When Image Comics launched in the early 90s, they represented everything I hated about the industry at that time. Flashy and anatomically impossible art, zero characterisation, characters with verbs instead of names, scripts that would have been laughed out of a first year English class. Horrible, horrible, horrible. After struggling through a few issues of Todd McFarlane's Spawn (partly because I'd been a fan of his Spider-Man art and partly because he at least tried to get proper writers involved - including Alan Moore, Dave Sim and Grant Morrison) I gave up on the company altogether.
In recent years though, Image has reinvented itself. While it is still home to Liefeld and McFarlane, it's also become one of the more pioneering publishers in the market, breaking away from the superhero formula to bring back proper horror comics (The Walking Dead), grim detective drama (Fell), political espionage and satire (The Nightly News) - even indie music books (Phonogram). It's taken over from Vertigo and Dark Horse as the place to go to discover pioneering creator-owned books, and it finally seems to be gaining a decent reputation for publishing "hot" comics that aren't just hot because the artist was paid obscene amounts for doing bob-all in the 90s.
Chew, one of the company's latest success stories, tells the tale of police detective Tony Chu, a cibopath who is able to get psychic impressions from any food he eats. If he eats an apple he'll get flashes of orchards and pesticide. If he eats a burger, he'll relive the terror of a slaughterhouse. And if he gnaws on the flesh of a recently murdered corpse...
It's a pretty high-concept pitch, but when you strip away the ick-factor it's no less credible than certain "super-powered" US TV detectives on shows like Monk, The Mentalist or Lie To Me. Writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory aren't pitching for 100% realism either: more a quirky, fun cartoon realism that stops the horror of Tony Chu's ability becoming too wince-inducing. They've also set up a strong supporting cast and intriguing back story that appears to be driving the book beyond just a case-by-case format. Tony's adventures take place in a world where chicken has been criminalised following a massive bird flu epidemic and a black market in illegal chicken farming has developed. He has a sadistic boss and a partner who knows more than he's letting on, a brother who's a disgraced TV chef, and his potential love interest is a restaurant critic with special powers of her own - she's a saboscrivner, someone who writes about food so vividly that you can taste it while reading her work.
Chew offers a smorgasbord of imagination, humour, horror, intrigue and excitement, and the creators obviously have big plans for their cast. Add to this the fact that the first volume is available for £4.82 on Amazon (containing 5 issues, that's just over 96p a comic - when was the last time you bought a new comic for 96p?) and volumes 2 and 3 aren't much more expensive... I'll definitely be adding this book to my regular menu.