John Layman was nice enough to send me a .pdf of Chew #33, which comes out on Wednesday, so I'm going to review it!
Chew #33 is in many ways a typical issue of the series, which is not a bad thing at all. However, now that we're in the second half of the series, Layman is changing some things, and the nice thing is that he's doing it by building on what has come before, so it's not surprising when things start getting a bit darker in this story arc. As everyone who's reading the single issues knows, something pretty bad happened recently, and Tony has been changed because of it. This arc has been about the new and perhaps improved Tony, as he's back with the FDA and, in issue #32, he tells his boss to fuck off. In this issue, he does some even more disturbing things, and it's impressive how Layman has been able to lead us to this point without it feeling forced. Not only did Tony "allow" the horrible event to happen (at least Layman is implying that he's feeling some guilt about it), but he seems to think it was his fault because of how ineffectual he was for so many issues leading up to issue #30. Layman took his time dragging Tony through the shit and then putting him in a hospital bed for a while, so now Tony isn't taking shit from anyone. It's a fascinating transition, because on the one hand, the reader is expected to pump our fist and say "Fuck yeah!" when Tony kicks ass in this issue, but then he immediately does something that makes us slam on the brakes and wonder if he's in his right mind. All of these moments have been hard-earned by both Tony and the reader, which is why it has such an impact. The reader knows that it's not Tony's fault, but at the same time, it's understandable why he feels that way. So his reaction is in line with what we'd expect, but are we willing to condone his more extreme behavior? That's the conundrum that Layman has set up in this issue, and it's thanks to the years of development of the character that we're on the horns of such a dilemma.
The issue isn't all deep thoughts, however - it's still Chew. The issue begins with Colby at Director Applebee's house, and it's more wonderful comic dialogue, timing, and artwork. Applebee is upset that Tony told him to fuck off last issue, and he's bawling about it to Colby.
There's some funny stuff, obviously, as Colby finds out that Applebee sent Tony on assignment with the Navy, and he's more than a little upset about that. Caesar shows up, but Applebee doesn't let Colby go, and then the director of the USDA shows up, and things get really bad. This gives us some foreshadowing for what's to come (I already know one plot point that's coming up, although it's not too important because I tell Layman I DON'T WANT TO KNOW IMPORTANT STUFF!) and also transitions easily into the main plot, which is Tony trying to track down the second-in-command of the Church of the Immaculate Ova with the help of some Navy dudes. Layman goes for the cheap joke by making all the sailors stereotypical Village People types, and it's one of those things that could completely backfire, but for two things: Guillory lays it on thick with the visual stereotypes, while Layman really doesn't with the way the dudes speak and act. The dichotomy between the visual and the textual is brilliant because it doesn't become silly and it's even understated - Chew can be strangely subtle at times, and while Guillory puts all the sailors in cut-off sleeves and half-shirts, they're definitely not stereotypes.
Once they go on the mission, Layman once again undercuts our expectations. Tony has a secret weapon, but when it's time to use it, it's not what we expect and it's hilarious. The fight between the bad guy and Tony is nicely done - although I'm not sure if the tack that Tony uses would really work - and then we get the dramatic and gripping ending. It's not quite as "one-and-done" as some issues of Chew - there's usually a food-based crime the characters need to solve, with the bigger arc moving along around them, but in this issue, Layman focuses on the grand plot. It's still a nice little "case," though - Tony succeeds with his mission, even though he doesn't play it strictly by the book.
Layman keeps us abreast of everything that's going on - we understand that Colby is in a bit of a romantic bind, we understand that he's working a case with Caesar, and we find out why Tony is a bit more angry than he might otherwise be. Surprisingly, Layman doesn't update us on Tony's food-based power, which he often does, but he does give us yet another interesting food-based power, even though it's surprising he hasn't done it yet.
Guillory is always good, and that doesn't change here. The first scene, with Colby and Applebee, is superb because Guillory is always excellent with facial expressions, and his disappointment when finding out that Tony got to go on a mission with the Navy is priceless. Guillory throws in the usual Easter eggs - Tony passes Bikini Bottom at one point - and gets to draw a double-page spread, because Layman knows he can nail those motherfuckers, so he keeps making Guillory draw them! As usual, the coloring is wonderful, with a beautifully colored panel on the penultimate page. It's a gorgeous book, which isn't surprising at all.
This is the middle of a story arc, so it's probably not the best place to jump on, but really, every issue gives you plenty of reasons to read. Chew #33 is funny, sure, and it's exciting, as usual, and it's impressive that Layman is able to take it to some dark places without losing those things. I always encourage you to check the book out, and I'll do it again. Read Chew #33! Read Chew in general!