I'm a massive fan of ogres, skeletons, orcs, dragons and all that D&D, Tolkien-style gubbins, but let's be honest, fantasy comics and literature can be a bit of a bore.
All those characters with silly names doing ridiculous things with straight faces? Gaggh! Do me a favour! For something that's meant to be fantastical, reading fantasy is often a depressingly stodgy experience.
Not so Skullkickers!
First of all, no silly names! The two main characters don't have names. We don't even know anything about them. They're just there! Two mercenaries - a hulking human with a gun and a curmudgeonly dwarf with a thirst for booze and blood. Little and Large, Abbot and Costello, Penn and Teller - pick any comedy double act you like, the comparisons are there to be made. Forget the necromancers, taverns and goblins - this is your classic straight man/funny man duo and the reason Skullkickers works so well is down to the chemistry between the two.
They tool around an unnamed fantasy world, (which seems to be a composite of every other fantasy world we've ever seen), fighting stuff and getting into scrapes - and that's it! No pretentious overarching plot, (not yet anyway), just good, honest, blood-soaked shenanigans. It's fantasy which is a good deal closer to the hack-and-slash style D&D games you played as a thirteen-year-old than it is to the impenetrable 900 page epics that clutter the fantasy section of your local bookshop. Read it in 20 minutes, enjoy the bejiminy out of it and then move on. Magic.
Writer Jim Zubkavich is a funny man. There are moments when his story reads like a vintage 80s MAD Magazine-style parody of Hawk The Slayer. His script races along at glorious speed, gently poking fun at the fantasy genre while serving up generous portions of claret-drenched slapstick.
Pacewise it reminds me of Robert Kirkman's Invincible - all big, bloody, page turning action sequences. But even the most exciting battles are done with tongue tucked firmly in cheek - there's plenty of gore for sure, but the accent is always on laughs.
The art is stunning. I'm reading the series on an iPad via the Comixology app, and it springs off the screen. Misty Coates, (surely the greatest name for a colourist ever), drenches every panel in bright, rich colours that are a world away from the dark, brooding tones that are so often on show in fantasy comics. Her dynamic palette makes the tight pencils pop, not that they necessarily need help.
There's a Dragon's Lair sort of cartoony style to the art - shared by Chris Stevens and Edwin Huang - and it fits the tone of the book perfectly. The fight scenes are the obvious draw, but care and attention has been paid to every single panel of this comic. Indeed, the individual panels look like animation cells, a fact which only adds to my belief that Skullkickers would make a fine, fine cartoon.
The monsters are rendered really well and the town squares, forests, dungeons and grimy inns that act as a backdrop to the action are all beautifully detailed. Even the lettering is special - trust me, you'll laugh at the sound effects.
It really is a top comic and, although there's a trade due out next month, it's definitely worth considering reading on the Ipad, if you have access to one.