Review: Sweet Tooth: In Captivity trade paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo)

I grant it’s a little early to be calling Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity an unusual volume of Sweet Tooth, given that it’s only the second volume — for all I know, this is a perfectly normal volume of Sweet Tooth as far as that goes. But the “captivity” of the volume’s title very quickly reveals itself as not referring to protagonist Gus only, and moreover by the end Captivity is very nearly not Gus' story at all. Not that this can’t be an ensemble piece, but it seems early for this kind of narrative play, just as it seems early too that Captivity ends how it does. I consider none of this a detriment; rather, inasmuch as Sweet Tooth runs along certain too-familiar lines, it’s pleasing to see the narrative twist and turn in unfamiliar ways.

[Review contains spoilers]

At the end of my review of the first volume, Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods, I wasn’t sure whether writer Jeff Lemire would bring back the character of Jepperd or if I wanted him to. What had seemed a common “gruff warrior cares for little kid” scenario was turned on its head by Jepperd’s very intentional betrayal of young Gus, and I hoped against type that Jepperd wouldn’t have an immediate change of heart and be back to rescue Gus right away. Well, half right; Jepperd’s change of heart wasn’t immediate and he didn’t rescue Gus right away, but that’s where we’re headed. Certainly the most heartwarming outcome, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but perhaps I was in the mood for a turn a little less saccharine (or that differed, anachronistic as this is, from the first two seasons of Mandalorian).

What we get here are a few parallel storylines — Jepperd going to bury the bones of his wife Louise1, Jepperd thinking back to how he and his wife first encountered Abbot’s science militia and how Jepperd himself was held captive there, even as Gus deals with his own similar captivity and revisits, under hypnosis, his infancy in the woods. Gus is our title character, and for me at least Gus' story is the more compelling, but Jepperd gets the book’s first scene and the last and a lot of the in-between. I’m shocked, really, that the last chapter is Jepperd’s entirely (gripping as it is), with Gus neither seen nor mentioned; it definitely shows how high in the book’s pecking order Lemire sees Jepperd, when I expected him to be more of a second fiddle to Gus.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Among what I continue to find most interesting about Gus is Lemire’s interplay of science and religion. Human-animal hybrid Gus obviously descends from the realm of science-fiction, as does the global plague (except, of course) and the idea that Gus himself was somehow manufactured and served as some kind of carrier — that far, we’re firmly in Y: The Last Man’s kind of territory. What bends it though — and marks the square piece in this round puzzle that I can’t quite place yet — is Gus' father’s devoutly religious, fire-and-brimstone leanings, spending Gus' childhood writing his own bible. We could easily conclude (as Abbot’s Dr. Singh has) that Gus' father was a scientist, that he created Gus in some experiment gone awry and then hid him away, except that from all we’ve seen Gus' father is exactly the opposite. So where Gus came from and how he came to be remain a mystery.

Given Sweet Tooth’s post-apocalyptic setting (and the real world’s general vibe), the comparisons to Y: The Last Man have come easy, though have not felt as though they completely fit. I realized reading this volume that more and more Mind MGMT comes to mind, and indeed Matt Kindt and Lemire have collaborated on many other projects (if you’re wondering, Y ended just before Sweet Tooth started, and that series and Mind MGMT overlapped). For one, there is the distance from the characters — in Y’s Yorick Brown we had a protagonist who generally knew his way around his world, versus young and innocent Gus and MGMT’s Meru who didn’t always even know where she was. In Sweet Tooth, this creates a disconnect from the characters that, for me, certainly tamps down any warm and fuzzy feelings I might have for Gus despite his foundling status (as opposed to Christian Convery and his CGI ears, which on their own deserve the recognition of 2021’s answer to Baby Yoda).

Notably, too — and this is also where Mind MGMT and Sweet Tooth differ from Y: The Last Man — Kindt and Lemire each have a rougher, less detailed art style than Y’s Pia Guerra and company. Lemire’s is perhaps purposefully grotesque here, given the dark and often bloody turns that Sweet Tooth tends to take. I’m not sure the aesthetic always works in Lemire’s favor, however; we’re supposed to understand, for instance, that Louise was an “arty girl from New York,” prettier and smarter than the bruiser Jepperd, but Lemire draws her looking sunken and pale from the beginning, such that we never quite have the feeling of “meet cute” before the tragedy starts.



Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity’s ending feels unfinished. Granted the first volume ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, Gus remanded to Abbot, but at least there was something of an arc — Gus traveling from the woods to the Preserve (I’m fuzzy whether this is the Preserve or if Jepperd just said it was and the Preserve is actually somewhere else). Here, Gus begins and ends in the camp, and Jepperd begins and ends outside of it — maybe we’d call this a “down” trade, though again it seems awful early (and with few enough volumes ahead) to spend an entire book in one place. But again, as I said, I’m pleased to see Sweet Tooth surprising us in structure if not in plot, and hopefully there’s more of that up ahead.

[Includes original covers]

  1. Something, perhaps, easily faked.  ↩


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