Though creator Jim Zubkavich will say it’s little more than a tribute to his Dungeons & Dragons nostalgia, I believe his Skullkickers series was created more as a modern classic. Modern in the sense that he’s imagined an uber-messy mélange of happy violence, not dissimilar to the hearty hemorrhage of bloody guts and uneasy fun witnessed in Jesse Bullington’s novel The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Classic in that his duo is an immediate and colorful harkening back to the comics like the Asterix & Obelix chronicles, sprinkled with a touch of Dragon’s Lair aesthetic. In truth, Zub succeeds, as Skullkickers is a finely-polished effort providing eager appeal for audiences of comics, graphic novels, and general fun.
Set in a pseudo-feudal fantasy, Skullkickers tells the story of two hardened thugs-for-hire (I’ll label them Baldy and the Dwarf) and pretty much the implosion of everything around them. In Volume one (1000 Opas and a Dead Body) the pair is enlisted to help locate an allegedly injured, uppity chancellor abducted from the infamously unimportant village of Mudwich. Volume two (Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood) continues their travels to the more cosmopolitan Urbia, detailing their highfalutin masquerades and encounters with a more fantastical cadre of environmentalists. Each volume details countless hackings, poisonings, corpse kicking and fist pummelings, inflicted upon and from a host of demons, summoned minions and their monstrous grotesqueries. Absorbing the violence itself is a fine read for a rainy weekend, especially cathartic for channeling one’s healthy aggression after a long day at work spent with annoying colleagues.
What sets the work apart, though, is the clever and humorous dialogue and narration. Expectedly, the protagonists are base and gruff, weirdly enlightened, or at the very least enchanting. Aside from the excitement from inflicting their pain-for-hire, they’re less interested in worldly matters other than properly supporting their “jumblies” and the refilled tankard at the local Gizzard. They’re discriminating brutes, not half bad, really. Even the supporting and disposable characters are as amusing as they are impermanent, helplessly ho-humming just before learning their grisly fate. But beyond the amusingly chippy back-and-forth, the narration really stands out in the series. Adding to the more traditional action descriptors one may remember from the Batman television show, the creators get innovative. Just as much for the artwork, descriptors such as “Disgusting Spray!”, “Misplaced stab!” or my personal favorite, “Butter Knife Trauma!” had me in several bouts of chuckles. The narrative subtitles of various victims added on account of “mashed faced chatter” is a nice touch as well. Unrelentingly brutal though the sketches may be, the humor from these aspects provided a great balance to an otherwise intriguing concept.
My main descriptor of the artwork is that it’s simply vivid. Whatever skullkickery takes place, there is always a movie-tinged coloring to the panels. Especially captivating are the multitudes of lavender and purple depicting nighttime sequences. Combined with heavy uses of bright red and orange, the combined aesthetic action provided from Zub and colleagues Edwin Huang and Misty Coats never stops throughout the work.
Skullkickers is an entertaining read for those looking for a little brutal levity. My only near-criticism is that it seems that after only two volumes collected, the creators have set a high bar of quality that may prove hard to sustain over the long haul of publication. But with the passion Jim Zubkavich places on creator-owned comics and books, he seems the sort to not let such a slide happen. In the meanwhile it should be enjoyed thoroughly.