John Layman and Rob Guillory present a new story arc, “Bad Apples,” picking up directly after the emotional devastating events of “Chew” #30.
If I have any beef with “Chew” #31, it’s that it’s inevitably less memorable and showy than its immediate predecessor. “Chew” #30 was a climactic, effective thick plot twist stew of shocking trauma, scorching grief and an adorable and funny flashback dessert. “Chew” #31 feeds the reader two differently flavored plot tapas instead of one larger main course, and while its flavors are less controversial and unsettling, it also packs a lot less kick.
The first course, the opening funeral scene in “Chew” #31, is a great coda to the events of “Chew” #30. Layman and Guillory are still in the business of serving up the funny, but they are sneaky chefs that mix in tears with those chuckles. These seemingly opposite ingredients enhance each other instead of clashing, and the result is that the first half of “Chew” #31 has remarkable emotional depth without being depressing, like a full-bodied wine with no harsh aftertaste.
The Chu family is full of fanciful food names and equally off-the-wall personalities and interactions, and it’s anyone’s guess how many more people and food-related names Layman can cram into the extended Chu family cornucopia. The man seems to have an infinite supply of food jokes, and the Chew-verse swells larger with each issue.
The funeral also gives readers another glimpse into Tony’s family history, including some insight about his relationship with his daughter Olive. As Layman flashes backward in time to another funeral, Guillory’s panel compositions emphasize the connections between past and present. Though there’s more than a decade between the two funerals, his de-aged characters are instantly recognizable. Tony’s hilarious attempt to reconnect with his daughter Olive is a perfectly arranged, four-compartment bento box of parental awkwardness. Tony and Olive’s gestures in panels one and four echo each other symmetrically, and Guillory wisely plates this little nugget separately from two longer panels at the bottom of the page.
At the exact second the funeral ends, Chez “Chew” switches out the music and decor mid-meal and suddenly the reader is being served manic chicken jokes without skipping a beat. Consuming this second course of “Chew” #31, one fantasizes that a bug-eyed Chef Layman chortles to himself evilly before handing off another recipe to Chef Guillory, who nods gamely, like a straight-faced “Iron Chef” contestant faced with this week’s new “challenging” ingredient. Then Guillory sharpens his stylus, drawing and coloring ever-more-insane tableaus like nobody’s business.
A regular of Chez “Chew” will only be slightly nonplussed to hear that the latter half of the issue is best described as “Chefs Layman and Guillory indulge themselves in the joy of foodie pyromania.” Personally, I enjoyed the ignition of the stale exercise guru phrase, “Feel the burn!” I also enjoyed that comic conventions did not escape Layman’s pen-shaped torch. Always a stickler for detail, Chef Guillory adds a side of bug-eyed, stunned faces to complete each entree en flambe.
It’s good to see Tony out of the hospital back in the FDA saddle in “Chew” #31. So far, “Bad Apples” doesn’t lack for new ideas or action, but its flavors aren’t uniformly most complex of Layman and Guillory’s oeuvre at first bite. However, with the entire Chu family exhorting Tony to pursue vengeance, chances are that readers can reasonably expect dollops of the higher-stakes, overarching plot involving arch-villain The Vampire in later menus of “Bad Apples.”