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Chaotic Neutral #1 Hits the Mark In a Bawdy, Bizarre Universe

Schmalke and Lynch’s Murder Hobo: Chaotic Neutral #1 contains four fast-paced, funny fantasy stories set in a bawdy and bizarre universe.

Experienced Dungeons & Dragons players are most likely all too familiar with Murder Hobos. They can be a thorn in the side of even the most patient Dungeon Master as they go careening through the campaign murdering and stealing with complete disregard for the narrative. In the aptly named series, Murder Hobo: Chaotic Neutral #1, Joseph Schmalke and Jason Lynch do their part to cast this archetype in a more funny, if not more favorable, light. With their third Murder Hobo book, the creative team delivers another winning issue with Scout Comics, an independent publisher perhaps best known for its series Henchgirl.

Murder Hobo Chaotic Neutral #1 is a collection of four short stories, each of which follows a different adventurer as they navigate their ways through a dangerous and ribald universe. In “Spectra Liaison and the Faded Village,” written by Jarrett Melendez with art by Ryan G Browne, an orc-like traveler finds herself in a town held hostage by a nefarious Baron and copious amounts of his intoxicating pixie dust. The second story, “Murder Hornets,” written by Schmalke and illustrated by Steve Lavigne, pits a team of burly warriors against the titular insects. Schmalke also writes the last two pieces. “Big Momma Venus,” drawn by Steve Mardo, features a succubus who is confronted by her children and “Dost Though Have Mine Coin?” which gives readers another chance to appreciate Browne’s art, follows a necromancer and his reanimated companions.

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Melendez and Schmalke’s humor is riddled with tongue-in-cheek references to role-playing games and fantasy tropes. Readers who are well versed in the various Dungeons & Dragons archetypes will get the most out of these stories, but there’s plenty for everyone to appreciate. Comedy that draws inspiration from the lewder and cruder elements of the human experience often walks a blurry line between the boldly funny and the disappointingly juvenile. The first story, “Spectra Liaison and the Faded Village,” tends to spend most of its time on the immature side of that line. Despite an inventive and wonderfully drawn cast of characters, a majority of the humor relies on name-calling. This approach does great work to establish the tone of the story and the issue as a whole, but after a page or two, the deluge of insults and goofy names begins to feel fairly monotonous. Similarly, “Big Momma Venus”  begins with an inventive premise, but quickly devolves into a series of innuendos; some of which are quite funny, but none of which are enough to carry an entire story.

“Murder Hornets” is the strongest of the four stories. It utilizes a wide variety of humorous devices while telling a compelling story. Where the other tales occasionally lean too heavily on one joke or sacrifice the narrative in favor of a laugh, “Murder Hornets” has its cake and eats it too. The ending acts as both punchline and climax, and there isn’t a wasted line of dialogue or art.

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Lavigne’s bold lines, gnarled characters and outlandish gore go to great (and gross) lengths to give life to Schmalke’s murderous insects and the men who hunt them. Each creative team goes all out on the action sequences. There’s no shortage of severed limbs or cartoonish corpses. The artists put their gallows humor on full display. The character designs in each story are incredible and would feel equally at home in a D&D Manual or on Cartoon Network. Jason Lynch Colors all but one of the stories and letters the entire comic. His work adds an extra layer of continuity to the collection.

All four stories deliver laughs and work together to develop the sense of a world that is lived in as well as played in. Some of the humor misses its mark, but that doesn’t stop Schmalke and his creative cohorts from swinging for the fences. Fans of previous Murder Hobo titles will feel right at home in Murder Hobo Chaotic Neutral #1, and new readers won’t have any trouble getting started.

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