The adventure takes a turn for the worse as “Scales and Scoundrels” completes its first arc. Read on for our review, which contains mild spoilers.
Written by Sebastian Girner
Illustrated by Galaad
Lettered and Designed by Jeff Powell
Shipwrecked on an ocean miles below the surface, the scoundrels take shelter on a mysterious island. But what they find there is far from the gold and treasure legends spoke of….
The epic, all-ages adventure concludes its first volume on a dramatic and somewhat literal cliffhanger, as the motley band of would-be heroes faces their darkest moment yet. The absolute joy of this series so far has been its ability to tread that line between serious and silly so well that by this, the fifth issue, your affection for the characters is genuine and their personalities feel all the more realized because of it. That connection with the cast allows the revelations about their pasts and their true selves which are unveiled here land all the better. It also means that cliffhanger ending is all the more powerful and affecting.
Luvander, Dorma, and the rest of the scoundrels have found their way past Sogbottom Cove and into a massive underground ocean, at the end of which lies the fabled Dalden Laria and the treasure which they all seek. Only five issues in and writer Sebastian Girner has done a great job of making this journey feel suitably epic. As such, every victory the heroes gain feels earned, and every defeat feels bitterly unfair. In the grand scheme of things, it would seem as though – at least in terms of geography – their quest is nearing its end, but it’s clear that actually reaching the treasure isn’t actually the point of the narrative, even if it is their primary objective.
While this is a series that wears its fantasy influences on its sleeve, “Scales and Scoundrels” isn’t afraid to be creative and lean into what makes it unique. Its biggest boon is its cast of heroes, each one deftly crafted over the last five issues with skill and nuance in order to round out their personalities in a way that feels rare in this genre. The issue starts with a flashback to the start of Prince Aki’s quest. As he sets out on his long voyage, we also see his guardian and “shadow” Koro receiving instructions to protect him at all costs. This tight bond of duty and honor has been displayed throughout the series, but this flashback makes their connection more explicit in the reader’s mind before capitalizing on that understanding by issue’s end. Most of the drama from the last page or so is accentuated by this flashback, making it all the more poignant.
Similarly, there has been a central mystery surrounding Luvander since issue 1, and we’ve been led to believe that the title “Scales and Scoundrels” relates to her in a much more literal way, and in this issue, those answers feel closer than ever. While we don’t get everything we’ve been searching for, an encounter with a dragon-like beast (one with a very talkative nature) drops some pretty major hints that will take us into the second volume.
Artist Galaad aids Girner in ensuring “Scales and Scoundrels” maintains that perfect balance, with a colorful, accessible look that screams “all-ages,” but with a flair for scale and character design that effortlessly adds weight to the drama. In this issue alone, the heroes face off against mermen-pirates, a giant underground whale, a stone-like dragon golem called an Urden and an exploding, collapsing cave system. The new threats are introduced in ways that pop off the page and add a sense of danger to the proceedings that feels exhilarating. Galaad’s use of sickly, unnatural colors adds unease and a sense of unpredictability, while his violent reds near the end of the issue properly convey the danger in ways that the script alone would fail. The panels open up at moments where the threat is the greatest, and slice across each other when the action is at its peak.
For the most part, dwarf Dorma is on her own quest this issue, as she follows a different path from the others looking for her lost brother. There’s a page that wonderfully subverts the formalism of the panel borders that have been present throughout, opening up to a full-bleed that truly illustrates how lost she becomes. Surrounded by a bleak, brown nothingness, the small figure of Dorma reaches out with a meek “h-hello?” As you pan down the page, repetition gives you some sense of location, and a slow zoom in allows us to see what Dorma has found, and feel the true weight of this discovery. It’s a stand-out moment in the issue, and that’s all down to Galaad’s wise page layouts.Continued below
“Scales and Scoundrels” has been the best all-ages book on the stands since issue one but here, at the conclusion to the first volume, it’s transcended from a light-hearted adventure series to a deep and engaging story. Its plot may feel familiar to longtime fantasy fans, but its character-driven narrative breathes a fresh life into this genre, and the time dedicated to each character pays off in spades. The issue may be geared around concluding the volume in an exciting way, but “Scales and Scoundrels” #5 stands out as the best chapter of the series so far.
Final Verdict: 9.4 – An exciting and dramatic conclusion to the first arc of the series.