Trade Secrets: Chew Vol. 1

I'm back! So, sorry that I kind of disappeared for a little bit last week, but as I said I was trying to finish a full-length play that I started writing way back in August (I finished it!) and I was also recovering from a nasty cold at the same time. I now feel way better though, and this week I'm going to cover all of my features with new posts for each feature, and even introducing a new feature. Anyway, today is a new edition of Trade Secrets where I am going to review one of the biggest indie books from last year, Chew. Hit the jump for the review.

Trade Secrets

Chew Vol. 1 - Taster's Choice

Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory was chosen by most reviewers as the best new book of 2009, and with good reason. The plot is that the main character Detective Tony Chu is a Cibopath, which means that he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats that shows him the history of the thing he's eating, and because of this he starts working for the FDA. In the world of the book, there was a terrible bird flu that wiped out a good portion of the Earth's population and now chicked in illeagal to eat or even to have, and because of this the FDA is the most powerful government organization. Most of the book is Tony and his partner Agent Savoy searching for a government agent who's gone missing after having his fingers cut off by black market chicken sellers.

Agent Savoy is also a Cibopath, and so a good portion of their "dective" work involves them eating pieces of humans and seeing what happened to the people that they are eating. Savoy is just about a super crime fighter, taking on hordes of Yakuzas without a problem and defeating all of them. In fact, it's almost disheartening that Tony almost never succeeds in the book at all, as most of the situations that he gets in end with Savoy coming to his rescue. The one time that he does have a chance to be a hero without Savoy around, Tony still looks like a chump as the love interest in the comic, Amelia Mintz (who I would have loved to see way more of by the way), ends up saving everybody with her ability to make people taste the foods that she describes either by writing about it or speaking about it. I think that I understand why Layman and Guillory do this, in order to make Tony an underdog in the story but also to set-up the conflict in future issues as an even bigger obstacle for the agents, but I really would have appreciated seeing the main character not get his ass kicked in every fight.

Another problem that I had with Chew is that Tony's boss, Mike Applebee, is almost completely one dimensional, with an intense hatred for Tony with almost no reason given why he dislikes him so much. All it does is set up a stereo-typical "good cop doesn't get along with his boss" situation that we've seen hundreds of times already in other cop stories. If there was a really good reason given for Applebee to treat Tony poorly, or if there were hints that there was more to his hatred under the surface, like if a Cibopath hurt someone he cared about or something like that. But there is no inclination that anything other than that Applebee doesn't like Tony because of his ability. The other big issue I have is that I could see most of the big twists coming a mile away, as I called the big revelation from the last issue of this collection by the second issue that I had read, and it seemed so blantantly obvious that I wonder if anyone was genuinely taken by surprise by the reveal. But is that because the writing isn't as good, or is just that as a first story arc I already knew what had to be included to set up the rest of the story still to come.

With those said, I still really liked this book a lot. The art is probably the biggest selling point, as it is always vivid and energetic without looking overly cartoony. Guillory really handles emotions well in the book, and somehow manages to walk the delicate line between the obsurdity of the world but still grounding it in reality. The art perfectly captures everything from the script, and if the style was different I really don't think that the book would work almost at all. Also, Layman's story and concept are very good, as there is just enough high concept ideas thrown in to really make the book feel like something special. It's clear right away that it is not just another average story, and all of the dissimilar pieces that are in the story really help add up to some great issues. There are some great action scenes, and also Tony and Savoy are both incredibly well written and have some great scenes together, which also sets up the future issues incredibly well. Also, they introduce the idea that the chicken ban and the bird flu are just lies from the Government to cover up what really killed all those people as a way to set up an important central mystery in the book, and they do this in a very organic way that doesn't feel forced at all.


BORDERS IT - I really liked this book, but I can't give it an OWN IT rating because of the problems that I had with some of these first few issues. I think that the book really found it's footing towards the end of this collection, and I think that the subsequent issues will probably be incredibly strong. So, I will still reccomend this book, but read it in Borders first and if you like it then you should buy it.

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