Even before HBO’s “The Last of Us” popularized the narrative of a post-apocalyptic world essentially being a way of mother nature striking a balance by curbing human egocentrism, there was Netflix’s adaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic “Sweet Tooth.” In fact, readers who are well acquainted with the comics storyline will surely spot some instances of inspiration in “The Last of Us” as well, which goes beyond the similarity in the setting or character archetypes. However, coming back to the Netflix series, like multiple other media adaptations of comic-book-related properties, “Sweet Tooth” differs from its source material in some significant ways that range from minor details to the entire tone of the narrative styles. Now that the second season of the acclaimed series has been released, we would like to compare the first two seasons with the source material, i.e., comics, to help the viewers better appreciate both mediums.
The Tonal Difference
The first difference that can be pointed out right off the bat is just how different the series is from the comics in terms of the tone and approach to characterization. In the show, we first meet Gus and his world in a much warmer, more hopeful way, and even though the threat of humanity is ever-present, we aren’t faced with the horrors of the world outright. The series tells the viewers about the persecuted animal-human hybrids but keeps a very noble, childlike positivity around their narrative even when they are facing the harsh reality of a world riddled with human filth. The comics, on the other hand, wanted to clarify the story being set in a post-apocalyptic world right from the first issue, and the haunting artwork of Jeff Lemire was a major factor in that too.
For example, in the series, after Pubba leaves to kill the intruder in the first episode of the first season, a deer enters the cabin, whom Gus mistakenly considers to be his mother. In the comics, the same deer is killed by the poachers in front of Gus. In the second season, Gus meets a crocodile-human hybrid boy named Peter in Fort Smith, who initially attacks Gus and the humans who are holding him captive, but Gus tries to befriend him and almost succeeds in calming him down. Peter later lost his life at the hands of Dr. Singh, who used his stem cells to get his synthesized antibody working. In the comics, when Gus and other hybrid kids were fleeing the militia, they were attacked by the cric hybrid, whom Gus had to brutally kill to save Wendy. In both scenarios, the Croc kid is just afraid and meets his tragic fate, but Lemire chooses to make Gus go through a rude awakening in the first instance. Also, the Netflix series presents Gus as a more hopeful, innocent version of himself, able to keep his spirit high despite going through the evils of the world. In the comics, Gus was subjected to and witnessed pretty horrifying instances that robbed him of his innocence early on, and as a result, he couldn’t trust humans later as easily as the series version does.
The comics also dealt with women being sexually violated, abused, and even trafficked, as in the post-pandemic world where hybrids were snatched from their mothers wombs by the militia under General Abbot’s command. The depressing, cruel violence of the post-pandemic world is not shown in the series.
Major Difference In Characterization
The difference in the portrayal of key characters is another aspect where the show differs a lot from the comic series. While the wholesome, uplifting moments in Gus’ life are shown through his interactions with characters like Pubba, Big Man, and Bear, who adore Gus from the get-go, the comics adopt a more cynical, hopeless route where characters are not honest about their intentions and even hurtful to Gus on more than one occasion.
The series shows Pubba as a caring, loving father figure who teaches Gus everything about the outside world and also how to fend for himself. In comics, Pubba is a near-deranged fanatic who considers the pandemic God’s grace to get rid of sinners in order to create a new world. He also didn’t teach Gus about science and math, calling them instruments of evil. However, he did teach Gus essential life skills and survival procedures, and despite his derangement scaring the wits out of Guts occasionally, they shared a loving father-son bond.
In the series, Tommy Jepperd is presented as an overall dependable and trustworthy person who is making amends for his past sins of trafficking hybrid kids. After initially refusing to let Gus tag along with him, Tommy agrees to escort Gus on his journey to find Birdie. In the comics, Tommy is more of a mentally unstable, violent person who betrays Gus and hands him over to General Abbot in exchange for his wife’s remains initially. Later, he tries to make amends by returning and rescuing Gus from the militia outpost by breaking in with the Animal Army. Unlike the series version, Jepperd, in comics, was not a hybrid catcher.
Johnny’s Role And Dr. Singh’s Past
General Abbot’s brother, Johnny, had a much different role in the comics, where he was portrayed as one of the people who treated Gus, his hybrid friends, and Jepperd with kindness on different occasions. In the process, he himself gets brutalized by Abbot’s troops. In the series, although the troops knew about the differing nature of Abbot and his brother Johnny, they didn’t dare make such a gesture as Abbot appointed Johnny in command in his absence, and Johnny also never got to meet Jepperd in the first place. However, a similarity remains: in both versions, Johnny helps Gus escape the militia facility.
Much of Dr. Aditya Singh’s story is different from his comics’ counterpart, as the series provides somewhat sympathetic reasoning for the audience to better understand his motivation. In the comics, Dr.Singh joined General Abbot’s militia on his own, and after losing his wife and child, he was already mentally depressed enough to go through the horrific ordeals involving the hybrids in search of a cure. In the series, however, Aditya is forced to kill people to protect his wife Rani; he experiments on and butchers hybrid kids to find a cure for his wife; and General Abbot holds both of them captive to force him to synthesize a cure for him. In the second season, we see how, becoming extremely driven in his efforts to find a cure, a guilt-ridden Aditya gradually loses himself and ultimately gets separated from his wife, who leaves him at the end.
Animal Army Was Different In Comics
In the comics version, the Animal Army was entirely different from how it was portrayed in the series. We are introduced to a group of driven, high-spirited, jubilant teenagers who detest the Last Men and swear an oath to protect the hybrids, calling themselves the Animal Army in the series. In the comics, the Animal Army consisted of sadist hoodlums and ruffians in tribal masks who had their cult believing in an animal hybrid-based faith system and used them for their own ulterior motives. The series version of Animal Army seems more like idealistic revolutionaries, while the comics version attracts horrific dregs of humanity.
In the comics, the militia group following General Abbot was not given any particular names, but in the series, they are known as The Last Men. The series also introduced the character of Aimee Eden, who acts like a mother figure to the hybrid animals and helps them seek refuge in the Essex city zoo she remodeled and named ‘Preserve.’ In comics, all the hybrid kids who met Gus were captured and entrapped like animals inside the cages of the militia facility. They had no such warm experience as shown in the series, as they were brutalized occasionally by the Last Men. The journey motif of Gus moving from Wyoming to Colorado in search of Birdie, whom he initially considered to be his mother, is another series exclusive.
Overall, while the comic version of “Sweet Tooth” had a much more rigid misanthropic perspective in its narrative style and shed light on the horrific reality of humanity, the series chooses a much tamer, watered-down approach that almost resembles a fairytale. Both versions handle their approach in accordance with the audience to which they cater, and both deserve observation.