Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #241: The Tooth by Cullen Bunn, Shawn Lee, and Matt Kindt

Reading comics digitally is weird for me: it's so disconnected from the physicality of a real book, and (at least the stuff I have, mostly publicity copies) generally lack covers and explanatory copy, so it dives right into story without any explanation as to how or why or who.

I also tend to have stuff that's been sitting around for a while, since I was getting digital review copies for most of the last decade but not actually reading more than a couple of them. (I very easily forget that I have a particular collection of electrons sitting in a folder somewhere; real physical objects on a shelf are much better at reminding me they exist and are waiting to be read.)

For example, I just this second tracked down a cover for this book, so I could slap it into the top left of this post. It looks completely unfamiliar, and The Tooth is a book that was published in 2011 and which I presumably have had since then (or maybe slightly earlier, given publishing schedules).

I also don't have much of a clue how The Tooth was positioned -- it's clearly a pseudo-retro superhero comic, the mid-70s rebirth of a Silver Age hero, but how serious we were meant to take it isn't as clear -- or who the audience was. And it seems to have disappeared without a trace since then, so whoever the audience was supposed to be, I don't think they embraced it as fully as the creators [1] expected.

What this book supposedly "reprints" -- I don't think it was published separately beforehand, but I never bet against serialization when talking about comics of giant things punching each other -- is issues 34 to 39 of The Tooth, the fourth series featuring that character (after Journey Into Terror, Savage Tooth, and The House of Unknown Terror), just a few issues before the title apparently ended. (As we find from some kid's "The Tooth Want List," interpolated between two of the "issues.")

It is, of course, the All-New All Different Tooth, with a new supporting cast and what's probably supposed to be a slightly different take on his origin and purpose. So some schmo inherits a haunted house from a creepy uncle, and learns that he's also, well, that one of his teeth grows to a massive size, leaps out of his mouth, and fights evil.

As one does.

The schmo finds a knowledgeable fellow -- who is the one hold-over from the prior cast -- to give him the silly comic-book background, which is pseudo-mythological in the Thor vein. The Tooth and his compatriots are the warriors grown from the teeth of the dragon Cadmus slew in Greek mythology (the ones who founded Thebes, though that part doesn't come up here).

There is, of course, also a villain, who wants to resurrect the dragon whose teeth those warriors originally were, and whose plot very nearly comes true. But, obviously, righteousness wins out in the end.

All this is told on what's supposed to be yellowing newsprint pages -- including letter columns -- tattered covers, and some interpolated material. (There's also what looks like some kid's increasingly-good drawings of The Tooth in the front matter -- I think he's supposed to be the kid who owned these comics.)

So it's all Superhero Comics, subcategory Deliberately Retro, tertiary category Goofy. It's all presented straight on the page, like a real artifact from nearly fifty years ago, but it's impossible to forget that it's a story about a tooth that enlarges to fight evil through mega-violence.

I think I was originally interested in The Tooth because of the Matt Kindt connection; he's made a lot of good comics out of various odd genre materials. But he's just drawing here. This is a very faithful recreation of a kind of comic that was deeply silly to begin with: I appreciate the love and craft that went into it, but I have to wonder why anyone thought this would be a good idea. It's the comics equivalent of a novel-length shaggy dog joke.

[1] Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee co-write, Matt Kindt does all of the art and colors and apparently book design.

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