(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)
(Warning: This review may describe or show images of graphic content)
Introduction: Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers, and good day to all my international readers. Food is on everyone’s mind today, so while you all may be preparing to eat or have already eaten, I decided I would review a comic that involves eating…although, food is not the only thing on this comic’s menu. I selected the first story arc of Chew from Image Comics, “Taster’s Choice.” This arc (and subsequently the first trade paperback of the title) is composed of Chew‘s first five issues. The series is written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory. I had previously heard of Chew from a close friend, and I was happy to finally read this series from a story he enjoys so much. Now, let’s dig into this review.
Plot Summary: In a world where eating poultry is outlawed after 23 million Americans die from what is labeled an avian flu, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has become one of the most powerful governmental forces in the United States. By-the-book Philly officer Anthony “Tony” Chu (Chew = Chu) and his partner John Colby are investigating a chicken smuggling operation when the FDA, including Agent Mason Savoy, interferes. Tony Chu is no ordinary cop. He has a special psychic ability called “Cibopathy,” which allows him to witness and get other impressions from anything he eats. This ability stops him from eating most meals, especially meat (because he can view the slaughter and feels ill afterward). However, he can and has used this ability to solve cases. When an incident that leaves Colby in critical condition (a hatchet to the side of his head) leads Chu to identify a serial killer, the killer offs himself rather than give up the location of his victims. Chu, determined to give the victims’ families closure, bites off and consumes parts of the victim’s face, thereby learning the names of each victim, along with uncovering evidence to close their cases.
Tony is unable to explain why witnesses saw him chewing a man’s face, but Agent Savoy, having had discovered Tony’s special ability, arrives and clears Chu and (forcibly) hires Tony as an FDA officer. As it so happens, there are only three known cibopaths in the world, and Officer Savoy is one of them. Savoy takes Agent Chu under his wing as his partner in the field and teaches him how to use their shared ability for investigation. “Taster’s Choice” has the twosome solve a few cases using their special talents. On case introduces Amelia Mintz, who is the sole known person with the psychic ability of “Saboscrivny,” which allows her to describe food in such a way that lets people actually taste it (for better or worse). Amelia is a food critic, and Tony falls in love instantly, both with her beauty and her ability to actually let him taste the foods he had always wanted. At the climax of the story arc, Tony Chu learns that Savoy is the killer in a case he had been investigating. Savoy and Chu clash, but Tony was at a physical disadvantage. Mason admits that he did what he did because he wants to unveil the truth about what killed the 23 million Americans—because he (and basically everyone else) knows that poultry was not actually responsible. The victim was a lead, and Mason felt that taking one man’s life would be worth saving billions more. During their tangle, Savoy bites off and keeps Tony’s ear, and he goes on the lamb, but Tony Chu is determined to close this case, no matter how much of a plateful it may be.
Plot Analysis: While I am not typically a fan of grotesqueness, the concept in execution is more clever than I would have imagined. Combining a food/pandemic conspiracy with a crime story involving a psychic cop…well, I did not know what to expect, but I think it works, as long as you are someone who can handle seeing people do gross things. Beyond the plot, Layman does a commendable job creating the world of Chew. Establishing a pandemic that resulted in a world where poultry is outlawed helps tie in the FDA agents’ actions to a greater conspiracy. And the fact that this world has people who possess psychic abilities (however rare these people are) could lead to possible future encounters and plot points. Layman introduces a number of characters who are going to be important beyond the lead character of Tony Chu, and having Tony’s mentor be revealed as an antagonist sets Mason up to be Tony’s antithesis and archenemy (and potentially frenemy).
Characterization: I have touched upon a few of Chew‘s characters—who they are and what they can do—but each character also exhibits personality. Tony Chu follows the law almost compulsively. Meanwhile, his brother Chow Chu was the star of a cooking show, but he lost his job after going on a tirade while on live television about how the poultry ban is a ridiculous cover-up story told by the government. Since then, Chow has been buying chicken from the black market, and Tony would have busted him for it if his partner John Colby had not stepped in and convinced him otherwise. An opposite of Tony, Colby is more a free-spirited cop who is willing to bend the rules for a greater good. This juxtaposition placed the partners in a position where they thought they hated each other, but when Colby is hospitalized and barely survives, Tony spends time with him, confiding in him about his FDA struggles as if John Colby is a dear friend, which he probably is, despite their initial bickering. Additionally, Tony Chu gets very flustered and awkward around Amelia, to my amusement.
Meanwhile, in the FDA, Layman presents us with both Mason Savoy and Mike Applebee. Applebee is both Savoy’s and Chu’s superior, but he is short-tempered and vindictive and immediately shows a distaste (pun intended) for Tony—and the feeling is mutual. Meanwhile, Mason Savoy is initially shown to fulfill the “big brother” or mentor role for Tony, even taking a bullet for him. He advises him continually and shows him the ropes of investigation up until the point that he is revealed to be a villain. Although, that villain status is almost subjective. Mason wants to solve the mystery regarding the bird flu victims, a noble goal, but he is willing to do whatever it takes to do so, which could be viewed as less than noble. Still, because Layman had set him up as a good guy for the first five issues, I as a reader do not want to hate him just yet. As a side note, I was aptly impressed by how agile and skilled Mason is in combat considering his build. I look forward to seeing how Savoy’s story develops.
Art: Chew uses an art style that presents people a little disproportionally, and I personally think this decision is for the best. As I said, I am not fond of things that are gross—whether it be a gross deed or something gross-looking. As such, if this comic was drawn in an extremely realistic way, I do not believe I would have been able to stomach it (the puns continue). The art style Rob Guillory delivers allows me to read this comic with much more ease than I would have been able to otherwise. And the art is good. Despite its somewhat cartoonish style, the pages are filled with a sometimes sickeningly strong level of detail, which I can respect.
Final Remarks: I know that Thanksgiving is a day where many of you look forward to satisfying your appetites. I hope that this comic review has not made you lose your appetite. If Chu can still eat food after what he has been forced to consume in the name of justice (an act that he, himself, is immensely grossed out by), then hopefully you guys can still eat as easily as I consumed (that is the last pun, I promise) the pages of this comic. In Chew, Layman and Guillory build a world, present interesting characters, and set up current and future plot points all in one introductory arc. If anyone is interested in crime stories or mysteries or conspiracies or psychic abilities or somewhat grotesque concepts, then this comic may be good for you.
Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.