Starve reminds me of a Shakespearean tragedy: the good guys are also the bad guys, and the worst guys have the best lines.The cover features a jowly man with a wide face and deep-set eyes holding the flat end of a knife to his lips, as if to kiss the knife or perhaps slaughter a victim. By looks alone, he makes an easy villain.
The reader soon learns that he is Gavin Cruikshank, a disgraced celebrity chef. At one point, Gavin left the relative anonymity of the kitchen for the publicity of prime-time television to bring an understanding of food and culture to the masses. When the economy collapsed and ratings went down, the network booted Gavin from the show.
Then, after coming out to Greer, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Cruikshank was banished from his home and lost control of his assets and daughter Angie. As Starve begins, Gavin is living in exile in Southeast Asia, where food and drink, his onetime passion, now serve as a distraction from the world around him.
One day, a representative from his old network tracks Gavin down. Having Gavin reappear on his old show can make the network money, and since a contract with the network is still a contract with the network, he heads back to New York.
“My show, my money, my daughter,” Gavin thinks. “I’m coming for all of it.”
Like many of Shakespeare’s characters, Gavin holds the moral high ground in this morass, but his self-centeredness interferes with his ability to see the bigger problems, including his role in creating Starve in the first place and his role as an absentee father, even before his self-imposed exile.
The New York that Gavin has returned to has changed: waters are rising and food shortages are common. Gavin’s show has also changed: it is now run by his rival, and Angie’s godfather, Roman Algiers, and has shifted its values away from the educational and towards the spectacle. Contestants on Starve might be asked to slaughter a live pig on TV, or they might be challenged to find now-illegal tuna. Starve truly is the opiate of the masses: it allows viewers at home to feel included in privilege.
As readers, we can appreciate the potential impact a show like Starve might have on the world; we see desolate cityscapes painted in dreary tones where the brightest and sharpest item in the landscape is a billboard advertising the next week’s episode. Both the city streets and the Starve arena are drenched in artificial lights that splatter the page like drops of blood. In an age of mass culture, the things to fear the most are what’s broadly available and widely accessible. There are no shadows in this world.
The colors are smoky and shadowy throughout and the juxtaposition of images gives readers an uncanny feeling. For example, there’s a page with a background of New York City against an inset panel of Gavin lighting up a cigarette at the top of the panel, as if he’s about to set the entire city on fire.
Perhaps my largest frustration with Starve was that while it was visually coherent, the world itself felt like a mashup of A Clockwork Orange and Walter Benjamin’s nightmare. That is to say, I enjoy apocalyptic settings as much as the next reader, but each apocalyptic setting should be unhappy in its own way.
As Gavin himself says, “This is some Brave New World stuff going on here, and I understand barely any of it.” I understand barely any of this world, but I’d like to see it continue to be developed in future issues.
Starve, vol. 1
by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart
Image Comics, 2016