If there is one thing I love finding, it is a new title. To find a great new story is something that is a bit of rarity in the realm of comic books. Not to say that the medium is stale, it just takes a good amount of effort to find something outside of the superhero genre or something published outside of the Big Four (DC and Marvel, and the top second tier publishers, Image and Dark Horse).
Luckily, Image has been on a roll as of late. The focus of this post will be about their newest title, “Chew,” written by John Layman (who also does the lettering), with art duties by Rob Guillory.
In an introduction to one of his books, writer J.M DeMatteis talks about how some stories emerge perfectly formed and ready to go, while others (like the story he was introducing, the Spider-Man classic “Kraven’s Last Hunt”) take years to gestate and come to term. Within reading the first page of “Chew,” its hard not to imagine that Layman’s story came out perfect in one draft, ready to be drawn the moment the final sentence was put down.
Set in a United States where a bird flu has become so rampant that the selling and eating of chicken is illegal, similar to the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and 1930s. Also similar to the prohibition era, there is also rampant decent and bootlegging throughout the country, which is under investigation by the local authority and the newly powerful Food and Drug Administration.
The protagonist of the series is a local cop named Tony Chu. On top of being no-nonsense and having a short fuse, Chu has an ability that places him a little ahead of the curve in these dire times: He is cibopathic, which is described as the ability to learn the history of the food item he eats. He can see the harvest of an apple, or the slaughter of cattle with just one bite. For some reason, beets are immune to this (but human flesh is not).
The story is instantly engaging, thanks to the writing style of Layman. His narrative is not solely objective and the third person voice will offer comment on the situations that are presented to the characters, as if it is another player in the story. Chu’s personality is also instantly established, not only in understanding what his life must be like as a result of cibopathy, but in his seemingly lack of a sense of humor and his dedication to the law, going as far as to almost arrest his brother, a disgraced chef who is thrown off his cooking television show after a tirade about the supposed conspiracy by the government about the bird flu.
But this would be so much harder to do were it not for the incredible artwork by Guillory. His work is similar to Gabriel Ba, another artist I’ve been exposed to recently with his work on “The Umbrella Academy,” but Guillory has a way of using the page all his own. The thing I like about his work is his facial expressions. While the impressive body language and and movement add to this great presentation, it is the faces of the characters that are pitch perfect. Everything else about Guillory work is very defined. The character shapes are odd and the lines are crisp, but the faces are less distinct. They are limited and small. Yet it is on this small scale that he is able to do so much, the exagerations are much more pronounced because the standard is so miniscule. And they compliment the great and witty dialogue written by Layman. I hope that this team is able to be together for a long while and really develop a joined style all their own.
I look forward to the continuing of this book. It is such a strong entry from Image and could really be the next big thing. It seems to have word of mouth behind it and I can only hope that this blog can only help people find “Chew.”
It is on issue 4, which was released last week and already there is a deeper story laying under the surface. The bootleg chicken seems to be a much bigger operation than just the hoodlums seen in the first issue. Characters like FDA Agent Savoy and food columnist Ameila Mintz (both of which also have abilities) are already rich and full of life. And there is the ever-lingering story of the bird flu and what is truly going on with it. Is it extra-terrestrial? What does the government know? What about the criminals making a profit of the situation? I would be surprised if these are never answered, but then again, with such a crisp story as “Chew,” I wouldn’t complain if stories like the past four issue just kept coming out and it was just about the adventures of the Agent Tony Chu, the 21st century’s Elliot Ness.
Do yourself a favor and grab this book. If you don’t like it, I’ll eat my words.
Images used are copyright of Image Comics