence and chaos. But this outlandish scenario doesn’t ever devolve into saccharine fantasies, it progresses as an examination of human emotion. I feel more for these characters – Jeppard and Gus and Johnny and Lucey and even Dr. Singh – than I have felt for Superman or Spiderman in a long time.

Sweet Tooth #17 successfully concludes the third book of the series. If you’re not reading it now, I implore you to snag the first three trades as soon as possible. This is a series that’s worth your time, even if it’s limited.