Skullkickers, published by Image Comics, has a new name (sort of), but it retains the same great flavor it's always had!
The comically mismatched action-adventure duo may be a story type that never goes out of style. Considering how often it executed so well, let's hope it never does. Valiant's Archer & Armstrong may be the finest example of the form in comics today, but don't discount Skullkickers, which has enjoyed a quiet but successful run for over a year now. In fact, the series by Jim Zub and an array of artists, has been chugging along for eighteen issues. With its nineteenth, in an effort to raise its profile (and lampoon Marvel's recent Marvel NOW! marketing campaign), Skullkickers will be "relaunching" with a new #1 and a new adjective with every issue. This week, we have Uncanny Skullkickers #1 (next month: Savage Skullkickers #1), so it seems like as good of a time to check in with the series as any.
The title shenanigans are fitting for a book with so much goofball charm. Skullkickers is a comic (mis)adventure featuring two characters who constantly find themselves in preposterous situations wherein they have to fight insane monsters and other absurd creatures. The story is relentless and always driving forward, introducing more and more crazy elements and wacky moments to make the two heroes, drunken lout Rex and spiritual elf Kusia, increasingly harried. Rex and Kusia are shipwrecked after an adventure on the high seas (there's a two-page recap at the beginning of the issue that covers the broad strokes of everything that's come before in the story so new readers enticed by the #1 on the cover can catch up pretty easily) and have to work together to figure out a way to survive the perils of the desert island they're stranded on. Early on, Kusia plays the role of hunter-gatherer, while Rex plays the role of passed out drunk. After a battle with giant evil turtles, they end up working together in a "Good Times Jungle Exploration Montage" where they try to get their lay of the land, and ultimately find something completely surprising, but relates to past events. Somewhere in all that, we get a sense of the outlook these two have on the world. Kusia speaks of "destiny" and the primal forces of nature, while Rex just wants to get some sleep. "We'll deal with tomorrow tomorrow," he plainly states. "We almost died, and now we're fed. All's good. Not everything needs a plan...or a destiny."
Along the way, writer Jim Zub uses gentle, character-based humor to establish the relationship between the two protagonists as well as the world of Skullkickers. We get a good sense of how things work between Kusia and Rex, and although the issue mostly takes place on one stretch of land, we get enough information that we can extrapolate and apply to the rest of the world (things don't seem too different in a far-off, snowy climes of a mountainous region). What's more, the comedy of the book extends out from the script and into the form of the issue itself. Zub decides to throw in a running gag on each page following the "exploits" of a dead dwarf floating along somewhere in the ocean. Absolutely nothing of any consequence happens in this section of the story, but it's included just because it's funny. Uncanny Skullkickers #1 also continues to play around with comic book onomatopoeia by using the letterforms of sound effects not to simulate sound, but to describe what's happening to make that sound ("Ominous Ruuuuumble!" "Dramatic Ka-Thunk!"). It's mostly a gag, but it also serves as a provocative statement about comic book storytelling through art and design.
Speaking of which, the comic is a visually enjoyable as it is narratively fun. Edwin Huang and Kevin Raganit have a loose and attractive style that makes for an easy going comic, while colorists Misty Coats and Ross A. Campbell provide a vibrant, cartoony vibe that keeps things lively and engaging. Not only does letterer Marshall Dillon design the dialogue balloons well, but the on-panel title text and sound effects letterforms are constantly eye-catching and bring a real sense of animation to the story.
While the (temporary?) title changes work creatively with the insides of the book (also: giving the business to one of the Big 2 corporate comic book publishers is always a welcome sight), Skullkickers, under any name, is a simply consistent bit of fun that deserves a few more looks that come with a new #1. It's not the deepest read on the stands, but it hits all it marks and delivers on its promise. Skullkickers will bring a light dose of humor and big time adventure into your comic book reading, and it will do so in an attractive package.