John Layman & Rob Guillory – Chew, Vol. 1 & 2
Length: 128 pages each
Genre: Graphic Novel, Somewhere between police procedural and really bizarre Sci-Fi
Started/Finished: 09 January 2011
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? An Unshelved book club comic.
Tony’s talent helps
him take a bite out of crime…
Summary: Tony Chu can taste details of the lives – and deaths – of everything he eats, much like the protagonist of Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. That’s where the similarities to anything you’ve ever read before stop, however.
Tony’s a cop in a world where a bird flu pandemic has caused the U.S. to ban chicken. On a stakeout of an illegal chicken speakeasy, Tony tastes the soup, and realizes that the chef is a wanted serial killer. The F.D.A. gets wind of his talents, and they snap Tony up as a special agent, one who can see victims’ last moments and know their secrets… if he just engages in a little bit of cannibalism first. However, he’s not doomed to be working cold cases forever, because there’s a conspiracy afoot: not everyone believes that the bird flu is what killed all of those people, and somehow a missing health inspector, a beautiful but bored food writer who has the power to cause mass projectile vomiting with the power of her words, the Japanese mob, and a bunch of Russian astronomers that have spent the past several years staring at a far-away planet are all connected… and that’s just Volume 1.
In Volume 2, Tony has to deal with his old partner’s return as a half-android robocop (thanks to the butcher knife to the face on the night of the speakeasy bust), a USDA agent with a trained surveillance rat named Jellybean, the internal politics of a small Pacific island, a mute chef who can only communicate through food, a prize cockfighting rooster named Poyo, and a strange fruit that tastes exactly like chicken when it’s cooked… and like something else entirely when it’s raw.
Review: Chew has temporarily put me at a loss for words. Wait, here’s some: Gross. Morbid. Bizarre. Twisted. Disturbed. Here’s some more: Hilarious. Imaginative. Unique. Clever. All of that first set of words again, but in the best way possible. Chew‘s not quite like anything I’ve ever encountered before, and very little I can say is going to do it justice. Calling it “black humor” doesn’t go far enough, but I was laughing out loud more than once.
Volume 1 is more than a little bit manic, as it’s mostly set-up, and for a while it seemed like each of the five included issues was mostly independent. For a while I was expecting the whole series to be a procedural – Tony uses his talent to solve unrelated cases as they come. Only as the volume ends do you get the sense that each of the very disparate pieces are part of a larger whole – although what that whole is can’t even be guessed at yet.
Calling Volume 2 more of a cohesive story arc is not really accurate, because the action is still all over the place in the same manic fashion as Vol. 1. However, it is at least mostly confined to events on the one island, which does at least give some sense of an arc taking place – even if there are tangents flying off that arc in all sorts of crazy directions.
The art is great, and really well-suited to the story: thoroughly gross in places, and zany and overblown throughout, but generally bright, fun, and interestingly-panelled, with the full-page depictions of Chu’s tasting ability being particularly wonderful. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Not for the squeamish or weak-stomached, those about to eat dinner, or really, those interested in ever eating again. But if you can handle the grossness, and you like your comics bizarre, twisted, and funny, then Chew’s a hell of a ride.
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