Happy Thanksgiving! Chew: Taster’s Choice Review

(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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 4.05.20 PM
Agent Tony Chu uses his cibopathy to learn the security code

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 3.56.12 PM
Agent Mason Savoy efficiently takes down yakuza despite his larger stature

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.

Embrace Nerdom,
-Nerdy N8

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4 thoughts on “Happy Thanksgiving! Chew: Taster’s Choice Review

Add yours

  1. Your review got me really interested. I really like horror and grotesque, but I also like some good action, and this series looks like a perfect blend of the two elements. And I love the art. As you said, it looks easy to read and it gives the comic an unnatural tone that makes you enjoy the series for the escapist work that it’s meant to be.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Chilling.

    Ha ha! I like the ‘compère’ tone to your review. I feel vaguely like I’m reading a review in ‘The House of Mystery’ – except I don’t recall it being so gross. (Prolly due to the old CCA)

    Conspiracies involving the FDA? Nice! Usually they are accused of either poisoning us, stupifying us with Nutrasweet, or banning the cancer cure. (Isn’t the cure ‘hot dog water’ now?)

    But what was the avian flu conspiracy in Chew? Did *They* say that eating chicken gave people avian flu? Weird. It’s the detail that sticks with me. I would read the series just to find out.

    Keeping chickens can spread avian flu. Eating it though? Flu virus would be killed quickly by cooking, unless it was somehow a prion disease like BSE. I assume this logic is a part of the comic’s ‘chicken truther’ movement and Chu’s brother Chow talks about it in some ‘Info Wars’-type show. And thus I spent a paragraph writing about, what I gather from your words, is the least important part of the story – I think you already said that many people in ‘Chew’ do not believe the FDA’s lies.

    In trying to figure out where this crazy story came from, I’m imagining the author starting with the bath-salt/ face eating news story from 2012 Miami-Dade (where else?) and sought to find a way that it could fit into a hero’s story. I’m sure that we’ve all tried to write a story where the hero comes back from the darkest place imaginable. If Layman hadn’t done Cibopathy first, it would’ve been Frank Miller.

    Cibopathy – perhaps an original word, but not concept; though it does seem to chewed down to the bone here. iZombie does a variation, but with a very different approach.

    Layman must really the sell the characters well. I can tell that you liked them – the good and the bad alike. Jeez – he’s found a moral excuse for unobligated cannibalism.
    But come on budday – at least cook it or marinate it first. Blehhhhh.

    I can only hope the reveal that Mason Savoy is a murderer (“cereal” killer?) is not the biggest reveal around the conspiracy. It seems a big spoiler! And there are enough characters that it wouldn’t keep me from reading ‘Chew’ anyway. And, of course, Mason has to play the cannibal Moriarty to Chu; as he had been mentoring Tony Chu in Cibopathy. He seems to have become a mentor in this poultry-driven conspiracy.

    I do feel like *I’ve* read the first arc of ‘Chew’ after reading your review – and I did enjoy it. I hope that you did leave some elements unrevealed for when i manage to get ahold of this book!

    Thanks again for bringing us new food for thought

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, Roscoe!

      I am pleased to see that you enjoyed the review and that you have developed an interest in Chew. I am glad that comic could suit your taste. Now, to respond to some of your thoughts.

      As for the poultry, the official statement is that eating it can kill you, yes. As you suggest, though, this idea does not seem likely. So, the question remains: If not chicken, what did kill all of those people (I listed the 30-something million American lives lost, but over 100 million were lost worldwide)? I suppose we will both have to keep reading the series to learn the truth.

      I found your comment on “moral cannibalism” amusing, but it is true that Layman found a creative way to make this concept work. As for flavoring the “morsels,” the book suggested that every tampering of the consumed material can affect the strength of the visions received from the cibopathy. I would imagine that for solving cases, clear psychic readings are crucial. So perhaps for this reason Chu has to consume the material as-is. At least, this notion is how I interpreted the text.

      Mason Savoy’s “betrayal” does not seem to be the biggest reveal. It seems more to me to be a turning cog in a grander conspiracy machine. He does want to know the cause for those deaths—a truth I am sure Chu is going to end up investigating himself. The difference is that Chu plays (mostly) by the book whereas Savoy seems to take the “greater picture” approach.

      In a way, it is nice to know that you feel almost as if you have read “Taster’s Choice” yourself. However, I can assure you that I left many elements of the story for you guys to read yourself firsthand. There are more aspects of Chu’s personality than those I discussed, and some of the other supporting characters had more notable moments than I listed. So, I encourage you to find and read the story if you can. Like I said, “Taster’s Choice” is the first five issues of the series, but those issues are collected in Chew’s first trade paperback. And the trade paperback is at what I would call a reasonable price. So, if you were interested, please try it out! One of the things I hope for when it comes to writing these reviews is that comic fans out there may find a new series or two to try out for themselves.

      Thank you for commenting and have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So it was eating the chicken that was blamed for the death of 1 in 10? Interesting. Thinking further on it, the story reads as a parable on the whole ‘raw milk’ thing where Bovine Tuberculosis is seen by a minority as some kind of scare tactic to centralize the production and pasteurization of milk. Layman does seem to have this angle covered, as processing the meat (*cooking*. Again, no cooking? blehhhhh) muddies the potency/clearness of the psychic impressions.

    So many lovely diseases are carried around by humans, kept in check by *not eating each other*. Herpes, Hepatitis, HIV, virus-induced cancers, Norwalk, oh boy. Some like
    Creutzfeldt-Jakob (“Mad human”) Disease can’t even be cooked out.

    It will be interesting to see if the Chew crew covers the cannibal-borne peril that Tony Chu exposes himself to. Or more interestingly – if many diseases are actually linked to the avian flu cover-up, and are not what the comic universe believes they are. (Soylent Green is made from chickens! It’s chickens!)

    And the art. Good call on the art. Cartoonish but clear. Mason is like a bowling ball taking down the Yakuza, but the action is not muddy at all. I particularly like Guillory’s use of colour as shading – very deliberate and clear. (I assume he’s the colourist as well. If not, then my compliments to the chef.)

    I love a good conspiracy; though believe in few. Or none, depending. I’m prolly equal parts into Charles Fort, Martin Gardner and The Amazing Randi. And I think each would have something interesting to say about ‘Chew’.

    Liked by 1 person

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