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Off The Shelf: Chew Volume 1

He's a cop who can solve crimes by eating the evidence. That means he has to eat gross things.

Chew Volume 1

Meet Tony Chu. He is cibopathic, which means he can take a bite of an apple and get a feeling in his head about what tree it grew from, what pesticides were used on the crop, and when it was harvested. Or he could eat a hamburger and flash onto something else entirely. Or he can eat the flesh, blood or even ashes of people and find out the exact nature of their crimes or the circumstances of their demise.

Tony Chu lives in a world where poultry has been outlawed due to an 'avian flu' scare, which many people believe is a lie perpetrated by the government for sketchy reasons. Therefore, chicken has a fake 'chickyn' substitute, and the real deal is served in speakeasies and remains a black market contraband – and Tony's brother Chow, a former TV chef who flipped out about the chicken conspiracy live on the air, happens to be neck deep in the trade.

Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration is where the real action is – a place where Tony gets hired on immediately after catching a serial killer red-handed and learning the specifics of his victims by eating his corpse. Seems cibopaths are a rare enough commodity that burly, erudite Agent Mason Savoy knows he can hire them on the spot. It takes one to know one, after all – and there are only three in the world.

That is the story beind Chew, an Image book from writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory. The Volume 1 collection gathers together the first five issues of the still-ongoing series – one that's received much critical acclaim. I love the weirdo concept – I've always liked the idea of oddball powersets like this, and I've always thought it was a bit weird that so many mutant powers seemed to involve the formation of energy blasts or something like that. Thus, I liked that Grant Morrison gave us X-Men that were just weird chicken guys, and I like that Layman has given us Tony Chu.

The plotting here is pretty obviously setting the stage for big shakin's down the line, as the end of Chew Volume 1 feels like the real story is just starting. But we do get a solid introduction to the dynamic at work here – even though it keeps changing as Tony shifts jobs, and then has continual partner issues – not to mention a boss who inexplicably hates him and a love interest with her own strangely complimentary power, but who doesn't really register Tony on her radar and seems to enjoy making people vomit. It's so refreshingly different and fringey that I really, really wish I liked the art more.

Sadly, I don't. Guillory does do some fun things with layouts and there's certainly some talent there, but it's so dramatically cartoony and the characters are so misshapen and distended that it makes a lot of the book kind of unpleasant to look at – although it really hits the mark when a character is supposed to be gross, like the snotty kid at the McBeefy's counter who finds the finger in a burger. Since a lot of what Tony has to deal with when mixing his power with his profession is pretty digusting, Guillory's particular stylization does its job, but overall, I had a hard time getting into it. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, pardon the pun.

No, hey, on second thought, don't pardon the pun. If you're the kind of guy who needs pun-pardoning, then F you and your humorless punless putrefaction, buddy!

Anyway, Chew Volume 1 is full of great ideas, and if the art appeals to you more than it did me, you'll likely love it. Art is supremely subjective, after all. As for me, I'm still not sure I'll make the journey into Chew Volume 2. I think my eyes would rather feast on something else.

7.5