By Bo Stewart — I miss Chew…a lot. With that book (which, by the way, ended in November 2016 after having won two Eisner and two Harvey Awards) writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory created a world that, quite frankly, scratched an itch that I didn’t even know I had. Put simply, Chew was a ridiculous comic—in all the right ways. It was zany yet self-aware, set in a fictional world that had a strict set of rules its narrative followed. It was great, and, as I said, I miss it...a lot.
So, when Rob Guillory’s Farmhand was announced (this time with Guillory writing and drawing), I started to eagerly anticipate that old Chew feeling coming back, or scratching that itch, so to speak. This week’s Farmhand #5 marks the conclusion of the Guillory’s new book’s first act, and I can confidently say he has re-captured the intangible qualities that made Chew really click for me. At the same time, with Farmhand Guillory is telling a bold story in its own right.
To me, the last issue of any first arc is an extremely important one, essentially answering the pivotal question of whether it has legs to go for dozens of issues, or whether it’s just a fun idea with maybe not as much narrative meat on its bones. Five issues into Farmhand, I feel like we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what this story and world have to offer. Really, I can see this narrative going in several different directions, and I’m eager to see which path Guillory decides to take.
Thematically, Farmhand is interested in weighty subject matter such as familial legacy and reaping what you sow. The plot follows the Jenkins Family Farm, which has created a seed that can be used to grow new human body parts. This makes for a funny visual, but moreover this premise is used to ask tough questions about mankind’s scientific progress. Questions such as: were we meant to cross these boundaries? If so, what is the personal cost? It’s poignant stuff, seeing as we now live in a world where 3-D printing vital organs is a reality. Farmhand’s themes are becoming increasingly relevant as our real world scientific progress continues to accelerate, and exploring them through an agricultural lens here is a brilliant stroke of storytelling.
Meanwhile, the book is also interested in how the seeds we sow to get ahead later come to affect our personal relationships just as much as they do our professional lives. In this story, the Jenkins family patriarch, Jed, is so focused on his business that he misses the ill will he’s harvesting (yes, that’s a farm joke) with his own family. His farm comes under threat by shady Russian agents and rival companies, and it only serves to distract Jed further from the growing fractures between himself and his children.
On a visual level, the artistic details that go into Guillory’s pages are impressive. Each one is packed with little jokes and asides that readers could very well miss if they don’t take a second to focus. Something as simple as writing Bro on a jock’s hat is a fun way to give readers information about the characters and world. In this issue alone, we get gems such as Hospitals: a great place to meet your demise, or Newspaper: Yeah, we’re still in print. It’s self-deprecatory, but always in good fun. These details are also more than just quick laughs, contributing much to both the world and the story.
Overall: Farmhand #5 is, like the rest of this first arc, a wildly fun comic. It covers deep thematic ground while never taking itself too seriously. Striking that balance requires skillful storytelling, and I can’t wait to see where Guillory takes us in arc two. 8.5/10
Writer: Rob Guillory
Artist: Rob Guillory
Colorist: Taylor Wells
Letterer: Kody Chamberlain
Publisher: Image Comics
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Bo grinds for the man by day so he can create comics by night. He is the lesser half of the Stewart Brothers writing team and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @stewart_bros