Reality TV and dystopian societies are not an unfamiliar pair, but cooking shows and a dark futuristic society are not often used in the same sentence. That’s where Brian Wood’s latest comic Starve steps in. Taking place in a not-too-distant future where the world economy has collapsed worse than the 1929 Stock Market Crash, the vast amount of people are now poor, refugees, and/or homeless. A new reality TV show, called Starve, pits celebrity chefs against one another in brutal challenges to create dishes using incredibly rare or nearly extinct ingredients which are then consumed by the overwhelmingly wealthy judges. All while the public looks on, the images on the screen the closest they’ll ever come to tasting the dishes themselves. The creator of Starve, Gavin Cruikshank started it off as something similar to Anthony Bourdain’s show, it took off but never received much popularity until its reboot years later as a brutal competition show. Previously to this Cruikshank abandoned his family, his life, and his career and sent himself into exile, trying to escape the ever growing fame that was surrounding him. But with the growing popularity of his old show, after the rights changed hands, the production studio wants him back, and he needs the money. It is revealed that the current owner of Starve is actually his ex-wife with whom he is not on good terms with. His ex-wife wants Gavin to compete on the show, to reveal to the world that he is a failure. Though after seeing the current state of his only daughter’s relationship with him and his ex, he decides to compete, not for the glory, but to prove to himself and his daughter that he is the world’s greatest chef, and can achieve anything.
This is a pretty rudimentary summary of the first five issues of this series, it’s much more than a story of redemption in the face of adversity, and it is also much more than Brian Wood’s social commentary. Starve is both of these things and much, much more. This book is a wild, character driven drama, with an excellent premise that will keep you hooked the entire way through. Think The Running Man starring Anthony Bourdain, but instead of being hunted the contestants have to cook the most complicated dishes known to man. The heart and soul of this story is of course Cruikshank’s self-discovery, as we watch him grow from deadbeat to the father that should have always been there. But the best part of Starve for me are the fast paced cooking segments, where the host of the show (who happens to be Cruikshank’s old rival) forces Gavin into utterly difficult challenges, such as finding a tuna steak (now one of the rarest meats on the planet) in an hour.
The best dystopian fiction leaves us with a sense of dread, thinking how plausible what you just read actually is, or being able to see the parallels between fiction and reality. Starve’s society is one where the class gap has widened to an extreme, the rich live in high guarded skyscrapers and the poor huddle en masse to watch public viewings of Starve once new episodes air. Wood leaves us with a public who has become so enamored with entertainment that is their only refuge. This reality isn’t too far off from our own, all we need now is a huge economic collapse. The bottom line is that Wood does a really great job giving us a vision of a collapsing world desperate for salvation, while putting forth a strong character driven plot to run through the middle of all the chaos. On top of all this artist Danijel Zezelj’s art adds a sort of ordered madness to the whole thing, with shaky lines and odd angles bringing in a feeling of uneasiness to the comic. And of course Dave Stewart adding his signature color palettes to further enhance the dark tone of this book makes for some great reading. If you like cooking shows but wish they were way darker and allowed the chefs to kick the shit out of each other, Starve is the comic for you.
Starve Vol. 1 Writer: Brian Wood Artist: Danijel Zezelj Publisher: Image Comics Price: $9.99 Release Date: 1/13/16 Format: TPB; Print/Digital