Well, with my first week back as a teacher and the first year as a teacher out of the way, it’s good to talk about comic books again after a two week hiatus.
Having fun is important in the world.
We live in a society that is primarily focused on the negative. Hardly any acknowledgement is given when something actually goes right.
Comic books are notorious for heralding these kinds of fans. It’s a harsh stereotype against a struggling genre, where a good number of the so-called “fans” will take to the internet or their local comic book shop to complain about the books they say they love.
I’ve always wondered why? Why continue to read a series if you haven’t been happy with it for the past few years?
Better yet, if you care so much for comics why say bad things?
When Comic Matters began, its singular goal was and continues to be to discuss the greatness of comics. To find why they matter and to bring that to people not typically familiar with them and with that, hopefully, turn them into fans.
So, let this message ring especially clear: Comic books are fun.
I know that’s hard to believe, especially since we just recently went through an entire month of Batman comics, the most recent Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movie and before that, The Amazing Spider-Man movie. All of these, though great as they were, presented the life of super-heroes and their comic book adventures as a serious undertaking. For those two heroes, it can be. That’s what makes them such appealing characters to the masses.
Comic books don’t always have to be like this, though. They can be a fun romp through super-heroics and adventure.
The comic we focus on this week is one that I picked up over the summer and have read a few times since. The fun contained within is something, I find, missing from much of the action-adventure oriented entertainment.
I mean, when a movie like “Battleship” plays itself up as a serious story, then you know there’s a massive problem.
However, with the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado and the entire legacy of The Dark Knight franchise in a minor spot of disarray, it caused a lot of thinking about what exactly comic books mean to me and what they mean to those that love reading them.
With that, I delved deep into the world of fantasy. This felt like an interesting change of pace since the past six weeks or so had been focused on superhero comics.
The comic I selected was one sitting on my shelf for months, just begging to be picked up and read in a continuous 2 hour session. And within those two hours, what was I blessed with?
Multiple axe wounds. Eviscerations. Gun shots. Homicidal fairies. A collected, zombie infestation monster. A tall bald hero. A short, foul-mouthed dwarf. 1000 Opas. A dead body. Five funerals. And, to cap it all off, a bucket of blood.
These hilariously listed items are part of the first two story arcs of the fantasy-focused comedy-action series called “Skullkickers”, written by Jim Zub with artwork provided
by Edwin Huang. The series, published by Image Comics and originally conceived as two short stories within the Popgun Anthology series, it’s grown in popularity and has formed a strong cult following. So much so that even on the verge of cancellation, the book was returned from an interval and continues with strong sales today.
So, let’s actually talk about the series.
Currently, the exploits of Baldy and Shorty (the two main characters that are never actually named, nor do they refer to themselves by an actual name) are published in two distinct volumes: “1000 Opas and a Dead Body” and “Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood”. Both stories can be seen as separate adventures involving looting and pillaging, but they carry an overall connecting story arc. Nothing too out in the open, but enough to notice that some of these plot threads will be carried over to the next major storyline and beyond.
The first volume, entitled “1000 Opas and a Dead Body” opens with the best fight scene I have seen in comics in a long time. We’re shown the middle of a brawl, Shorty and Baldy are taking it to the most overweight werewolf you will find. Sort of makes all the muscular ones in certain teenage-centric-vampire-romance-movies/television serials look hilarious by comparison.
So, back to the fight. As the two viciously hack away at their werewolf opponent, it’s become apparent that the wolf is stronger. With some quick thinking on his side, Baldy dispatches the wolf with a few shots from his hand gun and displays for us the best use of silverware outside of actually using it for eating.
With that, Baldy and Shorty are forced to defend themselves from the local law Lieutenant, saying that their fight severely hurt four nearby bystanders and crushed a local tavern.
All in all, typical day for our mercenary heroes.
Can we call them heroes?
That’s the fine line that writer Jim Zub balances himself on with every issue.
I read both volumes back to back, and I must say that, a few times, I found myself hoping that both Baldy and Shorty would miss a sword strike and fall victim so the madness and chaos could end.
Fortunately for me, though, it never did.
After their encounter with the werewolf, author Zub takes our two heroes in another direction as the local Chancellor makes a visit town. With that, it’s a whirlwind of secret society assassinations followed by druidic zombie revivals. Baldy and Shorty are tasked with stopping the evil from rising and turning against the populace.
Drawing these exploits is artist Edwin Huang. Lately, I’ve found my artistic favors tending more towards the realistically cartoony. What this means is this fantasy series creates a strong divide from many already published fantasy comics. Their artistic style tends more towards the realistic, bringing you into the fantasy realm.
Huang, though, never lets the pre-set standards of fantasy comics restrain his artistic explosion. While his figures and creatures lean more towards the extreme and over-exaggerated, he never lightens up on the detail. His clothing creates a realm reminiscent of the best in fantasy and his action scenes draw you in to the violence and the debauchery that Shorty and Baldy create.
I bought both collections a few weeks ago and read them long before Batman Month began. Before the tragedy and heartache befell the release of what could have been the biggest movie of the year.
However, I found something else in these pages. Escapism.
For a long time, I always fought the notion that comics needed to be used as escapism; that they as a medium could be appreciated for their merits and not be used as a means to an end. When the shooting happened, I found myself rethinking these stories and putting more thought into what they offered me as opposed to just fantasy violence and comical fun.
They offered a way out, for that short time.
I think, sometimes, for a comic book, that’s okay.
Especially if it’s with Baldy and Shorty.
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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