Sweet Tooth is one of the best books of this year.  Published under DC’s Vertigo label, the book is the creation of Jeff Lemire, the Canadian best known for his artist-owned Essex County series.  The scenario: Post-apocalypse, all kids born after the destructive event are mutants, everyone else is dying of a plague, and the star, Gus, a mutant (half human, half deer), is a naive boy who has been sheltered from the  horrors of the future dystopian world, until he is forced to venture out.  The art is simple and static, which helps capture the gradual shock that changes Gus, gradually, from a boy into the man he must become to survive.  I’ve only read volume one, but volume two is already on the way–it’s unlike DC to release trades this quickly, but in this case you can be the beneficiary: This is a tale best read in chunks.

From the new to the not-so-new, the second book on review this week is Daughters of the Dragon, by the never-let-you-down combo of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by the great Khari Evans.  The trade covers a six-issue mini-series about Misty “bionic arm and Iron Fist consort” Knight and Colleen “samurai chick” Wing.  The team meets up with all kinds of D-list Marvel characters, from Orka to Whirlwind to Paste Pot Pete.  If you long for the fun days of Marvel comics, this is the book for you.

The reason I thought these two trades were good to review together is not their subject matter: They couldn’t be more different. Where Sweet Tooth is creepy and horrifying, D of the D is a fun romp.  Sweet Tooth feels like a missing chapter from Garth Ennis and Richard Corben’s tale “Punisher: The End.”  In that tale (probably my favorite all-time Punisher story), Punisher scoured the scorched Earth for the villains who started a nuclear war, but the feel of the book was ashy, barren, and stark. Lemire’s art is clearly influenced by Corben, and while his story isn’t as bleak as something out of Ennis’ disturbed brain, it comes damn close.  But Daughters of the Dragon is bright and glossy–and Khari Evans is known for doing fantastic T&A work (see Shanna the She Devil, e.g.).

No, the reason I review these books together today is because of their careful attention to character and personality.  Gray/Palmiotti do a fantastic job at developing a loving relationship between these two women without any unnecessary lesbian jokes or innuendo, and Evans’ art is the perfect compliment here.  The duo are fighting crime, sure, but they’re having a blast doing it, and this book is fun to read and fun to “watch,” even if we’ve seen this kind of story before many times.  Similarly, Sweet Tooth doesn’t break new ground or push its genre forward, but it doesn’t have to.  What makes this book so good, so moving, so . . . sweet, is the character.  We learn with Gus, we feel for him, and we hope for the best even when we know there’s not much room for hope in book this dark.
Two great books this week.  Two thumbs way up.  Now go spend some money.

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