Book Review: Chu (Volume One) “First Course” by John Layman and Dan Boultwood

TL;DR – An essential read for those who have read the Chew series.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

From the deranged and brilliant mind of John Layman comes Chu, a prequel to the Eisner award winning series Chew.

Saffron Chu and Tony Chu are siblings. Saffron is a cibopar; a food-power that allows her to read minds and obtain secrets from those she eats with. Tony is a cibopath; a food-power that allows him to obtain psychic impressions of what he eats.

If Saffron eats the same burger in the same room as someone else, she can access their thoughts and secrets.

If Tony eats a burger, he gets images of where the meat came from, how the cow was killed, where the vegetables were grown and how the bread was made. If Tony were to take a bite out of say, a murder victim, then he’ll get images of the killer. The only food that Tony does not get psychic impressions from are beets.

Saffron is a thief and in a relationship with Eddie Molay, fellow thief and expert locksmith. Tony is a detective.

When a job Saffron and Molay undertake goes sideways, Tony is asked to investigate setting the course for brother and sister to collide.

For those in the know (i.e., that have read Chew), this series is set when the onset of the avian flu that wipes out millions around the world starts.

Let the games begin!

Review

This delectable piece of work is to be savoured. Devoured slowly by examining each panel, digesting each beautiful morsel and then re-read for all its grandeur. I promise that’s the end of my culinary metaphors.

If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read Chew first. Even though Chu is a prequel, you will appreciate the references more if you have finished the epic body of work that is Chew by Layman and Rob Guillory.

This time Layman has teamed up with artist Dan Boultwood. There is both a familiarity and unique style to Boultwood’s art that I found delightful. I’m a huge fan of Rob Guillory, and his art in Chew is slightly grittier than Boultwood, but that doesn’t mean Chu’s art is any less effective. It’s a refreshing, clean take by Dan who uses angles, close-ups, and bird-eye views to capture all the action, comedy, violence and emotional angst of its characters while staying true to the Chew canon.

As for the Chu story, Layman has concocted a wonderful prequel that connects many dots that lead into Chew. We get to see how Tony Chu and John Colby first meet; John’s hairdo and cowboy moustache is hilarious, and I didn’t realise it was him until he said his name. It was great to see how these two became life long partners in crime fighting.

We also dive into more of Tony’s family and learn about the twins Saffron and Sage Chu, as well as learning the disconcerting history of Ong Chu, their grandfather, who turns out was a total bad-ass.

Saffron must have got her criminal tendencies from her grandpa as she uses her food-power to read other people’s minds as information reconnaissance for jobs. She’s in deep with Eddie and together they get hired to do a job by a guy named “The Boss” to rob from the number one mobster in the city. However, things do not go according to plan when the team they work with starts getting serious food poisoning from eating chicken; their sniper man and strong woman both go down vomiting. This is a reference to the avian flu that will wipe out millions and leads into the Chew story arc.

As a result of the botched job, the mob come targeting Saffron and Eddie and want their pound of flesh (or their heads will work too). The juggling between Saffron performing her criminal hi-jinks with spending time with her family is cleverly done, and all the while, Tony is slowly piecing together what is going on.

For some readers, the climax of the collision between Saffron and Tony will be hard to swallow (okay, that’s the last culinary metaphor I swear). Tony’s actions appear extreme when in the context of the fact that Saffron is his sister. He doesn’t give her much chance to explain her actions but for those who have read Chew, they will know this is exactly what Tony’s character is like. He’s not just a detective but he sees things as black and white, and it is this perspective that ultimately becomes his undoing in both Chu and Chew series.

Though Saffron is arrested and ends up serving time in prison, she continues to use her food powers to absorb all the knowledge of her fellow prison inmates. So when she is released, she is now much more dangerous than before. Much to Tony’s chagrin. Like I said, it’s his undoing.

There’s a second volume to Chu but my library hasn’t got it yet. I might just have to bite the bullet and buy both volumes. Okay, okay, I lied about the “last” culinary metaphors. But can you blame me? John Layman uses it on practically every page.

5 out of 5.

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