by Jeff Lemire (writer and artist), Jose Villarrubia (colors), and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: Gus and his savior, Jepperd hit the road and get to know each other a little, inevitably they run into their first bit of trouble.

What’s Good: Once again, Lemire’s minimalist approach works wonders.  As a new, major character is introduced, we don’t get giant word bubbles of exposition, nor do we get captioned-to-hell flashback sequences.  Instead, the few words we get become all the more important and character-defining, and we end up with a far sparser, moody, and unique book.

This month sees a fascinating juxtaposition that will clearly be the heart of this entire series, as both the hardened Jepperd and the innocent Gus bring the best out of each other.  Perfect foils to one another, they make each other feel more human, while also emphasizing each others’ opposite positions on the innocence-experience spectrum.  Seeing Jepperd from Gus’ perspective makes him look truly terrifying, while Jepperd, whether it’s in offering Gus candy or scaring him into hiding under his bed, brings out the childish innocence that Gus represents.

That said, the relationship also brings out nuances in the characters.  The usage of the “Sweet Tooth” nickname in this issue was a definite highlight, almost used as a bridge to a establish a different relationship between Gus and Jepperd, one that exposes a softer side of the big man.  The nice, fatherly Jepperd is in there, but he’s buried deep.

Lemire’s art meanwhile continues to evoke the darkness of the dystopic, barren environment in which his story takes place.  The use of lighting is superb, giving the book an isolated, campfire feel.  As is the mark of any good artist, Lemire also leaves me with several lasting images:  a gorgeous, pitch-perfect image of Gus and Jepperd on horseback, and an absolutely beautifully plotted action sequence in which Jepperd guns down an attacker.   This sequence is a demonstration of how decompression can be used to good ends, stretching out time and in so doing, making what is a fast and brutal scene feel gorgeous, expansive, and pictoresque.

What’s Not So Good: With this being a more dialogue-heavy issue, it’s become clear that Lemire has a unique way of plotting dialogue that takes some getting used to, and at worse, can be a little annoying.  For Lemire, a conversation leads to a great many small panels on a page, as he rarely has more than one person speak per panel.  He’s usually more content to have the “camera” move back and forth between characters, each panel focusing on the speaker, before the next moves on to focus on the respondent.  This constant back and forth can get a little irritating in its more extended uses.

Lemire also stumbles a bit in his first hand to hand combat sequence.  His ruddy, almost messy linework made some of the smaller action panels a little hard to discriminate at first glance.   It almost feels like too much was going on in too little space.

Conclusion: With a direction now firmly in place, this is looking to be a moody and atmospheric book with the potential to be both rollercoaster and sprawling epic.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans