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

The Story: As the battle for the militia camp reaches its bloody end, Jepperd learns the truth about his child.

What’s Good: Beneath all the evocative writing, moody visuals, experimental layouts, and grim atmosphere, Sweet Tooth is a damned good story.  It’s issues like this that prove that, showing that Lemire is just as concerned with narrative as he is with creating his world and striking emotional chords.

This is also one of those issues that builds great things for the future.  By the issue’s end, there’s no mistaking the fact that all of our characters are in very different places from where they were at the start of the arc.  Our band finally congeals as a group, and they have a whole new mission on their hands, one that’s very enticing and looks to go back to the “epic journey” trope that Lemire did so well with early on in the series when Gus and Jepperd were questing after the fabled Preserve.  This trek looks to be even more ambitious and I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Beyond that though, this issue is an electric thrill ride.  The action is amazing, the violence uncompromising, and there are major twists and developments aplenty.  Standing above them all is Jepperd’s discovery of the identity of his child.  There is no way that the child’s identity won’t shock you, as it becomes increasingly clear how subtly Lemire had laid his red herrings.  Of course, the manner in which its all revealed is gut-wrenching in typical Sweet Tooth fashion.  Regardless, it’s an awesome moment for the series, particularly in how it suddenly makes a character so tertiary up to this point so suddenly crucial.

Then there’s Abbot.  By the end of this issue, the character has never been more compelling.  On the one hand, Lemire finally cements him as a character to be concerned about in the series’ long-term.  Lemire fashions him into a fully three-dimensional villain.  Suffice it to say that it’s clear that the character will come back to haunt our protagonists.  But he’s not a typical black-hat either.  Lemire complicates the character this month, almost even giving him a twisted hint of anti-heroism.  We’ve hated Abbot for so long now that it’s genuinely surprising to see him do something truly badass (in a good way).  With one major action, Abbot instantly becomes a far more complex character.

As far as the art goes, this is typical Lemire; brutal, grim, but always with that hint of hope.  The emotion is palpable, as is the tension and desperation.

All told, this is an issue that rides a certain balance to perfection.  On the one hand, it plays the long game, building up characters and goals for the future.  On the other hand, a hell of a lot happens in this issue in its own right, proving that set-up issues can still be a total blast.

What’s Not So Good: Anything I complained about here would just be pointless nitpicking.  Pass.

Conclusion: The fact that this was just a little bit better than your standard issue goes to show that Sweet Tooth truly is one of the best books on the stands right now.

Grade: A –

-Alex Evans