Sweet Tooth is a beloved series that spanned 40 issues under the Vertigo label, now returning this week under DC Black Label. It also has a Netflix television series in the works. Having not returned to the series in some time, I was curious how this new sequel series read as if the story that came before it didn’t exist. Yes, that’s a foolish way to approach stories, especially comics, but I was surprised to discover an interesting story in The Return complete with mystery, thoughtful takes on religion and isolation, and more.
It’s worth noting the preview for this issue says this “is no re-hash of the original series, but rather a bold re-imagining of the Sweet Tooth mythology.” How you approach this work can literally change depending on if you read that sentence for or go in blind, since that sentence seems to suggest something very peculiar is afoot. A mind might drift to some kind of The Matrix concept of Neo living and dying over and over, but I digress. This issue opens with a ton of mystery and unease.
This book opens with the words “300 years later” and then cuts to a boy with antlers seeing a skull also with antlers. This boy lives alone, but must follow the orders of a red-cloaked man he calls father. Ever present is the vision of “the big man” who is stern. The narrative seems to flow at a pace that suggests much more is going on than we can see, and thus reading this work you tend to try to find meaning in everything.
There is a poetic nature to the way this book flows, never giving us answers, but always giving us hints to populate our imagination and get us thinking. It’s in the rumination you will have between panels where the work does its best to capture your interest. That isn’t to say nothing happens in this book — far from it — but it gains your interest in how it flows and is told.
Jeff Lemire writes and draws this series with colors by Jose Villarrubia, and both do well to capture the nature in each scene that is subtly altered by the technology that is there on the fringes. You see that technology via probes that order the main character around or the ceiling that seems to be from a terrible office with styrofoam panels. The art is of course familiar if you’ve read any of Lemire’s past work, and its style tends to create a sense of earthy tenderness. This is juxtaposed well with the technology which is incredibly alien and cold. Villarrubia’s colors add to the earthy feel of the story as if the main character needs to strike out against the technology hiding on the edges and be one with nature.
This is certainly not a comic for everyone, though. The lack of answers can be frustrating, and if you haven’t read the previous series this will seem strange and almost uninviting. The isolationist feel of the book is interesting — especially with (almost) every human on Earth right now isolating due to the pandemic — which is worth exploring if you have the patience for it.
Sweet Tooth: The Return is an interesting, challenging, and absorbing sort of read. If you have the patience, this is a work that is contemplative and moving as the story that takes place between the panels is captivating. You just need to let it in.
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