Book Review: Chew (Volume One) “Taster’s Choice” by John Layman & Rob Guillory

TL;DR – a dystopian world where there is a prohibition on poultry and individuals exhibit powers that revolve around tasting food. There’s conspiracy, intrigue and cannibalism… all you need in this award-winning graphic novel.

Summary

Tony Chu is a detective and Cibopathic. He can bite a piece of fruit and get psychic impressions of where the fruit was grown, what pesticides were used, and when it was harvested. Or he can take a bite out of a steak and get a much more violent psychic impression as to how the beef came to be served on his plate… the only food that does not trigger this ability are beets.

Together with his partner, John Colby, they work for the Philly P.D. busting illegal poultry distribution. Yes, you read correctly, it is illegal to sell, buy, or eat poultry meats. Why? Because years ago an ‘avian flu’ pandemic struck the world and wiped out millions of people. Subsequently, the governments outlawed the consumption of birds. This has led to conspiracy theories, protests, and plenty of underground racketeering in the area of poultry.

Volume one introduces us to this strange world where Tony’s unique ability allows him to solve many acts of culinary violence. Not that his boss treats him in any way other than a freak. Things take a more bizarre turn when he is recruited by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration), the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, and is thrown into a series of cases that hint to a far greater conspiracy than he could imagine.

Review

John Layman and Rob Guillory have created a story that is fascinating and gross in equal measure. This is a good thing for it provides a distinct feel, flavour and theme to the world of Chew. The story grabs you like a culinary delight filled with all manner of surprises, not all of them pleasant, but propelling you along to the next course with a curiosity that you can’t resist. The characters are all colorful and distinct, and artist Guillory has a style that is incredibly appealing. A combination of influences from other famous artists such as Steve Ditko, Dave Crosland, Rumiko Takahashi and Chuck Jones.

We’re introduced to Tony and John on a stakeout to bust an underground restaurant that serves chicken dishes. What they encounter is a sous-chef serial killer that has been kidnapping people and eating them (why eat chicken when you can eat human?)

Things quickly turn for the worse as they bust into the kitchen only for John to get a cleaver to the head. Tony captures the serial killer but not before he commits suicide by slitting his own throat (thinking he’ll take all his cannibalistic secrets to the grave). Tony, seeking to bring closure to the families of the murdered girls, proceeds to take bites out out of the killer to obtain the memories of the atrocities that have been committed. Tony closes all thirteen murder cases and captures the eye of Mason Savoy who recruits him to the special crimes unit of the FDA. And that’s all in chapter one…

Mason Savoy is a particularly fabulous character, a giant of a man, who talks with eloquence and a joy for rhetoric. He also happens to be a Cibopath and together they proceed to investigate a series of events including:

  • a missing health inspector
  • the Yakuza
  • a food critic named Amelia Mintz (who is a Saboscrivner; every dish she writes about is so real that people who read her words can taste the dish)
  • E.G.G (a terrorist organisation that believes the government has lied to the public about the avian flu)
  • and a bunch of astronomers working in a lab at the arctic circle.

There’s much to absorb in the first volume of this magnificent series. Every panel should be examined carefully as it provides hints as to what is to come. Chew will have you chomping at the bit for the future volumes. Enjoy the feast.

4.5 out of 5.

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