Mature Reading: Sweet Tooth



Sweet Tooth #1-11
Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire

This blog is intended to be mostly for people unfamiliar with comic books and what’s out there. I know some friends who read Watchmen for a college English class or people who may not be up to date on the newer series out. For those of you not too up to date, DC Comics has an imprint called Vertigo which specializes in non-superhero fare aimed at adults or adolescents with literary maturity. Most of the time the series their present are great, a few seem to fall flat. Sweet Tooth is very much the former. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about mutants and survival and humanity becoming incredibly tribal. The art style increases the uneasy feeling you’re meant to have reading that this scary and violent world. And its all the work of Jeff Lemire, recently signed as an exclusive creator for DC Comics.

Gus is 9 years old and lives with Pa in the middle of the forest. He’s never left the forest and Pa has warned him that outside of it is all the evils in the world, and if Gus doesn’t want to go to Hell he’ll stay put. Then Pa dies and Gus is left alone in the world, slowly running out of food in their desolate cabin. Then one day some men enter the woods carrying guns, and when they see Gus they know they have found something special. You see, Gus has a pair of deer antler growing from his head. His mother died in childbirth and Pa ran away with Gus to keep him safe. The hunter surround the little boy but he is saved by Tommy, a lone mercenary who becomes Gus’ protector. The duo set off to a place Tommy says will be safe for Gus. Along the way they encounter roving bands of killers and thieves that populate the now devastated American Midwest.

Sweet Tooth is a slow burn, and its perfect that way. Almost one year in and we still know very little of the mystery behind Gus. We know that his mutation is one of many that occurred as a result of a virus that killed millions. All the children born in the wake of the virus had animal mutations. There’s even a brothel they run across where a few women dress in animal masks to satisfy the cravings of some of the more perverted clientèle. The environments in the comic are very wide and very open, because its the Midwest it was already like that, but the apocalyptic air increases it a million times.

The artwork in Sweet Tooth is incredibly aesthetically inventive. In one of the more recent issues, Gus is put under hypnosis to pull out his memories of his life in the woods. The way Lemire stages is this is by miniature versions of Gus and the hypnotist walking along the full size Gus’ head, crawling into and out of his ears. It runs through the entire issue and is just one example of the creativity and interesting storytelling at work. This is a very easy one to get caught up on. Only two collections out right now so you could be ready to follow it month to month by catching up in day. A series that I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.

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Review: Justice League: Generation Lost #1-5



Justice League: Generation Lost #1-5
Script by Judd Winick, Breakdowns by Keith Giffen
Art by Aaron Lopresti (1,5), Joe Bennett (2,4), Fernando Dagnino (3)

When I was eight I met a Justice League that was a complete stranger to me. I grew up watching the Super Friends and from what I could tell they were the Justice League also. Imagine my surprise when I picked up Justice League America #42 and found characters like Blue Beetle, The Huntress, and Mister Miracle among others. Even though these were not the people I was expecting, I was intrigued. Later, in my first two years of college I was able to track down a complete run of this Justice League through dollar boxes, all sixty issues of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League/International/America. The series went through some title changes but it was always the League to me. DC has recently gotten this ragtag group of heroes back together again for a bi-weekly 26 issues series that has their former benefactor leading them on a global wild goose chase. So how do the first five issues bode for the series so far?

Once upon a time, a wealthy businessman named Maxwell Lord assembled a group of heroes and formed the new Justice League. There was no Superman or Wonder Woman. Batman was there, albeit briefly. Instead the core of the group were the following characters:
Blue Beetle – computer whiz Ted Kord and the second man to go by the Blue Beetle identity
Booster Gold – visitor from the 25th Century attempting to get rich quick using future tech as a hero
Fire – A Brazilian who could turn herself into a pillar of green fire
Ice – A Scandinavian woman who could turn water molecules in the air to ice
Captain Atom – a jarhead turned living nuclear bomb due to a botched test bombing
Rocket Red – an armor clad Russian with a rather easy disposition

Maxwell went a little evil, ended up trying to kill earth’s heroes, and Wonder Woman was forced to kill him. But, as is the way in the world of comics, the dead don’t stay dead. Max was resurrected during one of those big cross company events and immediately set about causing trouble. Max had an ability to manipulate the minds of others and now he knew he would be the most hunted man alive. Using considerable effort and straining his body beyond its natural limits, Max erased his memory from the mind of almost every living being on earth, except for his old Justice League crew. Now they are hunting him down, with the world around them believing they are crazy, attempt to stop Max before accomplishes what ever it is he’s up to now.

So far the first five issues have had their ups and downs. While DC brought back the original plotter of this Justice League, Keith Giffen, they paired him with Judd Winick, a writer whose work is some of my least favorite ever put to paper. Winick has a very grating way of writing and is not very good when it comes to handling action. Shouldn’t be a problem with a Justice League that was always more about the humor than the action. Once again he fails, nothing is funny and the characters are way too serious. The thing that always drew me to the Giffen/DeMatteis League was that unlike the Silver Age goofy JLA or the cosmic trippy Morrison JLA, theirs felt like people having fun. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are my all-time favorite comic book duo. It was like a great comedy team and super heroes rolled into one. They frequently used Max’s funds to invest in get rick quick schemes or antagonized the team’s token Green Lantern, Guy Gardner. Now Ted Kord is dead and replaced with Jaime Reyes, the new Blue Beetle. He’s an equally interesting character but there is something lost in the dynamic.

Because of the extended 26 issue story these first five feel like nothing has happened, and really it hasn’t. We’ve seen the characters assemble and some battles that seemed very pointless occur. The only part you could really call plot development would be that the heroes have realized Max has manipulated them into reuniting and that Max seems to have some unwanted side affects to his resurrection. The artwork is also back and forth, as to be expected in a series that comes out more than once a month. Three artists have been employed rotating, the best of which has been Aaron Lopresti on the first and most recent issues. He just a cleaner, more detailed style than the other two. What’s impressive is that DC’s last foray into publishing a title more than once a month was Trinity, a 52 issue weekly series with Mark Bagley handling art on every single issue without a miss. And it was better than this series, which has multiple hands to choose from.

Overall, my excitement for this series before it was released has really waned. You’d be better off checking out the collected volumes of Giffen and DeMatteis’ original Justice League run which is up to four volumes so far. Here’s hoping The Lost Generation can pick momentum in the next twenty-one issues.

Review: Batman #701 and Batman and Robin #13

Batman #701 and Batman and Robin #13
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Tony Daniel (Batman), Frazier Irving (Batman and Robin)

For those of you not keeping up with Batman currently, here’s the score: Over a year ago, Batman was driven to madness by a group called The Black Glove, led by the mysterious Doctor Hurt. Hurt claimed to Batman’s believed dead father, and buzz swept through Gotham that Thomas Wayne never died and had paid the gunman to kill his wife. Batman regained his senses after being put through a psychological gauntlet and both he and Hurt plunged into the bay surrounding Gotham while onboard a helicopter. Batman emerged from the water and Hurt disappeared. Some time later, Bats got involved with Final Crisis, one of those big cross company events where all the heroes show up. He sacrificed himself to stop the mini-series’ villain and the first Robin, Dick Grayson is now wearing the mantle of the Bat. Batman #701 features the first of two parts of writer Grant Morrison filling in the gaps between Batman’s battle with Doctor Hurt and his death in Final Crisis. In Batman and Robin #13, Morrison is setting up the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne with Doctor Hurt attacking the new Batman.

Grant Morrison is my favorite comic book writer and also the one who frustrates me to no end on everything he writes. Morrison goes against the current trend in comics writing which is decompression (i.e. stretching out an event with endless scenes of the heroes gathered together discussing what they are going to and what has just happened). While tells multi-part stories, they feel jam packed with things happening. It may not be traditional action, but you will have a handful of concepts and ideas thrown at you in a single issue that keep you thinking for a whole month till the next handful. And, when I first heard he was signed to write the core Batman title back in 2006, I was a little worried. Morrison’s focus had always been on established heroes or original ideas that contained a hint of the cosmic, and Batman never really seemed to be one of those titles.

But he has pulled off in a spectacular way, referencing some of the reviled “science fiction” Batman stories from the 1950s and incorporating them into the modern interpretation beautifully. He’s also managed to tweak the Joker in a way that has really injected that character with life. What Morrison up to is a reinventing of the character, in the same way that Batman was reinvented in 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The 1970s brought us the Dark Knight concept which has remained the way most writers have tackled the character until Morrison. His story this in this month’s Batman is interesting and definitely written as a “fill in the gaps” type arc. Batman comes to the surface of the bay, makes his way back the manor, eventually returns to find Hurt’s body is now missing, then gets brought into the events of Final Crisis. All along the way, he’s fixated on Doctor Hurt’s last words, that the next time Batman wears the cape and cowl it will be his last. Throughout the issue he goes unmasked, with that prophecy looming in his mind. And this first part ends with him putting it on for what we the readers know is the case he dies on.

In Batman and Robin, we’re giving a series of enigmatic panels showing the murder of the Waynes, then a panel where Thomas stands over the bodies of Martha and Bruce. Then Doctor Hurt wearing a Bat costume that Thomas Wayne once wore for Halloween, and would inspire Bruce as an adult. This jumps to three days in the future, where Hurt has Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Bruce’s illegitimate son Damien Wayne) being held captive. He tells Dick that this new Batman could never beat a Wayne and shoots him point blank in the back of the head. Then we jump back three days to where the core story is told. Batman and Robin are interrogating the Joker, who has turned up disguised as a famous British crime author to help bring the original Batman back from the dead. Batman is called away and core of the issue deals with Damien Wayne revealing his true brutal colors by sneaking a crowbar in to beat the Joker to death. Batman and Commissioner Gordon investigate crimes related to the original Batman’s death and it appears that Doctor Hurt is back from the dead.

Both issues set up some intriguing hooks, though Batman and Robin for me has been flawless its entire first year. Every issue builds on the next and its just one of those I have to read as soon as it comes out. Art wise, Batman and Robin is also the stronger of the two. Frazier Irving has come onboard as the new artist and he’s do something amazing things using shadows and has such a clean European style of drawing. Tony Daniel is much more from the Image Comics school of drawing, that early 90s Marvel influenced work that has never cut for me, even as a kid. Morrison’s work has been excellent on the Batman books and these are strong evidence that it is going to continue.