Jeff Lemire’s Vertigo series Sweet Tooth takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where most of the world’s population has been killed off by a mysterious virus. At the same time – and perhaps not so coincidentally – any children that were born came out with varying amounts of animal features. Some have antlers, but otherwise look normal. Others are full on animals standing on their hind legs. So far, no one knows how the two are related, or what’s causing any of this, but the key might lie with our main character, Gus; a.k.a. Sweet Tooth, because he loves chocolate.
Why is Gus so important? Because over the course of the past eighteen issues, we’ve found out that not only is he older than any other animal child, but like Kyle XY before him, he has no belly-button, meaning he’s probably been bred in a lab, not born of woman like the other animal children. [Side-Note: Should we have specified that this article contained spoilers for the first season of Kyle XY?]
Gus has no knowledge of this, though, as he was raised in a cabin in the woods by a crazy religious nut that said he was his father, but may turn out to just be the scientist who created him. When his “Dad” died, Gus disobeyed the only directive given to him, to not leave the woods. Once out though, he encountered a man best described as Clint Eastwood on ‘roids (or an older Punisher, who Jeppard was actually based on). His name is Jeppard, and like thousands of old men without a heart in apocalyptic worlds before him, Jeppard is finding that he still has something to believe in, and that’s Gus.
There’s a few more important characters of note:
A scientist who believes Gus may hold the key to the cause – and cure – of the plague, Singh recently found Gus’ Dad’s prophetic diary, which he has come to believe as gospel. Singh started as a bad guy, but is tagging along with Gus and Jeppard in order to help save the human race.
Jeppard’s archenemy, the be-sunglassed Abbot has tried to maintain order by experimenting on any animal children he can find, including Gus. After getting his butt kicked by Jeppard, Abbot managed to escape, get control of a group of mostly animalistic, extremely hungry dog-children, and more importantly: Jeppard’s son.
An animal child, Jeppard long thought his son died in childbirth along with his wife. But it turns out not only didn’t he die, but Jeppard found out that Bobby was his son at the same moment he was forced to abandon him to Abbot and his wolf-dogs. Jeppard now thinks he’s dead – again – but Abbot is nursing Bobby back to health as a weapon against Jeppard.
Wendy: A girl with pig features who is almost a romantic interest for Gus, she was held in Abbot’s compound until Jeppard rescued them.
Becky & Lucy: Two former prostitutes who teamed up with Jeppard to help rescue the animal children from Abbot. Ummm… That’s all I’ve got, we’ll find out more about them in two issues. Sorry!
So where are we know? After a huge fight at Abbot’s compound, and with Bobby lost, the small group of survivors is heading North to the location of the lab we now know Gus’ father worked in. Dr. Singh believes there’s a slim chance they could find out more about the plague, and what caused it; and at this point, the group doesn’t have many further options.
Oh, also, somehow Jeppard and Gus are showing up in each other’s dreams. By which I mean, literally, Jeppard finds himself in Gus’ dreams, and Gus finds himself in Jeppard’s. They’re also pretty upset at each other, as despite the rescue, Jeppard abandoned Gus to die, and Gus reminds Jeppard that his son is double-dead. That’s a phrase, right? Yeah, double-dead.
Despite hitting a lot of familiar tropes in other post-apocalyptic stories, what makes Sweet Tooth work is the amount of originality and care Jeff Lemire brings to his characters, both in the writing and the art. Lemire has never been afraid to make his characters look or act ugly, while still giving a glimmer of the beauty within. Wendy, for example, has a pig snout, but is one of the more purely innocent characters ever introduced in comics.
It’s an original book with a unique presence that plays out like a SciFi fairy tale. Tomorrow’s issue starts a whole new story arc, so while we still recommend you go back and read the other issues – they’re just very, very good – you can jump right in without a care in the world. And that’s your five minute recap!