Thursday, June 21, 2012

Skullkickers Vol 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body

Writer: Jim Zub
Artists: Edwin Haung & Chris Stevens
Company: Image Comics

Call me late to the party with this one. Part of that has to do with the tons and tons of comics that come out every week that seem to pile up on each other. Another part of it was that I never heard what the story in Skullkickers was actually about. No one came out and said, "Hey, this is Dungeons & Dragons distilled in a Hyperdrive and served with a chilled dose of sarcasm." If someone had done that, I don't think I'd be coming late to the game. Still, I'm glad that I came. From the foreword written by popular games designer Robin Laws, who does a solid job of summing up role-playing games and the themes that this book tackles, to the book's ability to cut through all of the bullshit and start with the words, "Who ever
heard of a fat werewolf?" I knew a good time was in store.

This line quickly speaks to the first selling point of Skullkickers: The Humor. The humor is on the front lines and really does ring true in almost every instance that it appears. This is mainly due to the fact that it's actually funny instead of just bland humor that you've heard a dozen or so times before. Imagine Army of Darkness by way of Willow and you've got a good idea of what to expect from this. If you've ever played any role-playing game or have used a D20 in your life, then you'll get a ton of the jokes that occur here, but such an experience isn't necessary, it merely enhances the contents. The jokes are still funny. That's due entirely to the excellent script that Jim Zub, who helms the new Pathfinder comic that is soon to hit shelves, has concocted.

As for a second selling point, that would be the action. While the story of The Dwarf and The Big Guy (the actual names of our two main characters) might be a little light in the character department, it is filled to the brim with action. Demonic swarms, zombies, necromancers, thiefs...You name it and they'll kill it. Well, for a price that is. These two guys, armed with their strength, blades, a few wisecracks, and a gun (Steampunk in appearance), are the ultimate adventurers. They love beer and treasure equally and while they might not know it or not, as they strive to retrieve the dead body of a beloved (and snooty) royal that was passing through and got killed in the town that they happened to be calling home, they are being dragged deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

The art by Edwin Huang may in fact be the strangest thing about the book though. Why do I say that? Well, it's because his style quickly brings a single word to mind. And that word is cute. It's not often that such a descriptor can be put into play, but the line work reminds me of something that I would have sat down to watch on a Saturday Morning when I was a kid. There aren't any rainbows or hearts floating about (thank god), just copious amounts of blood and body parts and vast amounts of energy. Huang really does do a great job of translating Zub's scripts though. He handles the over the top action, makes it exciting, and I love the range of emotion that he is able to map onto the character's faces. Now, helping things out a bit here are the very bright colors provided by Misty Coats. It seems a little out of the ordinary for a Fantasy story to be this bright, but somehow she makes it work. The only complaint that I might throw out there about the art, is that there were a few panels, mostly during the action, that feel unclear. It isn't too detrimental to the story, but it breaks down the flow slightly.

For $9.99, this trade is a steal. Especially when you consider the character sketches and the added short stories that are thrown in at the end. The story titled Gotcha! is probably one of the strongest three page stories that I've seen. It's hilarity is only rivaled by the super strong artwork by Chris Stevens. His take is decidedly different from Huang, much more realistic and traditional sword and sorcery, but I don't know if I can call it better. All in all, Skullkickers had me guffawing and instilled in me a need to sit down with some friends and beat the ever-loving snot out of some Gnolls.

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