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

The Story: Gus and the gang hit the road to Alaska, readjusting to the outside world.

What’s Good: Jeff Lemire is never afraid of getting experimental with Sweet Tooth’s layouts, and nowhere is this more on display than this month, where the book is in landscape and, at points, narrated like a storybook, with a splash page on top and a page of prose narration below.  But that’s not what’s best about this issue.

What’s best is its emotional resonance.  Take for example the tension between the newly reunited Jepperd and Gus.  Jepperd’s obvious sense of guilt and his clumsy attempts to reconnect are absolutely heartbreaking, regardless of whether he’s done wrong.  There’s something pathetic in his actions this month, using relics in an attempt to rekindle a time long past and regain a friendship with a Gus that no longer exists.  Or is that Gus simply buried?  Either way, it’s really gut-wrenching, eye-watering stuff that is sincere in the utmost.

Gus himself functions incredibly well this month as a kind of moral compass.  His clear sense of right and wrong show a much clearer, more defined character than the impressionable kid from issue 1.  Perhaps he’s idealistic, but he’s steadfast.  Gus shows himself to be a restraining force on the adults, a figure who reminds them of their humanity.

I also really enjoy the group dynamic that the comic has taken on.  In some ways, it reminds me of the Walking Dead: it’s an ensemble in a post-apocalyptic world, with each character having his or her unique characteristics and place in the group.  A special mention also has to go to Bobby, who gets in a couple of really hilarious lines this month.  It was surprising to get that out of Lemire, as Sweet Tooth has never been the comic to go to for laughs.

There’s also a heavy emphasis on the importance of the innocence of childhood this month that was really quite touching.  Seeing all the tension and horror of the series break away, even for a moment, to allow for kids to be kids and friends to be friends was a beautiful sight to see.  Indeed, the final splash of the issue almost made my eyes water.  It was such a display of friendship and goodness and acceptance that it’s hard to put into words.

Art-wise, this issue was also astounding.  While Lemire brings his usual goodness, it’s colorist Jose Villarrubia who brings the goods this month.  He gives the issue a unique, almost water-colored feel to go along with the storybook layout.

What’s Not So Good: I hate comics in landscape.  Hate, hate, hate them.  They’re awkward to read, irritating to hold, and just a general nuisance.  I can’t stand them and despite the creative possibilities, I’d be happy if creators abandoned the idea altogether.

My personal hatred for landscape comics aside, I also found that Lemire felt a little awkward at first with the tone of the storybook narrations.  While it did feel more natural by issue’s end, at first it seemed a little forced (Lemire struggles, forcing himself to call characters things like “the Boy” and “the Big Man).  Lemire really has difficulty setting into this voice and putting such restrains on himself.  Eventually, it feels normal, but those first couple of pages of prose are rather clunky.

Conclusion: A really deeply touching issue and one of the best issues of the series.  And this is coming from a guy who thinks landscape comics ought to be burned.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans