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So last week I had lunch with Mr. John Layman, noted auteur of Chew, and he thoughtfully gave me a hard copy of issue #24, written and lettered by him and drawn and colored by Mr. Rob Guillory, with a color assist by Taylor Wells (according to people in the know, a color assistant usually does the backgrounds, allowing the Eisner-winning artist to grab the glory by doing the stuff in the foreground all fancily and shit). Whenever I have lunch with Mr. Layman, he lets me see upcoming stuff in his fine comic that I’m not allowed to reveal under pain of death (although, you know, as out-of-shape as I am, I still think I can take Layman), and let me tell you, there’s some stuff coming up that is pretty awesome. All par for the course for Chew!
About this issue, however, I can write. We’ve seen that Tony Chu, the star of the series, has been taken captive by lunkheads who want him to … well, do something disgusting that involves his power to read a food’s history. He’s been tied up and beaten up, and therefore he appears in one (1) panel in this fine periodical. The focus of this issue is Olive, Tony’s daughter, who has been recruited by Mason Savoy and Agent Valenzano (whose first name escapes me) because her abilities are similar to Tony’s … but with one big twist difference that Layman reveals in this issue. The case they’re on involves Hershel Brown, who can sculpt chocolate with “such accuracy and verisimilitude that anything he crafts can exactly mimic its real-life counterpart.” We first meet him when he loses a butter-sculpting contest because, you know, he used chocolate, and because he’s such a sore loser, things get ugly fast. Savoy and Valenzano are now tracking him because they have intel that he’s sculpting weapons and selling them to unsavory characters, including the Serbian cibopath that Savoy mentioned way back in, what, issue #1? It’s been a while. Things go pear-shaped, of course, and there’s some good old violence, but Olive learns how her ability differs from Tony’s, which leads to the last page, on which she’s doing something terribly unauthorized.
As always, Layman moves the big story along well but also gives us a solid single-issue story. It’s impressive how he keeps coming up with food-based abilities, which in this oddball world he’s created don’t seem all that wacky. He packs a lot into the issue, too – in 20 pages, we get an opening scene in which Hershel flips out; two scenes between Olive and her aunt, who is getting madder and madder at her due to her (Olive’s) teenaged attitude; a page summing up Hershel’s abilities; and the whole operation to stop Hershel from selling chocolate weapons to the bad guys. When we consider the content (or lack thereof) in many Big Two comics, it’s kind of depressing that Layman can put so much in a comic and still be wildly entertaining and allow Guillory to show off (which he does). I’ve been reading some about some of the DCnU books, and far too many creators seem to be obsessed with splash pages these days, so it’s nice to read something as dense as Chew.
Guillory never needs flattering, because he’s such a good-looking dude already, plus he wears a hat well, so does he really need to hear how good his art is? (Contrast him with Layman – he needs the self-esteem boost, man!) His art is always excellent, though, and this issue is no exception. He creates so many interesting characters who show up for just a few pages, but they are all unique – the judges at the butter-sculpting contest, for instance, are immediately interesting just because of their looks, so the fact that they get slaughtered fairly quickly doesn’t mean we feel sad (because it’s funny!), but at least they’re not faceless cannon fodder. Layman doesn’t waste splash pages, so the one we do get shows the aftermath of Hershel’s rampage through the sculpting contest, and he takes full advantage with many wonderful details – the banners showing that on the eighth day butter was created, the Paula Deen sponsorship on the wall, the butter Eiffel Tower with the hand sticking out of it – it’s gory but wonderful. Guillory uses his space very wisely, so that Olive’s aunt ranting about her niece fits into a few pages rather than expanding too much to waste valuable space, for instance. There’s also the excellent flashback scenes that Guillory pencils slightly differently to indicate that it’s taking place in the past, and the brief three-panel scene of Savoy in the hospital, which allows Guillory to dress the big man in drag (needlessly, of course, as male nurses are common, but it’s more fun that way). Guillory’s facial expressions are always great to see, and he has a lot to work with in this issue, as Olive experiences quite a bit that’s out of her comfort zone. The colors are, as usual, wonderful – when Savoy punches out a doctor in that same hospital, Guillory colors the scene red, contrasting it with the rest of the flashback and the rest of the page, so it stands out nicely. He does this again when the shit hits the fan – the scene takes place at night, but Guillory amps up the oranges and burnt umber to highlight the violence. And, as usual, the background details are superb – Olive, for instance, has posters of Robert Kirkman on her wall, one with hearts and the word “Kirkmanly” written on it. Stuff like this just makes Chew all the more fun to read.
You should all be reading Chew already, because it’s awesome, but if you were just rescued from a desert island and haven’t been keeping up and wonder where you should start, issue #24 is as fine a place as any. It’s a fine example of what kind of series this is, from the twisted humor and the outrageous violence (two people, mind you, are sliced in half in this book, plus there’s the usual dismemberments) to the wonderfully cartoony and detailed artwork. It’s impressive that Layman has done such a good job with these characters that his star can appear in only one panel and you hardly notice it. That’s just how good this comic is! And if you’re at the Image Expo next weekend, you can get this fancy “butter” variant cover. Don’t tell them I sent you, because that might get you a kick in the shin. Just tell them you read somewhere vague how excellent their comic book serial is!
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