Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review: Sweet Tooth #12

Sweet Tooth #12 "The Singh Tapes"
Story and art by Jeff Lemire.

The first 11 issues of Sweet Tooth have been amazing. Over two incredibly well structured story arcs, Jeff Lemire has gradually given us insight into his two diametrically opposed protagonists, Gus and Jepperd, while also dispensing crucial information about the world they inhabit and the strange calamity that has befallen it.

With issue #12, Lemire has crafted a miniature masterpiece within this already brilliant series. This is a stand-alone issue that successfully functions as a perfect introduction for potential new readers who want to jump onboard, while simultaneously delivering a satisfying tale for those who have been following since the beginning.

While accomplishing all of this, Lemire also manages to be formally innovative, while paying homage to a classic device Wolfman and Perez used in Crisis on Infinite Earths #10. In that issue, a parallel strip called "The Monitor Tapes," ran at the bottom of every page, independent of the main story.

In "The Singh Tapes," Lemire uses a similar layout, allocating the bottom of each page to a sepia-toned depiction of Singh's narrated history of how "The Sick" began. Sometimes we see him dictating into a recording machine; more often we see a representation of the events he is describing. The narration appears underneath the panel and there are no speech bubbles.

In fact, there are no words spoken throughout the entire issue other than Singh's narration, as the story that runs through the upper part of the pages doesn't use any words at all. These silent panels follow Gus through a day in the militia camp, as he is taken from a cage, washed, and then returned to a cage, where he shares a chocolate bar with some of the other hybrids.

Lemire not only references the classic layout and device used by Wolfman and Perez, but he actually improves upon it. In COIE, the two stories, while thematically related, ran for the most part independent of each other. In Sweet Tooth, they intersect at a crucial moment halfway through the story. Overwhelmed with emotion after retelling the events surrounding the death of his wife, Singh pauses the recording and takes a moment to regain his composure. At that exact moment, Gus happens to pass through the corridor outside of Singh's room. Taken out of context, the full page can be read in a normal sequence, from top to bottom, and it looks like there is only one story being told.

In several other moments, while not linked so closely through unity of time and space, the stories intersect thematically in significant ways. Like when the hybrids (other than Gus) are revealed simultaneously in both stories. In the top story, they appear as a source of comfort to Gus who recognizes his friends, whereas in the bottom story, they represent a new horror and abomination, something that can't be explained and that causes fear.

Jeff is an amazing storyteller and he's at the top of his game here. This may be the best issue so far in what is probably my current favourite Vertigo series. If you're not reading this, you should really consider picking this up. You won't be disappointed.


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