You guessed it, Internet: I'm ashamed that it took me this long to get around to Skullkickers, and I only ended up picking up this issue because it had short stories by creators I'm familiar with.
The fact that the comic book is called Skullkickers should have tipped me up to the comic's unique brand of awesomeness. All I really needed then was a premise -- it's an action-fantasy-comedy about two mercenaries. One has an axe. One has a gun. They fight monsters.
Good thing the first trade paperback comes out on March 9th, because I'm totally copping that.
As usual, I'm gonna review each of the short stories in Skullkickers #6 one by one. Good thing there's only four this time around.
“The Blood Curse of the Amazombies!” by Chris Sims, Joe Vriens and Marshall Dillon
Alternate title: “The Main Reason Danny Picked Up This Book.” I'm a huge proponent of the work of one Chris Sims, the Eisner Nominated Comics Journalist™, podcaster of War Rocket Ajax and co-creator of the webcomic Awesome Hospital. He's best known for being a guy who strip-mines pop culture to create amusing articles that people inevitably pass around to their friends (if you've ever shared a funny Comics Alliance article, it was probably his), but he's also a comics creator, which makes for a nice balance. Too few people give back as much as they take.
“The Blood Curse of the Amazombies!” is, to use Sims' own parlance, “a hoot” -- a fun little romp where the Skullkickers take on a mission where violence may not actually be the solution to the problem. Until, of course, they make it the solution. And, with one hilarious final panel, Sims brings Skullkickers a degree closer to Golgo 13.
Sims has been paired up with Joe Vriens, who has an amazingly energetic style that gives a sense of animation to his still figures. For an example, look no further than the bottom of the first page, where, um, Axe-Kicker (I've just realized that these guys don't really have names) pours a mug of ale into his gullet whilst hurling an axe backwards into a dartboard -- right past a frazzled beer wench.
Skullkickers Choice Sound Effects: REACH, CLAW (in succession)
“The Sklaag” by Brian Clevenger, Jim Zub and Marshall Dillon
In which Axe-Kicker drunkenly attempts to tell the story of the Skullkickers' battle against the eponymous Sklaag/Skluug/Skluuaag/HydraSkluuaag/Chimerahydraskluuaag. It is very silly, and writer Brian Clevenger (of Atomic Robo) has a great deal of fun playing with the pair's conflicting recollections having an effect on the story as it happens on the page.
Skullkickers regular writer Jim Zub draws the story, and the style is kinda not unlike Atomic Robo artist Scott Wegener in its cartoony amiability while really bringing it (you know, bringing it) when it comes to drawing sweet monsters and decapitations. Zub's use of minimal backgrounds (action lines can be backgrounds!) really underline the dubiousness of Axe-Kicker's inebriated memory.
Skullkickers Choice Sound Effects: SHANK, SHUNK (in succession)
“Temple of Blech” by Ray Fawkes, Scott Hepburn, Ian Herring and Marshall Dillon
Axe-Kicker and Gun-Kicker (what else was I gonna call him?) probably mistakenly slaughter a colony of leprous monks, and it's hard to feel bad because it's really, really funny. This premise could have easily been depressing, but Ray Fawkes never relents on the hilarity of (1) Axe-Kicker insisting that these are the zombie cultists he's meant to hack to pieces, (2) Gun-Kicker expressing his doubt while casually murdering the monks and (3) the monks offering peace-and-love platitudes while being rendered into people-mush.
And Scott Hepburn's art sells the story -- manic, expressive (necessary for Axe-Kicker in this one) and he draws a couple of sound effects into the art, which is my favorite thing that artists do.
And it ends with a thumbs-up.
Skullkickers Choice Sound Effect: HACKA HACKA BLEND PUREE (all one sound effect, as far as I'm concerned.
“The Cleavin' Part” by Adam Warren, Jeff “Chamba” Cruz and Marshall Dillon
Axe-Kicker filibusters a group of swordsmen by extolling the virtues of an axe. It's the sort of story that depends on the dialogue to work, and thanks to Adam Warren's spirited writing, Axe-Kicker's whole spiel is extremely funny -- especially when he complains that swordsmen have to learn too many “grand and lofty words … tah talk about th' sword's parts.” Priceless.
At first, I was sorely disappointed that Adam Warren didn't actually draw his own story (no offense to Chamba; Warren's just one of my favorite artists). His style for this story is distinctly different from his UDON Street Fighter stuff -- more cartoony, for lack of a better term -- but he makes a page of a bearded guy talking dynamic and compelling. And it's not like any ol' comic artist is capable of that.
Though, the change-up in style makes sense -- pairing Adam Warren up with an anime-styled artist would invite unfair comparison.
Skullkickers Choice Sound Effects: KRAKOW KRAKOW KRAKOW KRAKOW KRAKOW KRAKOW (by default)
The regular creators of Skullkickers put together a guest issue so they could have more time to work on the next story arc and get back on schedule. And, while that might often signal something irrelevant and hurriedly crapped out just to have the book out at a decent time, the talent here assembled is not only impressive, but they've created an incredibly fun quick-and-dirty kind of short story collection of clever variations on the comic's premise without a weak link in the bunch. It's essential comics, and a self-contained experience that gives readers a jumping-on point between story arcs.
If I was a regular reader of Skullkickers, I might be able to tell you that these stories fit in perfectly with the series so far. But I can't, so I'll just say this: it's awesome.
What did you think of this book?
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