In “Chew” #33, John Layman and Rob Guillory have Tony Chu assisting the US Navy with the pursuit of the church/cult of the Immaculate Ova, in part three of the “Bad Apples” storyline.
The target of Tony’s mission is Brother Oscar Chaleza, the Church’s Second in command, who is guarded by Dominic Partridge, a “ciboinvalescor,” someone who gets super-strong from food. Partridge is like an evil Popeye on canned spinach, except that all foods give him Popeye-strength.
So far, the “Bad Apples” storyline has swung uneasily between grief and humor, between the aftermath of tragedy from the terrible events of “Chew” #30 and the series’ usual light tone and episodic hijinks. “Chew” #31 was half-funeral, half-“back-in-the-saddle.” “Chew” #32 seemed like humorous-food-cop-business-as-usual until Tony’s explosive blow-up at Applebee near the end. That disturbing, mental-split feeling isn’t necessarily a problem, because coping with tragedy is like that, with shock and grief uneasily stowed away beneath the desire to allow life to continue normally.
However, “Bad Apples” still had a slight feeling of disjointedness and uncertainty to it, because of the unanswered question of how Layman is going to have Tony deal with his sister’s murderer. “Chew” #33 also features a tonal shift, but this time, it’s a gradual slide instead of a sudden jolt and with it, Layman’s plotting also pops into clearer focus.
“Chew” #33 continues directly from the end of “Chew” #32, with a great opening scene featuring the distraught Applebee and a still-distraught Director PeÃ±ya. From there, the plot proceeds in a direct, chronologically linear way, unusual for Layman’s scripts. As a result, “Chew” #33 as a whole feels more focused and serious, and when the second major plot twist comes at the end of the issue, the smoother tonal progression rolls it into being one piece with the egg cult/Navy setup.
The first plot twist occurs mid-mission in “Chew” #33. From past experience and deceptive packaging, Tony and readers are led to think that super-rooster Poyo is going to be in a wooden box as military backup. The contrast between expectations and the actual contents of the box is one of the best comic moments of “Chew” #33, as Tony and his new partner stare in befuddled shock at the “failsafe.” Immediately afterwards, Layman and Guillory cut to Poyo’s actual location in the Antarctic in two full-size pages of comic splendor. Readers who especially enjoyed the “Secret Agent Poyo” one-shot will especially enjoy “Chew” #33 for the extravagant ridiculousness and imagination of this scene, which can be summed up with one word: Pengthulu.
Guillory’s work continues to be casually excellent in “Chew” #33. His background details reward careful reading or rereading to catch all the visual jokes. The action of “Chew” #33 is always intelligible and easy to follow, quite a feat, considering the bizarre settings and even more bizarre events. Even more importantly, and something I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed from Guillory’s cartoony style, is that Guillory’s artistic emotional capacity is superb. He can evoke sympathetic anger or sadness almost as easily as laughs.
The last page of “Chew” #33 is a cliffhanger, even though it shouldn’t be. It’s Layman and Guillory’s excellent pacing and framing that make the silent ending panel stark and punchy. What occurs on the final page is inevitable, really; it’s just the how and when that’s a surprise, and the fatefulness makes the moment no less gratifying or stirring. Regular “Chew” readers won’t be disappointed.