Some writers struggle for months, sometimes years, for an idea that others consider good enough to print. Others, like Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders, Generation X), get books published about a reclusive celebrity chef drifting through a dystopian future world before being forced back into the spotlight to compete on a reality style cooking show to entertain a crowd of 1 (or .1) percenters. That being said, if the writer is able to pen a story this good with a premise like that, readers are likely to keep buying books on the sole merit that they were written by Brian Wood.
At the crux of Starve is Gavin Cruikshank, a former foodie TV host for a quaint show about cooking techniques from around the world. When we first meet our hero, he’s disheveled, off the grid, and buying a round of soju for a group of lost souls in “Southeast Asia: Somewhere.” He’s tracked down by a network employee with a work order for eight more episodes per contractual obligation, which somehow motivates him to board a private jet for New Jersey. Gavin is mysterious, charismatic, and can best be described as a mix between Transmetropolitan’s Spider Jerusalem and Alton Brown.
Cruikshank takes his morning fatty with a side of exposition
Close, but no Death Stix
And therein lies this book’s first hurdle. Although the comparison is too early to be deserved, something about a mad genius being pulled out of self-exile and back into a future that is depressing enough to fall on the side of social critique invokes the familiar images of a smiling cue ball with round red and green glasses. To be fair, if all comic books were compared to Transmetropolitan, I would write very few positive reviews, and the similarities are faint enough to seem unintentional. In Starve’s defense, Cruikshank – not unlike Spider – is a large personality and clearly a larger force behind this story than even the plot. If you take him out of this story and put him in any other, he would arguably maintain or steal focus within his first few pages. He’s dark, deep, and complex enough to reject wealth and fame in a world that is suffering from mass poverty. Even if you aren’t invested in this universe by the end of issue one, you are invested in Gavin Cruikshank.
The World of Starve
The landscape in the story is similar enough to our modern world to hit close to home but with more advanced problems such as global warming and widespread food shortage to take the reader out of the real world. Once Gavin returns home, he finds New York is under a foot of water due to the planet’s changing weather conditions. His scorned ex-wife had him declared legally dead after he went missing. She knew he had likely run off but held a large grudge due to his coming out as a homosexual after 18 years of marriage, and she felt that she was owed the wealth and fame he left behind. On top of everything else, the TV show he created (which now belongs to his lawful widow) has devolved into a crass competition designed to entertain the super wealthy, starring Gavin’s long-time rival, Roman Algiers. There is a brief but touching moment when he reunites with his daughter, now an adult, and he wonders why he ever left in the first place; a question the writer will need to answer for much of this to make any sense.
To fulfill his contractual obligations to the network, Gavin appears on the show Starve as a challenger to Roman, the defending champion. Much like the real life Iron Chef, competitors are challenged to make a more exciting dish than their opponent while using the same key ingredient. Tonight’s featured ingredient: dog, the common meat. In this world, many lower class Americans are forced to eat man’s best friend due to a lack of alternative options, and Gavin’s job is to create a dish that his elitist audience would be willing to pay good money for. His reaction to the challenge is to cut off a slice of the raw carcass, look into the camera, and snap into it like Randy Savage.
I had no idea how much I was going to love this story. The cover does a great job of setting the tone, which is, essentially, a great big black cloud that hangs above your head as you read it. Sometimes, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I need to work myself up into a specific mood to be able to enjoy that type of story. Starve, on the other hand, is something I am likely to run to once the second issue is released. I immediately care about these characters, their goals, and what is likely to unfold as the story continues. Gavin Cruikshank manages to give of a hint of Spider Jerusalem without being copycat, and who knows, may have enough road ahead of him to become one of comic’s great characters. This book is well worth your $3, and will definitely make my pull list for months to come.
Images 1, 2, & 3 © 2015 Image Comics