If it looks interesting, grab it. This is the rule I broke with Chew. I’d read the teaser story in the back of some other Image book** but for whatever reason, it didn’t click. Illegal fried chicken joints, a cibopath detective who sees the history of whatever he eats, and a unique/grotesque art style just didn’t work for me. I’ll even reveal myself as a closet wuss whose stomach was a little turned not just by the range of foul things Tony Chu has to eat, but by the overall disgustingness of his world. It was novel, sure, but probably just a gimmick rooted in grossness that would ultimately disappoint – I’d been down that road with The Exterminators.
So I was wrong in my conclusion. After seeing multiple printings of Chew’s first issues sell out, I finally picked up the first four. After reading them, I couldn’t wait until the 5th. The thing is, I was right in my observations. Chew IS set in a disgusting world, which includes cannibalism in the line of duty, frequent dismemberments by multiple means, a writer whose work can make readers projectile vomit, and above it all a mysterious bird flu that has outlawed chicken and let the FDA rise to Big Brother-like status over it all. There is always blood in Chew; the mystery of each issue is what other kinds of fluid and viscera will accompany it.
Part of what makes Chew work is the kind of horror over the body you might find in a Cronenberg film. Tony doesn’t love his “gift” – every rotting finger and dead dog he has to eat to solve a mystery is a struggle, one usually leading to vomit (the only food that doesn’t cause this is beets – awesome). Rob Guillory‘s art complements this fantastically. The world is stained, crumbling, and off-kilter; characters are distorted, exaggerated at best, monstrous at worst (this is everyone, not just the villains); even Tony’s love interest is more odd-looking than gorgeous.
One more thing I like about Chew is how it functions as a follow-up to the past decade’s love affair with zombies. In addition to the traditional shamblers, the last 10 years introduced fast zombies, funny zombies, zombie songs and zombie reference books. Mass culture has embraced zombies – isn’t it supposed to work the other way? – and they’re all but played out (and don’t even start with ninjas and pirates). What Chew does is take a piece of the zombie concept – body horror once again – and spin it: What if the flesh (and whatever) eater was the good guy, and our bodies could be made to work against us in a different way (i.e., as edible evidence)? It might sound like kind of a stretch, but consider whether Chew could exist without the past years of zombie prepwork to pave the way.
Chew has just completed its first major arc, “Taster’s Choice,” with a nice game-changer. That means you’ve got two options: Pick up the trade paperback (due Dec. 9), or grab the back issues. They’ve been going fast, but the popularity of the book means you should be able to find a stack of the reprints and read ’em all together. Or you could skip that entirely – the book’s been good about providing recaps each issue, so you can expect the new arc will kick off with a big “here’s where we’re at” story. But once you start reading, you WILL want those first five, so why not just get it out of the way?
**The teaser story idea has become a trend, and I’m still not sure what to think about it. It’s great when you’re into the story, but other times I don’t care, and at its worst it’s annoying when four of the books you pick up in a week have the same damn story (I’m looking at you, wordless Batman story in Darkest Night). If there’s any issue, it’s that these can feel kind of untargeted. As great as it is when the teaser jives with whatever you just read (the MonsterMen micro-teaser series in Hellboy: The Wild Hunt comes to mind), other times it feels too transparently like a blast fax aimed at picking up as many hits as possible. We can’t all be targeted by everything, but I wouldn’t mind a little more sense of “if you liked that, you might like this.”