Review: Sweet Tooth: The Return trade paperback (DC Comics)


“This is a story …” Indeed it is. Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth: The Return is a fantastic coda to his Sweet Tooth saga, apart from but additive to the original books.

To delve much more into the who and how would spoil it, but suffice it to say that I have seen writers return to their masterworks with mixed results, sequels that don’t live up or that make one question whether the good old days were all that good at all. The Return is not that — it is wholly unnecessary for enjoying Sweet Tooth proper, but also emotional and sweet and centered around certain ideas implicit but perhaps not explicit in the original. That’s useful; insomuch as one does not have to have The Return, one would have clearer eyes afterward were they to delve back into the original Sweet Tooth again.

[Review contains spoilers]

“300 years later …,” it says, and we’re back at the beginning again — a boy with antlers in a small house in the woods with his father, wondering what’s just beyond the gate. Much is the same, but of course much is different — industrial fluorescent lights in place of the sky, robot drones preventing this new Gus' escape. Where Lemire’s original Sweet Tooth made its home in nature — and the conflict often as much about humans versus hybrids as people versus nature or the stark turning of the earth against its own inhabitants — The Return has an added element of technology, a pseudo-cyberpunk landscape that’s less fairy tale, more sci-fi.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

We know more about this Gus than he knows about himself, as he struggles with visions of Jepperd and Wendy and the adventures of the past. Given the presence of familiar elements — no less than ye old horned skeleton — it’s not too hard to guess what’s happened (or rather, happened again); Gus has been cloned, now for the nefarious purpose of breeding a virus to kill the hybrids and reestablish human supremacy. This is the second cloning that we know of; though I’m not sure this point quite gets full emphasis in the original Sweet Tooth books, the original Gus was also a clone, whose creation unleashed a virus that killed the humans and sparked the birth of hybrids in the first place.

What The Return explicates in this, however, is the idea of genetic memory (reminding, too, of TV’s Watchmen). This Gus holds the memories of that Gus, an out-there idea even in the realm of science-fiction, that the cells of a corpse centuries old should still retain images of friendship and love. This is not new to the realm of Sweet Tooth, as the original Gus had visions of his Inuit ancestors, but there was often the stuff of mystery and nightmares; now, we know and love these people, the figures in the visions, and so cause and effect makes more sense. What was cloudy the first time around in Sweet Tooth is clearer.

Sweet Tooth Vol. 6: Wild Game ended on a note of magnanimity; the hybrids made peace with the last humans and eased them to their deaths. In The Return, Lemire stops just before the new Gus leads a group of human survivors out of their subterranean bunker and into the light. The ending is hopeful — with hybrid Gus and a human girl holding hands — but far from certain. What is life like above ground? Do the hybrids thrive, and how has their society developed in 300 years? Where did these humans come from, since they were obviously not born yet when the apparent last of the humans died? I wouldn’t want Lemire to take on these questions with Gus, but clearly there are stories that could still be told, expanding for lack of a better term the “Sweet Tooth universe.”

Sweet Tooth as a whole has storytelling as a reoccurring theme, and of course The Return is about stories — the stories Gus has been told by the evil Father and the stories his own mind is telling him, what the villagers have been told and what they believe to be true, the stories of Thacker and Singh that set all of this in motion. But it is a wonderful cool wave of nostalgia in the sixth chapter when Lemire returns to the “This is a story” narration outright (now forever in the voice of James Brolin); I’ve only been away from Sweet Tooth for a couple months, but for those for whom it was seven years, this must have been quite a moment.



It’s hard not to see Lemire himself coming through in the final pages, that “this is a story … and it’s just been waiting for me to find the ending … and to tell everyone else the story too.” The original Sweet Tooth felt complete, eventually, though on the road to the end it was sometimes hard to be sure whether Lemire would be able to tie together all the elements (I had some hope, unfulfilled, that The Return’s bunker would be part of Project Evergreen). It is nice to think that Sweet Tooth: The Return delivers Lemire’s utmost ending for Sweet Tooth, that if it’s felt incomplete to him (and possibly to readers) for seven years, that deficiency has now been resolved.

And so, with Sweet Tooth: The Return, we come to the end. The end? The end. Maybe. At least until Netflix releases season 2. So not the end, necessarily, and not an end we absolutely needed, but it’s a blessed thing that Jeff Lemire is able to revisit Gus and company in a manner that takes away nothing and enhances the whole. Thanks for going round and round one more time.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Great review. It was so nice to revisit the world of Sweet Tooth, and sequels can either add to or take away from the original. You can read the original and never read this, or even not read the original and still enjoy this miniseries (though reading the original will add depth to the story). What I liked about it, was that it wasn't simply a rehash, instead the cycle of another story begins again. Lemire's artwork is as always quirky and enhances the story further. The end to me is perfect, open ended and full of possibilities. The ending leaves the reader imagining so many scenarios.....leading to so many possible stories. The best stories leave you imagining what could happen afterwards and Sweet Tooth the Return does just that.

    1. Exactly! Could be more, but I don't necessarily need it. Especially since we've got the TV show for reliving it all in a slightly different way.


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