Writer: John Layman / Artist: Rob Guillory / Image
Many moons ago, at the start of what would be the longest March in recorded history, Image dropped the cover for a spinoff to a series that was very near and dear to my heart.
— Image Comics (@ImageComics) March 6, 2020
Seeing the cover to Chew immediately triggered a flush of endorphins and nostalgia. I typically buy comics in single issues nowadays and on occasional will hold out for the trade because I don’t have the patience for collector’s, but Chew is one of those rare series that I was fortunate enough to find near the end of its run and managed to acquire the three beautiful, over-sized hardback covers of what is one of my personal favorite comic book stories.
The synopsis of Chew starts weird, but almost certainly gets weirder as each issue passes. The very basic premise is that Tony Chu, a Chinese-American detective, has cibopathy or the ability to get psychic visions from whatever he eats (as the above panel describes in a bit more detail). What the ever-loving hell does that actually mean? I’m glad you asked. It means if he eats a tomato, he sees everything that tomato has ever gone through. We’re talking from being a seed, being on the vine, being picked by a farmer, being hauled away in a moving van, and being processed into the tomato sauce on his pizza. It also means he sees the horrific things that happen to chickens and that if it takes a nibble on a corpse, he can catch some glimpses of the victim’s memories.
Yeah, weird I know. But that’s literally something you learn to accept within like 10 pages of the comic and the story just escalates with aliens, vampires, even more food related superhuman powers, a conspiracy that revolves around a chicken-substitute fruit, and a cybernetic chicken that works black ops for the American Government and no, I will not be explaining that last one any further because you really deserve to see how that happens for yourself.
My point is that Chew starts ridiculous and continues to be ridiculous in the outlandish premise. But this is a really tightly written detective story at its core and Tony Chu is one of the coolest, most unconventional Asian American protagonists you could ask for. He doesn’t know martial arts, he’s not a tech wiz, he’s just a badass, Philly cop with this weird ability to get visions from food and solve food-related crimes for the FDA. He’s a character predominantly defined by his grit and determination. His power is simply a means for him to navigate the bonkers world that John Layman cultivated.
Layman juggles a variety of storylines with an ensemble cast with a deft hand, and it’s clear from the get-go that Guillory had a blast bringing these bizarre pages to life. It’s a grisly comic in multiple senses of the words, but if you have the stomach for it you’re gonna be in for a strange buffet of weird pseudo-sci-fiction.
The complete 60 issue run concluded in 2016, and if you need a nibble, you can actually find the first issue online for free before devouring the rest. But trust me, you’re gonna wanna devour the rest.