The Tooth isn't rotten and deserves a nice check-up.
Credits & Solicit Info:
Story by: Cullen Bunn, Shawn Lee
Art by: Matt Kindt
Cover by: Matt Kindt
Publisher: Oni Press
Cover Price: $24.99
Release Date: Wed, June 1st, 2011
Face front horror hounds! The greatest of ghoulish gladiators gouges a gruesome gangway through your guts in the Grand Guignol tradition! CREEPY Cullen Bunn, SINISTER Shawn Lee, and MURDEROUS Matt Kindt bring you the most spectacular of horrifying heroes—The Tooth! Be the first kid on your block to follow the off beat adventures of the Incredible Incisor... the Monstrous Molar... the Courageous Carnassial... as he squares off against vicious demons, hell bent sorcerers, vengeful spirits, and undead dragons! This new macabre myth cycle springs to life soon as only Oni Press can bring it to you!
In the 80's, I was that kid in the back of the class doodling epic cartoons, ignoring the mathematical problems on the chalkboard. The comics that inspired my illustrations were from the 60's, 70's and 80's, and were epic in a way that only a reader of them could understand. The Tooth by Cullen Bunn, Shawn Lee and Matt Kindt makes me feel like that kid again. The book owes its origins to comics like Wrightson and Wein's Swamp Thing, but pays homage to so much more than that. The absurd ideas and bright four-color panels full of energetic movement make you feel like you're slipping into a way-back machine and taking a dip in the moments of a child of the 70's and 80's. In an appropriate gesture, Bunn, Lee and Kindt appear at the back of this hefty 184-pg OGN from Oni Press in pictures that capture those kinds of children, complete with childhood pictures of bowl haircuts and boot-cut slacks in their author profiles. They also pay homage to their love of horror books with torn pages and crumpled covers that were sure to have adorned their back pockets.
I had no idea what The Tooth was about when I said I would review it, but decided to do it on the merit of both Bunn and Kindt. Cullen Bunn has been firing-all-barrels on his Oni Press western-horror The Sixth Gun and is making a splash with Marvel's Fear Itself tie-in, The Deep, and Matt Kindt is the amazing writer/artist of Super Spy, Three-Story, and the recent Vertigo OGN, Revolver. I admit that when I first started reading The Tooth, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. It is a strange little book with one weird premise: Graham Stone inherits a house from his grandfather, and with it various magical artifacts. One of these artifacts turns out to be a tooth, which crawls into Stone's mouth and takes root there. It only comes out when threatened by horrible mysticism, emerging as a monstrous creature. Bunn and Lee play this crazy premise close with straight faces, throwing insane ideas at you as though they were both on laughing gas. After the initial shock of being bombarded with a retro-comic-done-contemporary, I relaxed and fell into a groove, enjoying the insanity of it all.
Kindt's influence on the book is immediately apparent. This is the man who included in one of his Super Spy books a message only visible by candlelight; and he brings similar ingenuity to his work here by opening with a child's art class pictures of the Tooth. These are followed by a weathered picture of the cover of The Tooth #1, and advertisements for a two hundred piece set of Civil-War-heroes-versus-grey-aliens plastic-soldier toys. Kindt keeps his style fast and loose in his wonderfully water-colored pages, but also manages a more traditional style of cartooning: never allowing the action to break panels in any way, and keeping his splash pages to a minimum. This style doesn't take away from the amount of motion and emotion that Kindt manages to pack into The Tooth, but allows the vintage feel that this team is going for. Kindt also keeps his colors to a minimum, creating a pastel wash with his brushes and going so far as to replicate the color guides that were printed in comics before digital color came along. In fact, the pages even come pre-yellowed. I wonder if they'll spray the actual books with the special scent of rotting paper? The amount of graphic design work- writing prose for various fake advertisements, letters pages, and various other pages - is astounding. The surprise of what you find between these covers is half the fun.
Bunn and Lee establish a universe for The Tooth in 184 pages which rivals some comics that have run for twenty years or more. The duo allude to two previous series of the comic, a curse that went along with collecting them, and more "real life" flourishes that add an extra depth to the Tooth as a character. In the letter pages mentioned above, they create both surly and supportive fans that have been following The Tooth since day one: fans that dispute origin stories, lust after fictional characters, and quibble about continuity.
These pages are a great deal of fun, especially when coupled with the fake ads and random pages from an obvious child fan, but would be nothing without the meat of the story. Bunn and Lee manage to make a captivating story from a Dali-esque idea of a horror hero. The Tooth's characters are fully rounded out: the villains are villainous, within reason, and the heroes befuddled, but strong enough to overcome adversity when face with it. Despite it's nostalgic tinge, I was drawn into the story enough to want to skip all the wonderful extras and just continue reading the main thread. Dragons, monsters, ghosts, magicians and more riddle the pages of The Tooth. Bunn and Lee burn through ideas at an alarming rate, so much so that it brings to mind a young Stan Lee just tossing his imagination on the page in order to see what would happen next.
My only worry for a book like The Tooth is that people won't get it. Bunn, Lee and Kindt have delivered something unique and wholly nostalgic at the same time. It's something I believe you can enjoy whether or not you were around for the silver and bronze age, but if you did it will enhance your reading. If you're a classic horror comic fan, a classic comic fan, or just a comic lover, you will be able to feel the love and care put into The Tooth by Bunn, Lee and Kindt. You'll want to go out, purchase a copy, and attempt to tuck in your back pocket. Good luck with that one.
Review by: Martin John