In 1919, the poet WB Yeats wrote perhaps his most famous work, “The Second Coming.” Written in the aftermath of the First World War, Yeats was commenting on that conflict’s revelations about the primal brutality of humanity, and how Europe reeled from that war’s costs in dangerous and demoralized directions. But it also heavily drew upon Christian imagery of the Apocalypse and the Book of Revelations, and in that way, I thought about the poem a bit while reading Babyteeth #1, an evocative, creepy and assured debut for a horror series about the possible coming of the Antichrist, written by Donny Cates (“God Country”) with art by Garry Brown (“The Massive”).
Babyteeth #1 opens with young mother Sadie recording a video for her unseen son, telling the story of his birth via flashbacks. Sadie was just 16 when she became pregnant, and the issue deals mainly with the child’s traumatic birth, which coincides with massive and strange earthquakes that cease once the child is born. The issue is, like all first issues, a set up that introduces the reader to the cast of characters and the world in which they operate. As far as first issues go, it’s actually pretty skimpy on plot, really, but that isn’t a draw back at all. We really feel like we get to know Sadie and her sister Heather, the two main characters of the issue, and we like them pretty much immediately. Sadie is a nerdy outcast, a lover of comics and a solitary figure, so that’s obviously going to appeal to readers of comics, frankly (me, included). Sadie narrates the issue and her dialogue feels real and organic, even when dealing with the expository elements of the story, which is an unavoidable hurdle to jump when it comes to first issues. Sadie’s sister Heather is the badass touch character, which is admittedly a comics book trope that gets wheeled out a lot when it comes to kick-ass strong women, but once again, the execution makes her feel like a real person rather than a walking archetype.
Cates and Brown introduce the supernatural aspects to the story in an artful and elegant way that I really appreciated. The birth of the antichrist could be depicted as silly or simply as a horror element, but the creative teammates the smart decision of having the birth initially seem to be a dangerous and complicated, albeit medically natural, life-threatening event for Sadie. I’m not sure there’s a more primal fear that can hit you than the idea of a late-term pregnant woman suddenly in medical distress, but using that approach immediately gets the reader invested and seeing as the team has also very effectively and economically made us like Sadie, those scenes of rushing to the hospital are genuinely unsettling. With the stakes already high, it works brilliantly to start introducing the supernatural/horrific elements, and everything meshes together in a way that never feels cheesy. When Babyteeth #1 ends, with its simple and direct plot and effective characterization as the backbone to the spooky sense of dread, it’s impossible not to be on board.
Artist Garry Brown delivers some striking work on Babyteeth #1. For the everyday elements, he delivers work that is still atmospheric, with Sadie usually depicted in shadow and in ways the highlight her no matter her role in the scene. The real-world stuff doesn’t feel too stylized however, and retains a common, everyday vibe. This makes the moments where the supernatural elements intrude resonate better, with Brown and colorist Mark Englert turning in some great work that allows those moments to pop off the page and really indicate that something truly apocalyptic is happening. And then the art team crafts a third element, a kind of vision Sadie has while giving birth, which has a totally different feel while still feeling coherent and of a piece with the rest of the issue.
I’m looking forward to further issues, and by making Sadie and her love for her child resonate as well as they have, Babyteeth #1 winds up having a lot more heart than other antichrist stories like “The Omen.” The real accomplishment of the issue isn’t the horror concept, though that’s effectively constructed to be sure. But for me, what made this more than just a spooky and scary issue was the fact that the creative team managed to make the main characters, their dilemmas, and their personalities, come alive both economically and with heft. If you’re looking for horror with heart, Babyteeth #1 delivers. 9/10
Babyteeth #1 will be released June, 2017, and is available at AfterShock’s website and on ComiXology.