With issue #6, Scales & Scoundrels tries some fairly bold things that answer many of my concerns about the series and open some interesting new avenues for the characters. Having finally located Dalden Laria, the fabled Hall of Dreaming Treasures, Luvander is confronted by a demon, an ancient enemy of her people, and sent plummeting to her apparent death along with Prince Aki. Now, Koro is left alone to avenge her prince.
What follows is largely a lengthy fight sequence as Koro struggles against an enemy that is not only vastly stronger than her but deeply more cunning and cruel. However, rather than dwelling on clever tactics or frightening tone, Sebastian Girner uses the one-sidedness of the fight to tell us things about the combatants.
I admit that there was some trepidation when demons found their way into this series. What a vague and uncomplicated trope they can be, especially in media intended to be read by children. But, at least for the purposes of this issue, that’s kind of the fun of it. Without fully leaving the realm of flesh, blood, and biology, the demon’s slimy, hungry personality makes it perfectly clear what it is and how it operates. The result is a walking plot device that makes no secret of what it is and, as such, fills that role with aplomb.
As ever, Girner is a champion of dramatic arc, using the demon’s empathic abilities to craft an emotional trail for the reader with abundant peaks and valleys. Scales & Scoundrels’ greatest strength has always been it’s ability to get the reader amped, and this is a fantastic example, with moments that can easily tempt a fist pump or a big “Yeah!”.
What’s more, issue #6 delivers something that I think has been missing from S&S. Though the wide-open sense of adventure has been a fantastic element, this week we feel that net go taut as the stakes of this adventure catch up with Koro. The character development and the attention paid to how events inform and are changed by the revelations of this issue bring the whole series into better focus and give value to the freedom of the book by its contrast.
And the character moments are legitimately great in their own right. Especially as an expression of Girner, Galaad, and Jeff Powell’s teamwork and story sense, the beats of this issue are particularly powerful. Dorma’s return, Koro’s initial anger, and Dorma’s vision are all potent, iconic moments under Galaad’s pen, with the latter being especially poignant, as well as a beautiful centerpiece for the issue.
The flat, bold style of the series comes to life against the harsh brightness of a crumbling citadel and a monster’s poison whispers. The colors of Scales are always pretty impressive, but every here and there they flare up to remind you just how vivid they can be. Striking oranges and acidic greens define the issue with intense purples and blues offering reprieve and a touching visual motif.
Galaad’s forceful cartoony linework retains it’s perfect grasp of motion that makes action scenes in Scales & Scoundrels so arresting. Seemingly every panel catches its figures at the precise moment of maximum dramatic force. Swinging momentum and precisely weighted poses remain the name of the game, granting the book an all too valuable sense of cinematography. Though the panels are very still, there’s no doubt what motion they depict. At times Galaad’s well-earned confidence cuts things a little close, leaving the spatial relationship between two panels unclear at first glance, but it’s an oddity and one that always resolves after a moment of active reading.
And it isn’t just Girner who’s using the ambiguity of the all-ages label to his advantage. Galaad uses the squatness, the bounce, the boldness, and the comedy familiar to more youthful comic traditions to great effect. The resulting style has a charm and timelessness about it that is wholly its own but feels natural in the footsteps of Middle Earth or Prydain as much as in those of indie comic classics created by like Peyo, the Pinis, or Hergé.
The layouts are also exciting in their simplicity. Great crags of story float through the void of the page, easy enough for a child to navigate but retaining some energy for the older reader. The few pages without the comforting white of the gutters are always among the issue’s most meaningful and well organized. Here Galaad uses the gutters to represent reality, stability and their absence opens us up to moments of mind-bending grief and recognition. Koro’s visions, in particular, make for a particularly striking page, packed to bursting with character and using color both to highlight and to subtly hide its final image until that dramatic moment arrives
This is also a notable issue for Jeff Powell, who navigates the standard balloons, roaring growls, and numerous sound effects wonderfully. Particularly at the very end of the battle, Powell’s creativity stands out and completes the issue.
A grandiose epic to a child’s eyes and an issue of quiet realizations and heroic bombast for adults, Scales & Scoundrels undergoes an affecting maturation through issue #6. Filled to the brim with fantastic character moments and impressive story beats, Scales & Scoundrels shows no signs of slowing down as it enters its second arc. Especially with the first five issues collected in paperback this week, there’s never been a better time to join the adventure. One of the purest and most beautiful adventure comics on the market proves that it has plenty stories left to tell and more than enough weight to make them meaningful.
Scales & Scoundrels #6 is currently available in comic shops from Image Comics.