Outer Darkness/Chew is a crossover comic series by Image Comics published in a trade on September 9, 2020. The book is surprisingly appropriate for both series’ tones. Both series creator John Layman works with his co-creators Afu Chan (artist of Outer Darkness) and Rob Guillory (artist of Chew) for hijinks, with some assistance in lettering by Pat Brosseau.
Outer Darkness is about the crew of Starship Charon, a USS Enterprise-like vessel that encounters the occult. This includes Cosmic Horrors, similar to Lovecraft monsters. Chew revolves around Tony Chu, a health investigator who gets psychic impressions of whatever he eats. This includes acts of cannibalism. Despite these horrifying premises, Layman turns them into black comedy for over-the-top jokes. So what happens when you put two spiritually similar series together?
Outer Darkness/Chew: Self-Awareness
Outer Darkness/Chew begins in a pretty typical circumstance for crossovers; one side needs help from the other. The Charon crew summons Tony (and John Colby) for help in a situation requiring his abilities. One would expect this to be possible through things like time travel since Layman is writing this. It isn’t, but anything specific would be spoilers like Colby does when he gathers intel about their situation. The Chew cast really steals the show thanks to their sense of awareness and quirky personalities, unlike the Outer Darkness crew, where despite the interesting setting, are mostly just played for gags. It’s nice to see characters like Outer Darkness’s Chief Exorcist Malachi Reno act accordingly to Colby’s smarmy dialogue with a punch to the groin. Because you can only do so much with Star Trek parodies, deaths of characters nobody really cares about, and an irresponsible captain getting away with it.
The art shifts between Afu Chan and Rob Guillory display both the tone and attitude of the story. Chan’s style looks more serious with its detailed anatomy, expressiveness, and overall dark environments. It really displays a calm, if not an apathetic, aesthetic that gets occasionally interrupted by a sudden emotional scene, unlike Guillory’s more bright and cartoony aesthetic. In fact, the clever use of Tony and Colby’s transport into Outer Darkness perfectly foreshadows the background theme. This results in a change in art styles resembling going through drafts. It also demonstrates how, despite the change, Tony and Colby don’t really fit in. Outer Darkness is about one-time gags, unlike Chew’s propensity for things biting back, hence why the apathetic atmosphere in Outer Darkness threatens the Chew characters.
Layman and Pat Brosseau take turns in lettering in Outer Darkness/Chew. If past reviews are any indication, Brosseau does his timekeeping pace through the dialogue. Layman is more than likely the one doing the captions with self-referential humor. Each with styles that seem appropriate for the task at hand. Yellow and black captions for issue references and stylistic captions for a holographic England setting. This helps bring out the humor between the ensuing story.
Outer Darkness/Chew For Layman Fans
In all considerations, Outer Darkness/Chew represents something about John Layman. His self-awareness allows him to muster any trope or cliche and bring out the most absurd aspects. This allows him and his co-creators to break the rules of storytelling convention and play them to their beats. One that brings out the strengths and weaknesses of two series. It actually wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this series might’ve pushed for the development of Chew’s sequel Chu.