Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Colour by Numbers

Sweet Tooth #12, by Jeff Lemire

This is billed as a "great jumping-on point to Vertigo's Eisner-nominated buzz book". This means that if you have not been reading it up to now, they would like you to start reading it from this issue. In the world of comics, a "great jumping-on point" is an issue that can be read on its own without having to know everything that has come along previously, which usually makes it either a story that stands largely alone from what has hitherto happened or a story that to some extent recapitulates the basic set-up.

In this case we get the latter. For all that this issue does somewhat advance the plot and develop character, it is basically about letting us (or the hoped-for new reader who has jumped on) know what this is all about. We have a bit of a split narrative here, one that follows the strange hybrid child who is the book's eponymous protagonist, and then another in which the tortured Dr Singh records an audio diary that conveniently explains what has been happening – the sudden arrival of a deadly plague that rapidly started wiping out humanity, the collapse of society, then the first births of the animal human hybrids and finally the discovery of Sweet Tooth, who seems to be older than the plague and has no navel*.

The moral sense of this title is fascinating. The institution in which Sweet Tooth is incarcerated is a grim place, where the hybrids are experimented on to try and prolong the lives of the humans. Lemire throws out hints that at least some of the people there are however just doing what they can to survive, tortured by the betrayals of human decency they have committed. That at least is the sense we get of Singh himself and an unnamed orderly who gives the hybrid boy a bar of candy. The community among the hybrid children is also oddly touching, a camaraderie of the damned.

Maybe that is why I like this title so much. The apocalyptic setting is bleak, but there seems to be a thread of basic humanity lurking behind the darkness. I doubt that things will end that well for all the characters, but it still feels like there is something other than cruelty and despair going on here.

*one of the problems of great jumping-on points for new readers is that they can serve as spoilers for what was revealed gradually in previous episodes.

image source

An inuit panda production

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