My intense desire in writing this Why You Should Read… article is just to write “read it” over and over again. I love Scud unapologetically…It is everything I love in a good indie project. It’s self-aware, references pop culture at nauseum and is just plain weird. In no world can I see one of the Big Two picking up a book like this and that to me is what an indie book should strive for. I will strive to not just gush the entire time and do my best to convince you to read this hidden gem.
Created by Rob Schrab and published by Image Comics from 1994-1998 and concluded in 2008. Rob Schrab was the artist through the series, created the characters and wrote most of the series. He is mostly known for co-creating The Sarah Silverman Program for Comedy Central and co-writing Monster House with Dan Harmon. Speaking of Dan Harmon, he co-writes about ten of the issues of Scud and even created one of the spin-off books from the series. This book has a very similar frenetic pace as Rick and Morty and just as much heart as that series does. The influence of Scud on the series is palpable and the writing will feel familiar if not a bit more raw. It permeates through the series absolute plunge into the bizarre with incredible amounts of gore and explosions. It balances this with a tremendous cast and as said before, some genuinely heartfelt moments.
Scud is what it says on the tin, a disposable robot assassin. It’s an irreverent sci-fi comedy with some of the weirdest character designs you’ll ever run into. It has this weirdly distorted art style, a combination of the 90’s Image art scene and a surrealists technophobic nightmare, all wrapped up in a soft cartoon layer that makes it something wholly unique unto itself. The pages feel like the speed was turned up to 11 on almost every panel. The book generally has some crazy combination of pieces to smash together and it gets crazier by the second. Though some of the locations aren’t as grand as others they, with the exception of the desert scenes that take place in the second arc of the book, there is generally enough to change to keep you from getting bored. Rarely are you in the same location for more than a couple of issues and you probably won’t notice much of the background when your eyes are just naturally drawn to the character designs.
The character designs are about as crazy and perfect as you can get. Jeff (the main antagonist of the book) is the perfect exemplification of this. She has mouths on her knees, a mouse trap attached to a tentacle and a plug for a head. It is amazing how normal and then terrifying this becomes because when you describe her, she sounds like the stupidest looking thing in the universe. Schrab let’s his imagination run wild with the characters; we get zombie dinosaurs, angels of horrific designs, robots galore, cyborg mafiosos and some truly hideous monsters. The consistency of Jeff’s design alone is something to admire. He may be letting his imagination run wild, but there is so much discipline in what he puts on the page and it all begins to feel like a real world. You will be hard pressed to find many 24 issue runs that pack a world this dense in and make it feel cohesive. It Is visibly clear on every panel that was a labor of love.
That love is also felt in the characters. This book has one of (if not) my favorite supporting casts. Every single character brims with personality. From the Cortese Cyborg mafioso Tasty Tony, who we see at the beginning of his rise to power and later in the future at his wedding. The spin-off series by Dan Harmon focuses on his rise in the Cortese family and is akin to The Godfather but with cyborgs. To Oswald the previous disposable assassin model, who’s return arc is one of the best things in the entire dialogues. He probably says the least of any character in the whole run but he has an arc that makes use of every panel to the point that you get as much information on who he is as you do Scud. Side characters bring so much to the story that even Deus ex Machina characters like Hank Gritt (essentially John Wayne) and even God add to the heart of the book. To the point that there absence would fundamentally change the book. And while the supporting cast is a highlight of the book, it’s in the main cast that the story really shines.
There are two main antagonists you follow in the story: Voodoo Ben (Benjamin Franklin, no for real, that one) and Jeff. They are great foils to the character, and in this book of ridiculous machismo and robots, they still have clear motivations for what they are doing. By the end Jeff becomes a holy beacon and even a truly sympathetic character. Voodoo Ben is an absolute tool, a villain of mustache twirling variety, that by the end becomes a dynamic villain with understandable (though not sympathetic) motives. To delve into them further gives away a bit too much about the story, but trust me, it gets crazy with those two.
On the hero’s side we Sussudio, Drywall and the eponymous Scud. Sussudio is the romantic interest of Scud and a total freaking badass in her own right. She has the most badass introduction (woops spoiler…just read it, you’ll get the joke) and is the catalyst for the final act. She is a robophile and the daughter of Hank Gritt. And considering Hank Gritt has an entire religion based off of his manliness, she holds her own with all of them. Her backstory is painfully tragic (which is running theme with anybody that has a past) but she has these genuinely fun back and forths with Scud. Their dynamic is palpable and really plays an integral part of the final act.
Speaking of Scud, our hero is the best at what he does and what he does isn’t very nice. His body count is John Wick levels of impressive and his zombie horde killing skills are the envy of any Left for Dead character. Scud is a smart ass robot who just doesn’t want to blow up. Through the series (right around the introduction of Drywall) he becomes this amazingly human character with goals and aspirations beyond not blowing up. He becomes truly connected and his bad days will genuinely effect you by the end. Though my favorite moment for him comes with the contempt level malfunction. When Scuds are sent on mission a contempt level between 1-10 is set. Contempt levels are designed to let you have the ability to let your target know if you want them to be killed in a gruesomely horrific way with anger and fury (10) or whether you just need the job done (1). Suffice to say, when it malfunctions and throws him to a level 15, that is an absolute sight to behold. Interestingly, when this happens, he begins to talk like Jeff. This elevates the moment from just being a cool power-up to becoming an “oh shit” moment. And before you think I spoiled the ending, that happens in like the third issue and never happens again.
You may have noticed that I have not talked about Drywall yet. I really do like the characters in this book a lot, but I love Drywall. I find it hard to talk about him, because of that love. His design, his backstory, his future; you name it I think the character Drywall nails it. He is without question my favorite moppet character (sorry Powerpack) of all time. It amazes me that this comic is not more popular because of him. It amazes me that his spin-off series isn’t still ongoing. He has my favorite moments of the story and generally when he comes on panel (which thankfully after he’s introduced is a lot) my heart is melting. Drywall rules and I won’t tell you anything about him so you can experience his greatness yourself.
I’m going to try and avoid as many details as I can for the story and give the briefest of overviews. Scud is purchased out of vending machine by Hershel, an employee of Mr. Spidergod, owner of Marvin’s Manikins. He is tasked with killing Jeff. In the midst of battle, Scud becomes aware of his self-termination programming after the death of his initial target. He puts Jeff into a coma and for three franks a month, he keeps Jeff alive at a local hospital. Past the premise the book goes absolutely bonkers and incorporates all types of genres and locations, with the final battle taking place at the literal gates of Hell and then in Heaven. For a story this bizarre it works and wraps up in a surprisingly cohesive way. Again, I won’t spoil the ending, but I think by the final four issues that this will be impossible for you to put down.
In summation, just read this. You can grab the Whole Shebang collection on Comixology for about $25 USD. The collection also comes with the wonderful Drywall: Unzipped mini-story which is absolutely necessary for the end of the book. Rob Schrab created a truly wonderful and unique world that is an utter joy to plow through at full speed. You owe it to yourself to read this underappreciated Image gem.