Written by Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee; Illustrated by Matt Kindt
Equal parts Hellboy and Hulk, The Tooth is the story of a young man named Graham Stone who inherits a spooky old estate from his grandfather, Ezekiel. While looking over the place, Graham discovers a room full of “occult esoterica,” a collection of dangerous artifacts that Grandpa Zeke spent a lifetime accumulating. Unfortunately, Graham doesn’t understand how unsafe the stuff really is and grabs an amulet designed to control a mystical, yellow tooth.
Who does understand the significance of the collection is Caleb King, evil mage and one-time arch-nemesis to the late Ezekiel Stone. But when King gets rough with Graham, the supernatural tooth forms a humanoid body and grows to fightin’ size in order to protect his new… well, “master” doesn’t seem like the right word, but the relationship between Graham and the Tooth is hard to define.
Graham doesn’t command the Tooth, but it is attached to him, sometimes quite literally. In between battles with King’s monsters, the Tooth shrinks down and implants itself in Graham’s gums. Graham acts as a reluctant host for the creature who in turn defends the young man. The relationship between the mild-mannered protagonist and the uncontrollable monster brings classic Hulk comics to mind, while the Tooth’s occult origins and the evil wizard who seeks to exploit them are reminiscent of Hellboy.
There’s also a great supporting cast worthy of the comics that influenced The Tooth. Graham is engaged to a woman named Beatrice who’s trying to figure out what’s happened to her fiancé. She partners with Sheriff Turnbull, the only law in the small town where the story takes place, and as her relationship with Graham becomes unfamiliar and strained, her relationship with Turnbull begins to feel easy and comfortable.
Beatrice is no damsel-in-distress though. She’s not someone to be used as a pawn in the conflict between Graham and the man who’s hunting him. She’s her own woman and capable of defending herself to a certain point. The Tooth owes some of its tone to the Hulk, but it’s not simply an analog for those comics. Turnbull is neither General Ross nor Jack McGee. He’s only interested in solving crimes, not hunting monsters. It’s Beatrice who worriedly drives the investigation into Graham’s affairs. In many ways, she’s as much the hero as Graham.
That’s all for the good. The Tooth wouldn’t work if it simply mimicked the material it’s paying homage to. That would shatter the illusion that it’s a reboot of a real comic series, an illusion that everyone’s worked very hard at creating, from drawing fake covers and ads to writing fake letters pages and Bullpen Bulletins-style articles. It’s a successful trick that brought back the joy I felt as a kid when I’d discover a new comic.
The story in The Tooth is almost entirely self-contained. It certainly leaves room for more stories to be told about these characters, but no one’s going to come away from it feeling like they have to buy anything else to be satisfied. And yet, the letters and editorials create a history that begs to be explored. The introduction speaks of “die-hard Tooth historians” not needing to worry about the series’ new direction because it includes “connections aplenty to the past – including occult icons such as Ezekiel Stone.” Letters pages refer to past stories and characters in ways that make me want to dig through some back issue bins. I know next to nothing about them – they don’t appear in this story – but I’m hoping future volumes include the return of the Voodoo Queen or a fiendish plot of Dr. Torment. If they don’t though – if this volume is all there is – that’ll be okay too. It’s almost as fun to make up your own Voodoo Queen and imagine the kind of trouble she might have caused the Enameled Enigma.
Still, I really want to see Bunn, Lee, and Kindt take another turn at it.