Chew – something tasty, light and easy on the palate sir?
Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Chew was one of those books that got an awful lot of buzzy press as soon as it appeared, and I finally tentatively approached it expecting something lightweight and relatively throw-away, but I have to say I was surprised, and rather impressed at how enjoyable it was.
Essentially it’s just a standard superhero crime thriller done with a little funny and with one very interesting original twist that fuelled all of the early buzz around the comic. And through the five issues that make up this first volume Layman writes like a demon, spinning as much as he possibly can out of that interesting and original concept. It works very, very well, but I still have the sneaking suspicion that it’s going to run out of steam at some point.
The big twist is the superpower of the lead character, although superpower may be an exaggeration – Tony Chu is a “Cibopathic”, which means he gets psychic impressions from anything he eats……
(Meet Tony Chu (Chew … geddit?), a cop, a cibopath, and eater of a lot of beets. From Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice, published Image Comics)
In five issues Tony Chu graduates from run of the mill cop with a habit of making incredible break-throughs on hard to solve cases to the premier member of an elite team of agents on the FDA payroll. The FDA being the US Food And Drug Administration, one of the most powerful and maybe the strangest government organisations around ever since 23 million Americans died from bird flu (allegedly – there’s mounting evidence that this is just one more big cover up by the government – although for what possible reason we have no idea – yet).
Cops like Tony Chu find themselves staking out chicken dealers, and it’s here that Chu first encounters the FDA after a stakeout goes bad, his partner ends up in hospital and Chu is about to get kicked off the force – after all, how do you explain that you’re discovered eating a recently deceased serial killer to your bosses? The truth wont go down well – “I had to eat the deceased, so I could use my freakish powers to find out the names of the 13 girls the deceased had killed so I could do the right thing and give their families some closure”. No, that just isn’t going to work.
Luckily for Chu, that’s the moment that fellow cibopath and FDA agent Mason Savoy steps in to bring him onboard as an FDA agent. From here Chu’s life gets very, very strange and dangerous indeed. His new boss hates him and his freakish powers, the new job means having to eat some really, really nasty stuff and Mason Savoy is a little too mysterious to be true.
(Chu and his mysterious mentor in the FDA; Agent Savoy Mason, busy convincing Chu that the job means having to do some rather unpalatable things. From Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice, published Image Comics)
Guillory’s artwork is a perfect fit for the light, cop thriller with a side of comedy and more than a hint of buddy movie in the relationship between Chu and Savoy (think Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black and you’re in the right area). The art’s light, fast, mildly exaggerated cartoon style stuff (the nearest modern equivalent would be Gabriel Ba on Umbrella Academy), but it’s really impressive considering this is Guillory’s first pro job.
The high concept of Chew, the Cibopathic thing, is the one really original twist in Chew. And Layman milks it for all he can, but milks it bloody well, throwing in everything he can possibly think of to keep the interest high; boss from hell, serial killers, Russian vampires, love interest for Chu with an equally strange foodie power – five issues of this just raced by, all funny crime procedural meets X-Files with a cannibalistic twist.
Chew might falter with later issues (Michael, our latest reviewer, and someone more able to keep up with these things issue by issue as they hit the comic shop shelves, commented that he thinks it’s on the way downhill) but on the strength of this first collection I’ll be looking out for collection 2 to discover where Layman takes it.