I’ll admit, I was perhaps a tad harsh of my examination of Image’s new Skullkickers series. Last month saw the title debut from writer Jim Zubkavich and artists Chris Stevens and Edwin Huang. Even before it had premiered the net was all abuzz (well, the comic sites at least) about the impending awesomeness and popularity of the series. However apart from a cool name and a Dungeons and Dragons-like vibe, not much was known about it.
So, when I read Skullkickers #1 last month I was somewhat disappointed, but now that I’ve read the follow-up I can appreciate it for what it is. In age of similarly hyped Image series such as Chew and Morning Glories the lack of complexity and “big ideas” in Skullkickers was…unexpected and really, quite a brave move in this age of long reaching epics that require dedicated minds and wallets. To go against the grain is rather brave and honestly, Skullkickers, like all the other hyped titles before it was always going to leave some lack of satisfaction. It’s not Skullkicker’s fault though. It’s actually quite enjoyable, especially now that I’ve read the second issue and had time to let the hype die down.
The first issue was a simple story, but with enough charm and action and light, impressive visuals to make it worthy of a look. This second issue begins in the same manner, with the un-named pair of main characters (a grouchy dwarf with an axe and a hulking bald man with a pistol) battling ugly monsters. After the fight, there’s a great page in which the duo do their best to casually walk away from the fire they’ve just unwittingly caused, with an unconscious victim as a captive. The townspeople gather and watch in horror and react in different ways. This well constructed scene sums up the series rather nicely, with a deft mix of cheeky and likeable leads causing mayhem in their adventurous wake. It’s like a long lost cartoon from the wonderful ‘80s re-imagined for today’s audience.
Zubkavich has described the series in interviews as an unapologetic “beer and pizza” tale that doesn’t demand much and admittedly that didn’t jive with this fanboy’s expectations as a devoted weekly comics buyer who expects his sequential art stories to build layer upon layer until they become a maze of confusing backstories with a cast of thousands. I do enjoy films that I can switch my brain off too, so really, why should my comics be any different? Skullkickers is like that; a Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme film, but which looks like a Michael Bay production, and that’s the other charming quality about this series. It looks great. Edwin Huang and Misty Coats concoct an unusual take for fantasy comics, with a light, fun and energetic approach, but one which suits the fast moving plot. Every page is bristling with energy and filled with the warm glow of some gnarled witch’s smoking cauldron. The colourful palette aids the loose manga-like pencils superbly and makes sure that even in potentially darker moments, like an interrogation and stick-up scene, the pages are still warm and fuzzy and as likeable as our mercenary duo.
Skullkickers seems almost cut from the same cloth as Scott Pilgrim, with an appreciation of what us big kids love, with a healthy dose of wide-eyed wonder and nostalgia for pop culture tropes. With goblins (“Humans suck!”) lots of action, wise cracking tough guys and great looking pages, it’s that rare beast in comics –something that’s rather fun and funny. Comedy can be hard to pull off on the printed page, but with great pacing and expression and effective visual gags such as the just-visible top of the dwarf’s head at the bottom of a panel as he speaks, Skullkickers is a book that we can breeze through and not take too seriously.
The second printing of #1 is now available and along with #2 it’s a good buy for a newbie. You don’t have to wait until the Trade is out, as the story is so accessible you can jump right in now.
The dialogue is modern, but not jarringly so and like the rest of the book is a great mix of elements that could easily be annoying or try-hard. Zubkavich weaves a deft balancing act though, and an entertaining one to boot. I’d still like to see something happen, rather than a series of encounters but that looks set to change next issue with the pair perhaps gaining a nasty surprise from their robbery victims.
Not more is revealed about the characters or their fantasy world (shorty and baldy seem to be nick-names, but that doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know) but as Zubkavich explains in his afterword, it’s an intentional choice and their real names will appear in a future issue.
I rarely pick up a second issue from all the new series I give the benefit of the doubt too, but Skullkickers looks set to be worthy of my dedication, despite my initial hesitation. I’m glad it proved me wrong.