Scales & Scoundrels sounds like a DM’s name for their Dungeons and Dragons campaign, or perhaps a Brand X equivalent of the system as a whole. Whatever the relation, the comparison is apt, because S&S captures the wonder, opportunity, and self-awareness of a D&D campaign.
From the first moments, as our hero explains how they won at some overcomplicated card game, the world of Scales & Scoundrels feels like home. Writer Sebastian Girner knows exactly how generic to make his fantasy world and maximizes that intermingling feeling of the familiar and the unknown. That sandbox mentality is supported and balanced by a main character who makes it all personal. Looking out over a town with Luvander could, perhaps should, feel very mundane in a world of Superman and Assassin’s Creed, but, as built up by Girner and realized by Galaad, it can almost take your breath away.
Admittedly, Scales & Scoundrels is not a brilliantly scripted comic. The narrator, introduced somewhat awkwardly halfway through the issue, is bland and untethered, and expository and external internal monologues are introduced freely whenever Luvander is without someone to play off of. It’s a definite weakness of the book that Girner’s text is merely average. But, man, does he know how to craft a moment.
Over and over this issue delivers big, memorable moments where another series might have merely offered a solid quip or a space draining splash page. This story is flighty, swashbuckling fun, but it has real weight and throws it around like an expert. Moments strike hard and there’s an innate feeling of consequence, which is communicated efficiently rather than with endlessly escalating stakes. This is narratively lovely, but, the psychological and, since this is an all-ages book, developmental effects are just superb.
And Luvander is just cool. She’s small but every action she takes fills up the page. And, sure, she obviously has some kind of hidden power, but almost every brawl and escape, every incredible feat she performs, is based on precise application of force. She doesn’t feel magic, she feels badass, and Girner and Galaad know exactly how to maximize her impact, giving her character all the energizing power of a whole shonen Anime.
And perhaps what’s most impressive, especially as this is an all-ages title, is that, like Luvander, the series is utterly unironic about it. Scales & Scoundrels #1 never stops to brag or seek approval that this is cool. It’s cool, and neither does it lord that coolness over other characters, allowing readers to both aspire and relate to Luvander.
A big part of Luvander’s appeal is the storytelling of Galaad. The style is overwhelming, combining webcomic aesthetics, modern cartooning, and even perhaps a dash of tapestry art, but its Galaad’s grasp of motion that keeps you after the bright colors and lovely designs lure you in.
Luvander’s brawls capture the perfect moments between, the flashes of energy that usually fall between panels. The foreshortening of her leg or the shifting of her weight gift the story a vitality that can’t be beat. Even better, it doesn’t end when the fighting stops. Galaad brings the same conscious energy to static moments as well, imbuing Luvander’s stance with purpose and power. And though none can match the excitement Luvander brings with her, every character possesses a similar thoughtful stance, and doing so makes Luvander’s wildness and mystery all the stronger.
Galaad is essential to Girner’s success. So many of the forceful moments in this issue could have stalled without Galaad’s timing. There’s a cinematic quality about the issue, a filmic pacing born out of the aggregate of pages, that shines without ceding the strengths of the comics format.
As a whole, the art is deceptively simple. Galaad makes all of it look easy, but even a brief inspection will reveal how complicated his simplistic is. Line weight and color compliments and carefully measured ratios of line boldness to squiggliness communicate exactly what they need to without ever stealing your attention from the story. Un-selfconscious layouts shift naturally, telling the story rather than making a statement and making the decisions look effortless, completing a winning combination.
Admittedly, I didn’t notice that Luvander was a girl until after the dialogue told me, something I’ll chalk up to a combination of her design, the layouts that Galaad picked before that point, and my own obliviousness. Still, I almost take it as a good thing. Maybe that will trick some unsuspecting boys into relating to a woman for once.
The colors are sumptuous. The issue has a slightly desaturated look that serves it well, never more so than when it decides to do away with it and make a point. There’s just such a wonderful sharpness to the contrasts, even in the most subdued palettes, that it’s hard not to be excited reading the book.
Though it tells a story built from familiar components, Scales & Scoundrels tells it in a way all its own. From the punctuated force and charm of the script to the gorgeous, perfectly timed artwork, this series makes a big impression based on its masterful grasp of personality, color, and sheer, fist pumping awesome. This is a fine start by any standard, but, as an all-ages title, Scales & Scoundrels makes a particularly welcome entrance and fills a particularly valuable niche in your local comic shop. Fantastic art, potent storytelling, and classic adventure electricity make this a book you could hand to nearly anyone.
Scales & Scoundrels #1 is available now at your Local Comic Shop from Image Comics.