This week, we’re handing out the Second Annual Comics Daily awards – one per day – between Christmas and New Year. Each award has been written up by a member of the Comics Daily team after a consensus was reached, and highlights what we feel have been the best of superhero comics this year.
Best New Series: Chew
It almost goes without saying for any entertainment medium, but feels especially true of comics, that ideas are paramount right now. With so many comics out there – both contemporaneously, and throughout seven or eight decades of published comic book history – if you’re launching something new and you don’t have a good enough hook, then you’re sunk; so, in this day and age – the higher concept, the better. Meanwhile, we’ve already discussed recently the growing influence that titles like Casanova are having on the industry – and one aspect of this is in not just providing a single “big” idea to drive a series, but to litter lots of small ones throughout. It’s a case of throwing every new concept that pops into your head onto the page, knowing that not all of them will stick, but that the ones that do will often have the reader shaking their head in awe at your bravura. It all makes for a rather fun time to be reading comics, at least if you’re looking at that slightly-below-the-top-layer-of-the-mainstream, creator-owned sort of area.
Chew is exemplary of this style of comic, on both counts. First off, the hook is simply terrific – the lead character, Tony Chu, is a “cibopath”; that is, someone who can get a psychic impression from something by eating it. It’s bonkers enough that no-one’s ever done it before, without being too absurd to want to read it. But Layman doesn’t stop with just one mad idea, and that’s what puts the book firmly in the “freewheeling” category – concepts come thick and fast, building a similar-yet-distinctly-alternate reality in which chicken is a contraband substance, hard-as-nails detectives have half-robotic reconstructed faces, and the FDA are the most powerful arm of the US government. Indeed, so packed is the book with ideas and characters that many can be picked up and exhausted within the space of a single issue. It makes for a read that’s often breathless, but never less than compelling.
Strong character work, too, has marked the series out even at this early stage – Chu is, despite his uncanny abilities, a bewildered everyman in the classic Arthur Dent mould, simply trying to come to terms with the rather insane world he’s been thrown into. And it’s to the writer’s credit that after just five issues, the massive twist at the end of the last arc came as such a gut punch. It’s a brave move to set up a status quo and then shatter and replace it so early on – you need to have the confidence that the reader will have been sufficiently hooked by the one you started, and that they’ll want to stick with you after the about-face. Happily, the first issue of the new storyline introduced another new character and dynamic that’s taken the book down a different but still intriguing route; and the current issue, released this very week, has once again reminded us that it’s a series in which nothing can be taken for granted.
Helping the feel that this is something fresh and exciting is the art of Rob Guillory – it’s energetic and vibrant, leaping off the page while coping well with some of the more surreal aspects that Layman throws in. I’ve mentioned it before, but there are hints of the likes of Jim Mahfood and Gabriel Ba in there, and it works well. It definitely makes for one of those situations where the book has hit the ground running as a package – writer and artist seem to share the same slightly warped aesthetic, and that’s always a good sign. It may not even have reached the end of its first year yet, but Chew is clearly already one to keep a vigilant eye on – it can sometimes be bewildering to see which quirky independent series catch the public’s imagination and the wave of the hype machine and which don’t, but in this instance, the fuss around it (just how many times has #1 been reprinted in various forms now?) seems justified.
Runners-up: SWORD, Irredeemable, Batgirl, Batman & Robin