[14 October 2013]
John Layman’s and Rob Guillory’s Chew has been a surprising delight since it first came on the menu a few years back (I won’t fill this review with culinary references, promise). Its main protagonist, Agent Tony Chu, is one of the more likeable ‘heroes’ going around in comics today, and the world the creators have built around him seems to have been well thought out from the start, save perhaps for the ever-expanding list of people with food-related powers, of which we get yet another type in this issue.
This world is actually pretty disturbing and gruesome at times – as one might gather from Tony chowing down on a severed toe on the cover – but because Guillory’s art is so cartoon-like it helps to make the gore and violence more palatable (sorry). With the series planned to finish after sixty issues, we are now getting closer to the payoff, and the forces aligned against Tony are each starting to make their respective moves.
Part 2 of ‘Family Recipes’ continues with the return of Tony’s murdered twin sister Antonelle ‘Toni’ Chu, although not necessarily in the way some readers might have expected or hoped when it was foreshadowed at the end of last issue. As it turns out, Toni’s return arguably makes her death hit home harder than when it first happened, of which I will talk more of later. The issue actually takes some time to find its direction, with the first third feeling a bit more scattershot than usual. In the first half a dozen pages, we see Tony’s partner John Colby visiting a maximum security prison for food-related criminals, followed by a flashback of Tony enjoying prom night with his late girlfriend. Both scenes make more sense as the issue goes on, but it is not until Toni re-appears that the story really snaps into place.
To me, and I am sure many readers, Toni was the second best character in Chew before her death, a position made even stronger when she substituted for her brother as the main protagonist for an entire storyline. In personality, she was almost Guillory’s art taken to its extreme – a character that would remain upbeat and endearing no matter what horrible happenings were laid out before her. Also, Toni, unlike some other characters in the Chew world – including his own brother, adored Tony, and we get to see some of that dynamic at work again here. Toni becomes Tony’s phantom offsider for the issue, providing commentary and assistance (if it can be called that) as he follows up on another case.
The case itself is fairly unremarkable, by Chew standards at least – what really matters in this story is what it reveals about loss, and more poignantly, the loss of someone you were not at all prepared to lose. As with the flashback of Tony’s girlfriend – a happy memory for Tony, regardless of the painful stomach punch he receives from her dad – seeing Toni as pretty much her old self again makes her loss seem even more heartbreaking.
In a way that is not really explained, the Toni in this issue is an impression of the past, but one which is able to interact with the present, which serves to reinforce the point that these types of moments are now gone forever for the Chu twins. One might have expected there to be some big emotional moment between Tony and Toni upon her return, but that never really occurs; instead, the interaction between them is mostly of the everyday type–stuff happens, and they react to it, just as they pretty much would have before Toni’s death. But strangely enough, by following this route Toni’s return deepens the experience of her death rather than cheapens it, which is something that might well have never been achieved in the history of comic books.
Other than that though, this issue does not move the overall storyline along that much. Tony’s ex-partner and nemesis, Mason Savoy, returns in intriguing fashion, and we get some tentative signs that Tony and his brother Chow might be prepared to one day bury the hatchet. Guillory’s art is as full of expression as usual; at this point in the series you pretty much know what he’s going to (ahem) serve up each issue. With Chew being closer to its end than its start new readers wanting to jump straight onto the monthly books have probably missed the boat by now, but they would be well advised to go check out the available trade paperbacks to get themselves up to speed on one of Image’s better series. Chew is its own idiosyncratic pleasure, easy on the gullet, but with enough richness to keep you coming back for more.