Kickin' Skulls & Takin' Names

 Premiere article by, Matt Gorman
 Skullkickers vol. 1: 1,000 Opas & a Dead Body

Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Edwin Huang
Colors: Misty Coats
Covers: Chris Stevens
Publisher: Image Comics

Jim Zub and Edwin Huang rolled 20’s. If you’ve ever sat down to a tabletop RPG like Dungeons & Dragons or Paizo’s Pathfinder, then Skullkickers will make you feel right at home, absurdities included. Skullkickers, created and written by Jim Zub (Thunderbolts, Dungeons and Dragons) follows the misadventures and anti-heroism of two unnamed monster hunters. The best and only “names” they’ve been referred to by are the Big Guy (or Baldy) and Shorty. Set in a fantasy realm brimming with monstrosities the protagonists are immediately beset by werewolves, zombie-like abominations, and rogue assassins. Edwin Huang (Streetfighter Unlimited) is able to balance brutality with comedy in a dynamic and endearing style, while Misty Coats’ color work truly snaps every scene into three dimensions. With such excellent art, Jim Zub’s writing is on a solid foundation for expressive and truly entertaining storytelling.

The Big Guy, a towering man by any measure, looks like the sort of adventurer to wield a huge sword sheathed in fire, but in his case looks are very deceiving. Cocking akimbo six-shooter pistols, the Big Guy perforates his foes with savage efficiency before strong-arming them in melee. Shorty, on the other hand, has more personal sensibilities; a dwarf with a beard like Mufasa’s mane, clasped in two huge metal bands, Shorty gets in close with hand-axes and a love of wrestling. After the assassination of a visiting dignitary, the Skullkickers fly to action, the promise of gold spiking their interest. Little do the Big guy and Shorty know, there are much more sinister powers gaining momentum, and the resulting adventures are a rollicking ride of carnage and quips.

Each and every scene, both action and dialogue, are pockmarked with smart jokes and comedic setups. There are so many ingenious and hilarious twists in the plot, challenging the meta of fantasy writing. From human sacrifice gone awry, to a hallucinogenic trip, Zub shows the reader that when things go wrong, adventure happens. Jim Zub’s flair for the ridiculous is only matched by his understanding of scene composition and combat sequences. Reading through, I never got the impression that I was lost, or that I missed something. In conjunction with Huang’s marvellous work, the reader has a hard time losing track of the action.

Bullets, blood, gore, and walking piles of muscle, Edwin Huang casts the Big Guy and Shorty in just the right light. Mirroring Zub’s writing, Huang brings slapstick to the game in a wonderful way through physical comedy. Losing their lunch, taking tremendous leaps, and defining their name as the Skullkickers, Huang uses his lines to exemplify visual comedy, regardless of genre. Finishing the trifecta of talent, Misty Coats colors the Skullkickers brilliantly. Going above and beyond merely painting Huang’s linework, Coats shows a deep understanding of color and light. I was impressed particularly with her treatment of low-light and high-contrast scenes, keeping the color of the characters consistent and believable under different conditions.

Jim Zub’s Skullkickers is a monument, paying homage to the many and widely-adored tropes of the genre. With zany, bloody action, hilarious sequences of successes masked as failures, and a loveable duo of in-it-for-the-gold monster hunters, I still want to read more. The book is gorgeous, inside and out thanks to Huang and Coats, enabling Zub’s style in the best way. Skullkickers does more than tell an entertaining tale, it’s a reminder of what fantasy can be, rather than a statement of what it ought to be. Skullkickers Vol.1 in softcover was published in march 2011 and can be bought both in print and digitally for $7.14.

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