“Uncanny Skullkickers” #1. “Savage Skullkickers” #1. Now “Mighty Skullkickers” #1. How many times in a row can you relaunch a comic? (The answer is apparently at least five, as there are solicitations for “All-New Secret Skullkickers” #1 and “Dark Skullkickers Dark” #1 coming up.) Although “Uncanny Skullkickers” was actually issue #19 of the Image ongoing by Jim Zub and Edwin Huang, it was a good jumping-on point for new readers — but anyone picking up this week’s issue expecting a #1 is going to be baffled as to why it starts at part three of the storyline.
Luckily, once you get past the gimmicks (the descriptive sound effect gag, which gives us things like “Epic ocean vomit!” instead of “Bleaaarrrghhh,” is also wearing a bit thin) “Skullkickers” is a solidly-written, legitimately funny sendup of the swords-and-sorcery canon with consistently great art.
Much of the fun of Jim Zub’s writing is watching him play with the tropes of the genre he parodies. How many Conan and Solomon Kane stories feature giant apes as antagonists? How many times has a fantasy hero earned the respect of a savage tribe through feats of strength? Zub treats these familiar story beats with love, and just enough of a twist that they feel fresh: for example, rather than copping an air of human superiority over the primitive apes who make him one of their own, Baldy leads them in “Where the Wild Things Are”-style partying.
The book is likewise full of knowing nods to its inspirations, especially early Dungeons & Dragons. Shorty the dwarf, following his nose towards some dwarven ale somewhere on the island, fights his way past a monster that looks suspiciously like D&D’s displacer beast (but with a cute tiger-stripe pattern), climbs an ominous mountain staircase, and wins past brutal traps and magic. There’s also an ancient evil, a magic pool, and plenty of other adventure-game tropes, making the whole issue a hoot for gamers who have found themselves in similar situations over the years.
The old-school fantasy vibe of Skullkickers is a big part of the fun, but the Edwin Huang’s gorgeous art is what really separates the book from the pack. In fact, it’s rare to find as perfect a match for a book as Huang is for “Skullkickers.” His slick, cartoony style (and Misty Coats’ bright, bold colors) are a neat contrast to the usual grimness of sword-and-sorcery books, but underneath there’s a huge amount of technical skill that makes every frame picture-perfect. The action sequences are clear and exciting, with dramatic posing and fun details throughout. Somewhere, Coats may have lost track of the time of day — unless it can be night in the ape camp and day on the beach at the same time — but this is a minor quibble for an otherwise lovingly-colored book.
“Skullkickers” is a consistently great comic, and is well worth a read by anyone looking for a fast-moving, light adventure story with jokes that are actually funny. For fantasy fans, especially ones steeped in the classic influences from which Zub and Huang are clearly drawing, “Skullkickers” is a must-read. Just don’t mistake “Mighty Skullkickers” #1 for the first issue.