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

The Story: Louise’s death, Jepperd’s imprisonment by the militia, and his ensuing deal with Abbott are recounted.

What’s Good: The trip Lemire has been taking the grizzled, hardened Jeppered on lately has certainly been an interesting one, if only because of how it highlights his vulnerability and consequent deterioration.  That reaches new depths this month and with Lemire having spent so many of Sweet Tooth’s early issues building Jepperd into a tough-as-nails wrecking machine, seeing the guy reduced to such desperation is definitely very effective.

This month, Jepperd is shown at his weakest. He is emotionally destroyed, he is physically trapped, he is reduced to begging, and, for the first time in the series, he is physically beaten to a pulp, fair and square, in a fight we’d expect him to win.  It’s disconcerting stuff and certainly, seeing a guy like Jepperd so completely destroyed in every arena that a human being can be assaulted is just another example of how great Lemire is at writing the traumatic.  Yet, it also makes the last page all the more effective; never before has Jepperd seemed more dangerous and more threatening than now, having come through the flames of such physical and emotional pain.

Much of this issue is spent in the slow, gradual relationship that is forged between Jepperd and his warden, Johnny, who’s a seemingly nice guy.  It’s well written by Lemire; Johnny is the one physically weak presence amidst men like Jepperd and Abbott and is hopelessly stuck between the two of them.  Lemire does well in giving Johnny an affable, vernacular tone that often struggles to deal with the dire subject matter, much like the character himself.

Then there’s Abbott, who Lemire cements as a strong villain after this issue.  Completely cold, weirdly friendly, and always calm, Abbott has a relaxed presence that grows increasingly sinister.  It’s strangely suitable that in a world of hard, intimidating people, the most dangerous guy is also the most unassuming.

Lemire artwork continues to be tremendous for Sweet Tooth.  Backgrounds reflect states of mind and larger panels are perfectly in synch with the book’s emotional tone.  Lemire also makes really cool use of darkness this month in his depiction of Jepperd’s imprisonment.  It shuts down and punctuates the book, much as it shuts down and punctuates the conversations themselves as dialogue ends when the light goes out.  I also continue to enjoy Lemire’s depictions of action, which are always fast, claustrophobic, crushed together, and brutal.

What’s Not So Good: After this month, I feel that there’s no escaping the fact that the book is at its best with Gus.  The dichotomy and juxtaposition of innocence and experience, the child and the adult, is really the book’s strongest point; and when Gus isn’t around, and this isn’t supplied, it keeps Sweet Tooth from reaching the lofty heights that it usually inhabits.

That’s not to say that this issue is bad; as you can tell from my comments, it’s high quality stuff.  It’s just that without Gus, the book isn’t at its absolute best.  He’s a presence that adds an additional layer of life and complexity and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss that this month.

Conclusion: This is basically the best possible pitch Sweet Tooth can make while playing its B-game.  Thankfully, that’s still one great comic.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans