Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chew Vol. 1: Taster's Choice Review

One of the hottest comics of 2009 was been Image Comics’s Chew, which burst onto the scene unexpectedly this summer and has sold through a numerous printings since its debut. Chew tells the story of Tony Chu, a detective who can discern the memories and histories of anything that he eats…and I do mean anything. Image released the first volume in trade last week, collecting the first five issues of the series. Does this series live up to its hype as a gourmet read or is it simply the soup du jour? There’s only one way to find out, so make with the clicking already!

Written b John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Letters by John Layman

Chew is a hardboiled crime fiction story that follows the newly-recruited Tony Chu, a cibopathic special crimes detective for the FDA. Chu has the ability to learn this history and memories of anything he eats. If he eats a steak, he remembers the life and death of the cow, as well as the process that lead to the dead cow becoming a steak. Chu comes to the attention of the FDA when he viciously attacks and eats a suspect on a routine raid.

In the world of Chew, the FDA has banned the possession, sale, and consumption of poultry following the death of millions in a bird flu pandemic. The population appears to be split on whether or not this is a hoax created by the government and so a black market for poultry has developed—which Chu and his mentor Mason find themselves becoming embroiled in when they investigate the murder of a health inspector.

Clearly, Chew is one of the most wildly inventive comics in some time with perhaps the most insanely creative premise that I’ve seen in years. At its hard, the story is a solid noir crime fiction tale that is filtered through a surreal set of circumstances that lead to such insane concepts as cibopaths, drugged-out oversexed arctic researchers, and a mysterious food critic whose writes so vividly that you actually taste whatever she is writing about. It is most certainly a unique comic straddles a wide range of genres through its inventiveness.

The story moves at a very frantic pace through the first five issues that are contained in this collection. Writer John Layman throws a number of concepts at readers, linking them sporadically to the larger investigations, but not always full explaining them. There are a lot non-sequiturs and in media res story beats that pop in and out of the main narrative that interject humor into the story, but also help give the sense that lots of story time has passed despite a relatively short amount of “panel time” being given.

This approach to the storytelling helps Laymen build a multilayered plot very quickly, which in turn builds towards the HUGE swerve that closes out this volume. It’s a relatively straightforward read, but is rewarding in the sense that you feel like something more complicated is being presented to you, which is a testament to Layman’s plotting.

The only major downside to the writing is the fact that the characters are relatively cliché in terms of personality. Three of the main characters in particular are derived from well-worn stock. Tony Chu is your painfully average every man who a troubled past he tries to avoid; his mentor Mason is the gruff, knowledgeable veteran that demands immediate adoration through his very presences, and his boss Applebee is cut from the same cloth as J. Jonah Jameson and some antsier depictions of Perry White. These are the characters we see the most of in the story and, interestingly enough, are the characters we’ve seen most in other stories as well.

The saving grace is the fact that their situations and non-personality attributes, particularly with Chu and Mason, are incredibly unique. Their personalities may be nothing new, but I cannot guarantee that you’ve never seen an everyman eat a not-so-freshly deceased dog to get a lead on a story. Again, it’s the rampant creativity of the concept that carries this story.

While reading this collection, I was struck multiple times by how much it reminded me of the first Umbrella Academy miniseries from Dark Horse, which is fitting considering that, stylistically, the work of that book’s artist Gabriel Ba isn’t so far off from Chew’s Rob Guillory. The designs and approaches for both men are very similar and both use very tight, controlled lines with good spot blacks for shadows and depth. Ba’s work has been critically acclaimed for some time, so don’t be surprised if you start seeing Guillory’s name popping up as a hot artist of the future.

This certainly is not a comic for those with a weak stomach, but the exaggerated designs and lack of realism in the art certainly helps make some of the books more gruesome scenes more palpable. The most impressive part of this, though, is that Guillory doesn’t sacrifice any grisly details or impact from these moments because of his style. It’s not realistic, but its not cartoony either.

Guillory’s storytelling is equally as solid. He uses quick cuts to control the pace of the story, mixing them in with a great balance of traditional grid pages and looser layouts. He seems equally as comfortable with spreads—including the brilliant spread when Tony’s “power” is first used in the first issue—and tiny panels. This includes one page that featured a 4 x 4 grid—that’s 16 panels on one page, all full of details. How awesome is that?

What makes Chew such a great comic, though, isn’t the strength of the craftsmanship between the writing and the art—or, at the very least, isn’t the strength of the craftsmanship alone. Instead, its the sheer entertainment factor. This story is pure fun from start to finish that has the ability to appeal to the gritty Criminal readers to fans of the more surreal stories like Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. The creative team has found the perfect balance of these extremes upon which to hang this wildly inventive and wildly entertaining story.

Verdict: Must Read. I can honestly say that I never could have imagined the story of a semi-cannibal psychic cop that lives in a world filled with Yakuza assassins and vomit-inducing food critics could be this charming, exciting, and clever. Then again, I don’t think I could have imagined a world where a comic like this could exist. There is a lot of hype surrounding this series because of its continued sell-outs, but I can tell you that it is all-deserved. Chew is hands-down one of the best comics of the year and one of the most fun and most disturbing comics I’ve read in a long, long time.

Like this review? Interested in Chew Vol 1: Taster's Choice? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

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Eric Rupe said...

I read this last night and it's easily the best new series of the year.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I picked this up to branch out beyond superheroes and could not be happier. Wonder how long till Marvel and DC start creating their own cibopaths?

brandon said...

Yes sir. Chew is a great, fun read.

Andrenn said...

I've heard good things about this but been unsure about picking up the collection. I'll have to give it a read.

I highly recommend you check out Jersey Gods. the first volume starts out a little slow but it quickly picks up and is currently one of my favorite comics out there.

smkedtky said...

While I did pick up and enjoy the first issue of CHEW, it wasn't something that I could get in to on a regular basis. However, I could see how others could. It wasn't lacking anything, it just wasn't that interesting to me.

On that note, I must recommend UNWRITTEN (a great, complex story) and, my current favorite, SWEET TOOTH (which instantly hooke me in a way that hasn't happened since the first time I read PREACHER). Both of these books came out around the time that CHEW Mania hit the local comic book store and they are both much better reads.

Ryan Schrodt said...

@Smkedtky - I read all of my Vertigo books in trade. I've heard great things about Unwritten, but I'm dying for the first Sweet Tooth trade. I'm a huge fan of Jeff Lemire and simply cannot wait to get my hands on that. Have you read his Essex County books? If not, I would highly recommend it. I snagged the 3-in-1 hardcover of them when I met Lemire in Chicago in September. So, so, so awesome!

Flip The Page said...

picked up chew today because it's so goddamn cheap. I haven't read mroe than the first coupla pages but HOLY CRAP THIS IS GORGEOUS!

No Sweet Tooth but certainly looks like it could be one of the best looking series of the year (detective comics being the obvious winner but still)

Lucho said...

I´ve never felt Chew is disturbing.
I think it´s wonderful storytelling and I´m glad it´s one of the hottest comics of the year!

smkedtky said...

@Ryan: I have been meaning to check out the Essex County books when my comic budget has a little bit of a surplus. I actually picked up an extra SWEET TOOTH #1 and sent it to Jeff Lemire. He offered to sign every copy that was sent to him as well as do a sketch for the fan that sent it.

@Flip: DETECTIVE COMICS is definitely the better looking book but I don't know if I've ever read a comic where I have come to care about the characters as quickly as I have with SWEET TOOTH. Gus/Sweet Tooth is one of the most endearing characters that I have read about in any form.

Flip The Page said...

@smkedtky oh no doubt about how endearing Gus is in Sweet Tooth. I mean him and Jeppard get closer to my heart with each issue.

Anyway finished reading Chew volume 1 now and HOLY CRAP THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST COMICS EVER! I'm terrified by how enjoyable it is.

Also mine has a printing error where the last few pages repeat themselves. am i alone in this?

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