Okay so when I first saw Fistful of Dollars it was like two years after Yojimbo, so about a third of the way through I noticed my hand involuntarily slapping my forehead and went "huh, that's weird". Took another twenty minutes to realize it was because "holy christ on a crouton, Fistful of Dollars is a scene-for-scene rip of Yojimbo". Now I understand what my history teacher was talking about regarding Kurosawa suing Sergio Leone. Since those early days there have been attempts to fuse Western and Samurai styles, some successful and others nightmarish. Scabbards and Gods is somewhere in between. It's not bad, but not great either. Just kind of meh.
So we (but not I) reviewed Chapter 1 a little while back, and it was lackluster to say the least. Awkward poses, weird anatomy and a story that was so minimally informative that it was hard to really care about. A lot of that is still here, but there's signs of improvement. There's still a way to go though.
So in this chapter, Corbin's made it to a village looking to recruit a set of twins into his "Fallen Corps", which apparently has some history that's vaguely alluded to. Right now it's three people strong. I guess it used to be more, which is why he's recruiting "new blood," but I have no idea why he doesn't just hang his hat up instead. Is there a war going on? Did one of the factions of this war kick the tar out of his corps? Is his corps a private army for vengeance or to help a side? No idea.
See, the thing is, Westerns used the American Civil War as a theme, while Samurai films take from an era when it took an edict from the emperor to send more than 20 swordsmen after a warlord. So, when you combine two universes together, you kind of have to flesh out what kind of war is being fought because there is a massive difference in bodycount between the two periods. If there even is a war. The gravity of the situation changes completely depending on the body count and the number of state and non-state actors. Sanjuro fought forty dudes at once with a wood sword, but Robert E. Lee crushed a 120,000 man army with only 60,000. Can you imagine how different the story would be depending on which style you choose? What would you even do if you blended them together? This could either be a gang of dudes wandering around for revenge or a tiny cog in a giant machine looking to change the course of a war. I don't know yet.
That's the thing I dislike the most about this; they haven't described the world they're in very much yet. I mean, right now they're showing a little more of how they blended these two genres together what with a Western style bar and government, but they also threw in something that looks like a Roman era amphitheater so I don't know. Maybe it's something from Japan? I think they need to do a really in-depth chapter explaining the ins and outs of this universe because that would go a long way towards making this look like something other than just a seat-of-the-pants ride through a canon that was slapped together. More than anything I need to know Corbin's ultimate objective because there's no reason to care without that.
We are getting to see some characterization at least. Corbin is the serious one, the other spiky haired dude likes to drink and the Ogre guy, Bayle, is more serious than Corbin to the point of being super serious (and also making sure spiky haired dude doesn't get too out of control). It's a start. The twins got better characterization even if the female one is still too similar to the other serious dudes to stand out. Dialogue is kind of flat and I feel like they aren't paying attention to their setting; Corbin talks about "finding a place to camp" even though he's in the middle of a town that probably has hotel rooms for rent. Also, still not sure how a violin concert wins an election, or why anyone would target it for destruction.
The art improves noticeably after page 7 and adds a lot of shading. I don't know why it's so abrupt but it's a welcome change. There's still work to do on poses but there's no more of the weird stuff where their necks were like posts that their skulls were nailed to. Detail has increased and there's more solid lining thrown in, and the geometry of the characters is less jaunty. Spiky hair is still an objectively terrible thing that I hope will disappear in the next nuclear war. They kind of just started slapping light globes down willy nilly in the last couple pages but it demonstrates that Nguyen knows how to use shadowing and light, which is nice. I really hope he keeps improving, because I sincerely thinks it looks better now. It could still improve, but it's far and away superior to the smudgy, blocky work of the previous chapter. There's even a few more facial expressions thrown in!
So at this point it looks like they realize they have a kernal of something interesting and that it just needs a ton of polish to make it shine. Their next goal should be to clarify the setting and overarching conflict, character backstories and objectives, and never stop trying to improve their art. If they do those things they could make something worth reading. Right now, it's moved from mediocre to meh, which is still a step or two below decent. Once you get to decent things start to get a lot better.
I mean, the fact they're adapting their art means they're about ten steps above Dominic Deegan at least.
TL;DR: Like I said, webcomics are a great way to watch bad stuff turn better. This one could be one that goes that way, but give it a little while longer.
Scabbards and Gods is written by Dan Littlefield and John Doudican, with art by David Nguyen and Dan Dussault. You can check out their comic here and, if you're in NYC, visit them at MoCCA Fest this weekend!