Review: Uncanny Skullkickers #1

By | February 28th, 2013
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

After a bit of a break, the best fantasy/comedy comic on the shelves is back. Does its shiny new #1 give it a breathe of fresh life, though, or hamper it? Better hope it’s the former, because there are a few more #1s to come!

Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

The UNCANNY SKULLKICKERS: Two hard-headed mercenaries kill monsters and cause havoc in their search for money, fame and adventure! A bold new direction! A perfect jumping-on point! A newly added adjective! Our nineteeth issue, but also a new issue #1! It’s all here, people! Don’t make us use more exclamation marks!!

Let’s start with something specific to this issue and this issue alone: the running gag at the bottom of the page is brilliant. Those who have read either the issue or the preview will know what I’m talking about, for those of you who haven’t seen the interiors yet only need to know that it is a twist on a classic, yet underused, storytelling technique in comics. Comic visionaries such as Alan Moore have used the format of the comic page to tell split narratives, telling two stories on separate halves of a single page, and in this issue, the Skullkickers crew takes a crack at it — only, of course, in their own fractured way. At first, it seems like a joke that, while funny, doesn’t have any legs — no way could writer Jim Zub stretch it out over an entire issue while keeping it funny. The thing is, though, that he does. Every moment the extra panel starts to lose its freshness, Zub makes sure to use it as a punchline for a joke in order to give it more longevity, and each time is equally hilarious as the first. Sure, it’s only one facet of the comic, but it is one that says a lot about the comic as a whole; as we can see by this gag, Zub is a writer who pays close attention to making sure his jokes are as effective as can be. This level of detail shows the difference between a comedic writer and writer who ocassionally writes “funny stuff.”

The only real mark against the comic is the number on the front — or, more specifically, the light this number causes the issue to be viewed in. As with each new “Skullkickers” arc, the issue begins with with a few recap pages, narrated humorously by a secondary character. With the shiny new #1, this feature is even more important, serving more to introduce new readers to the series than to remind established readers of what happened before the gap between arcs. The problem, of course, is that at this point we are into the series’ fourth arc, halfway through the book’s anticipated six-arc structure. By this point, many important plot developments have happened, and while Zub does a fine job of having fun with the intro, the point is clear: yeah, you should go back and read these. All is not lost, however; the good news is that this second first issue is easy enough to read on its own. It may be obvious to the reader that they are jumping into something that has been going on for a while now, and that if they want to read further it would be beneficial to check out what they missed, but for now? Jungle survival adventure doesn’t require too much familiarity. While the “Uncanny Skullkickers” debut and finale may not completely fulfill the #1 criteria of invalidating reading what came before, it accomplishes a much more practical task: it gives new readers a taste of why they should read the previous arcs from the beginning before it relaunches again next month.

Not to sound like a broken record, but with every issue of this series Edwin Huang gets better. Aside from two panels of turtle-tearing, this issue is lighter on the action (in comparison to other issues of “Skullkickers,” of course), with most of the issue dealing with exploration and, more importantly, Rex and Kusia acclimating to each other. In regards to the former, a jungle adventure such as this one would evoke nothing but yawns were the backgrounds allowed to be completely blank, but Huang is very skilled at creating entrancing fantasy landscapes — and while they’re only on a single page, his Glacier Giants are awe-inspiring. As for the character interaction, comedy series are always reliant on strong character acting, and issues like this one require it even more. Huang’s facial expressions and body language were never weak, but by this point on the series, he has gotten very comfortable with his characters, and knows how to evoke as much character through his drawing as Zub does with his words. Take, for example, the hilarious Survival: Kusia-Style versus Rex-Style page: it isn’t just what the two are doing, but how they’re doing it. Look at Rex drink that rum while relaxing and tell me that Huang doesn’t make you wish you were doing just the same thing.

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Then there is the book’s secret weapon, Misty Coats, a colorist with a bright future in this industry. Throughout the book’s run Misty has been able to stick to tonally-appropriate bold colors without ever over-saturating the page. Artists with angular lines can often be difficult to color, and sometimes using solid black instead of gradients is the better choice for shading (see: Mike Mignola), but Coats’ knows exactly how to make the way light falls on Huang’s wonderfully exaggerated characters seem completely natural. Her star moment, though, is a very clever visual pun — shut up, it’s a thing — in the comic’s first few pages. It would have been really easy to make the gag in-your-face and easily noticeable, but Coats wisely takes the subtle route. You just might miss it, but that makes it all the more hilarious when you notice it (hint: if you can’t find it, flip to the back-matter). Knowing how to effectively color comedy? Now I’ve seen everything.

Every good thing that has been said about “Skullkickers” can be said about “Uncanny Skullkickers”: Jim Zub’s jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, the story is exciting, and the artistic team of Edwin Huang and Misty Coates is dynamite. Any new reader who accidentally picks this up with the other three Uncanny books out this week may be a bit surprised, but will close the comic with plenty of impetus to read the trades. Marvel and DC, take note: if you must relaunch a book mid-run, this is how you do it.

Final Total: 8.8 – Buy it!

As an addendum, the issue also includes more of Jim Zub’s how-to tutorials for comics, featuring script pages from the actual issue and commentary. That’s almost worth a “buy” rating in and of itself.

Walt Richardson

Walt is a former editor for Multiversity Comics and current podcaster/ne'er-do-well. Follow him on Twitter @goodbyetoashoe... if you dare!