Shortly after attending the Writers Unite! panel discussion, I made my way through the comicon crowd and spent a few minutes chatting with Jim Zub. I liked how he described SkullKickers as the type of adventures he and his buddies use to have while playing Dungeons and Dragons.
That means, a good portion of any adventure is never taken seriously.
With this in mind, I decided to buy SkullKickers Treasure Trove Volume 1 and get up-to-date on the merry mayhem.
The book is indeed, a treasure trove, containing not only the first full-length features, 1000 Opas and a Dead Body and Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood; but also the first two original short stories that appeared in Image Comics' Popgun Anthology. Another set of short stories appears in the back as "Four Tavern Tales." There's even an activity section containing puzzles, a sketch gallery, a book review, a recipie for "Skullkicker Stew," some role-playing game stats, puzzles and even a couple paper doll cut out. (I guess in case you're short of miniatures).
Just inside the hardcover is a map detailing the not-so-serioulsy-named locales the skullkicking team have frequented.
Which by the way, the stories themselves revolve around a pair mercenaries and their misadventures. The human and dwarf, who never gave out their names, became known by fans as "Baldy" and "Shorty." Their names are revealed in a clever way, but not until the end of Chapter 1 of Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood. How these become known as "the Skullkickers" is also unique and funny.
And this brings me to what I like most about Skullkickers. Yes, it is funny with over-the-top violence. But what impressed me the most were the tightly woven plots of the full-length stories. Pay attention while reading, because everything comes into play by the end.
I only came across 1 x 2-star review for any of the Skullkicker stories. This reader liked the story, 1000 Opas and a Dead Body, but thought the coloring was indifferent. His biggest beef though, was with the book's binding, which was coming unglued.
Otherwise, Skullkickers delivers a solid 5-star punch. I certainly enjoyed the stories and will add another 5-star rating to the series.
The only pet peeve I have is with Baldy packin' a six-gun. I've never played in a fantasy role-playing game, where firearms were available, so I'm having trouble accepting Industrial Era's hardware into a pre-Industrial saga. In the stories so far, the pistol is a rarity and viewed with much awe and fear among the hapless masses (often with comedic results). I'm sure there's a very interesting, and as of yet, unpublished, backstory on how Baldy obtained his piece. While there are scenes depicting Baldy reloading the handgun, I often ask myself where does he get the rounds to replace the all the ones he fired off?
I guess I'm too much of a purist and shouldn't take the pistol's presence seriously. Who knows, maybe somewhere down the line, Baldy and Shorty may find themselves confronted by someone wielding a "phased plasma rifle"?
You can check out Baldy's and Shorty's antics on-line through Keenspot.