Sweet Tooth, the live-action adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s post-apocalyptic comic, has now arrived on Netflix and it’s a hit! Or at least that’s what producer Robert Downey Jr. ‘s overwhelmingly prevalent promoted tweet claims. I can recite “#SweetTooth is now certified fresh with a perfect 100% critics score. So incredibly proud of the whole @sweettooth team and can’t wait for you to see ‘the show of the summer.’ All episodes are now streaming on Netflix!” more readily than my own name at this point.
Still, it’s easy to see why Sweet Tooth found an audience on Netflix. The story of a gentle deer-boy hybrid named Gus and his quest to find his mother in a virus-ravaged world puts a refreshingly optimistic face on a well-worn post-apocalypse genre. Actor Christian Convery is a real find as Gus a.k.a. Sweet Tooth and the series eight episodes feel like an ‘80s Amblin Entertainment homage done right.
Sweet Tooth is so inherently sweet that audiences might not realize just how much it deviates from its comic inspiration. Lemire’s comic miniseries, published from 2009 through 2013 by DC’s Vertigo imprint, has many fans, including some big pop culture names. Actor Michael Sheen wrote the foreword for the series first collected trade paperback. TV writer Damon Lindelof (Watchmen, Lost) conducted an interview with Lemire for the end of the final book. The comic is also decidedly less sweet than the TV show it inspired.
Arriving in an era before apocalypse fatigue fully set in for pop culture, Sweet Tooth really leans into the Mad Max side of its “Bambi Meets Mad Max” elevator pitch. The book is quite dark and unflinching. That Netflix and series creator Jim Mickle decided to go in a brighter direction for the show is an interesting commentary on entertainment’s priorities at the moment. But what if Sweet Tooth the TV series decided to hew closer to its source material? Read on to see how the comic and the show differ.
It cannot be overstated just how much darker the Sweet Tooth comic is than the TV series. The show acknowledges that the post-apocalyptic world after “The Sick” would feature some inherent violence. In fact, the whole plot of the show involves hunters trying to kidnap a child and deliver him to the military to be ground up into medicine essentially. That’s obviously dark. But the show still does its best to avoid as much onscreen violence as possible.
When the Big Man or another character rescues Gus from hunters, he does so in a largely bloodless fashion. Even when Big Man takes a bear trap to a poacher’s head, audiences are spared the grisly sights and sounds of it. Readers of the Sweet Tooth comic, however, are spared nothing. The pages of Lemire’s work are positively drenched in blood. Midway through the story, Gus is even forced to beat a fellow hybrid’s brains in with a brick. He says he feels bad about it, but not that bad.
The comic also delves into the realm of sexual violence as many post-apocalyptic stories have felt compelled to do before. Early on in the proceedings Big Man and Gus come across a town where a family captures women and forces them into prostitution. When Big Man rescues two women, they become permanent fixtures of their party. These characters, Lucy and Becky, do not appear in the TV show (though one character does borrow her name from one).
If all the violence didn’t already make it apparent, the Sweet Tooth comic is particularly misanthropic. Nearly all of the human characters in the comic are monsters. Even Gus’s beloved Big Man Jepperd is useful because he’s a monster. Jepperd never loses sight of what makes him useful in this world, which is killing. He only becomes a hero when he applies that skill to those who deserve it. Throughout the series run, the comic continually intimates that perhaps planet Earth would be better off without all these humans anyway.