Wait, what, someone at this company read Powers?! He did, in fact. And he was a huge comic book geek! We talked comics for quite a while, and he recommended to me Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory, which sounded interesting. I poked around the Internet and found that it was actually a huge success for a new comic; it had completely sold out several runs. Sounded like the Hot New Thing in comics. And then, in a brilliant marketing move, they put out the first trade today—collecting issues #1-5—on the same day that issue #6 came out, making it the perfect time to jump on the Chew train.
In the world of Chew, a bird flu pandemic leads to the deaths of millions...and the outlawing of chicken. The FDA is the new Homeland Security, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, and they declare Chicken Prohibition. They investigate cases of black market chicken, chicken speakeasies—yes, I said chicken speakeasies—and other chicken-related illegal activity. It is as yet unclear whether other kinds of poultry like turkey and quail are kosher or not.
The newest recruit to the FDA Special Crimes Division is Tony Chu, a totally unstereotypical Asian-American. He's hired because he's a Cibopath, which means that whenever he eats something, he gets impressions of its past. If he eats an apple, he gets feelings about the tree it grew on, what pesticides were used, and when it was harvested. If he eats a hamburger, he gets feelings about...the slaughterhouse. How is this useful in crimefighting?
You know how in Pushing Daisies, Ned can bring dead people back to life and ask them how they died?
In Chew, Tony can bite into corpses and gather information from them.
As his partner, Agent Mason Savoy, says: "You're going to eat terrible things, all in the name of justice." (Agent Savoy, by the by, is described by the artist as "the lovechild of Orson Welles and a grizzly bear." As his name suggests, he has a very British way of speaking, which is a good contrast to Chu's downbeat straight man.)
There's another character of importance, Amelia Mintz, a food critic who is a Saboscrivner. This means that she can write about food so vividly that you can literally—literally—taste it. Whether it's scrumptious or repulsive, you will feel as if you've eaten it.
In the first five issues, Layman establishes the world of the comic and hints at bigger mysteries like the suggestion that there's a...wait for it...conspiracy surrounding the cause of the bird flu and a whole lot of bizarre events in issue #4 that will surely be explored in the future. The first story arc covers one smaller mystery too; this is essentially a detective comic, after all. The comic is clever, wryly narrated, and laugh-out-loud funny, though I don't know how long it will take for the novelty of the premise to wear off. Guillory's art is reminiscent of Gabriel Bá's in The Umbrella Academy (Savoy even resembles Hargreaves), offbeat and pretty, perfect for a slightly absurdist comic. Although Layman does name Y: The Last Man as an influence in that he wanted to take a high concept—CHICKEN PROHIBITION!—and extend it to its logical, real-world conclusions, you don't want realistic pencils in a book that so frequently features its main character, er, taking a bite out of crime.
Check out the first volume, the aptly named Taster's Choice, for a mere ten bucks. See if you can spot the cute Lost shout-out.
And think twice before you bite into that turkey tomorrow. You don't know where it's been.
But Tony Chu would.