Friday, March 25, 2011

c2e2 Review: Skullkickers Volume 1: What happens when God creates a comic from all of your favorite D&D adventures.

I'm not going to sugarcoat this: Skullkickers will kick your ass. Sitting there reading the first volume of the series, 1,000 Opas and a Dead Body (Opas are the currency of the world) you'll start to freak out and hallucinate. You will believe that the creators, writer Jim Zub, line artist Edwin Huang, and colorist Misty Coats somehow snuck into your gaming group last Friday, cast a spell of confusion on all of you, and recorded the entire session to be meticulously recreated just moments later in this vibrant, ultra-violent dream of a fantasy comic.

Not convinced? Let me tell ya a little bit about the boys. Skullkickers stars two unnamed characters that creatively go by "Baldy" and "Shorty" and the whole thing was designed to feel like a buddy cop flick. It definitely has the feel like someone's about to announce "I'm getting too old for this shit!" at any moment. You see, the Skullkickers are bad-ass monster hunters. They go to the local tavern, get drunk until they hear a rumor about a giant leech monster eating the local children, and then proceed to go kick the skull of said monster. This sounding familiar to anyone yet?

I had the pleasure of talking to the writer, the aforementioned Jim Zub, at c2e2 this past weekend. I had heard of SK's briefly on the ifanboy podcast and since then eagerly awaited for the moment the first trade would cross my path so I could gobble the thing up in one go. Luckily for me, both Jim and the Misty Coast, the colorist had their own Skullkickers table in artist alley. Jim was extremely nice, and we got to have a little chat about the book and its influence. Imagine my delight in the middle of a huge comic convention when I came across a comic creator who could dote fondly on his times spent in college playing Feng Shui and reminisce about the pleasant times spent playing games with Robin Laws. What's that? I must have forgotten to mention. Robin wrote the friggin' introduction for the book. If that doesn't give Skullkickers some instant street cred amongst the tabletop role-player folks, I have no idea what will.

Skulls to be kicked!

Anywho, Jim and Misty were pleasant enough to sign my copy with some extremely tonally-appropriate encouragements to go along with their sigs (see above here). That kind of feeling runs throughout the book. I've read a lot of comics in my time, but I'm pretty confident in saying that I've never read something full of so much pure fun as I have in reading 1,000 Opas.

Our Heroes! Also, Goblins think you suck.

As an RPG fan and critic, Often I can be underwhelmed by a setting put out in front of me. Either it's too cliche, too different, or just plan boring. If I tried explaining the finer points of Skullkicker's world to you, you'd probably fall asleep and go back to reading whatever the latest indie game you last picked up. Instead I just want you to consider one thing for a second. The stereotypical Biff! Bam! Pow! sound effects have been tweaked quite a bit. Instead, we get what appears to be the DM's narration of what's going on. When Baldy (a huge hulk of a man) walks you get "Stride Stride" as the sound effect and when Baldy the dwarf tries to catch up in the same panel you get "RunRunRun" as an accompaniment. That's neat and all, but the best sound effect caption in the whole book comes when Baldy has snuck up behind two stolid guardsmen. There's no dialogue, but free floating above the giant fists of Baldy are the words "Imminent Violence" and guess what? They're accurate.

That sound effect is perfectly accurate, and better yet, completely logical.

Apart from the ridiculously colorful art and great sound effects, the dialogue in Skullkickers is beyond accurate and true. Don't go in expecting this to be the Lord of the Rings though, when I say the dialogue is accurate, I mean it's pulled straight from your best fantasies of how a good group of D&D players would act their characters out. Jim has captured the consequence-free morality and gold-driven motivation of the vast majority of role players in a way that comes off not as obnoxious but as a lot of fun. The general pitch is that it's great for those who love movies like Army of Darkness ("Give me some sugar, baby"), and to a great extent, I'd agree. Overall though, it's written much better and depicts two characters that are more of a cross between Ash and Conan. Dudes just wanna get paid to kill some giant monsters. The best part about Skullkickers? This is exactly what happens.

And now we get to the best part: the drug trip Shorty goes on after eating poisoned stew.

There's one more selling point about 1,000 Opas and a Dead Body. The thing's only ten bucks. TEN BUCKS! You get all five issues of the first story as well as the two original short stories first published in the Image Comics anthology Popgun. You also get some sketches in the back of the book with notes from the creators. The whole thing reminds me of the fun and excitement I got from reading the first Invincible trade which originally got me back into comics in the first place. You get a ton of bang for your buck.

If you want to read more about Skullkickers, check out their website for upcoming announcements and news. If you're interested in buying, check the link below for Amazon and the first trade paperback reviewed here, 1,000 Opas and a Dead Body. You will have zero regrets.


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