One of the great things about comics is their ability to surprise you, to come up with an idea too strange for other media and make it work completely.
That’s the case with Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice (Image Comics, $9.99), which is most definitely one of the weirdest and coolest comics I’ve come across in a while. None of this will be news to the many folks who picked this up in periodical form. (It’s interesting that this series caused an old-fashioned back issue run when it came out last summer, with prices rising quickly as folks caught on to the series. There’s still some life in the old ways after all, it seems.)
This is the story of Tony Chu, a police detective with the unusual gift of cibopathy — he can obtain information on objects by eating them. This has obvious drawbacks, and Chu takes the vegetarian route to avoid constantly being exposed to the fate of most proteins.
All of which would be interesting enough, but writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory add an extra layer of strangeness by putting Chu in a world where the bird flu has made chicken illegal and made the Food and Drug Administration a major law enforcement agency akin to the FBI. Since “food crimes” are now serious, Chu’s talent comes in extra handy. And it just gets weirder and more fun from there.
While this is in some ways an old-fashioned indie comic on the insanity scale, it also is a polished book that makes it of its time. Guillory handles both art and colors and gives the book a nice, modern, slightly cartoony look that fits Layman’s skewed sensibilities quite well.
Future volumes will definitely be worth checking out, as will the back story of what happens when Chew goes to Hollywood. Cannibalism has never been a terribly popular subject for movies or TV shows — the only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are the mid-1990s movie Alive and the “Our Town” episode from season two of The X-Files — and think this is a property where trying to make it palatable to a mainstream audience is likely going to make some studio executive’s head explode.
That alone justifies the existence of this comic. But even if we lived in a world where cannibal movies were de rigueur, this still would be a very cool read.