"Chew" #45 by John Layman and Rob Guillory opens with a flashback sequence to reveal what Paneer Sharma, Toni Chu's fiancee before her death, has been up to for the last few weeks before last issue's fatally flawed FDA attempt to collect The Collector. It turns out that Paneer has been loyally carrying out one of Toni's last requests, and his persistence is touching in the face of Tony's indifference and Harold and Chow's hostility.
It's usually unwise for a writer to drop in four pages of seemingly unrelated action right when a lot of lives are hanging in the balance. Badly done, this kind of tactic not only interrupts but disrupts the story flow, but in "Chew" #45, Layman and Guillory pull off this tricky move with a combination of ridiculous humor and poignancy. The full-page spread on the first page is an attention-grabber, and the Paneer's sad pursuit of the Chu brothers provides some much-needed emotional down time for the reader without squandering suspense, since the new plot line neatly ties right back into the present-day aftermath of the Collector's butchery.
Layman's creative plot structure fits together well, and Guillory's transitions and a few well-placed and to-the-point textboxes make the setting and time shifts easy to follow. The creative team's extra efforts and shenanigans with the timeline are amply justified -- Paneer's unexpected role maximizes the tension of the aftermath in a way that a more straightforward linear story wouldn't be able to accomplish.
Guillory's handling of facial expressions and body language is superb as he draws Tony's shift from gratitude to rage when his old partner John Colby shows up. Then Layman ups the stakes by treating the reader to a montage sequence of Tony and John's entire friendship from their early days as rookies up to FDA partners. The food jokes here are excellent, especially the Kool-Aid and Rice Krispies references. These pages have great jokes in the background, and Guillory doesn't skimp on the details anywhere else, either. Both the hospital walls and bar surroundings are worth examining panel by panel.
The last page cliffhanger is probably one of the biggest shocks in all of "Chew" so far, and that's saying a lot considering the roller coaster of the last few story arcs. The twist itself could be considered unsporting to the reader, since there was were no clues beforehand, but that's partly the point, that no one could have seen this coming.
However, based on Layman's record, this development will probably be absorbed just fine, fan rage notwithstanding. Despite all the outlandish aspects of the Chewverse, Layman has been admirably dedicated to its internal logic and consistency. "Chew" has had a long, strong run thus far and over the last several story arcs, the bones of Layman's plan have felt stronger and stronger even as they haven't been laid bare. This last development, however bizarre, will probably click into place like another puzzle piece in the next story arc.
"Chew" #45 concludes the weirdly appropriately named "Chicken Tenders" arc. All the drama and heightened emotions have shone an even stronger spotlight on the relationships between the characters. There's been a lot of tenderness within all the meaty developments, and this will only whet readers' appetites for more, even if they haven't yet recovered from the end of this last meal.