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Review: ‘Scales & Scoundrels Vol.1: Into the Dragon’s Maw’

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Scales & Scoundrels Vol. 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw
Writer: Sebastian Girner
Artist: Galaad
Image Comics; $9.99
Rated E for Everyone

If Scales & Scoundrels‘ alliterative two-word title with an ampersand reminds you of a particular tabletop role-playing game, that’s more than likely intentional. Indeed, writer Sebastian Girner and artist Galaad’s fantasy series opens with a scene familiar from hundreds of Westerns, wherein a fight breaks out in a bar after one player accuses another of cheating at cards…only here the particular card game is called “Dragon’s Hoard,” and it sounds like it has more in common with Dungeons & Dragons than poker.

Scales & Scoundrels vol 1Girner and Galaad waste no time in putting their cards on the table, as it were. Not only is their work set in a familiar-feeling fantasy world, but the action centers around a small party of adventurers setting out on a quest together in the hopes of accumulating treasure. And the place they intend to search is called “The Dragon’s Maw,” which is essentially a gigantic dungeon full of monsters and treasure that serves as something of a tourist attraction for would-be heroes, not entirely unlike the setting of Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s long-running Dungeon series.

Despite the healthy degree of self-awareness, Scales & Scoundrels isn’t arch or cynical, and its characters are engaging ones, each with enough of a personal story to draw a reader in and either transcend the cookie-cutter nature of their character types or reveal potential to do so in future installments (this first trade collects the first five issues of the ongoing series; the second volume should be out as soon as this summer).

The protagonist is Luvander, the woman at the center of the card game-turned-bar brawl of the opening pages. She has short silvery gray hair, distinct tattoos, a lust for gold and glory, and a penchant for getting into trouble. That she’s also an amazing fighter, who seems to have preternatural strength and speed, helps her get out of that same trouble fairly easily. By the end of the first scene, she’s accused of being an “Urden,” which is apparently a dragon in human form. (Certainly the dragon on the trade’s cover has something of a resemblance to Luvander.)

Clues to who and what exactly she is, and what her real agenda might be, are parceled out throughout the comic, which plays just coy enough to stoke the reader’s continued curiosity. In the middle of another fight, she runs into a small party setting out toward the Dragon’s Maw: Prince Akisbjorne, a naive but enthusiastic 16-year-old royal questing as part of a rite-of-passage ritual; Koro, his hyper-competent and highly-suspicious bodyguard; and Dorma, a dwarf with several rather un-dwarf-like hang-ups, like a fear of the dark.

They all have other motives beyond their stated ones and relate to one another in different ways, but for the most part, Scales & Scoundrels is within the expected bounds of genre exercises, just a little funnier and a lot more fun than might be expected.

Where the book is particularly notable is in its visuals, which seem to draw inspiration for design and storytelling equally from European comics and manga, although it reads like an American comic. Those designs are pretty significant too, because the main characters don’t necessarily look like the sort you would have found in illustrations accompanying a D&D handbook a generation ago, and there’s both a fair amount of imaginative world-building and some quite striking creature designs. All in all, the first volume of Scales & Scoundrels rolls a natural 20.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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