The hilariously fun fantasy series, Skullkickers, has recently finished up its fourth story arc. As in the past, that means it’s time for another set of Tavern Tales to sate fans until the main story picks up again. Series creator, writer, and RPG aficionado, Jim Zub, has previously used these brief interludes to allow other creative teams to tackle these characters in their own short stories. While these issues are still fun, they typically don’t add anything to the story, and instead read more like isolated newspaper strips. While the allotted panel-time for each story remains far too thin to allow for a meaningful story to be told, this latest installment of Tavern Tales was by far the most “useful”.
Although the previous Tales issues felt rather pointless in terms of the overall series, they are admittedly fun little jokes that each led up to a final punch line. The latest installment takes this same formula and presents something that contributes to the main series, despite simply being a “break” between story arcs. Not only do the stories feel above average in terms of Tavern Tales, but each follows one of the main characters in Skullkickers prior to the start of the series.
The first story was put together by the super-star Top Cow team of Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic. The story follows Kusia as she undertakes a training mission. While brief, this tale solidifies her character and overall personality and follows with a great punch line. Sejic is a personal favorite artist, and while the style he has employed for his contribution to Skullkickers is vastly different than his usual books it still looks fantastic. This is some of the best art featured in Tavern Tales with a far less cartoon-like appearance, and much darker tones.
The next story, Dagnabbit T’ Hell, follows Rex as he battles a demonic creature in the old west. The whole story is practically one long joke, but a good one that subtly highlights the character’s initial desire for a magical firearm. The artwork remains incredible for this tale, and is strikingly reminiscent of that found in the regular issues of Skullkickers, particularly regarding the colors.
The third story is a bit of a different take on the back story angle featured throughout this issue. Instead of showing events as they occurred, this tale follows Shorty’s search for a partner before the beginning of Skullkickers, as told by Rex. This story was the most humorous of the issue, as one bumbling adventurer after another proves inadequate, often to hilarious effect. However, the artwork illustrating the tavern setting feels out of place somehow. While the characters feel off in this context, most of the story is told through black & white flashbacks which look great.
Finally, a few pages are dedicated to the creature, Thool, discussing some of the finer elements of dimensional theory. Regular series writer and colorist, Jim Zub and Misty Coats, reclaim their title here alongside artist Lar Desouza, who does a terrific job maintaining a style similar to regular, Edwin Huang. This story simply has Thool discussing how his minions ended up where they have. As far as plot development goes, this particular tale was probably the central player in Skullkickers #24.
Although the Tavern Tales released in between story arcs are often irritating breaks from the main story, the latest instalment really provided something new to the saga of Skullkickers. Each tale remained very brief and without tremendous depth, they were funny and served to reinforce the history of each character featured in this wonderful series. Furthermore, the cover of this particular issue, a throwback to the original Watchmen series, was one of the best spoof covers they have used!