In “Chew” #39 by John Layman and Rob Guillory, Tony Chu remains depressed and stymied by the loss of access to his twin Toni’s memories, but Amelia and Olive sneak into the FDA to steal some drugs and save the day. For once, Tony is out of the spotlight and the driver’s seat, allowing the supporting cast to step in.
Layman begins the story with one of his quick flashbacks, revealing that Toni left a special recipe behind for Tony to find back when he was stuck at the hospital. Layman uses this artifact as a plot technique to flesh out and draw in a member of the supporting cast who has only gotten cameo appearances until now: Olive Chu, Tony’s teenage daughter, who was usually seen sulking, drying commenting on events or encouraging her father’s lame attempts to re-connect without much success. The resulting story is fun and zany as usual, and it’s a delight to see Olive blast into action. Although Olive has been in the background for a long time, “Chew” #39 is her debut in spirit. Of course, she also has a food power which is finally revealed just before she uses it in the reader’s line of sight.
The opening sequence also further develops plot threads that Layman has hinted at in previous issues. Now the reader learns what has resulted from Amelia planting the Gallsaberry in her window. Since Amelia is a Saboscrivner, eating the gallsaberry on a regular basis has resulted in a unique result: a novel written in an alien language, of which Guillory draws three pages and sets apart from the rest of the story by coloring it with a palette of attractive pastel fluorescents. Layman’s alien script font for these pages is a great touch, too, although this means that the reader will have to wait for a translation.
The core of “Chew” #39 is a team-up between Amelia and Olive. They make a great duo, and Layman’s ability to take Tony off the dance floor without missing a beat underscores and adds to the depth of the Chewverse. Similarly, Toni’s recipe logically combines existing elements of the Chewverse – namely the psychotropic frogs and the Gallsaberry, and again, it enhances the pleasures of reading an ongoing story that two plot pieces can fit together cleverly, like two puzzle pieces clicking together. The ending cliffhanger is a real surprise, too.
Guillory’s art has his usual high standard of amusing background details and jokes. His action scenes for Olive have excellent, dynamic panel composition. With all the crazy stuff going on, it would be easy for the reader to become confused, but Guillory’s transitions are so clear that there’s no chance of getting lost.
So much occurs in “Chew” #39 that it’s hard to believe that it’s only 21 pages. Like most of its predecessors, “Chew” #39 has a self-contained adventure, but also maintains the suspense of the overarching storyline. Layman is comfortable with both the long game and the short game in a way that feels just right for the monthly serial format. The pacing doesn’t feel rushed, demonstrating Layman and Guillory’s gifts for compressed characterization and plotting. “Chew” is one of the most consistently excellent books on the shelves, and this far in, it’s only getting better.