One could be easily fooled into thinking that Skullkickers is another generic action series that focuses on manly-men fighting big monsters and other manly-although-slightly-less-manly-men. And it is that. But it is also a parody of those comics. It is also a parody on comics in general. Actually, it seems pretty damn versatile in what it decides to parody. So, does this mean that the story and action are just a vehicle for the jokes or does the humor just enhance the more commonplace comic fodder? Honestly, I do not know nor care. It’s just fun.
Apparently, the normal story of Skullkickers is that of two mercenaries who fight for fame and wealth in a fantasy setting. This is what the back of the book told me, at least. None of that really comes into play here. Instead, the issue starts with our protagonist, a guy referred to as Baldy, is fighting some tentacle monster. Both the cover of the book and this first page prominently feature the characters signature weapon: a large golden revolver. Eventually, it came to my attention that the presence of this gun was something of a mystery in a series that is otherwise completely based in the realm of medieval fantasy. Well, for those readers, this is the book that explains the weapon’s origin. For new readers, like myself, you wouldn’t know this wasn’t supposed to be a Western.
The bulk of the story here is actually a flashback to the origins of this character and his gun. He used to be a cowboy, straight out of a spaghetti western. Of course, he is a monster-hunting cowboy, so think a little more Jonah Hex. When he finds a group of cultists reviving an ancient horror, not unlike the one Baldy struggles with one page one, things start to get mystical. I do not want to spoil how it all breaks down, but that is not really the important stuff anyway.
Like I said before, what I really appreciate about this book is its sense of humor. Rarely does a page go by without the creators finding some way to defy genre conventions. The story goes along fairly by the numbers, but the mixture of different story archetypes and the jokes in between really make this book something unique.
Examples of said humor come as early as that first page. When Baldy mentions something or other that happened in the past, we get that little editor’s note to remind the reader what issue that was in. Of course, this is not a story that has actually been told before and instead we are treated to an argument between the authors. There are plenty more similarly amusing gags, from the stoic cowboy flat out refusing one of the rumors about him to the eldritch terror becoming super casual. When “Casual beer slurp” was used as a sound effect, this book had me sold.
The art is cartoony and stylized in a way that looks cool in the action scenes, but never lets you forget that it is trying to be funny, as well. It very much strikes me as “comic book art,” if that makes any sense. I just don’t know where else it would belong. The writing really is the star of the show, but the art works as a great accompaniment.
One last thing to note: After the main story, there is a quick mini-comic that features a crossover between one of the Skullkickers characters and the art and characters of fellow Image fantasy comic, Princeless. It's over quick and does not have too many surprises, but the art is vibrant and colorful. Honestly, I just think it is really cool that the people behind these comics thought well enoug of one another to collaborate on this extra.
Overall, I can’t say this comic is perfect, but it is hard to pick out any one flaw. The Western, fantasy, and irreverence are all mixed together so well, I get the impression that this issue accomplishes everything it aims to. Baldy is the essential badass, but it is really the commentary and the writing style that I find most endearing; almost like the book itself is a character. I don’t know how much longer the Western story will go on and how quick things will return to fantasy, but either way, I am looking forward to what comes next.