Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice is the first instalment in a crime fiction, comic series that is written by John Layman with artwork by Rob Guillory. It follows an Asian protagonist by the name of Tony Chu who is a detective that has as a secret ability: he is cibopathic. What that means is that he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats, whether meat or veggies. While this ability is quite weird, it’s also pretty handy-dandy and makes Chu one bitchin’ detective, as long as he doesn’t mind snacking on the victims’ corpses.
This is one twisted series with humour dripping in dark and morbid references. To be perfectly frank, it was awesome. While a lot of the jokes can be slightly cringe-worthy, I found them to be positively delightful. The more strange and fucked-up the comical aspects are, the more fun I will have. It’s probably not something I should boast about, but hey, I am proud of my eccentricities. These amusing moments are pleasantly complimentary to the jabs that the comic makes at familiar tropes within the crime fiction genre. Chew does follow a couple of these, but the fact that it doesn’t shy away from making fun of itself is glorious.
The characters themselves are all quirky, sardonic representations of people you would usually see in the spectrum. Chu is a broody man who isn’t fond of his grotesque capabilities. His first partner is the mock of a dude who represents everything you hate, but you know on some level you need in order to succeed. His second one is that guy who pushes you when you begin to doubt yourself. The villains and criminals are all caricatures that render similar parodies. It definitely helps to tone down the overall serious nature of the criminal acts, but not so much as to where it’s impossible to take any of it seriously… just most of it.
Speaking of serious things, let’s look at the cases. Being a detective story, there is an overarching case that Chu is struggling with and some minor cases he solves along his journey. Every single one of these are original, to an extent. They are very disturbing and the motives are pretty clichéd, but the execution and the seasoning, or details, that formulate the bulk of the crimes are pretty unique, which is made apparent with the illustrations.
The artwork for Chew really blew me away. They are an interesting combination of cartoony drawings coloured in grey hues reminiscent of a noir atmosphere. The darker palettes and pallid shades of blues, purples, and other shadowy tints really set the dreary mood that accompanies classic detective tales. I felt they were in deference to the black and white films of the 1930s. But then we have the sound effects that are wrapped in very vivid and vibrant shades of blues, reds, and greens with texts that pop out at you, creating a mnemonic homage to comics from the 1960s and 1970s. You would think that these two distinctly different styles would clash. Yet, they don’t! Aesthetically, it’s remarkably pleasing and works to enhance Chew‘s narrative wonderfully.
The only thing I didn’t care for with this first volume were the flashbacks. After Chapter One, we get a scene where the characters are doing something intense and then everything flashes back to how they found themselves in that position. I felt this individual technique was unnecessary in this type of story. It does nothing specific to augment the plot within the particular chapter, or in chapters that follow. The only thing it did was create a slightly disorienting reading experience as you try to focus and keep up with the time jump.
That was the only thing that bugged me a tiny bit. I’ve read other reviews and another couple of problems that a lot of people had with Chew was that they felt it was very clichéd, and they were upset that Tony Chu wasn’t the only person with his ability. I would like to address these with my own personal experiences. As I mentioned above in varying places, the comic pokes fun at clichés (thus itself) while paying homage to classic forms of storytelling that have either become obsolete or are headed down that route. As such, I felt that these clichés worked perfectly to highlight these distinct qualities. So, yeah, there are clichés but it’s kind of the point. Secondly, I’m exhausted with books and narratives that focus on an individual to be the save-all of the relative universe with their “one of a kind” superpower. Cibopathics are still severely rare in the world of Chew, but having a couple of other folks sharing this ability can help create complex conflicts that set themselves apart from the “one ring to rule them all” trope. It’s a fantastic way to cancel out pre-existing tropes and putting an original spin on those that are already present.
Now these are all of my own opinions. Every reader will absorb and interpret whatever they read in their own personal way and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I simply wanted to offer an alternative way of looking at things, that’s all.
In conclusion, I highly recommend Chew to people who are fans of the comic medium, as well as to folks who enjoy crime fiction. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this first volume, even if it did make me want to become a vegetarian the entire time that I read it. As such, I will provide a disclaimer that this book has graphically disgusting scenes involving foods and other things that are consumed. If you get queasy easily, do not read this prior to eating or while you are eating.
4.25 bites outta 5!