Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Hungry Ghosts’ #1, the debut of Dark Horse Comics’ Berger Books.

Cover to 'Hungry Ghosts' #1. Art by Paul Pope/Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics

Cover to ‘Hungry Ghosts’ #1. Art by Paul Pope/Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics

By Arpad Okay. Karen Berger, to the surprise of no one, knew exactly what she was doing when she put Hungry Ghosts together.

Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose have set the table — Berger Books’ auspicious debut — with a culturally diverse and pleasingly authentic group. The kitchen staff as it ought to be. However, Bourdain’s voice unites them, carries through the book. The storytellers aren’t reduced to mouthpieces, but if you’re in it for the sharp tongue of Tony, it’s present in full effect. Hungry Ghosts is punk rock. It’s a meeting of warriors. The cuisine culture laced throughout it, ever-present but virtually unspoken, is a delicate touch, the perfect amount of seasoning. Nods to the sea and its contents, the culture of street food, kitchen talk, Ghosts (of course) gets it right.

Any book that includes Vanesa Del Rey immediately gets my complete attention. She is one of the foremost artists in the industry when it comes to combining the erotic and the grotesque, and the weird, raunchy, culturally diverse pages of Ghosts are tailor-made for talent like hers. Del Rey is phenomenal at capturing robust women in a way that is both arousing and respectful. And then, her out-and-out alarming sea creature metamorphosis is kissy-fingers-to-the-sky perfect, utterly Del Rey’s wheelhouse. The whole story is sealed by that final look, a Lovecraft vibe she modernizes. Wild imagination dynamically interpreted, that’s what we want from comics. The sass of the dialog and the spin of the tale are made legitimate by Del Rey.

Interior page to 'Hungry Ghosts' #1. Art by Vanesa Del Rey, José Villarrubia and Sal Cipriano/Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics

Interior page to ‘Hungry Ghosts’ #1. Art by Vanesa Del Rey, José Villarrubia and Sal Cipriano/Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics

Equally on point is Alberto Ponticelli’s skeleton ghost and onibaba host. His work evokes both manga yokai and ancient woodcut. The subject is carried straight through the centuries by adhering to rich cultural tradition, and Ponticelli’s solid style is one with it. The setting is unmistakably now, yet not at odds with a story whose essence is ancient. It’s updated, and just what Hungry Ghosts intends: to add to the existing oeuvre.

The supernatural side of Hungry Ghosts allows the creative team to flex some subtle, crafty muscles. Ghosts are seated with guests for a panel, the dark room on the far side of a mirror becomes the dining hall in the moment a tale of terror climaxes. It’s small moments like these that give Ghosts an air of sophistication despite the bawdy, penny dreadful stories being told. The idea that the stories will get better and scarier with time is also a genius move for a serial book. Expect greatness.

Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics/$3.99

Written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose.

Art by Alberto Ponticelli and Vanesa Del Rey.

Colors by José Villarrubia.

Letters by Sal Cipriano.

Edited by Karen Berger.

8.5 out of 10

The table is set for the January 31 release of ‘Hungry Ghosts’ #1.

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