ROGUE ELEMENT #135: CHEW FINAL THOUGHTS
CHEW written by John Layman, Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Reviewed by Avril Kulla
The last issue of CHEW hit the stands several weeks ago, and with it the much-anticipated final piece to a multi-layered, utterly bizarre, often hilarious, surprisingly heartbreaking and overall genius comic book series. Layman said from the beginning that CHEW was a finite series previously plotted out with an ending already in place; he had a story to tell and he needed sixty issues to tell it, and then the tale would end. Though I originally got into comics by reading perpetually ongoing superhero stories, I have mad respect for a storyteller who commits to his/her plan and follows through. If upon its completion a story leaves the reader wanting more, it is either such a thrilling and addictive world you cannot bear to part with it yet you accept the ending because it was awesome and complementary, or the story is lacking an essential element that gives it a sense of conclusion.
I needed time after finishing CHEW issue #60 to figure out which category the story fell into. Immediately after reading it my jaw was literally hanging open, inviting all manners of flies to nestle within the cavern of my astonishment. There may have been a ‘what the fuck?’ here and there, and certainly some scrolling was involved, both up and down, to insure that yes, I read/saw that correctly and no, there is no more story. As there was no one I could vent to in the moment, I boxed up my feelings and waited for my poor unsuspecting husband to come home. With his arrival brought forth the tsunami of feels ranging from confusion to frustration, back to the ‘what the fucks’ and thankfully ending in a healthy discourse of what the ending truly meant for the story. One of the many reasons I married Jesse is that, on occasion, he seems to know me better than I know myself, and in this case he let me spew forth my vitriol before engaging me in intelligent and insightful conversation, thereby revealing my true feelings about the CHEW conclusion.
Time was also needed for a decision to be made: in my final review of CHEW, the only comic of which I have reviewed every single issue, should I freely discuss the ending? Though I have no evidence my words have any effect on any individual’s decision whether or not to read this comic, I still cannot reveal blatant spoilers regarding the culmination of CHEW, if only for the hope that there is one person who may be inspired to pick up this utterly unique book and give it a spin. I refuse to be that chick who divulged the ending before someone has a chance to fall in love with the beginning.
That being said, there is a minor, vague spoiler I do feel comfortable in sharing, and that is a fair warning for anyone who needs a tidy little bow on their neatly wrapped up ending: you’re not going to find it in CHEW. Consider the finale to Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,’ or the original British ‘The Italian Job’ which closes with a literal cliffhanger. The central story was told but those last moments are an unforeseen monkey wrench which is vibrating with tension and the mystery of what happens next. My good friend Jack and I sat down one night to watch an old Paul Newman movie entitled ‘Fort Apache, The Bronx.’ From the start there was a particular feel to this film, entrenching it firmly in the ’70’s action noir category (despite it being released in 1981) and giving enough away that my perceptive, movie-fan friend accurately predicted the ending in the last few minutes. “Watch,” he said, “they’re totally going to end on a freeze-frame action shot, with them jumping over a wall chasing a bad guy. You just watch.” I did, and it did, and we couldn’t stop laughing.
But I suppose that is part of the point in ending on such a note, to get you thinking, talking, arguing, laughing, whatever. To get you fired up one way or another. Despite my initial ‘wtf’ reaction I realized Tony Chu made an unsurprising choice given what we knew about his character and what he endured throughout his life. The subsequent unseen consequences of his actions, well, we all get to wonder and debate what those might be. Though I was initially hung up over the idea of Tony not giving a rip whether his remaining living loved ones would suffer due to his choices, ultimately I realized there was no choice: this was who Tony was. He reacted extremely poorly to betrayal of known individuals with whom he shared a personal rapport, but regarding unknown entities who came into his life to harm him and his, there was no debate, no doubt, and no remorse. CHEW ended exactly how it should have, with a magnificent ‘what the fuck’ moment, followed by the thought this comic, and its creators, may be a bit batshit crazy, the realization that duh, of course they are and finally, the wave of varying emotional responses detailed above.
Comics have been a part of my life for almost fifteen years, and though it took me a long while to branch out from my familiar X-Men to other explorations of the medium, finding new, off-the-wall story arcs is now one of my favorite pastimes (as my budget allows). CHEW is a magnificent example of why the comic book exists: namely, it needs every storytelling aspect the comic book can provide. Still Art – Graphics are definitely needed to colorfully express the range of food powers displayed throughout the series. Writing – Where else would you find a story about people being able to do various things via food consumption, ranging from the awesome (power collector) to the um, what? (Immortal while stoned, paints tasty pictures, can string guitars with pasta, etc.). Captive Audience – Where else would you find readers more than willing to dive into such a random story?
Comic books never shine brighter than when a story like CHEW is there to be told. CHEW is one of the reasons comics endure. CHEW is one of the reasons people who aren’t into comics get into comics. CHEW is a defining moment in creative history, and proof that no matter how utterly cracked out your story idea may be, if you get coherent thoughts to paper and strike gold with a talented artist, then you have a career-defining tale to be told. You can be one of a kind.
As it turns out, converting someone to CHEW is not my primary goal with this column (though it is a close second); number one would have to be ideally inspiring someone to take action on their creative idea and do whatever it takes to see it in print one day. Then again, I think CHEW did that all on its own. One of the many reasons to be thankful for a comic like CHEW is not only giving a novel satisfaction for veteran comic lovers, or for enticing new readers into the fold, but for sparking a seed inside minds not even aware they could conjure something so singular. So here, I’ll make it simple: read CHEW and be transported. I cannot tell you where, I can only assure you’ll be more than pleased with the journey.