Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Chew, Volume 1, Taster's Choice

Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice
John Layman & Rob Guillory
Fiction, Graphic Novel

Tony Chu is a cibopathic detective, which means he gets psychic impressions from anything he eats. Best case: he can pick up clues from food a killer has touched. Worst case: he needs to nibble on the corpse of a murder victim. Since this isn’t the sort of investigative methods the police want to be known for, he finds himself thrown off the force.

However, he finds that the FDA is more receptive to his unique talents, and ends up with a new job almost immediately. Thing is, this story isn’t set in our world. It’s set in an alternate reality where chicken is illegal, and it’s the FDA’s job to enforce this ban. Soon, Chu stumbles across an investigation into a possible conspiracy. Is an outbreak of bird flu responsible for the chicken ban? Or is it something more complex and sinster?

After hearing what Chew is about, it should come as no surprise that it’s not entirely serious. What makes it work is the way it plays itself fairly straight within its absurd premise. The humor comes from the characters and situations, and doesn’t feel forced. As a result, Layman and Guillory have crafted a story that’s both hilarious and a compelling and suspenseful mystery.

The art, by Guillory, is clear and expressive. His distinct, individual style exaggerates the characters and their actions, but isn’t so cartoony that it undercuts the mystery. His layouts are imaginative without being confusing. This is apparently his first professional job, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Because this book collects the first five chapters in an ongoing story, it isn’t complete in and of itself. Some storylines get closure, while others will continue on into future volumes. Fortunately, the world Layman and Guillory create, and the character of Tommy Chu himself, are interesting enough that readers will want to come back.

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