Chew is a bizarre mash-up of an idea that seems like it probably shouldn’t work, but pulls off every bizarre twist with aplomb and a bit of dark humor. In this creation by writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory, there is a strict prohibition on poultry in America due to a horrific strain of bird flu that killed millions. At least, that’s what the government WANTS YOU TO THINK.
The United States federal Food and Drug Administration is now the most powerful law enforcement operation on the planet, tracking down hubs for the poultry black market and rogue chicken traffickers. Anthony Chu is a straitlaced detective in Philadelphia who eats beets, and only beets. You see, Chu is a cibopath, meaning he gets psychic impressions from anything he consumes. This makes eating meat a spectacular nightmare, but even vegetation can hold surprises. Except for beets, which are psychically neutral. After a stakeout gone horribly wrong and an encounter with the FDA that reveals his power, he is quickly drafted into the FDA Special Crimes Division and partnered with fellow cibopath Mason Savoy. And thus begins Tony Chu’s exciting career of conspiracies and chicken gangs, saboscrivners (people who describe food so accurately you can taste it) and cannibalism. (Yeah, cibopaths get psychic reads off people too, and when you’re trying to solve a murder and want access to that information, sometimes you just gotta take a bite out of a corpse. I did mention the content is kinda dark, right?)
Volume 1, “Taster’s Choice,” collects the first five issues of the series, sending Chu on his opening romp for the FDA and leaving off on a conspiratorial cliffhanger that makes it all too tempting to throw my wallet off the mountain of financial responsibility (there are currently ten volumes released). Curse you, serialized narrative formats.
The art style is a fun and quirky balance pairing the violence of plot events with almost caricatural character designs that wholly embrace the ludicrousness of the world they inhabit.
As a bonus, I can also imagine these characters featuring in an indie video game, perhaps a side-scrolling platformer or even a fighting game. Not gonna lie – I’d drop some money to be able to fight as Mason Savoy.
As for the story itself, as with the best police procedural and detective shows, the action switches between tension-building detective work, enhanced by psychic flashbacks and the potential for multiple conspiracies at play in the background, and outright firefights with the villains. Spaced throughout the volume, minor characters are referenced, introduced, and developed for a payoff that you know is going to come big in future volumes. Meanwhile, Tony Chu himself is built up as a character destined for moral quandary. Any guy who generally presents himself as a by-the-book agent of the law but is also willing to rip into a guy’s face in the name of justice is probably going to have internal strife down the line.
Ultimately, “Taster’s Choice” makes for an ideal introductory volume. The action is riveting, the world is littered with visual gags and a love for food-related names, and the story and art combine dark and gritty with lighthearted nonsense. Minor characters, such as a mysterious third cibopath, are tantalizingly teased but kept just out of reach. The murder that sparks the plot is solved but spawns more mysteries, and the resolution causes tension between the major characters to crescendo to its highest point. The pacing isn’t perfect and at times drags, but I never considered putting the story down, and the ending guarantees I’ll be ordering the next course in this narrative feast.