REVIEW: Skullkickers #1 and #2 (The Story So Far)

Skullkickers #1 and #2

Written by Jim Zubkavich

Art by Edwin Huang

Colors by Misty Coats
 
$2.99 / 32 Pages / Full Color 
 
Image Comics
 
First, an apology. I should've talked up Skullkickers a month ago when it first launched. Now, with the second issue hitting shelves tomorrow, there's still a chance to dive in. The elevator hasn't fully departed the ground floor. I've got the doors pried open and all you have to do is pounce. You can Indiana Jones this one. I'd never let you get decapitated or halved or anything. Not on my watch. So let's do this. 
 
There's no shortage of sword & sorcery comics out there, many of them following in the sandal prints of fantasists like Robert E. Howard or J.R.R. Tolkien. They're often a dice throw removed from a by-the-books Dungeons and Dragons session held in a cousin's basement. Paladins. Dwarves. Enchanted halberds. Potions. Yeti pelts. All those Wizards of the Coast. The kind of archetypes and cliches that have turned a genre with as broad and wondrous a name as "fantasy" into a familiar cycle. A whirlpool of sameness. Then, true novelty dwells in the eye of the Beholder, I suppose. And while Skullkickers certainly mines these very same troves, it's not so much a successor to the R.A. Salvatore paperbacks I read in the eight grade or to the pen and paper roleplaying games I tried a year or so later. No, this reads more like a tribute to Golden Axe. And if those two words mean anything to you, you'll understand just how great of news this really is. 
 
Skullkickers is a hack n' slash button masher, minus the calluses. No joystick, but plenty of joy.
 
We follow two mercenaries, a hulking human and a berserker dwarf who've yet to be named. Backmatter suggests we simply call them Baldy and Shorty respectively. They're old buddies in that familiar pseudo-medieval world of peasants and goblins and taverns. They contend with the peasants. They pummel the goblins. All so they can earn some gold and retire to the taverns for suds and seduction. They are violent by trade, but they also take pride and pleasure in their work. And if this particular milieu is located somewhere up your alley, you'll be grinning too. Much of the real estate in these first two issues concerns that hacking and slashing I mentioned. Shorty's got a pair of hatchets strapped to his back, and he uses them on everything from an overweight purple lycanthrope to a bulbous, animated corpse, and a throng of goblin bandits. Baldy dishes out justice with an admittedly anachronistic sidearm. It's all masterfully choreographed and transported me back to the New Jersey arcades of my youth, when fantasy was about charming a few more quarters out of my parents so I could dole out adolescent rage on some pixelated kobolds and ogres, and not reading about fur-footed halflings pausing for their eighth picnic in a 300 page-long forest. 
 
That's not to say that there isn't substance. Because there's also a royal assassination to contend with, a grand conspiracy with great political ramifications. But I want to stress just how refreshing all of this is. Writer Jim Zubkavish has fully embraced the concept of in media res, hurling us into the thick of the action and rarely pausing to ask the tedious questions that readers don't really care about in the first place. This is great world-building, showing rather than telling. I know what a goblin is. I don't mind that there's a gun in a setting where that might not seem feasible. That's not mindless. That's thoughtful. That's economic. Most of all, that's fun. 
 
The art itself is perfectly suited to this brand of story, bright and vibrant with a lush pallet. It's a style that would work quite well for animation, with dot-eyed, expressive characters, atmospheric backgrounds, and clean, easily-read movement and action. The lighthearted tone helps to balance the explosive carnage, though the monsters throughout are rendered in appropriately gruesome detail. It's important that this story move, and they've accomplished just that. 
 
Highly recommended for anyone who's cleaved a blade of grass with a cardboard tube. 
 
Story: 4     Art: 4     Overall: 4
 

For more information on Skullkickers including exclusive previews and behind the scenes images, check out www.skullkickers.com

Skullkickers #1 is on shelves now with a reprint on the way. Skullkickers #2 debuts this week. 

Comments

  1. Great Review Paul! Golden Axe sums this book up perfectly. it’s just really fun, and is actually a great mash up of a lot of the old medieval/fantasy stories that you describe, i even see a bit of Battle Chasers in this.

    What i really do enjoy the most is the dialogue and the pace at which the story has been moving. and last week the second printing came out, so if you did miss out on number one, grab that and issue two!

  2. The first issue was pretty fun. I’m sticking with this series.

  3. I can’t wait to read this… if my shop can ever get a copy… hopefully he will have #1 and #2 for me tomorrow

  4. aaaaaaaaaaaand no dice on #1 or #2 this week… at this rate I’ll be lucky to get the trade…

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Keep asking your shop to order the reprints.