Monday, February 18, 2013

365 Comics...49: Sweet Tooth vol.1 (2009) / Stake Land (Crossover part 2)

(continued from Graig and David Sometimes Disagree)

There's not a long history of ongoing post-apocalyptic comic book series, which is odd considering it seems to be the perfect medium for doing so.  Early efforts, like Kamandi and the Atomic Knights, were more adventurous than somber, while the aforementioned Winterworld appeared in the 1980's but was a mini-series, as was Tank Girl.  It was only recently with Y: The Last Man, DMZ, Crossed, Wasteland and, most notably, The Walking Dead that the idea of continuing to explore the bleak terrain of the recent apocalypse seemed viable.

Sweet Tooth owes much to The Walking Dead for its existence, as I`m sure publishers were actively looking to find similar successes, but its first volume differentiates itself quickly, much in the same way Stake Land quickly distinguished itself from Zombieland: with its tone.  Writer Jeff Lemire launched the book fresh off of his quiet, generation-spanning, farm community drama Essex County, and that similar small-world sensibility pervades early on.  

The series opens with Gus, a 9-year-old boy with a deer-like appearance, living in an isolated cabin with his terminally ill father.   His mother passed when the Affliction hit nearly a decade, while ever since Gus and all others born of his generation have all been born as hybrids, humans with animal traits.  Gus`father teaches him religion, survival and to steer clear of society. as his kind are now hunted. When his father passes Gus is targeted but saved by Jepperd, a hardened, leathery man at once dubious and honorable, who says he`ll escort him to the Preserve, a safe haven for hybrids.  Gus know`s he`s a man of bad deeds, but believes him to have a good heart.  Along their journey to the Preserve, they rely upon one another, Jepperd protecting Gus, and Gus tending to Jepperds injuries.  However, like in Stake Land their destination point isn`t all it promised to be.

The journey in a movie like Stake Land or 28 Days Later, or a comic like Winterworld or Y: The Last Man is the story.  Unlike most post-apocalyptic films, however, the arrival at the haven is just the launch point for the rest of the story in Sweet Tooth.  As well, I presume that what`s happening at the Preserve has more to do with the origin of the Affliction.  

Lemire`s story is spacious, with plenty of quiet reflection and dream sequence, but also brisquely violent.  In Sweet Tooth`s world there`s no prolonged action set pieces, just quick and ugly death. The story of the first volume could fill a methodical, low-budget feature film (along the same lines as Stake Land) but as a comic it is a brisk read.  I had originally purchased the first five chapters of the title in floppy form but found it to be too quick and somewhat unsatisfying a read on a monthly basis, so I dropped the book and waited for the series to be collected in trade (the final volume is due out in June).  As a volume, it`s far more appealing and fulfilling.  As well, it was something I was quite glad to revisit.

(Sweet Tooth, Volume 1 is on its fourth printing)

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