I don’t know what it is about comic books that appeals to me so much more than regular, printed novels. There’s not as much story in a comic book as there is in a novel. You pay three bucks for 20 pages, instead of eight for 300. You’ll read through a comic in five or ten minutes, and a novel can last you for a week. But dammit, I love comic books.
This week I got caught up on Skullkickers, a tongue-in-cheek fantasy comic about a bald guy with an anachronistic firearm and halfwit dwarf with a penchant for homicide. It’s clever and funny and action-packed, which I guess is one thing comics deliver that a novel doesn’t – a novel says ‘Ralph punched Bob in the nose,’ and a comic shows you a violent blow to the face. Action in a comic book is more fun, just because you can actually see the blood splatters.
Skullkickers isn’t just a comic full of violence, though. Some of the best scenes happen when the two main characters are in a bar somewhere. They’ll tell a ridiculous story, drink some ale, then stab someone in the neck for the final panel. The dwarf’s dialog is absurdly hilarious – he talks like a Scotsman with violent schizophrenia and permanent brain damage. The bald guy is pretty cool, too, but he’s a little more normal, so his dialog is just interesting, as opposed to comically bizarre.
The story in Skullkickers doesn’t seem like it should be building from issue to issue, because the hapless duo is so straight-forward and violence-prone, but stuff will happen in issue 3 that doesn’t pay off all the way until issue 22. Reading the entire series, you’ll come to appreciate the impressive skill with which the writer weaves his tale. He’s not just good at campy action and clever quips. He’s a damned fine storyteller.
I also have a considerable appreciation for the comedy in Skullkickers. Even when I’m reading ‘funny’ comic books, I rarely laugh out loud, but Skullkickers has me giggling or laughing nearly every time. It helps that, instead of the usual ‘THUD’ and ‘WHUMP’ you might see in other comics, the sound effects are more literal – ‘WAK’ is replaced by ‘PAINFUL ELBOW TO THE NOSE’ or ‘FURIOUS DWARF PUNCH.’
My favorite gags, though, are when the writer throws in background chatter. You’ll see a crowd of local militia attacking a giant corpse beast, and there will be all these little word bubbles saying, ‘Get him!’ and ‘Run away!’ and ‘Oh my organs!’ That last one made me laugh so hard my wife asked if I was on drugs. But then, she thought I was doing a Sudoku on my iPad, so hearing me guffaw loudly made her question how much fun I could have doing a logic puzzle.
There’s really a hell of a lot to love about Skullkickers. It’s just so damned fun. The art is exceptional – you can tell what’s happening even without any words on the page, and you’ll want to learn how to draw just so you can send in fan art. Every five or six issues, they break from the story and have an issue that’s just a bunch of short stories. The writer actually apologized for that once, saying it was a delaying tactic, but those little collections of ludicrous hijinks are some of my favorite issues.
If you need your comics to feature brightly colored costumes and skintight spandex, just stick with Avengers and Justice League. If you prefer brooding and dark and serious, I’m sure there’s a Batman title that will fit the bill (probably there are a dozen). But if you like a good story, high-flying action, amoral morons, and spectacular art, Skullkickers is a silly, fun read that will keep you flipping pages and coming back for more.