"Hungry Ghosts #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
Illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli and Vanesa Del Ray
Colored by Jose Villarrubia
2018, 32 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on January 31st, 2018
I have a love / hate relationship with comic anthologies. They can be a great showcase of talent from a variety of different creators, but they can also become a jumbled mess if they lack a cohesive theme. I'm happy to say that Hungry Ghosts does not suffer from that problem. Helmed by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, the comic delves into Japanese folklore with the Edo period game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. No, I can't pronounce that either. Basically, there are 100 candles lit in a dark room and people take turns telling scary stories and hoping spirits and demons don't kill them. I'm oversimplifying it, but the concept perfectly lends itself to the comic anthology medium.
The setting for Hungry Ghosts is a little unsettling. There's a feeling of dread, like something fishy is going on. A wealthy Russian oligarch has called for a dinner for friends and colleagues, catered by some of the top international chefs. I would not be surprised if someone asks to eat human meat by the end of the evening. It's got that kind of vibe. He then asks the cooks to participate in this game and tell their own stories. Each one involves food in some way.
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Both of the tales told in Hungry Ghosts #1 are solid and more than a little creepy. “The Starving Skeleton,” illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli (who also draws the dinner scenes), deals with a familiar theme, although I haven't seen it put this way before. It's more disturbing here. A homeless man begs for food, working as a test of moral fiber for people. If he's given something, he'll leave, but if not, he'll stalk them with a haunting “Gachi-Gachi-Gachi” sound.
Ponticelli creates a jaw-dropping splash image of a massive skeleton that hits like a punch to the gut. You can see it in the preview pages in this post. I used to think that a skeleton in horror was little more than a crappy Halloween costume. This shot has changed my opinion of it. What puts the image over the top are the wisps of hair emanating from the skull. It doesn't have any skin or muscle, but it has a few strands of hair that have to be absolutely filthy.
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The second tale, “The Pirates,” illustrated by Vanesa Del Ray, has a different approach. It takes a little longer to get to the scares, but when it does, it's chilling. A woman is rescued by a group of pirates and forced to perform sexual acts. She begrudgingly accepts this fate, but quickly turns the tables on the crew. She reveals her true self by the end and it's like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft story. This is an unnatural abomination that's almost tough to look at.
Hungry Ghosts is off to a great start. If this is the caliber of story we get from the first issue, I'm excited to see what the rest of the series will bring. I imagine that each chef will try to one-up the previous one with scarier tales.