Beware, SPOILERS ahead!
Fans of Layman’s Chew series, rejoice! The “Chewniverse” has returned with a new series following Tony Chu’s criminal sister Saffron Chu! Layman himself describes Chu (his new 2020 series) as the “Better Call Saul” to Chew’s (Layman’s 2009 series) “Breaking Bad”. As a Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fan, and also as a Chew fan, the analogy intrigues me! So, let’s take a look inside!
I usually put the solicit last, but I feel like it’s helpful earlier on here:
APR200011(W) John Layman (A/CA) Dan Boultwood
“THE FIRST COURSE,” Part One-TONY CHU is a cibopath, able to get psychic impressions from what he eats. SAFFRON CHU is a cibopars, able to learn secrets from who she eats with. Tony is a cop. Saffron is a criminal. They are brother and sister, and they are on a collision course. Spinning out of the multiple Eisner Award-winning and New York Times bestselling series CHEW comes CHU, a felonious new food noir about cops, crooks, cooks, and clairvoyants.In Shops: Jul 22, 2020
So, whereas we followed Tony Chu, cibopath, in Chew, we are now following his sister, Saffron, a Cibopars. A Cibopath receives psychic impressions from eating food and other substances. A Cibopars learns secret from who she eats with. Similar abilities, but distinct and different.
Layman has to give long-time Chew-niverse fans something novel to intrigue them to follow this new story line. Layman also has to do some catch up work for new readers to jump onboard. I feel like he strikes a balance in this issue, while leaving a little something to be desired. Chew fanatics might skewer me for not immediately singing Chu #1’s praises, but I think there is some small amount of respectful criticism to assign. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this issue, but I’m also excited to see what more the series can offer beyond the first issue.
Let’s address the new artist on Chu first. I’ll do so by comparing Tony Chu’s introduction pages from Chew #1 and Chu #1 (above). Longtime Chew artist, Rob Guillory left to work on his own acclaimed series, Farmhand. So, Layman found an artist who works in the same stylized vein, but has his own vibe. Comparing the two pages here you can see Guillory has a more rounded line work style, whereas Boultwood is a little more angular. However, the spirit of the Chewniverse survives here if you ask me. Thick lines, stylized proportions, bold colors, and just generally a treat to look at from page to page.
Another reason I chose Tony Chu’s introduction page to compare artists is to illustrate a couple points. First, Layman effectively brings news readers up to speed about Tony Chu in the one page intro. He gets psychic impressions from what he eats. Eating meat can be traumatizing and he has a psychic blind spot for beets. So, he eats a lot of beets. Based on the solicit, I would have expected a similar intro for Saffron, however, hers was slightly more bare bones. There really isn’t a clear explanation of what a Cibopars actually is within the pages of Chu #1. If you read the solicit, sure, but not in the book itself. Maybe there was an intention to this decision in the book. Maybe Layman wanted to retain some air of mystery. However, it just struck me as strange. The audience has already been told Saffron is a cibopars in the solicit, why try to hide what that ability is within the book? It was a strange choice that stuck out to me. The main premise of the book has already been given away, but some of the structure of issue 1 seems to go with the pretense that revealing Saffron and Tony’s familial relationship is a surprise. Check out the last page “reveal”:
We meet Saffron Chu in the middle of a heist briefing for what we gather is the city’s #2 crime boss. They’re setting up for a caper that should net them a pile of cash from the city’s #1 crime boss.
There are hints here that Saffron can read the minds of people she is eating with.”Lot’s of salad, Eddie. Trust me on this.” Later, the entire crew gets violently ill except Saffron and Eddie. The heist is blown and everything goes horribly, graphically wrong. So, even though the premise of the book has been given away, there is a healthy dose of mystery for Saffron to navigate through while maneuvering around the periphery of her cop brother, Tony. Who is behind the food poisoning? This is at least enough to get me coming back for “seconds” next month.
In short, I enjoyed Chu #1. I’m a fan of the original Chew series, so I was easy to convince. New reader won’t be too lost when it comes to Tony, but may skip a beat with Saffron. Her character could have benefited from a small introduction and explanation of a Cibpars’ abilities. Keen readers will be able to pick up the gist of what’s going on there, though. The series, like its predecessor, is an interesting crime noire already planting the seeds of mystery and draped in bright cartoony, comic majesty. Because of the prequel set up, Chu has room to breath on its own. Old Chew readers will find a bit of what they remember loving and new readers will discover this fresh story with them without missing a whole lot of beats from Chew. Maybe getting new readers on board is what made this issue feel a little like we were treading water, but it sets up a foundation for something entirely new and exciting. Here’s hoping for more ground getting covered in issue #2!