If this issue of “Sweet Tooth” was like the previous 18 in that it was illustrated by Jeff Lemire, it would be a good issue. No doubt in my mind about that. But after a year and a half, Lemire could no doubt use a bit of a break, and that’s where Nate Powell (“Swallow Me Whole”), Emi Lenox (“EmiTown”), and Matt Kindt (“Super Spy”) come in. And in doing so, this goes from a good issue to a great issue.
Let me quickly make clear that I love Lemire’s art. But it’s fun to see three artists known for their own projects re-interpret the world of “Sweet Tooth” as each tackles a different flashback story.
Powell draws Lucy’s story, and while there’s still a lot to be told about how she eventually ended up with the militia, this opening chapter keeps its atmosphere feeling nervous and tense. I like how Powell’s panels are scattered across the page as things get bad, and the tight focuses on Lucy’s eyes and the homeless man’s hands add to that overall feeling.
Lenox is up next with Becky’s tale, and her stripped down style also adds a layer of dread to her flashbacks. Since Becky can’t clearly remember her childhood anymore, there’s an innocent look to Lenox’s pages, with Becky surrounded by a skull-faced family, or bullies, or eventually finding herself alone. Readers of “EmiTown” will know that Lenox’s art is normally cheery and sweet, so seeing this darker side of her art is a great and unexpected change of pace.
Last up is young Wendy’s story, which Kindt (with the help of colorist Jose Villarrubia, who alters his style for each artist) draws as a series of watercolor pages. Watching Wendy’s life shift from good to bad ends up that much more depressing because Kindt is able to show just how happy Wendy and her mother were together, and scenes like the burned down house or the scattering of Wendy’s drawings is nothing short of heartbreaking. I love how each of the three guest artists interpreted “Sweet Tooth” this month, but if I had to (reluctantly) choose a favorite I think it would be Kindt.
And of course, Lemire draws some pages as well, giving us the framing device for these stories as well as bringing in the start of a new story. It’s a strong opening for “Endangered Species,” and I’m (unsurprisingly) eager for the next issue. And while I’ll miss our guest artists, I’m glad the book ends on Lemire; it’s a good reminder that his own art is not only strong but goes a long way toward creating the overall “innocence meets danger” feel that is “Sweet Tooth.” This issue is not only a good issue in general, it’s a strong jumping-on point if you’re interested in the series. Can’t ask for much more than that.