As I may have mentioned a few times before, I have a fairly twisted sense of humor. Simple humor is all well and good but a story that can make me laugh and feel bad for doing so is just that much better. Until picking up Chew, no comic book had ever disturbed and disgusted me as much as it entertained me and of course that meant I just had to review it for this week. Chew is written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory and this review will cover issues one through fifty. According to the interwebs, they intend to bring this story to sixty issues so there’s still a bit more to come.
In Chew, Layman and Guillory introduce us to a one hundred percent chicken-less world. An outbreak of avian bird flu has killed millions worldwide. In response, the United States government has outlawed the consumption of any chicken and many other governments have followed suit. That means no more fried chicken, no more chicken dinners, no more chicken dumplings, just good ol’ fake synthetic chicken from now on. The horror! Enter Tony Chu, a police officer with a rather remarkable ability. Tony is Cibopathic, which means that when he takes a bite of food (or anything else), he gets an immediate picture of where, how and when it was made and anything it’s been in contact with. After learning of this ability, the FDA has invited Tony to join their Special Crimes Division. With the outlaw of chicken, the FDA has become the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet and they plan to use Tony’s ability to solve their craziest, most unsolvable cases.
The world building that Layman and Guillory have done here is impressive. I don’t know how they came up with all the different kinds of food related abilities for Tony to either go up against or be allied with but it’s simultaneously over the top ridiculous and incredibly creative. Tony’s entire family is full of such abilities and I loved that many of the characters that end up getting involved with him had their own arcs that made them feel more like people and less like cardboard stand-ins that are just there for him to interact with. And Poyo….that was just hilarious. As long as you don’t require serious stories, Chew is worth picking up for that rooster alone.
This is one of those rare instances where not only did I fall in love with the artwork, but the sheer glory of it completely dominated the volumes. Layman isn’t my favorite writer. He’s funny but predictable and the middle issues of the different stories tend to drag. Guillory on the other hand is pure artistic genius. It’s not beautiful like Alex Ross’ work, but it’s so incredibly perfect for this story. It’s ridiculous, silly, over the top glorious work and no one else could have done this story justice. Sometimes I end up enjoying a story so much that I barely glance at the backgrounds of the panels as I devour it. Don’t do this with Chew. Layman and Guillory have put an entertaining amount of work into little background details that are well worth slowing down for.
Unfortunately, Chew does have a few flaws. Layman has a highly entertaining idea here and characters that for the most part are brilliant and wonderfully nuanced but…he isn’t the greatest at developing plot. His timelines are all over the place. At least once a volume he will start an issue in the present, then jump back to the past, then the further past, then the future, then back to the present. What’s funny the first time gets incredibly less so the more often it happens. Layman is also entirely too fond of these bizarre “oh shit!” moments that should feel exciting but end up being confusing and annoying because you have no idea how they’re connected or where they’re coming from. If a character dies, I’d like for it to have meaning to the story instead of just feeling like a ridiculous sucker punch. The death at the end of volume ten was definitely more in the sucker punch category and I’m still annoyed at Layman for it.
Chew isn’t a series that I’d recommend for just anyone. It’s gross, ridiculous and at no point does it take itself seriously. If you want epic tales with brilliant, sophisticated worlds, look to Saga or Kingdom Come. If however, you want one of the funniest and yet most bizarre detective stories out there, pick up Chew immediately. And just as a warning: do not read this even remotely near meal times unless you’ve got a strong stomach because Tony’s ability has him eating some seriously sick “meals”.