After two years of hearing how wonderful Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth was, I finally went on eBay and ordered the entire run of back issues so I could be caught up. And, let me just say, I cannot be more happy with my decision.
Sweet Tooth‘s last arc — “Book Four: Endangered Species” — had Gus, Jeppard and the rest of their recent crew of hybrids and militia defectors heading to Alaska to find out the origin of both the plague and Gus. After stopping in a self-sustaining community hidden within a dam, Jeppard and Singh are taking the now injured Gus to Alaska where they hope to find the answers to the whole story.
In “The Taxidermist,” Lemire is giving us a new piece of the puzzle. Sweet Tooth #26, Part 1, takes place in Alaska circa-1911. Dr. James Thacker is on an expedition to find his friend, and soon-to-be brother-in-law, Dr. Louis Simpson, who left for Alaska before his wedding in order to join a mission to bring Christianity to the “seal-eating savages that live there.” After having not heard from Louis in months, Thacker’s sister took ill and James volunteered to go find and recover his sister’s fiancée. What he finds there is beyond what he could even imagine.
Lemire uses the journal entries of Dr. Thacker to narrate the story. Because these are journal entries, rather than him writing a report, we get all of the personal anecdotes and feelings of fear and reservation that Thacker is experiencing as he continues along his trek. The story is also a slow burn. Lemire paces it so that the issue seems to last a bit longer than the average issue. Unlike other issues of this title, there is an abundance of narration. Really, an abundance of text, in general. As one is reading, they are trying to pick up any clues within that might help figure out the significance of the story in the title’s whole. While I was initially worried about not caring for these characters, by the end of the issue, I needed to know what happened next.
The question is what this story will give us by its end. This may very well be the first recorded case of the plague that has ravaged the world of Sweet Tooth. And, if so, does that mean that it was not Gus’ father/creator who caused it? Where will the creation of Gus come in? How did the other hybrids come about? Ugh! Is it next month yet?!
Besides the different point in time, the one big disparity in this new story is that Lemire is not doing the pencils. But, that is not a bad thing. For this tale, Lemire has brought on Matt Kindt to do the art! Kindt’s art has appeared previously in issue #19 for Wendy’s story. And not just pencils. Everything that you see on the page (with exception to the text) is all Kindt. Damn, that man has painted some beautiful panels in this issue!
While being a longtime fan of Jeff Lemire, I got into his work around the same time as I had come into Matt Kindt’s (thanks to the Essex County stories and Super Spy, respectively, both from Top Shelf). If there were one artist to temporarily take helm of the look of Sweet Tooth, I am glad that it was Kindt. While the two artists are quite different, Kindt manages to give the series a fresh look with his inks and watercolors while also maintaining the same feel that Lemire has preserved the the title’s prior 25 issues. It may not look like issue #25 did, but it still manages to look like a Sweet Tooth book, regardless of not having Gus or Jeppard on a single page. His art is perfect for this story, as well. Kindt’s watercolors give the book and older look to it. The pages alone look as if they were kept in a book which was buried in the snow for 100 years.
Even Kindt’s sound effects are nice to look at. As odd as it sounds, one of my favorite panels involves Mr. Kemp throwing up after seeing a number of dead bodies locked within a church. The BLARRG sound is spelled out in vomit as it rushes out of his mouth. Something so disgusting has little business being so damned nice to see!
My only gripe with this issue comes in a stylistic choice. While I loved the narration, I would have liked to have seen a more handwritten text in the journal entries. Even though the series’ letterer, Pat Brosseau, used a different text for the journal, it still looks like it comes out of his many saved fonts in whatever program he uses for his letters. I would have much rather seen Brosseau (or even Kindt) written those entries by hand. The great thing about that would have been the ability to change the writing based on however Thacker is feeling at the time of his writing. As the story progresses, it could become more and more scratchy and illegible. What a small effort like that could bring to the story would be a huge step up! But it is minuscule next to the other fine work in this book.
I personally am waiting with bated breath for the next issue! What Lemire and Kindt are doing here is something that could answer a lot of the questions that fans of the series have been waiting for. With Lemire on two of DC’s New 52 titles — Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. — I am glad to see that this series is still going strong. While I’m sure that he meant to have this story coincide with the beginning of the run on those titles, I do hope that he returns to his art on the series. But, while I wait, I am elated that Matt Kindt is on deck. I have only been a fan of this series for less than a month, but I can easily say that it is one of my favorite ongoing series out right now and an issue like this only solidifies its place on that list.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter as @nitroslick.