Comics that look like they’re from the days of yore! Everyone loves those!
The Tooth is a tribute to Silver/Bronze Age comics (it’s a bit gorier than Silver Age books, after all), and Cullen Bunn, Shawn Lee, and Matt Kindt pull it off pretty much perfectly, getting the tone very well, and actually making their jokes about the excesses of the time period a bit more subtle than, say, Alan Moore did in 1963. It’s because Bunn, Lee, and Kindt mimic the style of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s so well that the homage comes off as more affectionate than Moore’s work, even as they poke a bit of fun at the way comics were produced back then.
But before we get to that, I should point out that The Tooth is published by Oni and costs $24.99. Bunn and Lee are the writers, Kindt draws it, and Christopher Sebela letters the whole thing.
The Tooth is a story about a giant tooth who, because of its composition, is impervious to most things and happens to be super-strong as well. We learn its origin during the book, and it’s as clever and silly as you expect a Silver Age origin to be. We also learn that the Tooth needs a human host (it hangs out in the person’s mouth until it’s needed), and at the beginning of this book, it doesn’t have one. It ends up using a young man named Graham as a host, which causes all sorts of problems with Graham’s fiancée, Beatrice, who doesn’t know what’s happened to him and is determined to find out. Of course, there’s a villain in all this – Caleb King, a rich old man who wants to use the Tooth for his own nefarious purposes. How he does so is part of the fun of the book.
While the plot of the book is exciting and odd, it’s not the reason the book is so much fun. I mean, yes, a giant tooth that fights bad guys and has a mysterious origin and, when it’s not fighting bad guys, resides in the mouth of its host (at one point Graham says that he can “taste the gore” because the Tooth shrinks down and hops back into his mouth after slaughtering a bunch of evil dudes) is a fun idea, and the writers’ plot takes us through the requisite twists, from the new host for the Tooth to the “re-appearance” of an old character, but that’s not what makes the book a success. It’s much more in the way Bunn and Lee tell the story. First of all, the book is designed to look like an old Silver Age comic series (note the “aged” cover, which continues throughout the comic). Then, the writers write it like an old Silver Age comic – there’s chunks of purple prose, the omniscient narrator speaks directly to both the audience and the characters in the book, and they add letters pages and a checklist of Tooth appearances, just like many comics fans used to make before the Internet made it easy to find back issues.
Bunn and Lee take the standard clichés of horror fiction – the isolated protagonist, the lovelorn damsel, the stolid local law enforcement officer, the moustache-twirling villain (Caleb King actually does has a moustache), the mysterious mentor – and twist them nicely to fit a more modern sensibility even as they make sure the plot conforms somewhat to a 1950s horror comic. Beatrice is much more competent than her forebears, for instance, and the mentor isn’t a wizened old man but a younger professor. Each character has a template, and Bunn and Lee do a nice job playing off that template and letting the characters forge their own paths. Even if the reader can see where the book is going, getting there is all the fun. Bunn and Lee have a lot of fun in the letters pages, even picking on Brian Hurtt at one point (Hurtt is the “guest artist” on “issue #37,” which is not included in this collection and which the publishers claim they don’t even have – the book supposedly collects issues #34-36 and #38-39 of the “ongoing”). Little things like this make the entire package greater than the sum of its parts.
By now, everyone should know of my love for Matt Kindt’s art, and he doesn’t disappoint in this comic. His work is fluid and dynamic as ever, with many curious “camera angles” in panels that heightens the wacky nature of the book – he places characters too close to the “lens,” distorts characters in the backgrounds to fit them into the borders, and crams too much into panels occasionally, causing claustrophobia – he’s used all of these tricks before, and for him, they work (don’t ask me how).
His Tooth is a monster, sure, but Kindt manages to find just enough humanity in the creature’s blank face to lend it some pathos, especially when we find out how it became the Tooth. Kindt’s work is definitely not for everyone, and if you’re more of a fan of clean, superheroic art, it might be too much of a leap for you. But he helps root the book in a Silver Age aesthetic – we can believe that this comic might exist, art-wise, side by side with Ditko’s horror work of the 1950s. Kindt also gets to work in full color, which he doesn’t always do, and while the colors are a bit muted (because of the “aged” look of the book), they do make the Tooth look less ridiculous than if Kindt used earthier tones to make it more “realistic.” This book doesn’t demand realism, so Kindt doesn’t give it to us.
The Tooth is a wildly fun comic that sets out to entertain and does so splendidly. It doesn’t quite resonate like the stuff Kindt writes on his own, but it does show that when it comes to creative and very fun genre fiction, Bunn is one of the best in the business right now (Lee usually letters things, so this is the first time I’ve seen him as a writer and I don’t know how he and Bunn split the work). It’s the kind of comic that might not teach you anything or cause you to contemplate your existence or your relationship with the world, but it is the kind of comic that you can read over and over and always be entertained. And that’s certainly a good way to spend your time!