By Dustin Cabeal
Kingdom of Skulls is part King Conan and part Mignolaverse, and that’s not only a very difficult thing to accomplish but also enjoyable to read. This one-shot from Ray Wegner introduces the lineage of the Kingdom of Skulls as the current king and last king in the bloodline, prepares for a battle outside his gates.
As the king transitions down the steps of his throne, the story flashes back, telling the origin of the first king and how the crown/skull mask became the symbol of the kingdom. The story continues to flash back and forth between past and present. Each flashback gives more origin for the throne. Interestingly enough this makes the crown a character of sorts. The battle the king faces is inconsequential to the story. It’s the mental journey for the king that the reader will find interesting. As we learn the king's age and that he’s the last in his bloodline, every battle he faces really could be his last and with that the end of the bloodline that has protected and governed the lands for so many generations.
The age and reflection are where the Conan aspects come into place for the story. That parts probably obvious, but the Mignola part might not be as clear. Wegner does an incredible job with the timeline of the story. It makes it so that you could jump into any part of the story and tell a new chapter. It’s vague and yet defined which is what the Mignola verse feels like a lot of the times. Wegner has outlined the story well, but more so he made sure to tell a complete feeling one-shot story. You won’t see the outcome of the battle; you’re not really supposed to. It's up to you if the King lives or dies based on what you take from the story. If you read it positively, then he’ll live and protect the kingdom for another day. If you view it like a man at the end of his life saying his goodbyes, then he dies, and that’s it. That’s what’s so strong about Wegner’s storytelling in this issue, you can take it different ways, and neither is necessarily wrong or a poor choice for the story.
The artwork is in all black and white. Sometimes it’s very strong and played to the strengths of the story. Other times, particularly with the action, it feels a little stiff. That and with the story jumping back and forth there isn’t a smooth flow of the artwork. It still works quite well with the world, but the structure of the story deters the artwork from really gripping the story and taking control. There is a good back and forth between the narration and artwork, so it doesn’t suffer from what I call “tell, no show,” but it could have easily been just that.
For a one-shot, it’s an entertaining read that made me want more. Wegner creates a world that begs to be explored with future stories. This one-shot lays out the groundwork and gives the potential to follow numerous kings, which is a novel idea. Hopefully, we’ll see more from the Kingdom of Skulls and see the world blossom and reach its full potential.
Kingdom of Skulls
King Bone Press