Skyscraper Magazine » Sweet Tooth – Vol. 3, Animal Armies
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Jeff Lemire
SWEET TOOTH, VOL. 3: ANIMAL ARMIES
Vertigo / DC Comics
Format: Paperback
Release Date: June 8, 2011
By Nick Dean January 11, 2012

Gus finally seems to be catching a break. In this third volume of Jeff Lemire’s Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, the human/animal hybrid at the heart of the story gets rescued, reunited with the comic’s other main character, and set on a new path.

Before all that happens, however, Gus spends the bulk of the six issues collected here in confinement — getting beaten, tested, and questioned. Though he speaks about returning home throughout the book, it’s obvious by the end that Gus realizes his old life is over.

Lemire is an award-winning cartoonist from the small farming region of Essex County in Ontario, Canada. He now lives in Toronto with his wife and son. Before Sweet Tooth and his other work for DC, Lemire authored and illustrated the Essex County Trilogy and The Nobody.

With Sweet Tooth, Lemire has pitted an entirely innocent and unprepared protagonist against the apocalypse  — or rather, the people still surviving it. Gus lived a sheltered life up until the start of the series. His father dies in the first issue, leaving Gus alone in the woods. As a result, much of the series so far has involved Gus being hunted and traded. Survivors think the hybrids are the key to understanding the unknown illness which killed off most the world’s population. Hybrids only started being born after the outbreak and all look to be immune to the sickness. Then there’s Gus. Throughout the series, it’s been hinted that Gus might actually predate the apocalypse — which raises questions about whether he could be the cause of the catastrophe. This third book further explores those issues and points the growing cast toward Alaska on a search for answers about Gus.

Though it shares some characteristics with other post-apocalyptic fiction, this series is worlds apart from books like The Walking Dead. Lemire is more interested in slowly unraveling Gus’s sci-fi secrets than detailing the travails of a small band of survivors. As in other such stories, it took little time for all the safety nets set up by society to begin deteriorating. In the first two books, Lemire establishes a world of tribes, shanty towns, and paramilitary outposts. He also develops his two main characters, Gus and Jepperd, whom Gus calls “The Big Man.” Gus joins up with Jepperd at the start of issue two, leaving behind his home in the woods of Nebraska on the promise of being taken to “The Preserve,” a rumored safehaven for hybrids. Though they part ways at the end of the first volume, most of the subsequent issues have continued to expand on their relationship (or, more accurately, their relatedness as characters) despite their actually being separated in the book.

The first volume of Sweet Tooth collected issues one through five under the title “Out of the Woods.” Volume Two collected the “In Captivity” storyline, which saw publication in issues six through 11. Both of those trade paperbacks hit store shelves in 2010, the first in May and the second in December. Then, this past June, Vertigo released Volume Three, called “Animal Armies,” which collects issues 12 through 17.

More than just wrapping up a number of the ongoing storylines, this third volume of Sweet Tooth serves as a springboard for the coming immediate and farther away future issues. What makes this volume all the more enjoyable is how seamlessly Lemire has seeded these new plotlines along the way. Having gone back and re-read the first few issues after finishing Volume Three, I was surprised to see so much has been plotted out so far in advance. For that reason (and because Lemire’s managed to keep an air of mystery present throughout the series), all three volumes merit repeated reads. All the more impressive is how this title’s managed to hold out in the monthly comic marketplace. For as satisfying a read as the series is, it’s a slowburner. Lemire advances his plots incrementally in each issue, which, as with so many of Vertigo’s titles, pays off in the longrun. It’s just pleasing, with the conclusion of this 17th issue, to see Lemire’s characters there and continuing forward on even more stable ground.

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