Review - Hungry Ghosts #1 (@DarkHorseComics)

"Do you know of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, lost one?"

Ghost stories have endured history. There's something appealing about the mystery surrounding an event as the unknown makes it that much more terrifying. In Hungry Ghosts #1 from Dark Horse Comics, characters gather to recount tales and see who can stick around until the last candle dies out. The issue is written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli ("Kaidan" and "The Starving Skeleton") and Vanesa Del Rey ("The Pirates"), colored by José Villarrubia and lettered by Sal Cipriano.

On a dark, haunted night, a Russian oligarch dares a circle of international chefs to play the samurai game of 100 Candles--where each storyteller spins a terrifying tale of ghosts, demons and unspeakable beings--and prays to survive the challenge. First course: With bad consequence, a ramen chef refuses to help a beggar, and a band of pirates get more (and less) than they were bargaining for after their encounter with a drowning woman turns ghastly.

Taken individually, there's not a lot too terrifying about the story by Bourdain and Rose in Hungry Ghosts #1. The first story really sets the stage for the issue, while the second and third stories are where the true "horror" lives. The script is pretty slick and straightforward, effectively letting the reader know the stakes and the morals of the stories themselves. And the pacing is perfect, in that Bourdain and Rose don't really crash through anything; rather, there's a steady cadence to the work that lets the tales unfold naturally. And there's something to be said about the allure of a centuries old story, as both Bourdain and Rose capture the spirit (no pun intended) of the tales as they were originally intended by the samurai at the time.

Ponticelli illustrates the first two stories in a way that's befitting of the era the book is evoking. He deftly blends together the look of the chefs and guests at the dinner party in "Kaidan" with the more Japan-centric look of the characters in "The Starving Skeleton." Del Rey has a lot of fun in "The Pirates," illustrating the crew of the pirate ship as what one would expect pirates to look like while making the main protagonist something of a hidden monster. Despite the different artists, the stories still seem to share a larger sense of cohesiveness and isn't particularly jarring to the reader. Villarubia's colors are pale and washed out, further emphasizing the story's tie to its past.

Hungry Ghosts #1 is an anthology of sorts that's held together by an overarching, pervasive sense of doom. The concept of the 100 Candles game is actually pretty chilling when considering its context in the era it was created. All three stories do a fantastic job in rendering the concept of 100 Candles, with Bourdain and Rose emphasizing the simplicity of the terror. The artwork by Ponticelli and Del Rey is a great fit for the book's message. Hungry Ghosts #1 is a fun anthology that plays with a centuries old tale of horror.

Hungry Ghosts #1 is available January 31.