4 out of 5 stars
Story – John Layman
Art – Rob Guillory
Chew is a book that can sell copies on it’s concept alone. That’s what drew me into this comic in the first place, because it seemed like a perfect example of an ‘only-in-comics’ storyline. Chew is about Tony Chu, a man with a special gift. He is a cibopath, meaning he can eat food and instantely get a telepathic image of where that food had been and how it was prepared. When you thrust that concept into a police procedural, a gift like that can only end up serving one purpose. If you still don’t get it, it means he eats dead bodies.
On top of that, John Layman creates a world full of history, mystery and policy. In Chew, the Food and Drug Administration has become the most powerful government agency in America and pretty much has supreme power. After a mysterious outbreak of bird flu, the FDA has outlawed the consumption of chicken and all chicken products. FDA agents bust illegal chicken runners in what becomes a comical prohibition-like environment. A concept like that already has a lot going for it, however, at least at first, that concept is not allowed to thrive like it should.
Despite the abstract nature of this world, Layman plays up the procedural aspects of it a little too seriously in the beginning. It’s certainly amusing to see government agents run in chicken smugglers like they normally would drug dealers, but in the first few issues, that amusement gets lost in the determination to make everything look like business as usual. The first issue of the series sets up the status quo, but not until issue #5 does the series build up momentum. That’s a long time to wait for the story to pick up, especially when that amounts to an entire trade paperback of the series (unless you buy this book I’m reviewing). It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just slow to get off the ground. However, once the story picks up, you get Russian spies in the Arctic, a robot-faced FDA Agent, a USDA ninja, a vampire, a mysterious plant that tastes like chicken and a bunch of other stuff. It gets good.
In fact, Chew is a very fun, enjoyable series. It’s extremely silly most of the time and its characters and narration often make fun of itself. Many of the issues open up with a prologue of weird food mysteries and the rest of the issue focuses on solving that mystery. Food plays an important role in the book, not just because it’s about the FDA, but every character has a unique relationship with it, like Tony Chu having to eat something weird and awful in each issue in order to solve a crime. The best part is that the everyone knows how ridiculous this all sounds and it still works. The characters know and John Layman knows. I don’t think it would work as well if this comic wasn’t so self aware.
The cast is what drives the series along. Each of the characters introduced throughout the series, even minor ones, are well thought out and distinct. Each has their own voice and unique appeal to them and none of them are ever just background characters. Getting to know everyone is what makes Chew so appealing. An awesome concept can only go so far until it gets old, unless you have strong characters and interesting plot. Chew has both.
Rob Guillory’s art is why this book is fun. His not too serious yet not too cartoony art perfectly matches the tone of such a bizarre story. Characters are uniquely expressive to play up the funny parts as well as the serious parts. Guillory’s art is important to the tone of Chew, in that it is a book filled with grizzly, disgusting images and scenes, but somehow it’s funny. It’s amazing how he is the only artist on the book, yet he has time to flawlessly pencil, ink and color his work and still every panel has elaborate backgrounds and settings. It’s a beautiful cartoon.
Chew is full of action, mystery and comedy and once it lifts off it really takes off. It’s a fun adventure that has something for everyone. It might even make you laugh out loud at a few points. Just be ready to invest yourself in the ongoing plot.