The comics industry is ridiculous. Just this week a question was posed by Sean Murphy (mastermind behind Punk Rock Jesus) that basically asked, with the music industry recently bouncing back in terms of sales, when will comics see a resurgence? My answer to him was that given the fact that we just had fifty-two variant covers (see last week’s rant) and that there is a gold-foil chromium cover coming for Age of Ultron, comics is trending in the wrong direction. We are repeating the stupidity of the 1990’s all over again, except we don’t have the build-up to it that we did throughout the 80’s and there are still people that remember when the bubble burst and we all came to the realization that the days of a comic book selling 500,000 copies was far in the past.
No one in the comics industry seems to understand how ridiculous the current comics industry is like Jim Zub, writer and creator of Skullkickers. This is apparent given his willingness to renumber his comic starting at #1 (but only on the cover) and change the name to Uncanny Skullkickers to piggy back on the trio of Uncanny comics over at Marvel (three Uncanny comics, are you kidding me?) The best part is the blurb on the top of the cover, right above the title: “We figured out what our series was missing: adjectives!” It’s a lighthearted middle finger to Marvel which relies on adjectives in place of creativity when it comes to providing titles for their comics (not so much with DC, which has somehow avoided being bitten by the adjective bug – maybe because Uncanny Batman just sounds stupid).
For this reason alone I should just award the comic with a ten out of ten based solely on the fact that Jim Zub is unafraid of poking the bear and refuses to take what he is doing too seriously. That would discredit the work done on the actual comic though and given that Zub and artist Edwin Huang are one of the best teams out there (right up there with Layman/Guillory and Kirkman/Ottley), it would be a good idea to judge the comic on it’s merits and then award bonus points where they are warranted for Zub’s big brass balls.
With that image firmly embedded in your brain, let’s get to it shall we?
Originally, you may look at the four variant covers and call Zub a hypocrite. He’s thumbing his nose at the system, yet going along with it at the same time. If you look closer, you will see that two of the covers are not “general public” covers (one being an exclusive for the upcoming Emerald City Comic-Con and the other a Phantom Variant (which probably has to do with quantity ordered, I’m not 100% sure on the variant cover specifics). The other two covers are the standard ones you would see if you went into a comic shop. One is for Uncanny Skullkickers #1(the one I picked up) and the other is for Skullkickers #19, which follows the familiar motif of having the illustration take place in a frame created from the skull logo. Those people looking to get in on the joke can pick up the Uncanny cover while those that want a uniform collection of Skullkickers comics can pick up the other. It’s actually incredibly smart on his part and is a more legitimate variant cover scheme than just pasting a new flag on each one.
The artwork on the cover itself is drawn by Huang, the interior artist and shows the two main characters busting through a page of the comic (an homage of sorts to past covers that have utilized that motif). While this cover is not narrative, it does utilize the “busting through” action to piggyback on the title which works just as well. Honestly, if this was a true #1 issue, a cover like this would be fine, and if you wanted a cover that was more narrative in nature (or at least as narrative as Skullkickers covers in the past, then that option is available).
The artwork itself is nice and clean and utilizes bold linework to accentuate the characters while also leaving enough room for the colorist (Misty Coats) to do a wonderful job. The lighthearted nature of the title itself is reflected in the way that this is colored. Dark colors are few and far between, with things that you would normally see as black (a belt or shoes, or something like that) colored as a dark grey or blue. While the story and some of the language in it may not be entirely for kids, the art has a feel of something you would sit down and watch on Saturday mornings. (I would watch the shit out of a Skullkickers cartoon by the way).
9/10 – Huang and Coates are an incredible artistic combination that brings the cover to life without deviating from the general mood of the series.
This is the first issue of a new story-arc and it feels like both a number one issue, but also a continuation of the series. I have seen a lot of comics in the past that treat the first issue of a story arc like a brand new series, rarely making mention of what happened in the previous issues. This not only makes mention of it, it’s an integral part of the story. This is what happens next, as in directly after the events of the last issue. Instead of a one paragraph blurb about what happened in the previous eighteen issues, we get two whole pages devoted to catching us up.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have read the first two Skullkickers trades (my local comic shop never got the third trade in, which seems to be a common theme for them with anything that doesn’t have a Marvel, DC or Walking Dead on the cover). I have never read a single issue though and really wanted to see how the writing translated to more of a serial format. By not reading the previous issues though, I was a little lost when I didn’t see the dwarf on the cover. What happened, did he magically transform into the elf chick (they do have the same color hair, and I wouldn’t put it past Zub to introduce something zany like that into the mix)? Luckily, by page two we are told that the Dwarf is dead. Well, okay, that’s that I guess. While I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back to life at some point (especially considering the amount of magic and mysticism that is thrown around in the earlier trades) the running gag in this issue was a single panel at the bottom of the page that showed the Dwarf’s dead body floating in the ocean. I, like many people I’m sure, expected something to happen by the end; a twitch or something, to tell us that the Dwarf is alive. Nope. The consistency is hilarious, and the fact that we as readers were probably hanging on that moment as much as we were the action above it shows what a good job Zub has done in establishing the Dwarf as a character.
These are the moments that the writing shines through. A different writer may have glossed over this completely, or may have talked about each item in intimate detail, but Zub finds a way to explain what things are and inject a bit of humor into each scrap of wood or broken crate that is in the survivor’s possession. It’s small moments like this that show me that while there are obviously grand plans in the works for these characters, it is still a comic book and the actions therein shouldn’t be taken with such extreme gravitas as to warrant death threats or hate mail when something happens that a fan doesn’t like.
My one complaint is, and has always been, the sound effects. Now I may be alone in this because the writing tutorial Zub gives at the end (a great reason to pick up the comic on its own) says that a lot of people like them. In the first few trades they were okay, a mild annoyance but not overbearing. Now, they seem to be a little too dominant. I think that the joke is getting overused to the point where it won’t be as funny anymore, but like I said, no one else may share this opinion.
These are instances where it is done well, and actually adds to the humor without distracting from Huang's artwork
9/10 – A great jumping on point for anyone that hasn’t read the series before, with jokes aplenty. The writing tutorial in the back is worth the price of admission itself. Just reading the script makes me want to illustrate something that Zub has written, anything, even a eulogy. I’d draw the hell out of a Zub-penned eulogy.
Speaking of drawing the hell out of something, Huang is great at drawing in a cartoon style without making it look too cartoony. Everything has weight and definition , almost Ed McGuinnes in nature without everyone looking like they are on steroids. Hatching is basically non-existent and blacks are rarely, if ever, spotted. This goes to show what an incredible find Misty Coats and Ross Campbell were. They interpret everything perfectly, adding definition and mood to the story and the characters through their use of light and shadow.
Huang does a great job treating the characters as actors and not static playthings, with each panel and page showing a great deal of movement. You never get the impression that anyone is ever standing around, straight up and down (even when they are). This ability translates to the faces as well as Huang maximizes the facial expressions without using eyes. This shows how good he is, as 90% of the time the eyes are little more than a line on the face, indicating either a squint or a fully closed eye, or they are circles, just circles, nothing fancy. The fact that he can convey so much emotion without using the most expressive part of a face shows his mastery over body language and characterization.
This sequence is great. It lets the art tell the story and gives us information about the characters by showing us instead of hitting us over the head with it. Plus the artwork, even in lighter moments like these, is so well executed, you can tell that Huang isn't just in it for the fight scenes.
The only misstep I noticed was the massive tangent created between Kusia’s sword and a leaf in a couple panels.
I don’t know if I would have noticed it outright if I hadn’t been reading it with my critic-pants on, but in a comic full of hits, one slight miss doesn’t really warp my perception of it.
10/10 – Between the crisp, clean linework and the beautiful, expressive coloring, this may be one of the best art teams in the business today, especially because they are on this book, one that maximizes their abilities and rewards that teamwork.
Overall: 9/10 – Buy this book. Seriously. Buy all of the back issues and then buy this book. It is one of the smartest, funniest, self-aware books on the market and makes for required reading of anyone that just wants to enjoy a comic book without any extra frills or headaches.