“Everywhere you go, pain and misery seem to follow. Well, I’m done following along with it. I won’t be a part of your violence anymore. And I won’t let the children be infected by it either.”
Title: Sweet Tooth: Endangered Species
Written by Jeff Lemire
Genre: Apocalypse, Dystopia, Comics, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Publication Date: June 2011
Paperback: 144 pages
Gus reluctantly joins Jepperd on missing persons hunt, but the tension between the two continues to grow. Meanwhile, Singh and Johnny come face to face with a deadly new threat, and Lucy and the girls meet Walter Fish, an enigmatic survivor who may have more to offer than meets the eye. Will this lead to a new sanctuary for them, or something far more dangerous?
Stand alone or series: Volume 4 in the Sweet Tooth graphic novel series (collects issues #18-25)
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Trade Paperback
THE STORY SO FAR:
In Volume 1: Out of the Dark Woods, Jeff Lemire tells the story of a deer-human boy hybrid named Gus, who lives in a cabin in the woods with his father. His father is the only other person Gus has ever seen, but the two are happy and safe in the woods. Gus lives his life following his father’s teachings and honoring his rules… until, one day, his father dies. And Gus finds himself in the company of a gruff man named Jeppard, beyond the safe confines of the forest.
It turns out that the great sickness that has destroyed the world has something to do with Gus and the other human-animal hybrid children – and certain parties will pay almost anything to get their hands on these child test subjects.
At the end of Out of the Dark Woods, Gus has been betrayed by the man he trusted, and left at the Preserve, where he will be studied by the militia’s scientists.
In Volume 2: In Captivity, Gus finds himself a test subject at the hands of the militia and under the experimentation and scrutiny of Dr. Singh. Here, Gus meets other hybrid children – younger, and more animal/less human than Gus (with the exception of pig-girl Wendy) – and he learns that when the doctor comes to experiment on you, you don’t ever come back. But Gus, it turns out, is special. Dr. Singh thinks he’s found the origin of the disease – or the promise of the cure – and Gus is that key.
Meanwhile, Jepperd’s past is revealed – aging hockey bruiser, husband to a dead wife and child following the pandemic – and we learn why he sold Gus out to the Preserve. As Jepperd falls apart under his vicious memories of his lost wife and happiness at the hands of the militia – the same militia that holds Gus – the volume ends with a portentous vow: he’s gonna kill them all.
In Volume 3: Jepperd has teamed up with Lucy and Becky (two women previously met at the brothel, one of which Jepperd knew from the Preserve), and has made a deal with hybrid-obsessed cultists to take the Preserve down. Jepperd is successful in his mission, freeing Gus and his fellow captives – but also learns too late that his son, Buddy, was born alive and has been a captive for all these years. Jepperd leaves with Gus, Bobby, Wendy, Becky, Lucy, Dr. Singh and Johnny – thinking that Buddy has been torn apart and died. Together, Gus, Jeppard and their motley crew make their way north to Alaska – where the key to the plague, and Gus’s mysterious origins, may lay in wait.
Endangered Species deviates from the format of the prior two volumes as Gus and Jepperd are united, at long last (for the first time since Out of the Dark Woods). Though tensions run high between the pair – Gus doesn’t trust Jepperd, and for good reason – they have an uneasy peace. And at least in the opening of this volume, there’s happiness and a respite (however brief it may be) from violence – Endangered Species begins with hope. For the first time, we see Gus and Wendy and Bobby act like children; they enjoy snow for the first time, making snow angels, and a snowman, and even a snowball fight. Hell, even Jepperd cracks a smile (maybe).
Of course, relationships are tense, even with this happy break – especially when it comes to…
Gus and Jepperd’s Arc
The bond between “Sweet Tooth” and Jepperd is strained, to say the least. While he’s undoubtedly happy to have escaped the Preserve, Gus is not quick to trust anyone, least of all the man who brought him to his former prison. For his part, Jepperd really and truly seems to have bonded with Gus – as though he’s the son he never had the chance to know, though he’s also clearly struggling with the brief glimpse of Buddy he got back at the compound. When Gus tries to tell Jepperd he’s sorry about what happened to his son, Jepperd responds with gruff aggression and anger (in other words, his default setting).
But for all Jepperd’s gruffness, there’s tenderness shown in Endangered Species, too. When Gus is attacked by a bear and dragged off (who knows why, that bear had some serious confusion when he saw Gus, but more on that in a bit), it is Jepperd who refuses to give up on the boy, who fights that bear to save his beloved Sweet Tooth. The reconciliation between these two characters, when it happens, is incredibly powerful.
So Jepperd and Gus are in a good place in this volume, at least when it comes to their relationship to each other.
As the crew heads northward, however, they run into others. And that’s where things get a little out of control.
Favorite New Characters
In the last volume, we’re re-introduced to several characters who carry on through Endangered Species – including Dr. Singh, Johnny (who has escaped the Preserve and his power-hungry brother), and most importantly, Lucy and Becky. We learn about the backstory for both of these women in this novel, and while Becky’s story is tragic (the loss of her parents when she’s just a kid, thanks to the viral pandemic), it’s Lucy’s story that drives this particular installation. Lucy, who was a nurse (if not a particularly kind one), who had a happy home, who was abducted and who faced so much horror before finding her own way. It’s also Lucy who struggles with her own secrets in this fourth volume, leading her to make tough decisions she probably would never have considered before.
The other standout character story in this book, for me, is Wendy. The daughter of a caring, doting, isolated mother, Wendy grew up in a happy home. Spending all day with her mom, making drawings and telling stories and embarking on adventures, Wendy’s life was happy – until the day her mother is taken away, and Wendy decides to try to save her.
(THEORY ALERT: Clearly, Wendy’s mom is More Than Meets the Eye. She is able to physically handle herself and finds a way to escape the men that have isolated her from her daughter. I suspect we’ll learn more about her and discover she’s involved with Gus, Gus’s dad, and the entire hybrid program.)
And, GUH, Wendy. What a heartbreaker.
Endangered Species introduces us to a strange new potentially villainous character (at least, my money is villainous): Walter Fish. A lone survivor in a self-sustaining research station, Walter swoops in to save our traveling group from harm – apparently, there are bad men out there, who aim to take Walter’s home, and who need to be stopped.
Wally gives off a pretty creepy vibe. I… don’t think it’s going to work out well for our friends.
That Weird Prophecy Stuff
Finally, there’s a bunch of weird prophecy stuff happening/coming true in Endangered Species. Dr. Singh has started to drink the kool-aid, believing in every word of Gus’s father’s “bible” – starting to fear the White Demon (Jepperd, he believes).
One thing is certain, though: Alaska is the future for Dr. Singh, for Jepperd, and for Gus.
I don’t know when they’ll get there or what they’ll find, but I’m sure it’s some weird, exciting, mind-blowing shit.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Next Friday: Sweet Tooth: Unnatural Habitats (Vol. 5)…