Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Skullkickers, Vol. 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body (2011)

In the '80s, Hollywood was churning out action buddy comedies like they were being produced out of a factory in Korea. For God's sake, there were two competing movies about police detectives saddled with canine partners, one starring the brother of a great comedian, the other headlined by a Bosom Buddy. It wasn't bad enough to be madness. It was just cut rate product with a reliable yield. Kate Hudson romantic comedies would serve as a more recent example.

Tolkienesque vaguely medieval Middle Earth bullshit turns me off like the prospect of being the meat in a Rosies Barr & O'Donnell sandwich. Skullkickers was a relief in that within the milieu it punctured any associated pretense at every opportunity in its story of two unnamed asshole mercenaries just trying to make mead money. I'm also not big on stereotypically manga-style art with Dreamwave cartoon cel coloring, but that grows on you here, as it works for the material. Unfortunately, when read in one big hunk, it plays like an '80s buddy action comedy. The book is filled with beefy characters, whether musclebound barbarians or giant monsters, yet there isn't an ounce of meat on the story's bones. The script isn't as funny as it would like to be, and the plot is so thin that you'll burn through this trade paperback in no time. It's much better than the usual cringe-inducing comic book fare in this vein (Deadpool, Lobo, etc.,) and the art by Edwin Huang makes up for a lot, but it's ultimately a rather vacuous pastiche. The book is very pretty, with high quality paper stock, a lovely spot varnish cover, and two back-up strips with fantastic art by co-creator Chris Stevens. There is no lack of flash, but a complete absence of substance.

Jim Zub(kavich) writes kind of like he's on cocaine. The mercs are killing a werewolf and now they're celebrating but the sheriff hates them but royalty is in town that gets assassinated so the mercs go after the assassin and they fail and the body gets stolen by zombies so they chase the body but they don't have horses so they steal horses, etc. etc. It's fun in the fleeting moment, but the second you turn your brain on, the plot goes into existential crisis. What purpose does the body serve? Why does the necromancer bother with the dwarf? Why does the gestalt form, and how could it be defeated in that manner? If this is just cliche under the guise of parody, why don't I read Groo the Wanderer so I can get this same shtick fortified with socio-political satire? Plus, the first five issues of Skullkickers is basically a long form adaptation of a ten page anthology story also reprinted in this volume. You expect repetition with sword and sorcery shit, but that's why I passed through my Conan phase around age twelve and moved on with my life. This is a mostly faithful recreation with tongue-in-cheek sensibilities, lacking real humor, any insight, or the courtesy of indulging in the hyper-seriousness needed to sell dudes in loincloths slaying giant spiders.

Skullkickers is a good looking silly diversion for fans of the genre, but I strongly suspect its novelty has an expiration date, barring the very likely event it begins to fall in line with the tropes it appears to mock.

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