by Joshua Krutt
Beginning in media res, in the middle of the thing, is not a bad tool to get the reader into the action right away. However, there are risks. Without any buildup, it’s harder for the reader to find a reason to care about what’s going on. The excitement of whatever’s happening can be enough, if the characters seem interesting and distinctive.
And then there are the times when it’s just confusing. Scabbards & Gods, a comic created by the three-man team of Dan Littlefield, John Doudican and David C. Nguyen, is unfortunately such a comic. The first page of the comic shows a fairly well-drawn dead body and three silhouettes. But, the following pages give us no idea who that dead body once was, or why he was killed, or why these three silhouettes care about him. We are then introduced to two of the three silhouettes, Corbin Miller and...someone. I honestly couldn’t tell you what his name is, or what the third, bald man’s name is. In fact, I have some trouble telling Corbin and the other man with hair apart--their faces are extremely similar, and their hair is the same color, differing only in size and spikiness. The comic itself claims to be a mix of American and Japanese artstyles, which seems about right. It feels like an attempt at a martial arts epic, focusing on the swordsman Corbin. He’s clearly the main character, being the only one who gets a narration box telling us his name.
We move quickly, at least, to a scene of distress. Corbin finds a clearly battered woman in a burnt-out village. She tries to send him and his companions on their way--well, that’s not quite true. The companions seem to have vanished. But still, she tries to send them on their way when they are accosted by three scarred men. Corbin’s companion with hair shows up at this point, to declare that these are Shankill Butchers, presumably a group of notorious bandits. Corbin disappears completely for a panel, and the Butchers are subject to some extremely awkward-looking bodies. They seem contorted, holding their swords in ways that don’t look at all natural. The swords themselves look like they are warped. This is my greatest complaint about the artwork. It’s often competent, but can produce extremely awkward poses, and the framing makes it hard to keep track of where people are--in this case, by making Corbin apparently vanish. I have no idea what the layout of the room these people are in is like, as the camera seems to shift angles constantly.
It is here that we are introduced to the chapter’s villain, Tigrus Banipal, who leads the Shankills. It’d be nice if his name could be worked into conversation, but the Butchers are actually very bad at talking to each other -in fact, they don’t seem to have any lines after they show up, except for Tigrus. Tigrus is also apparently capable of hurling people through walls with his mind, as we go from a panel of him speaking to a panel of Corbin exploding out of the building. The two begin to fight, producing a few more awkward poses, though I’ll say this for the comic: it does manage to feel dynamic. There is a constant sense of movement in the fights, even when the poses are awkward and strange. The little hut also seems to spawn about thirty more Butchers at this point. I’m not sure where they were hiding, but now they’re here to handle the secondary fight of the chapter, between Corbin’s buddy and...well, the entirety of the gang. Thankfully, the bald guy shows up again, and he seems to have things well in hand, despite the Butchers doing their best to distract him with more inhuman posing.
Overall, I’d say that Scabbards & Gods just doesn’t have much of a hook. I know the names of only two characters, one of whom died by the end of the chapter--and he was the more interesting of the two, despite being the villain. Corbin just feels flat and unemotional, and while I’m sure he has an intriguing backstory to explain his actions and his hatred of Tigrus, it isn't really shown here. We begin with an action sequence that feels very pointless, the reader has no reason to care about Corbin or his nameless allies, and while there are some nice panels and the fights are at least fast-paced and energetic, the distracting and bizarre postures of the lesser characters makes them hard to read. The writing is competent if not amazing, but it struggles to hold interest between characters who just aren’t very distinct or compelling, at least right now.
Yes, you could say review was probably a little bit more spoiler-filled than usual, but I'm really not spoiling anything. The first chapter is titled "Enter The Butchers" and that's quite literally all that happens.
While it’s not a terrible comic, the flaws in Scabbards & Gods outweigh what it does well. While I am inclined to like martial arts stories, Scabbards & Godsdoes not draw me in, thanks to a lack of strong characterization or in fact much of a reason to care about the action scene it leads with. Maybe as this story goes on it will improve, but as this first issue is all there is completed at present, I just can’t recommend it.
TL;DR Scabbards & Gods attempts to draw the reader in with action but fails to make its characters memorable or interesting. The art style is dynamic, but the characters are prone to awkward postures and positioning. If these problems can be solved, there’s a hint of promise here, but the problems are severe.
Scabbards & Gods #1 is the first chapter in the ongoing story by Dan Littlefield, John Doudican and David C. Nguyen. You can read it all online at their website or contact Dan to find out how to order a copy of the first issue.
Joshua Krutt has a degree in General Studies with a focus in Information Science and Anthropology, and is looking to get a degree on Library Science. This translates, roughly, to “enjoys researching things too much.” He’s a fan of comics (usually webcomics) and graphic novels. He is also a fan of tabletop RPGs. He hopes to one day be an author of some kind; he’s not picky about the industry.