This article contains major spoilers for “Chew” #60, and the series as a whole.
After seven years of fine dining, John Layman and Rob Guillory served their final course of “Chew” last week with issue #60. Published by Image Comics, the multiple Eisner Award-winning series saw Detective Tony Chu solve crimes with his unusual ability to see the entire history of anything he ingested — including people, but excluding, for some reason, beets — in a world where eating chicken is a high crime and Chu’s FDA is the most powerful government agency.
Then, things got weird.
As the series unfolded, readers met many other characters with food-based abilities, including Chu’s rival and fellow cibopath Mason Savoy; Chu’s sister Toni, who can see the future of anything she eats, and his daughter Olive, who may be the most powerful of them all; an ability-stealing Vampire (also known as the Collector), whose murders hit especially close to home for Tony Chu; Tony’s girlfriend Amelia, a saboscrivener who can write about food so accurately that those who read it experience the actual sensation of taste; and many, many more. There are also a few memorable series regulars without powers, like Tony’s partner and best friend Agent Colby, their boss Mike Applebee, and Warrior Chicken Poyo.
Plus, almost everyone in the series is maimed in some way over the course of the sixty issues.
“Chew” was a screwball of a comic, known as much for its heart-wrenching tragedy as its bizarre, laugh out loud comedy. Toni preparing to meet her fate at the hands of the Vampire was truly devastating, as is Amelia’s sacrifice in the penultimate issue. But then, you know, there’s psychedelic chogs.
The double-sized “Chew” #60 is a necessary epilogue to the series, tying up an important narrative beat from the series as a whole. But it’s a strange read. Issue #59 effectively wrapped up all of the character arcs and allowed Tony Chu to save the world — but at great personal cost. Savoy’s post-mortem machinations gave Tony not only a plan to rescue planet Earth from imminent destruction, but the means to do so — Tony would need to kill everyone on Earth who had recently eaten chicken to assuage the beings who wrote in the sky, and eating his rival gave Tony the food-based powers make it happen. Tony balked (pun!) at the responsibility of killing millions to save the rest, so Amelia forced his hand by writing harder than she’d ever written before, crafting a story with a hidden kill switch that would eliminate every chicken-eater from the face of the Earth — but only if Tony read it. Colby convinces him it needs to happen, and Chu reads the fatal message. The plan succeeds, and Colby immediately falls, thanks to his chicken and waffles breakfast.
Issue #60 picks up “many, many years later,” with an older Tony Chu biting his fingernails to invoke a vivid memory of the events that brought him to this moment — humanity’s first contact with the mysterious sky writers. Meanwhile, Olive is now a star FDA agent, working with a partner who cannot be killed as long as she’s on psychotropics. The food theme has run wild, as the agents now ride about on carrot bikes, and so forth. They’re on the trail of Peter Pilaf, a man who seems to take on new food-based powers every time they fight — his specific ability is not named, and is in fact described as unknown, a first for “Chew;” further evidence the center cannot hold. But as the spaceship touches down and the welcoming ceremony begins, ushering in a new era of intergalactic peace, Tony lunges at the leader of the chicken-headed aliens, plunging a chocolate knife into its chest. The end.
The finale feels… distant from the rest of the series. Most of the major characters are dead, Tony spends most of his time reminiscing, and Olive’s mission highlights the chaos of this post-chicken world. Checking in with Applebee and Chow Chu emphasizes the decimation of Tony’s family and friends. There are moments of humor and pathos, but both are employed in the service of creating a feeling of “how did it go so wrong?” The effect follows almost necessarily from the opening scenes of Tony Chu’s bitter reminiscence.
This story is required, though, for one simple reason: everything that’s happened over the course of the last 59 issues (plus specials) is a direct result of the extraterrestrials. “Chew” could not end without confronting this fact. Without confronting the aliens themselves. Who are, of course, chickens. The “bird flu” conspiracy that led to a prohibition on chicken, the elevation of the FDA, the sky writing, the Collector, Savoy’s quest, and, finally, Tony’s genocide. Each event built to the crushing climax of last issue; but they built to that climax because of the aliens. And so here is the reckoning.
In Layman’s goodbye letter to the series and its fans, he states that this was always going to be the ending. It’s a great image, and allows for one final catharsis: Tony strikes back at the beings who murdered so many humans in their first strike, held the Earth to ransom, and compelled him to commit mass murder. He’s avenged their deaths, at least to the degree he is able. But, notably, he’s also disrupted “first contact” and the peace treaties that were meant to come along with it. There is a sense that the world will devolve further into chaos, especially since, as we’ve seen, these giant chickens wield overwhelming power. For all its wacky humor, then — and man, it got into some really out there stuff — “Chew” is at its heart a tragedy, a story that ends well for nobody.
But how else could it have ended?
“Chew” is a fascinating beast, one of those “comics to give your friends who don’t read comics.” Its comedy is rooted in its characters, characters who are strong not because they’re believable (generally, they’re not) but because they are so fully themselves. Character-centered stories need drama, and drama needs resolution. All of this chicken stuff had to build to something, and it did. “Chew” #60 is not an entirely satisfying read, but it effectively clears the table after an extraordinary meal.
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