Volume 2: 4 stars
Chew is a truly strange comic book where a lot of the characters have abilities out of the ordinary with regards to food and drink. Tony Chu, our hero, is cibopathic. This means that he gets a psychic impression from everything he ingests. This can mean that he can picture the tree an apple came from or see the field a vegetable was grown in and how it came to be harvested, or he can experience the last moments of a pig before it’s slaughtered and turned into sausage. The only thing that doesn’t give off a psychic impression? Beets. Tony eats a LOT of beets.
Because of his unusual powers, Tony is a detective with the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, which is the most powerful law enforcement agency in the world in this comics universe. He can get psychic impressions by taking a bite of anything left at the crime scene (very often dead bodies). A few years ago (in this world) a bird flu pandemic swept the world, meaning that chicken has been totally banned for human consumption. As a result, people do the craziest things to get some. There are chicken smugglers, underground chicken restaurants and all sorts of shenanigans.
I read the first volume of Chew, Taster’s Choice back in December 2012 (it was a Christmas present from the husband). In that book, Chu is recruited into the FDA and paired up with a cibopathic partner. After a lot of bad (and occasionally disgusting) stuff goes down, Tony’s partner reveals himself to be rather unstable, and goes rogue. Tony’s former partner from the Philadelphia PD, John Colby, is hit in the face with a large meat cleaver. At the start of book 2, International Flavor, we discover that John didn’t die, but instead had state of the art surgery and thanks to several bionic upgrades is not only still alive, but now also works for the FDA. He is, in fact, Tony’s new partner!
Tony’s boss, Captain Appelbee, hates him (I suspect the reasons for this are made obvious in book 1, but I can’t remember). He keeps trying to send him on any assignment that involves Tony having to ingest something truly disgusting. At the beginning of book 2, Colby saves Chu from having to taste a sample from a very large pile of poo found at a crime scene, by insisting on using good old-fashioned detective work (and his new bionic upgrades) to solve the case. This also leads to their discovery of a new fruit, which tastes just like chicken when cooked.
Tony takes a holiday and travels to the island paradise of Yamapalu to find out more about this mysterious new product. Also on the island is his brother, Chow Chu, a five star gourmet chef, recently hired by a new resort hotel. Once on Yamapalu, Tony meets a rival cop, from the USDA. She is investigating the disappearance of several world class chefs and Tony starts getting worried about his brother’s safety. The USDA agent thinks the missing chefs are somehow connected to the recent discovery of the fruit, called Gallus Sapadillo or ‘galsberry’, on the island. Since it was found, the governor of the island has banned chicken of all kinds, in his attempts to make the fruit a viable chicken substitute. The USDA agent suspects foul play of some sort.
Then she turns up dead, and Tony was seen very publicly fighting her shortly before her death. Chu is arrested, but once his name is cleared, he teams up with police chief Raymond Kulolo. While imprisoned, Tony (after biting one of his fellow cell mates in self defence when said goon tried to beat the crap out of him) discovers that several of the recent deaths on the formerly peaceful island are because of people trying to locate a very special fighting rooster, Poyo, used in an underground cock fighting ring on the island. Chu and Kulolo team up to track down the mighty Poyo, while Tony also tries to prevent something sinister happening to his brother
Volume 3: 3 stars
Book 3, Just Desserts, is a lot more episodic and therefore read as a lot more disjointed. Tony Chu is now dating Amelia Mintz, a food writer who is a Saboscrivner. She can write about food so accurately that people get an actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she describes. For Tony, who is overwhelmed by psychic sensations every time he eats or drinks anything that isn’t beets, Amelia’s writing is his only way to experience food like normal people. The first issue is them going on their first date, undercover at an exclusive dining club, where the members try to eat as many endangered species as possible. The book also sees the return of former police chief of Yamapalu, Raymond Kulolo, although this time, he’s dead. We also meet Poyo the battle rooster again. Finally, in this book, we get to meet more of Tony’s family. We discover that he’s a twin, whose sister is known as Toni (I loved this) and that there are a whole host of different family members, not all too happy with Tony’s job. His rogue former partner also makes an appearance, setting up for things to come in later books, I suspect.
I really like the strange and oddball characters and the really unusual world building in this comic. Tony Chu is a really nice protagonist and his special power is both cool and a bit depressing. Being able to eat nothing but beets seems pretty dreary, even if it gives him a unique edge at work. He can identify a murderer easily enough, but it means resorting to actual cannibalism. The writing is witty and fun, and the art by Rob Guillory is absolutely excellent. While things can get a bit disgusting at times (seriously, some of the stuff Chu has to eat), the stories are mostly very entertaining and I can’t wait to see what comes next for Tony, John, Amelia and the others.
Judging a book by its cover: The covers of these two trades will give you some impression of the artwork inside. Book 2 shows Tony and his new partly bionic partner, John, while also showing us the island of Yamapalu, depicted in exactly the same shape as the pile of dung that Tony’s boss hopes he’ll be forced to take a bite of to solve the first crime of the book. The third book shows Amelia and Tony at dinner in the first story, with Tony’s first cibopathic partner looming ominously over them behind the table. I really like these covers, just as I love the in-comic art.
Crossposted on my blog.