Skull Kickers: Kill the Monsters, Get the Gold / by Patrick Smith

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I have a problem.

It's not a huge problem but it’s one that’s caused problems in the past: If I can’t jump on a series at issue number one I tend not to read it. I don’t know why I do it, all I know is that it makes total sense in the moment and has kept me from reading some great books on a monthly basis. And that happened with Skull Kickers as my shop never managed to keep a printing of Skull Kickers number one on the shelves. So I thought that was it but as the months went on I saw the covers to the second and third issue sitting there on the rack, calling to me. So I bought them on a lark but after I finished reading the second issue I knew I was going to be with the series for the long haul.

Why? Because I am absolutely convinced Skull Kickers is one of the absolute best comics being published today.

Skull Kickers takes place in a typical fantasy setting, not unlike what you might find in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. However whereas Dungeons and Dragons might have players embody righteous paladins and elfish mages Skull Kickers shows what would happen if players embodied two unstoppable mercenaries who constantly risk taking the game right off the rails for all the other players. The titular Skull Kickers are affectionately referred to as Baldy and Shorty (a human sharpshooter and Dwarf axe man, respectively) and with each arc the series builds on its affection for tabletop games by basing each arc on a distinct gaming module but taken to their comical extreme.

Within the book the creative team is working at one hundred and ten percent. Writing, art, coloring and lettering coming together to create an enjoyable and cohesive reading experience. The series is written by Jim Zubkavich and although Skull Kickers isn’t his first published comic work, it’s clear that Skull Kickers, is really a wonderful passion project for him. His balanced treatment of the premise, with both reverence and ridicule, could only be achieved by a guy who absolutely loves the fantasy genre and RPG’s but also knows full well how absolutely ridiculous it is. Zubkavich uses Baldy and Shorty's collateral damage-filled exploits to poke fun at some of fantasy's most established tropes such as clueless royalty, ecoterrorist tinkerbelles and the ultimate cheat that is magic.

Zubkavich calls them out on their ridiculousness but uses a charm and wit that keeps things light despite the horrendous violence happening within the confines of the story. It should be said that violence is a big part of this story. With a title like Skull Kickers it's to be expected, but while the violence is often over-the-top it's never uncomfortable. A lot of this can be attributed to superb lettering by Marshall Dillon, who manages to still convey whimsy even while people are getting their hearts ripped out. Bad lettering rarely makes a good book bad, but good lettering can make a good book great as it does here.

Not to say it wasn’t already great, because it was. The impressive illustrations of Edwin Huang really bring this book together. He has a great cartoony style that looks like if Walt Disney was influenced by Frank Frazetta. Huang’s art starts off strong from page one but it is constantly improving as the series goes on in new and different ways. His storytelling is easy to follow along with, which is necessary considering the amount of crazy action happening from panel to panel.  And alongside the colors of Misty Coats, Huang’s images practically jump off the page.

Now the last piece that needs to be mentioned about Skull Kickers is probably the most important, if not for the reading experience then for comics in general. What really matters about Skull Kickers is that it represents the absolute best in creator owned comics by spotlighting retailers and rewarding fans. It’s not easy being a creator owned book (especially an ongoing) and even though a creative team might sweat blood and tears to get a book out there’s no certainty that any one will read it. That’s why it’s so great that aside from making sure every issue is a fun and unique reading experience, they also throw in some fun extras in the back of the book. These extras can range from essays, character mock ups for actual table top games, and answering questions about the book. Ultimately this kind of extra effort shows that Zubkavich and the Skull Kickers team love the fans for letting them be able to make this book and in exchange want to give you the best bang for your buck issue to issue. And on the retailer side of things any shop that supports creator owned work like Skull Kickers gets a nice little shout out in the back matter with an inclusion of a constantly growing list of “Skull Kickers Certified Retailers”.

It's classy acts like that which make readers feel a special connection to creator owned books like these. And if you’ve yet to check this book out it's not to late! The first two arcs have already been published as trades, so it's easy to catch up. So support this tale of swords and sassery. Creators that have the gall to make unabashedly fun comics deserve to be rewarded.

TL;DR Skull Kickers is an unabashedly fun tale of swords and sassery, both paying homage to and poking fun at the RPG genre and fantasy tropes. One of the best creator-owned comics out there today, if you are a fan of the genre, you will find something to smile about in Skull Kickers. Gratuitous violence does not recommend it to a younger audience.

Skull Kickers is written by Jim Zubkavich with art by Edwin Huang & Misty Coats. Letters by Marshall Dillon. Published by Image Comics. It is an ongoing series with one trade already available and a second releasing soon. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop or, support Spandexless by ordering the trades through our web store.