Vinegar Teeth is told in flashback and begins much in the same way as H. P. Lovecraft’s own The Colour Out of Space begins: a meteorite crashlands at the Brick City reservoir during the interbellum years, unleashing a tentacled, shambling cosmic creature. The entity stumbles upon a criminal exchange occurring at a bridge and promptly devours the head mobster and, in the process, foils undercover cop Artie Buckle’s sting operation. It is at this point where expectations for the genre are kicked out the window. Instead of horrific carnage as the alien unleashes its wrath, it is instead praised as a hero and made into a police officer and Buckle’s partner (much to his dismay). It’s outlandish, but it sets the tone and expectations for the comic as Buckle and Vinegar Teeth (the name the entity adopts after a snide comment from Buckle) head to the city’s port to foil French cigarette bootleggers.
The absurdity of the story is perhaps the initial main draw for curious readers to Vinegar Teeth, but Genry and company do deliver a well-executed story with many unique elements to its narrative. The buddy cop formula has seen its fair share of failed instances of trying to partner a cop with an outlandish character, as evident in such cinematic milestones as Theadore Rex, A Gnome Named Gnorm, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. As for issue one of Vinegar Teeth, the formula looks to be working.
Nixey’s artwork exaggerates the grotesque features of the characters; most appear bulbous and squiggly, with enlarged, snot-dripping noses and teeth that alternate from jagged to straight to missing. Not a single character looks to be wearing clothing that is their size, as all pants are extremely baggy and jackets wrinkled. It’s cartoonish, comical, and yet jarring as it provides a contrast to the few scenes of cannibalistic bloodshed and gore with many instances of swearing. Along the lines of swearing, Vinegar Teeth has harnessed the power of the onomatopoeia, with several inventive ones such as “scoob,” “splort,” “gleep,” “w-bloop,” and “le craq,” especially catered for those unique instances where a French barrel is dropped onto the ground. All of these elements combined contribute to the carnivalesque nature of Vinegar Teeth, yet there are also a few transgressive elements in the story in regards to character depictions: The chief of police is a woman while the mayor of Brick City and her aide are both women of color. Within both the police procedural and the time period, such positions are not occupied by women. Though they are secondary characters, it’s nice to see the diversity. Aside from his tentacled image, Vinegar Teeth echoes Lovecraft creatures in that he doesn’t seem overtly evil or good; he is portrayed in a blank-slate fashion, with amnesiac and child-like qualities. Buckle, on the other hand, is depicted as lazy (sleeping and drinking on the job) and cowardly, and envious of Vinegar Teeth. Perhaps, as Vinegar Teeth learns to be a police officer from Buckle, in turn, Buckle will see his own development, learning a lesson or two from that cosmic being from beyond the realms of space of time.
Creative Team: Damon Gentry (writer), Troy Nixey (artist, cover artist), Guy Major (colorist)
Publisher: Dark Horse Originals (imprint of Dark Horse Comics)
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Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.