In today's comic marketplace, launching a new series is a tough prospect at best. So with advance buzz building around "Skullkickers," I found myself curious to see just what had already sparked people's attention before even the first issue.
I was familiar with Jim Zubkavich's work on the web comic "Makeshift Miracle," but "Skullkickers" is a shift into a traditional fantasy romp, complete with werewolves, dwarves, assassins, and of course taverns. In many ways "Skullkickers" is a by-the-book fantasy comic; our two main characters (which Zubkavich deliberately fails to give names) are mercenaries that fight monsters and track down bad guys in service of the all-mighty coin the realm, the opa. Zubkavich is best when dealing with the two mercenaries talking back and forth; they've got a nice rapport between them, that sort of friendship that makes you feel like we're walking in on part of a much longer story.
On the other hand, it's hard to not feel like we've read a lot of this before. Aside from the pair's way of defeating a werewolf, it feels incredibly standard and rote. That's not a bad thing, but when it's your debut issue, one expects all the tricks to be laid out on the table, and (for better or for worse) Zubkavich avoids that expected strategy. Instead it feels like the story has just gotten started when we hit the end of the issue, and with so much feeling average it's hard to get a strong grasp on what about the story should make the second issue a must-buy prospect.
Chris Stevens pencils the first half of the issue before Edwin Huang takes over (and also inks the entire comic). There's a good visual consistency from Stevens to Huang, the entire book looking very slick and animation-cel inspired. "Skullkickers" reminds me a lot of books drawn by UDON, something that I suppose shouldn't have surprised me since Zubkavich is UDON's project manager. It's a nice-looking comic, although the lack of eyeballs on characters might initially come across as slightly distracting before you just grow to expect it as part of Huang's artistic style. In general, Huang's art is the big star of "Skullkickers," with the large hulking mercenary and his shorter-but-still-powerful dwarf friend feeling like they just emanate power on any single panel. They're definitely the kind of people you'd want to hire based solely on looks.
"Skullkickers" isn't a bad first issue, but I was hoping for more of a strong hook that would make me desperate to read more. This is fantasy in ways we've seen before, although by talented creators. I can see "Skullkickers" drawing in fans of fantasy stories, but so far I'm not convinced it's going to become a runaway juggernaut that crosses reader boundaries. Still, I'd like to be proven wrong. Hopefully next issue will have that draw that makes people desperate for more.