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

The Story: Gus and co. debate whether or not to leave the Dam for Alaska.

What’s Good: This is the sort of script that really shows off what a strong, ensemble cast Lemire has put together and ends up being all about the character-work.  It’s hard to believe that not long ago, this was entirely a “man and boy” adventure focused tightly on Jepperd and Gus.  Now we’ve got a whole crew of characters, each of them likable and/or compelling in their own unique ways.  Bobby is probably the cutest character in any comic I’m reading right now, so much so that I hope Lemire starts carrying around Bobby plushies at conventions.   Johnny delivers a slight but never forced or over-the-top comic relief to the group.  Meanwhile, Doctor Singh looks more crazy-eyed and conspiratorial by the month, and that’s certainly the case here.

Meanwhile, on the darker side of things, Lucy grows to be an increasingly tragic, hard-luck figure as her condition worsens.  Even more interesting is Walter Fish, who reaches a new high as far as general creepiness is concerned, despite never really doing anything incriminating.  It’s a wonderful balance that Lemire is striking with the character.  Jepperd is, of course, as strong as ever as well, continually moving around the issue with a constant, barely tethered anger.  I also liked how violently Jepperd reacts when his soft side gets rebuked.  The minute he gets rejected, he instantly closes up behind that anger once again.

So all told, it’s strong character-work all around met with Lemire’s excellent, moody artwork, with fun layouts and little adjustments in line-work whenever a particular panel is meant to reflect a mood or emotion.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, there’s one major defect with this month’s issue: nothing actually happens.  Alright, that’s not strictly true, as there’s a major game-changing event on the final page that is a huge cliffhanger, but up until that point, you’ve got 19 pages of zero plot progression to speak of.  We already knew that Lucy was sick, we already knew that Jepperd was a pissed off dude, we already knew where our party stood on whether or not to leave the dam, and we already knew that Walter Fish was creepy, and all Lemire really does here is re-emphasize those points.  The end result is that we see our favourite characters chatting with each other and doing what they do best, but as far as actual storytelling and plot is concerned, it’s on the light side.

Frankly, part of me does think that this might be a case of “writing for the trade.”  As chapter four of a six-issue arc, it makes sense, but as a singular experience, it doesn’t really work all that well.

I also had difficulties with the Lucy/Jepperd relationship.  Lemire tries to showcase the tension and awkwardness in their off-kilter romance, but it doesn’t really work and it’s one of the few times where I can honestly say that Sweet Tooth left me feeling ambivalent about something.  Frankly, Lemire just hasn’t developed the relationship enough and, hence, not really given us much of a reason to care about it beyond the fact that it involves two characters we like.  The relationship as a whole is undercooked and has simply not been explored enough for it to hit the notes that Lemire is hoping for.

Conclusion: Not the strongest issue, but that last page ensures that this rare misstep for Sweet Tooth won’t be a lasting one.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans