Image continues its run of excellent debut issues with Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj's "Starve" #1, a comic with a dark sense of humor and a protagonist reminiscent of Warren Ellis' bleary-eyed, sarcastic best. It's a handsome book with colors that compliment its stylized linework. There are a couple trouble spots, but nothing that is so distracting that it takes away from the story, making for a compelling read.
Brian Wood develops another reality that, much like "DMZ," is just close enough to real life to make its impact meaningful. In a world where the free market has collapsed and global warming has left coastal areas of the United States underwater, the swelling lower class and elite both prop up one of television's most popular shows, a reality cooking series called "Starve." The show was created by middle aged celebrity chef Gavin Cruikshank, a well-traveled man whose walkabout several years ago left his show in the hands of a rival chef and his money and possessions in the hands of an estranged wife still bitter about his sexual awakening during their marriage. When a representative from the network brings Cruikshank back to the States to fulfill his television contract, the chef realizes what he's left behind is worth fighting for and must crawl his way back through the mess he'd made to take back what is his.
Under Wood's keyboard, Cruikshank is Anthony Bourdain channeling Spider Jerusalem, crotchety but immensely talented, a person running from who he is and thinking that is the same as finding oneself. The dialogue is funny and Wood delivers another series full of three-dimensional characters that will most likely continue to reveal themselves as the story continues. Cruikshank has an entertaining voice, not too mean and not too funny, driven while still relatable. His narration drives the issue and it keeps the plot moving along in an entertaining fashion. His catty thoughts on every character are laid bare and supplemented by artist Daniel Zezelj's expressionistic art. Zezelj's work manages to be dark and scratchy while still being coherent. Lots of inky blacks and angular designs are on display, which helps underline the bleaker worldview contained here.
Colorist Dave Stewart washes many of the scenes in complimentary shades of the same color, which creates an eye-catching effect. It adds to both Zezelj's art and Wood's script, calling out important characters and visuals in many panels on the page. This technique lends more weight to the climax of the issue and really helps give a visceral element to the option presented to Cruikshank on the closing pages. It also helps discern characters from one another, as some of Zezelj's work winds up a little too dark or too stiff and needs a pop of yellow or a purple highlight to help them stand out from their surroundings. There are a couple moments in the story that don't hit quite as hard as the script would seem to want, as the facial acting in some scenes is a little wooden. It's not so distracting that it takes away from the action, but it was noticeable, especially when his art is so expressive in other moments, like the board room scene between the network, Gavin and his estranged wife Greer.
"Starve" #1 is a well-paced and entertaining introduction to a character driven story about a man who is forced to take back the life that was once his. Wood gives readers a mission statement to end the issue, and Zezelj and Stewart are a dynamite pair on visuals. The writer's track record of great characters and compelling plots bodes well for the future of this series, and it has the potential for cross-media appeal. Image may have another hit on their hands with this series.