Sabretooth Swordsman Volume 1 (Second Edition)
Released by: Dark Horse Comics
Released on: February 15th, 2017.
Written by: Damon Gentry
Illustrated by: Aaron Conley
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Written by Damon Gentry and illustrated by Aaron Conley, Sabretooth Swordsman “And The Mayhem Of The Malevolent Mastodon Mathematician” introduces us to a simple farmer who gets his ass kicked and finds that his wife, Joleen, has been kidnapped by the titular Mastodon. To set things right, he heads to Sasquatch Mountain where The Could God turns him first into a few goofy creatures and then eventually into the mighty Sabretooth Swordsman.
Now imbued with great strength, a sharp sword and a fancy outfit our hero heads out into the wilds of Paddatch-Pan and Bevaneer to try to find his beloved before it is too late, but not before the Cloud God makes him past a test to ensure that he does indeed receive ‘the sacred thumbs-up of approval.’ On his quest he’ll fight skeletons, giant snakes and after taking what may or may not be a hallucinogen, the power of his own memories (which allow us to further learn about his backstory). Along the way he visits his old house now inhabited by a crazy cat lady, hits a bar inhabited with bad guys who need punching, meets a travelling man and his monstrous assistants, gets attacked by a herd of giant angry goats, meets a strange boy and his evil hag mother, takes on a pair of cyclops wrestlers and then, through luck and sheer determination, eventually comes face to face with The Malevolent Mastodon Mathematician himself!
One hundred and nine pages of black and white mind melting insanity, Sabretooth Swordsman is a blast from start to finish. Clearly inspired by all manner of oddball underground comix as well as more traditional sword and sorcery stories and comics like Conan The Barbarian, this still manages to stand up as a wholly original work. Conley’s artwork is insanely detailed but so too is it trippy and heady in the way that it really makes you pay attention to each panel to really take it all in. Panel layouts almost don’t matter here as the action is literally all over the place, spreading across the page with an unstoppable amount of insanity and obvious love of craft. The penciling really pulls you in and character design here is awesome, pulling in elements of old eighties video games, Disney movies, scores of different comic books, old pulp paperback illustrations and Frazetta-esque fantasy art and giving it a very cinematic flow. This almost seems animated more than illustrated at times, and you’ve got to admire just how beautifully rendered it all is. The monsters that populate this world are almost Lovecraftian, all slimy and alien looking, completely inhuman and always out to eat our hero. The Swordsman himself is just flat out cool, looking like the best Thundercat that never existed decked out in his sweat pants, his fez and his vest while wielding his sword and showing off an ever increasing array of abilities like his ‘cold claw’ and his ‘super jump.’
The story itself is needlessly complicated in the best way possible. This really is a simple quest story at its core, the tale of a man who gains powers to save the woman he loves from a strange villain. That in and of itself isn’t in the least bit original but it’s how it plays out that is really the catch here. Damon Gentry’s writing is humorous, adventurous and every bit as trippy as Conley’s artwork. The dialogue is frequently hilarious, especially our hero’s responses to the various friends and foes he encounters on his mystical journey. These can be surprisingly blunt but also pretty witty.
This all works, it just jives and flows in ways that you don’t see coming but never want to miss. It’s funny, it’s bizarre, it’s occasionally a little gross and it’s consistently engaging. And not only does this second edition reprint the original black and white story, but it’s loaded with bonus material as well. Making up roughly the last fifty pages of this one hundred and fifty seven page collection are:
-early character art by Aaron Conley
-a black and white pin up gallery featuring contributions from Mike Allred, Dilraj Mann, David Lafuente, Tyler Landry, Matthew Allison, Brandon Graham and Buster Moody
-Sabretooth Swordsman In “Swamp Snake Sickness” – a short by Gentry and Conley with color work from Sloane Leong (Dark Horse Presents #28 (Volume Two, #185) - a color short in which the Swordsman heads into a swamp looking for Joleen only to battle and be bitten by a snake. The venom causes him to ‘see things’ but of course there’s more to this snake then meets the eye.
-There are also some great cover pieces that were originally done for Dark Horse Digital: Mellifluous Mutant Melancholy by Matthew Allison (Sabertooth Swordsman #2), Glorious Goatymus Grumps by Aaron Conley, with color work by Matthew Allison (Sabertooth Swordsman #3), Blue-Skinned Wrastlers Slathered in Stage Makeup by Damon Gentry, with color work by Jen Estirdalin Pattison (Sabertooth Swordsman #4), Hopeless Hydra Hopscotch by Simon Roy (Sabertooth Swordsman #5), Flamey Firey Fury by Aaron Conley, with airbrush work by Gary Worthington (Sabertooth Swordsman #6)
-Sabertooth Swordsman in “Colossal Casuals Crusade” – a short by Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley, with color work by Joseph Bergin III, from Dark Horse Presents #1 (Volume Three, #194). Here we witness the Swordsman run through the desert, take on a massive horde of giant beetles and then fight his way through sprawling underground Egyptian ceremonial chamber only to make a daring escape!
-Sabertooth Swordsman in “Double Date Discord” –a short by Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley, with color work by Joseph Bergin III (Dark Horse Presents #7 (Volume Three, #200). Here the Sabretooth Swordsman heads into the woods to Bat Town only to be chased out by… bats into a cemetery where skeletons rise from the dead.
-There are a few color pinupts here too Catfish-Cuddlin’ Castaways by Lin Visel, Sultanic Secret Service by Zé Burnay and Viraat Purushan-Vishnuroopam by Aaron Conley, with color work by Joseph Bergin III
The shorts are all done in the insane style of the black and white content making up the bulk of the book, but it’s cool to see the characters in color (particularly because the coloring is really, really well done here). The cover pieces are also great, as they allow a varied batch of ridiculously talented artists to offer up their take on the Sabretooth Swordsman and his world.
All in all, if insanely detailed (and sometimes very psychedelic) artwork, quirky and original storytelling that combines humor and surprisingly traditional sword and sorcery sounds like your bag, check this out. And if you’ve already got the original hardcover collection from a few years ago (like some of us do), well, there’s enough awesome new bonus material collected in this second edition that you’ll probably want to consider picking up this one too.