by John Layman (writer and letterer) and Rob Guillory (art)

The Story: In a strange world gripped by a chicken prohibition, Detective Tony Chu solves crimes with his unique ability to gain psychic impressions from whatever he eats.

The Good As you can tell by the story synopsis, the concept is incredibly inventive, fresh, and unlike anything else on the stands. As a first issue, this comic does a great job of showing just how strong the legs are on this concept. It’ll have you BELIEVING that there’s a lot of potential here. The ending of this comic alone was proof of this, as Chu’s method of getting the information he needs was both shocking and hilariously inventive.

The world created by Layman is no less creative. Chicken becoming outlawed, creating a poultry-centred bootlegger’s industry, speakeasies and all? Pure genius and utterly madcap… How Layman came up with all of this, I have no idea. Certainly, it lends itself well to a great deal of situational comedy.

Technically speaking, Layman’s dialogue is quick and his panels are fluid and dynamic. Furthermore, his intersection of styles is very self-conscious– absurdity meets cop drama meets cannibalistic nastiness.  Best of all though is Layman’s pacing of this issue. The book starts out slowly and lightheartedly, introducing the characters and setting, and then, out of nowhere, things go completely insane in a shower of gore and cannibalism.

Meanwhile, on the art end, Guillory’s work is a perfect match for Layman’s script. Quirky, offbeat, and cartoony, it’s fun to look at and it fits the comic to a tee. Guillory’s layouts are endlessly inventive and some of the funniest bits of the book are his drawings of Chu’s morified facial expressions after having eaten something particularly terrible.

The Not-So-Good: Unfortunately, Chew’s greatest strength, it’s quirkiness, is also what works against it. Make no mistake, this is a VERY indie comic. Readers of “the big two” will be left scratching their heads, while hard-nosed Vertigo devotees will perhaps hunger for something heavier or more substantial. Ultimately, whether or not you enjoy Chew will depend almost entirely on what sort of reader you are and what you expect out of your comics. This is an off-beat title with a very “indie” art style and carries that “small, low budget” feel.  This may very well turn off some readers.

Also, a major problem for this issue is that its lead character, Tony Chu, just isn’t very likable at the moment. His only distinguishing characteristic is his unflappable dedication to the law. He’s a “by the book” cop in the utmost, and this makes for a character that is neither unique nor particularly enjoyable. In fact, it makes for a character that can be downright boring or irritating, if weren’t for his special ability. Given the book’s ending, I expect this to change dramatically as Chu develops. But as a single issue, Tony himself just isn’t a strong character. That gets to the heart of the problem, really: this first issue really feels more like a “prologue” than an actual first issue.

Conclusion: Appropriately enough, Chew’s quality is entirely a matter of taste.

Grade: B-

-Alex Evans