What would you do if every time you ate something that was once living (we’re talking animals and plants), the history and memories of the food item passed through your mind? Wait, what? Well, besides seeming like the kind of strange question I might just like to ask people for no reason on occasion, that is basically the premise of the comic series Chew, written by John Layman, with the art of Rob Guillory. But it’s a little more complicated than that of course, as this series deals with using these strange gifts and abilities to hunt down criminals and murderers, as well as making some remarks on the government and underground operations at the same time. And although it is a bit twisted, this series (so far, after one volume at least) is quite funny, in a twisted sort of way.
The first trade volume, Taster’s Choice is really the beginning of the tale of our protagonist, Tony Chu, and it effectively sets up what should become the main conflict of the series as a whole. Tony is what is known as a cibopath, which means that anything he eats, he can see its history and memories, and know, effectively, everything about what it is he has just consumed (with the exception of beets, for some strange reason). The story starts off with Tony as a normal police officer, on the case of an underground chicken-dealing ring. Yes, you read that correctly: in this universe’s United States, the meat of chicken has been made illegal due to a serious outbreak of an avian disease (essentially, “bird flu”) that has killed millions of people. When swept up in this case, Tony inadvertently ingests some blood of a serial murderer, and goes after him, only to have the killer kill himself. In order to find out all the names of the killer’s many victims, Tony is forced to eat some of the now deceased criminal.
While under normal circumstances, this would mean the end of Tony’s career, his psychic abilities from consuming things are recognized by one of the only other two cibopaths on the planet, who just so happens to work for the Food and Drug Administration. Tony is offered a position there, partnering with fellow cibopath, Mason Savoy, and the rest of the volume follows these two partners as they investigate their first case together: a missing health inspector whose finger was found in a hamburger at a fast food restaurant. Throughout the case, Tony and Mason end up consuming different blood samples and parts as a means of gaining information. At one point this also involves ingesting a part of someone’s pet dog, and frankly, I found that to be almost more disturbing than the cannibalism, for some reason. Tony also finds himself a female fancy at one point during their case, in the form of a food-writer who has the ability to write about food so vividly that readers can essentially taste what she is describing. For Tony, this is a big deal, as he can now have this experience of consuming without all the psychic impressions coming forth in his mind because of her. Will this blossom into something? I guess I’ll have to read some more to really find out.
Once the story continues towards the end of this volume, however, things start to get strange, and people start to wonder if the bird flu that the government has used as an excuse to ban chicken has been just that: an excuse. Even Tony’s brother, a once-renowned TV chef gets swept up in the trouble, and Tony ends up facing a few difficult choices as to where he wants to go from here with his career and his abilities.
As I mentioned earlier, Taster’s Choice is what appears to be the basic starting point to the series, as it lays everything into place to make a real conflict between two characters, as well as set up some nice theories on governmental conspiracy. It’s a quick book to read, and while somewhat demented at times, it has a dark and dry humor to it, which I quite liked. The artwork by Rob Guillory is very precise and graphically refined as well, which makes reading easy and enjoyable, though sometimes the food and blood drawings can be quite visceral and a little grotesque every now and again; the authors certainly don’t shy away from being bloody and dirty, so if you are not a fan of that, I might not recommend this to you. But if not, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first Chew of the series, and am curious to see where it goes from here.
[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]