I was reluctant — even afraid — to read John Layman and Rob Guillory’s “Chew” #55, because numerous signs (both explicit and implicit) pointed to a “Women in Refrigerators” death for Amelia Mintz, Tony Chu’s longtime love interest. Layman and Guillory promised that a major character would die, and indeed, the first caption of “Chew” #55 blandly announces “The Death of Amelia Mintz,” as Guillory’s full-page spread shows Tony gently cradling her limp body. While I hoped otherwise, I was convinced and preemptively disappointed that Layman would go there before picking up “Chew” #55. One could argue that he had already been there with the murder of Toni Chu, but Toni’s heroic defiance of her killer and her upbeat and active afterlife were enough to rise above the narrative problems of a more stereotypical fridging. Even if Layman could make it work again, hadn’t Tony suffered enough already? Would a loss and vow of revenge set the stage and terms for the final act of “Chew”?
Layman is a sneaky writer, and without getting into specifics, it turns out I should have had more faith. There’s more than one brilliant plot twist in “Chew” #55. Layman flips the story back and forth between Tony and Mason Savoy, choreographing yet another convergence for these two. It seemed like Layman was setting up another “Evil Cibopath” to be Tony’s foil and enemy after the defeat of The Vampire, but Savoy is destined for another fate.
Savoy’s long-winded monologue, directed nominally at Tony but really addressing the reader, is both origin story and apologia. It fleshes out the big man, bringing out pain and a sense of duty beneath all the pompous phrasing and big words. Layman plays nimbly with the reader’s expectations about what kind of harm Savoy intends to inflict. By the end of “Chew” #55, Savoy makes good on his vague, hyperbolic threats from the last two issues, and it’s a doozy. “Chew” #55 culminates in a double-page spread that is as shocking as it is well-staged, and the last page has a very satisfying answer to the steady buildup of questions about Savoy’s motives and methods.
Guillory’s use of color in “Chew” #55 low-key but thoughtful. In the double-page spread, he uses the glowing red to isolate details and to guide the reader’s eye to the right, pausing only to dwell upon some magenta beet juice. There’s a lot of purplish-gray throughout, but it suits Savoy’s brooding and makes for a great contrast with the bright colors in the flashback to a carrot assault on the Statue of Liberty.
The flashback leads into some intervening action with Caesar Valenzano and John Colby, which serves several purposes. The “daucaudifacator” villain is funny for both his appearance and his attention-seeking motives. Besides providing a comic breather and bringing two more characters to the final scene, it creates the opportunity for a moving farewell from one character to another. Even the saddest moments of “Chew” #55 are lightened by Guillory’s background jokes, including a Chipotle review and fuzzy bunny slippers.
As Layman and Guillory wrap up the next-to-last story arc for “Chew,” the dramedy isn’t slowing down in characterization or pacing. Their unusual but strangely harmonious salad of food, law enforcement and superpowers is a delicious dish that has gotten even better with age.