Before Skybreaker, I had never actually read a MonkeyBrain comic. I’ve heard many good things about the digital-first lineup, and have been curious to give Chris Roberson’s upstart publisher a try. This latest addition to their growing lineup is this dark Western tale written by Michael Moreci of Hoax Hunters fame, with art from FUBAR alumni Drew Zucker. Does Skybreaker #1 serve as a good introduction to the MonkeyBrain brand?
In all honesty, I’m not quite sure. Skybreaker remains a quite elusive entity in this opening chapter, with Moreci showing us some disparate jigsaw pieces that manage to hold some level of intrigue in isolation, even if we don’t quite yet know how they will fit together. This becomes immediately apparent in the issue’s opening sequence. As a prologue, it gets the ball rolling in style, as our enigmatic protagonist fights his way out of his own grave and kills his assailants. There’s some well-framed action here, but Moreci and Zucker come at this scene from an unusual angle, beginning with an elegiac rumination on death and loss, with some quite abstract establishing shots that don’t establish much, leading to us finally transitioning via match cut into a close shot of the aforementioned grave. We don’t know who this man in the grave is when we meet him, or why these other men are trying to kill him. We only get his name at the very end of the scene, the “Skybreaker” where the title comes from.
From there we make a radical shift to a different locale and a different set of characters – all with relationships and motivations quite mysterious in their own right – as Swearengen-like community leader Mr. Cutter is confronted with numerous threats and challenges to his settlement. Only in the latter stages does the story from the beginning lurch into the mix, presented as yet another problem for Cutter to worry about in amidst the encroachment of Indian “savages” and US marshalls. We still don’t know much about the eponymous Skybreaker by the end, though the conclusion leaves us with some intriguing hints about his history. There’s an admirable bravery in just launching your reader into the world of the story, throwing them right in the deep end with the dead bodies dropping and the threats flying without worrying about slowing things down with context or exposition, though the narrative could be a bit too opaque for its own good. Based on the quality of Moreci’s writing, I’m confident that this is all going to come together into a highly impressive whole, but at this early stage I can imagine some readers thinking they don’t have enough meat on the bone to bring them back for issue #2.
Drew Zucker’s art is a little less polished than Michael Moreci’s scripting. There are some very well-realised visuals, such as the previously-discussed opening graveside battle, or the depictions of Cutter’s town, but there are other bits that feel a bit untidy, with the occasional awkward face that threw me off. Still, one big plus I want to remark on is the measured use of grayscale, escaping the pitfall that many black-and-white indie comics fall into of having the art feel untextured and incomplete. This doesn’t feel like a comic that’s missing color: the black-and-white feels like a pulpy stylistic choice.
So, Skybreaker #1: intriguing, unusual, often disorienting. Would I come back for issue #2? I’m not sure, but the nagging questions that the story tantalisingly dangles over our heads would incline me to lean more towards “yes” than “no.” If this is an indicator of the quality of comics MonkeyBrain is putting out there, then the positive buzz is well deserved.
Skybreaker #1 is available to buy now from Comixology.