This post of Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire, Jose Villarrubia, and Carlos M. Mangual contains both a spoiler free review and separate summary for the full series. The spoiler free review is first so that you can avoid spoilers. The summary of all 40 issues follows.
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Spoiler Free Review
It’s rare that a comic book series lives up to the hype. Sweet Tooth has a reputation as one of Jeff Lemire’s best works, this reputation is well earned.
On the surface, Sweet Tooth is a post apocalyptic hero’s journey that follows similar beats as all of the others. A young orphan sets out to find his place in the world only to discover that he’s the key to saving the whole planet. But this book is special, there’s just something about it that feels more magical than the rest of the genre, even though there’s no magic involved.
The hero of this story is Gus, aka Sweet Tooth, a human/deer hybrid born at the beginning of a plague. The sickness only seems to affect humans and not these hybrids who began being born around the same time. This young generation of hybrids is now hunted by humans desperate to use them to find a cure.
Gus has spent his entire life isolated with his father. He knows very little about the outside world and is unprepared to face it alone when his father succumbs to the sickness. His naïve nature is his most endearing quality at the start. By the end, it’s his capacity for compassion.
The characters of this graphic novel are the dominant appeal. Each character has layers that run deep, an interesting back story, and understandable motives. How they work together or against each other create a world that is not unfamiliar to our own. We’re closer to the apocalypse than some might think anyway.
Jepperd is the other main hero of the book, a wayward stranger who eventually takes Gus in as a surrogate son. He’s the one who dubs him Sweet Tooth based on his love of chocolate bars. Jepperd’s story is just as tragic and it’s always nice to see a hardened man able to show emotions.
Sweet Tooth is a complete graphic novel series that has actually concluded. It has an ending and it’s a solid one at that. So don’t worry about being left hanging. These 40 issues fly by and create an utterly compelling story of a boy and his adopted family against the world.
5/5 deer 🦌 🦌 🦌 🦌 🦌
Sweet Tooth Summary
Sweet Tooth is more than just another post apocalyptic hero’s journey. It’s an inventive take on an old tale that demonstrates the value of empathy and the importance of knowing when to let the next generation take over. The world changes, its inhabitants need to as well.
The protagonist, Gus, is a young boy with antlers and deer ears on top of his head. We see that his father is the typical human. They live together in an isolated cabin and Gus is told that leaving their woods at any time for any reason will get him killed. He has never been outside of the perimeter.
The father also told his son that he’s very special, he’s the last of the children left on the planet. Gus is left completely alone when his father finally succumbs to an illness that has wiped out most of humanity.
The warning comes true when he attempts to leave their property to find a way to sustain his own life. Hunters immediately try to kill him but he is rescued by a lone traveler who goes by the name Jepperd. This stranger is the one who gives Gus the nickname “Sweet Tooth,” based on his love of chocolate bars.
Jepperd fills in the story of the world by explaining that the plague has killed most humans but the hybrids, such as Gus, appear to be immune. Due to this, many people are attempting to capture the hybrids in a vain attempt to find a cure.
These unlikely pals begin to travel together on the promise of going to a sanctuary for hybrids. Jepperd appears to be keeping Gus safe and being a generally good guy. He even rescues some women being held as prostitutes even at some risk to himself. However, as is the case in these stories, Jepperd still sells Gus out to a militia camp offering a big payout.
The reader finds out in the next issue that this payout is much more than money or food. It’s the remains of his dead wife, returned to him so he can finally lay her to rest on their old farm. In a flashback we see how the pregnant wife had been kidnapped by the same militia. They have been experimenting on pregnant women who, since the plague, have been giving birth to the hybrids. She died during childbirth along with the baby.
Let’s pause here to discuss how absolutely tragic this is. It is at this point in the series that the emotions really start coming. Every character in this graphic novel is more than they are on the surface. No one can be judged at first glance.
At this point in the story Gus is only 11 years old. It is important to remember this and to understand how incredibly naïve he is. His only social interactions up until this point were with his father. He has no idea how the world works, how it ever worked, or what to do in almost any situation.
This makes it unfortunately easy for him to get taken advantage of. It’s heartbreaking every single time he is manipulated and he slowly comes to the realization that people can be very evil. In the care of an evil militia with a mad scientist doctor Gus is way out of his areas of expertise.
Jepperd, having finally buried his wife, decides to go back and kill the doctor and the head of the militia that kidnapped his wife. He has nothing left to live for so he might as well try and rescue Sweet Tooth too.
Meanwhile, the Doc starts to examine Gus. He notices that he has no bellybutton which leads him to the conclusion that he was patient zero. The start of the plague and the hybrids. How was he born? The Doc and some militia members go to his old cabin in the woods to find some clues.
Jepperd now has 2 of the prostitutes he rescued traveling with him on this suicide mission to rescue Gus. They decide they need more manpower so they enlist the help of a masked cult. Every apocalypse story needs a crazy cult who seems to be pro end of the world.
Back at the concentration camp a conflicted militia member helps Gus and the other hybrids to escape. They are found soon after by the Doc and the crew who just burned down Gus’ family home. They all return to the camp just in time to see Jepperd roll in with his insane army.
In the chaos Jepperd finds the militia leader and proceeds in his attempt to kill him when he mentions the one thing that could stop his violence. He says that Jepperd’s son lived, that he did not die during childbirth with his wife. Within the group of hybrids is Jepperd’s son, a half donkey boy with very sad eyes. Unfortunately the insane cult leader snags the son and it is time to flee before everyone is destroyed.
Jepperd leaves with the group convinced that he found his son only to lose him all over again, this time for good. Here we are with all those emotions again! Jepperd is absolutely heartbroken and begins to distance himself. His surrogate son, Gus, is still quite angry about the whole selling him out thing and the two are hostile to each other before retreating to silence.
However, unbeknownst to Jepperd, the militia leader kills the cult leader and decides to keep the boy. He may come in handy later.
The Sweet Tooth crew has now gained the hesitant militia member, whom we now know as the leader’s younger brother, and the Doc who has seen the error of his ways. He has also been reading the “bible” that Gus’ father wrote and has become a mad worshipper of Gus as the messiah.
They have reason to believe that the source of Gus and the plague is Alaska, so they begin to head North. The girls, including a pig hybrid named Wendy, go off on their own one night. They are reminiscing about their own pasts when they’re captured in a net. The man who lets them loose is friendly and brings them back to his fortress inside of a very secure dam.
This place seems perfect. They have electricity, a library, enough food for a lifetime, running water, all the necessities and then some. Everything seems perfect until one of the women begins showing signs of the plague.
Jepperd and Gus go off to find the missing women. They are attacked by a bear. Jepperd is able to rescue Gus which opens the door for them to mend their emotional wounds.
They are able to track their way to the dam where they demand their party members back. The women want to stay and want them to stay as well. Jepperd doesn’t trust the scenario and in his hesitation Gus gets shot by another party. He agrees to enter the dam in order to get him the care that he needs.
The Doc is able to patch Gus up but he can’t travel any time soon. Jepperd is kicked out of the dam because he can’t play nice. He’s banished to living on his own in the snowy forest until Gus can travel.
Upon gathering supplies for their trip up North the Doc and the Brother discover that the man in the dam is not who he claims to be. He is a man known as Haggerty who tricked the researchers out of their shelter and has been a dangerous imposter ever since. He turns on the women in the shelter and it is clear they are in great danger.
Jepperd, weary of how long he’s had to wait, sets out to save everyone but accidentally flips his vehicle. The Doc tries to run North with Gus but without the rest of the party, Gus is not here for it. Doc ends up going on his own. Gus makes it back to the dam determined to save those who stayed behind and take revenge on this betrayer. He has come a long way from naïve child and manages to save them and kick Haggerty out into the harsh winter alone.
Jepperd is conveniently rescued by a man who turns out to be an old hockey rival of his from the before times. They quickly become friends, best friends. They make it back to the damn just in time to see Lucy, the prostitute who came down with the plague and secret love interest of Jepperd’s, succumb to the illness.
Through all of this emotional turmoil the leader of the militia has not given up the hunt. He tracks down the dam and is ready for a showdown, but they’ve already headed back on the road towards Alaska. Doc finds Alaska on his own and is ready to get some answers.
A full issue is dedicated to revealing that Gus was born in a tube in a research facility that is tied to a myth of an Inuit god. Gus is descendant of those gods.
The entire militia attacks the party in Alaska. In classic last introduced, first to die manner, Jepperd’s hockey friend is the first to die. But he dies an honorable martyr’s death.
Jepperd’s main mission is to rescue his son, he takes quite a few injuries getting there. Gus comes to the rescue and kills the militia leader but he is unable to also save his adopted father figure. In a tragic turn of events Gus and Jepperd’s son must go on without him.
That volume of the graphic novel ends with this death and the sadness that comes with it. The final volume flashes forward to Gus as an adult hybrid. They have built a home for hybrids and those humans who wish to do them no harm.
Eventually, the last human dies out and the hybrids are all that are left. Gus and Wendy have children together, and those children then have children. They grow old and Gus dies peacefully one night knowing that the next generations are happy, healthy, and safe.
This touching conclusion is perfect for this graphic novel series. There is a lot of turmoil and heartbreak in the life of Sweet Tooth but he gets as happy an ending as anyone could hope for.
Endings are rare in story telling anymore, especially with everything being a series or a connected universe. Endings are important, readers deserve the closure. Plus, characters die, real or imagined on the page, characters need endings just as much as readers do. Thank you Jeff Lemire for providing us with a great one.