Let’s get this out of the way up front: this is the fourth #1 issue in a row from “Skullkickers,” and yes, the joke has kind of worn thin. It’s not a particularly good jumping-on point for new readers, either, though writer Jim Zub tries with some up-front narration that’s unnecessary for anyone who’s been reading since issue #1 (and #1, and #1…). Nevertheless, “Skullkickers” is still the best humorous pulp fantasy comic on the stands, for whatever that’s worth.
This issue continues the “Eighty Eyes on an Evil Island” storyline that began in “Uncanny Skullkickers” #1. As always, the comic wears its influences on its sleeve, and picking these out is a big part of the fun. The cover to this issue is a tribute to Dave Cockrum’s wordy, dynamic “X-Men” covers from the late 70’s. There’s a full-page map of the titular evil island, reminiscent of the cross-sections of heroic hideouts from back in the day, but with silly information about where the best melons can be found rather than where Batman’s jet is stored when he’s not using it. And of course there are countless nods to dungeoncrawling roleplaying games, including a clever spin on the gelatinous cube monster and a “dangerous dungeon exploration montage” that hits all the trap highlights.
Jim Zub’s writing is actually a bit smarter in this issue than it has been recently. There are a couple of clever meta-jokes about the nature of sound and sound effects in comics that show that Zub really appreciates the medium he gets to work in. There’s also the new run’s first groan-worthy moment, though, when Kusia the elf’s magic sword comes to life and begins talking in rhyming quatrains. But honestly, I’ve never come across a fantasy writer who can cook up mystical rhymes that don’t make you wonder what editor OK’ed them.
There isn’t much to say about Edwin Huang’s pencils or Misty Coats and Ross Campbell’s coloring because frankly, they’re both as flawless as ever. Huang seems incapable of drawing a panel lacking in dynamic motion. The only artistic flaw is a full-page splash that looks as though it was drawn too small then digitally resized, leaving some unfortunate fuzziness to the lines. The colorists get a workout in this issue, moving from a lightning-lit stormy night to torch-lit dungeon halls with goo monsters, magic swords, huge gouts of flame, and more packed in. But every scene is colored with a subtlety and razor-sharp attention to detail that brings the characters and locations to life.
I can only hope that there aren’t too many #1 issues left before the gag runs out. At some point Image or Zub or whoever made the decision on such a confusing numbering scheme just has to realize that “Skullkickers,” whatever adjectives come before its name, is an endlessly fun, smartly-written, gorgeously-drawn comic that shouldn’t need silly tricks to survive on the stands. If you’re a fan of fantasy in any forms — movies, games, books, or even other comics — and you’re not reading “Skullkickers,” you should be. Just make sure you’re starting with the right #1.