ADVANCE REVIEW: Babyteeth #1 by Donny Cates, Garry Brown and Taylor Esposito

Written by Donny Cates
Art by Garry Brown
Letters by Taylor Esposito

Cut to a blackened hall: the protagonist has been consumed by darkness and is recording a final plea to their loved ones on the recording device that they have to hand. An axe-murderer or hulking beast is lurking just around the corner, ready to tear our protagonist limb from limb; the most important thought running through their head is: "If only I had more time".

All of the markers of Babyteeth’s opening scene are that of a classic horror yarn. However, Cates and Brown play off these expectations and demonstrate that it’s not that kind of story; the have far more to add to the world, the characters and, arguably, the genre.

Donny Cates is a rising star of the comic book industry. With accolades such as God Country, Redneck, Ghost Fleet and Paybacks under his belt, he has become somebody that everyone is gradually realising that they should be paying attention to. Garry Brown is similarly lauded, coming off a substantial run on The Massive with Brian Wood.

Beginning high-drama stories in the middle is a time-honoured tradition that Cates is unafraid to shy away from. Within the space of only a few pages, Cates is able to infer so much backstory and drama-yet-to-come from a few select phrases that you’re sucked into that all-consuming darkness alongside the character and strapped in for the journey.

Brown’s sketchy style feeds the darkness, stripping away the safety of precision and replacing it with the unsettling sense of the unknown. A large proportion of the background shadow has been filled in with jagged, disconnected and crossed lines, telling us that there is more to this situation than immediately meets the eye; the resulting effect is that this darkness feels limitless but simultaneously claustrophobic.

The remainder of the story follows the aforementioned “Character in the Dark”, Sadie Ritter as, in the present day, she nears the end of her pregnancy. For reasons currently unknown, she lives shrouded in shame, hiding her bump behind a backpack, but now has to process the fact that the birth might not be as simple as she might have hoped. However, the beauty of this introductory issue is that it doesn’t feel the need to spell out the intricate details of the “rules” of this world - it allows the story time to breathe, dangling just enough threads that you clutch onto them tightly, but leaving a lot open to interpretation.

Omens are littered throughout this single issue, building the sense of the supernatural and the suspense, leading to an extraordinarily satisfying and ominous conclusion. As previously mentioned, Brown has a detailed, but not completely clean, style that builds beautifully on the tone of the story that Cates is creating. Brown's colours build upon that by using a realistic, fresh pallet for the majority of the story and then smacking you in the face with flashes of red, yellow and black for the more dramatic moments.

Supernatural stories such as this one require a human factor to provide the stakes of what we’re playing for. While Sadie is a compelling character in her own right, it is her relationship with her tough-as-nails sister, Heather, that grounds this story in its relationships. There is one moment in particular where Sadie’s recorded message to her son, that forms the narration that frames this story, blends seamlessly with Heather saying "I'll be right here". It cements to the reader that this is a story with stakes; no matter what these characters run into, their familial bonds will hold them together.

It’s often difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what makes a Donny Cates story feel like a Donny Cates story. Some writers have a discernible patter or narrative convention. Cates is a writer who manages to create some of the most unique ideas, all the while drawing in the most talented artistic teams to work alongside him. Fortunately, Babyteeth is not the exception to this rule. The nuance in the story itself has been coupled with such pitch perfect art, making this book one to watch.

If Donny Cates hasn't managed to get on your radar by now, then you need to catch up.