My wife gave me Chew: Taster’s Choice as a gift, and having never heard of either the comic or the creative team before, I had no idea what to expect. I was intrigued by the description on the back though, and eagerly sat down to read it the next morning.
Chew is a very strange book, and as you can imagine from the title, the oddness of the tale is almost entirely based around food. It takes place in an alternative present, where avian flu caused such a pandemic of illnesses that the U.S. government has banned the import, sale or digestion of poultry products. As a result, the FDA has received a radical increase in political power, and has become the most powerful law enforcement division in the country, if not the world. Those who question the ban, or suggest that the bird flu scare was a hoax perpetrated by the government, are rounded up by the FDA on suspicion of terrorism. Meanwhile, local vice cops find themselves staking out black market eateries, trying to find suppliers of chicken or duck meat.
It is among a such vice team that we are introduced to Tony Chu, a cop with a very unusual ability. Chu is a cibopath, meaning that he sees psychic visions related to anything he ingests. Consequently, Chu doesn’t eat very much, especially not meat. However, he is put to the test when he is recruited by the FDA, who wants to make use of his abilities to track down the members of a conspiracy, a group that has left a trail of bodies in their wake. Tony can use his powers to help out, of course, presuming that he’s willing to take a bite out of the victims.
Chew: Taster’s Choice includes the first five issues of the series, following Tony Chu through his recruitment to the FDA, the introduction of a potential love interest, and his first few cases, wherein he begins to learn the stakes of the game that his opponents are playing. John Layman’s writing is quick, sarcastic and quite funny, even as it horrifies you. Rob Guillory’s art perfectly complements the tone of the writing, full of strange perspectives, grotesque details, and bizarre humor.
It’s not just about being wacky though. Layman writes Chu in a way that you feel his pain, disgust and joy deeply, even as you laugh at the bizarreness of his situation. That’s a challenge in a story that could have become entirely driven by its own strangeness, but Layman successfully avoids that trap. There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained in order to keep the characters real in such a surreal situation, and it will be interesting to see how effectively Layman and Guillory can maintain that balance going forward.
The Final Verdict
Chew is a simultaneously disturbing, humorous and bizarre book, that’s as much fun as it is refreshingly original. I enjoyed it quite a bit, both for the wit in the writing, as well as the sheer craziness of the premise and I’m eager to pick up the next volume to see what happens next. If you like dark humor, bizarre situations and offbeat characters, Chew will definitely satisfy your hunger. :-)