SKULLKICKERS #24 / Written by RON MARZ, ADAM WARREN, TODD DEZAGO & JIM ZUB / Art by STJEPAN SEJIC, REMY “EISU” MOKHTAR, JEFF ”CHAMBA” CRUZ & LAR DESOUZA / Letters by MARSHALL DILLON / Published by IMAGE COMICS, INC.
Skullkickers is about two mercenaries whose collective intelligence makes Conan The Barbarian look like a Rhodes Scholar. The book details their adventures and misadventures as they schlep about the land drinking, looting, pillaging, sacking, burning, plundering and, of course, skull-kicking. A Game Of Thrones this ain’t!
One does not simply read Skullkickers expecting a rich fantasy world full of sophisticated characters, intricate plotting and Machiavellian scheming as ancient houses with old grudges contest for the crown. Not unless you’re as stupid as the book’s unnamed protagonists, who are called Baldy and Shorty by the fandom on account of one being bald and the other being a dwarf.
No, one reads this book for the comedic violence and satire. Given that, it seems obvious what to expect upon first viewing the cover for the issue. The cover art is clearly a parody of the cover of Watchmen #9 and the general design is based on DC Comics’ recent line of Before Watchmen books. But first impressions are often misleading and perceptions can rarely be trusted in the fantasy realm where Skullkickers is set. So too is this cover a deception.
The only direct correlation between Before Watchmen and Skullkickers #24 is that both are based around prequels. The issue tells four separate stories, each one written and drawn by a different creative team and each focusing upon a different series regular. Or group of regulars in the case of Baldy and Shorty.
As with most anthology comics, the issue as a whole is less than the sum of its’ parts. The story which opens the issue is written by Witchblade author Ron Marz and is focused upon an Elvish assassin named Kusia. Reminiscent of many Red Sonja stories, this is probably the strongest story in the issue but it is also cursed with the worst artwork. Stjepan Sejic attempts to copy the style of Skullkickers’ regular artist Edwin Huang and fails miserably. Sketchy in the extreme compared to Sejic’s usual style, the whole story appears to have been printed without being inked!
The second story details the battle between a nameless gunslinger and a monstrous cat creature. Scripted and broken down by Empowered creator Adam Warren, the final line art was completed by Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar of the webcomic No Pink Ponies. Warren’s story has a real Robert E. Howard vibe to it and Eisu’s artwork is good. The only flaw with this chapter is that new readers picking up this book for the first time will be completely clueless as to who this gunslinger is and his significance to the series.
By contrast, the third story can be easily appreciated by new readers. Centered upon Baldy and Shorty, the script by Young Justice creator Todd Dezago is a fine example of what a typical Skullkickers comic is like. The artwork by Street Fighter II Turbo artist Jeff “Chamba” Cruz, while quite different from the series’ regular art, matches it in intensity and sheer kinetic drive.
The final story centers upon Thool – an otherworldly elder god who is visually similarly but legally distinct from anything owned by the estate of H.P. Lovecraft. The story by series creator Jim Zub is amusing enough and easily grasped by new readers, despite largely being an explanation of past events for long-time readers. The illustrations by Looking For Group artist Lar Desouza match the dry humor of the story – no small feat given that most of the panels are focused upon Thool’s… what we shall call a face, for lack of a better term in this quadrant of space time.
As a series, Skullkickers has much to recommend itself. Fans of fantasy in general and twisted, violent humor in specific will love it, though it may be better for new readers to check out the free comics available at Skullkickers.com first. Most of the issue is accessible but it is still a poor jumping-on point for new readers. Doubtlessly those already familiar with the antics of Baldy and Shorty will love it.