Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Vol. 1
written by John Layman
illustrated by Rob Guillory
Detective Tony Chu is a cibopath, which means he gets psychic impressions from the food he eats. He can see how a piece of fruit was cultivated and what pesticides were used, or how the cows that became his hamburgers were slaughtered. Other times, his powers flash onto things far more heinous. Like a bowl of chicken soup that leads him to a serial killer who has targeted young women and hitchhikers across the country and uses their remains to spice up his dishes. Recruited by the FDA, now America's largest crime fighting agency after an outbreak of avian bird flu killed over 100 million people worldwide and prompted the U.S. to ban poultry, Chu is forced to use his unconventional gift to solve grisly, baffling crimes.
John Layman writes Chew with a healthy dose of humor, never getting mired down in the dark taboos that lie at the heart of this book. His mission, first and foremost, is to make the book entertaining. Rob Guillory's cartoony style assists in setting the tone for the book, giving it an upbeat, colorful aesthetic. Although the heart of the book is more Silence of the Lambs, visually it's more akin to Toy Story, and this animated appearance really helps to sell the tone and fun-factor of the book. Although it's gory and horrifying, it's never offputting, thanks to the illustrations.
Chew is a wildly entertaining work, rife with black humor and disgustingly fun scenarios. Equal measures police-thriller, sci-fi, horror, and comedy, this genre-blending book manages to throw in every ingredient from the kitchen pantry. You've got serial killers, Russian spies, illegal chicken dinner shacks, a government conspiracy (possibly involving extraterrestrials for good measure), cyborg cops, cannibals, and foodies. If these over-the-top ingredients don't make you the least bit curious, then you are missing out on one of the most original and fresh comic series to come around.
Layman slowly introduces his multiple concepts, delicately layering them to create a deeper over-arching construct to hang the plot from. In drafting this world without chicken, he's populated it with several memorable and enjoyable characters. Tony Chu is a terrific guide through these adventures, as he's often thrust into awful situations that produce a nuanced tension of both curdled disgust and surprising laughs. Chu's FDA recruiter, Mason Savoy, is a behemoth whose vocabulary and ferocity is as considerable as his mass. John Colby, Chu's partner, is described on several occasions as being the worst person alive, as he often has a wry, bigoted observation and is quick to anger, but the two have an infectious friendship.
This oversized hardcover edition collects the first two story arcs, "Taster's Choice" and "International Flavor," along with some neat bonus materials that help satisfy the cravings for more. In addition to the usual cover gallery, there are concept art and character sketches, and some unused promo materials. The best addition, though, is Layman's original series pitch outlining a few ideas for the overall story of Chew and its characters. Rather than spoiling what will come, it is instead a small appetizer for future servings.
The characters and world of Chew are an absolute joy to discover and spend time with, and the stories are just downright unique in their fusion of food, crime, and conspiracy. It's an exhilarating, heady stew of ideas and genres, blended together to create a daring new entrée—a book that is so over-the-top in its delivery and so subversive in its black, situational humor that it's impossible to not be charmed by it.