Jim Zubkavich writes stories I shouldn’t like. I’m nowhere near to being his target audience. As a rule, I don’t play video games or laugh at jokes involving slapstick or bodily functions. I’m middle-aged. I’m female. I’m couth.
Skullkickers, vol 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body
Story by Jim Zubkavich; Illustrations by Edwin Huang
Age Rating: 13+
Image; March 2011
144 pages, $9.99
And yet I do like the stories Jim Zubkavich writes. His stories are smart. They’re witty. And he writes with a respect both for the genre in which he’s working and for the intelligence of his readers. Last time out he took a licensed video game character and turned her story into a convincing shojo-like school girl adventure (Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki). This time he’s tackling the Sword & Sorcery genre, complete with goblins, assassins, and evil warlocks, and he’s doing it with his sense of the ridiculous fully engaged.
Two unnamed mercenaries, one a tall, bald, pokerfaced strong man, the other a long-haired dwarf with a nigh-Scottish brogue, roam from town to town killing monsters for profit. “Baldy” and “Shorty” are on the trail of an evil mage who has stolen the body of an assassinated nobleman. Our two heroes track him, battle his undead army and rescue the stolen body, but not before Shorty suffers from a stab wound that results in an enchanted foot. That’s right, an enchanted foot. I won’t tell you what happens next, but it won’t ruin anything if I tell you that I laughed out loud through chapter four. Cackled, even.
The tropes that are being spoofed here will be familiar to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with quest-type fantasy. This is not the epic Tolkienesque keep-track-of-plot-lines-or-you’ll-be-hopelessly-lost-later-in-the-story kind of fantasy. This is more a Xanth kind of fantasy, the kind with goofy premises in which every opportunity for humor is exploited. The artwork by Edwin Huang and the colors by Misty Coats mirror perfectly what Zubkavich is doing with the story. The characters are huge (even Shorty), with Baldy’s biceps bulging bigger than his head. The fight scenes (there are lots of fight scenes) are crowded and messy, and the blood (there is lots of blood) flows red — except for the goblins. Their blood is more of a mustard yellow. As it should be.
I sent in a field nomination for Skullkickers to YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens and I hope someone on the committee seconds it. Yes, there is plenty of cartoon violence, cartoon swearing, and general cartoon oafery. But any graphic novel that can make a fourteen-year-old boy and a forty-cough-year-old woman say, “Gross!” and “Awesome!” in the same breath deserves to be considered for the list.