by Jeff Lemire (writer & artist), Jose Villarrubia (colors), and Pat Brosseau (letters)
The Story: Singh uses hypnosis to lead Gus through his past on a search for answers.
What’s Good: After falling just the tiniest bit short of his usual gold standard last month, Lemire kicks us in the teeth with one of his best issues of Sweet Tooth yet.
Lemire removes Jepperd this month, allowing for a more focused issue that develops the relationship between Singh and Gus. What makes this so superb, and so intriguing, is that Lemire returns to the juxtaposition between science and the humanities. In my usage of the word “humanities,” I mean that which escapes the dull rationalism of scientific figures: religion, emotion, and childhood innocence in the case of Sweet Tooth.
The conflict between these two sides becomes a major, yet subtle, theme as Singh struggles to probe through Gus’ memories. He repeatedly, almost desperately, asks Gus whether there are any scientific instruments, numbers, or notations in the cabin of his youth, and each time he is befuddled when told that this is not the case. The cabin is a science-free zone dominated by bizarre mix of zealous religion and childhood experience and, as such, both Gus and his father reject science as the evil justifications and misguided machinations of sinful men. The result is a sense of Singh’s inability to understand Gus’ world. There must be a scientific explanation for Gus’ existence, but there is simply no evidence to support this no matter how much Singh desires it. Eventually, Singh even falls to cynicism; for lack of empirical evidence, he believes Gus’ mother to have never existed. Of course, at issue’s end, he is proven dead wrong.
This all ties nicely to the big reveal regarding Gus’ father, who posits his own explanation for Gus’ existence, one that completely flies in the face of Singh’s desired scientific answers. I won’t spoil it, but Gus’ father’s brand of Christianity is not at all what it seems. For him, Gus is something of a divine conception, the end product of God’s world-purging wrath. In the reveal about Gus’ father’s twist on religion, Christianity becomes even more directly opposed to science; it becomes a wholly creative enterprise, its views of the world and its answers to the phenomena Singh studies are so directly opposed to the materialism and rationalism of science that Abraham declares Gus’ father “insane.”
When these two halves truly collide, the book is at it’s best. Singh and Gus come to have very different goals and desires in this trip through Gus’ memories: Singh wants facts, figures, and evidence, while Gus wants to look at his mother. The adult world of science ends up having the dominant position, but the conflict shows the two sides at work here, one rational and one emotional, both with different ends.
Artistically, while this lacks the sprawling, bittersweet images of Lemire’s post-apocalyptic environment, this is without a doubt one of Lemire’s most creative outings. He cuts loose on his layouts, using them to convey Gus’ thought processes. The world Gus’ memory also has a dreamy, painted feel that works perfectly.
Partially due to this shift in artwork, the tale also takes on a bit of an “Alice in Wonderland” surreal, trippy fairytale feel that is perfect given the child protagonist and the fact that we are, after all, entering a child’s world. At times, as Singh leads and encourages Gus onwards through this journey, I was reminded of the “guide” figures that these stories often have, always pushing the main character around the next corner.
What’s Not So Good: Nothing really. One could complain about Lemire’s use of artistic license in having Gus see himself when revisiting his memories, but it seems absurdly petty given the big things Lemire accomplishes this month.
Conclusion: A wonderfully gripping read that was also highly intellectual if you wanted it to be.