Well moving will screw everything up. Originally a messed up version of this group review went out which was too bad. Now we're back with three opinions ranging from long to short, positive to negative which is the Comic Bastards way! So enjoy an early review of Image Comics' Ringside. DUSTIN: 3/5
This is not the first time I’ve said this and it won’t be the last, wrestling and comic books have a lot in common. The biggest being their shared fanbase. There’s also the shared storytelling device of the never-ending battle of good versus evil all the way down to both genre’s rise in popularity in the 90s to their now gradual decline in popularity. If I wanted to take that last one even further, I would also add their desire to capture a younger audience rather than appeasing the same fanbase they’ve been serving and grooming for the past 40 years or more.
If you can’t tell, I’ve had many thoughts and discussions about comics and wrestling and so when I saw Ringside announced at the last Image Expo… well I wasn’t excited. I should have been right? But that’s how this goes. These are two forms of entertainment that I enjoy. That I know way too much about and now they’re coming together. What could go wrong? Well… everything.
Let me get this out of the way, this is a book for wrestling fans. It’s also a book for comic fans as well, but I wanted to point that out for anyone that enjoys wrestling. Clearly writer Joe Keatinge knows his shit. That’s important to point out because the series is being billed as having a lot of knowledge about the wrestling industry and the behind the scenes of the business.
Now it’s also an ongoing and with the Image solicit it says “interconnected rotating perspectives” which makes me wonder if the first character we follow will be the character we follow for the next issue or if he’ll just make an appearance. Too early to tell, but by having this info we have to kind of wonder what’s in store for the second issue. Sure the focus should be on this issue, but we’re reading an ongoing story so it’s only natural to look at where it’s going next, otherwise we wouldn’t read it.
Our main character Dan is in Japan. He trains new guys over there and he’s suddenly leaving to handle some business back in the states. We learn throughout the story that he used to be the wrestler known as the Minotaur and that he’s had a major falling out with the company that owns the name. We also learn about Dan’s other past and that he’s in the States to help a friend that’s in a lot of trouble.
The first issue is a strange one. Part of it is just to prove that it knows the backstage and behind the scenes of the wrestling industry. Essentially it’s there to prove itself to wrestling fans. Which wrestling fans are sure to love. It’s accurate and pretty much written for them. Comic fans, well they may not be as interested, but it’s not boring.
The other half of the story felt like it had nothing to do with the wrestling aspect. I got a Southern Bastards vibe from this part of the story. And hey, maybe that’s not fair of me to say that. For most that’s probably a compliment, but for others having an instant comparison like that pretty much tells you everything this story is going for and will likely do.
It’s a well told story. The narrative is strong and the pacing is on point. The opening was dry and longer than it really needed to be, but otherwise competent in what it does for the plot. The thing is… there’s nothing that interesting going on in this first issue. Sure there’s the Beyond the Mat moments, but they’re not terribly exciting. The other element that I spoke of is a bit predictable and kind of an extended cliffhanger. There’s a lot of build up to it, but it just doesn’t pay off. To put it frankly, it’s not an exciting comic book to read. It’s an okay one though and it seemed like it was worth checking out the second issue, but I need a better hook to keep me going after that. Just playing to my wrestling fandom isn’t enough.
Nick Barber’s artwork is also a strange beast. It’s really good at times and intentionally simple other times. I didn’t personally enjoy it. It was too dark and this seemed very intentional to set the mood and again to capture that Southern Bastards gritty look. I hate to keep making that comparison, but once you see it you’ll probably understand what I mean. The art was the opposite of wrestling. It wasn’t bright and colorful, but rather flat and dark. The style and coloring seemed more in line with a crime thriller than a story following wrestlers outside of the ring. I say all this, but I know that others will see it and love the art and style. For me, it’s a fit for the book, but not the best fit.
This could be the next big book for Image. It has the cross-genre appeal for comic and wrestling fans. It could also fall flat depending on how both fan bases react to it. If it gets the right rub it will definitely take off, but if it picks up some “go away heat” then you won’t see much of this story. At the end of the day it’s an average story set in a world that’s pretty damn interesting. It has the potential to be bigger and better than it is if it can find it’s fanbase. But it needs to remember one thing, wrestling is all about the big finish and every issue should feel like the conclusion of a match and have that big finish. This first issue didn’t have that and if the next issue doesn’t then it will be missing a big component. You can bill this as a crime story with a wrestling backdrop, but at the end of the day any wrestling fan is going to expect the flair and presentation of wrestling to seep in.
This comic took me completely by surprise. I went in purposefully not knowing anything about it other than it being about wrestling. My absolute love for wrestling and lucha libre meant I was already won by it. By it is so much more than that. It’s about wrestling, revenge, crime, living through shit and back. And then, among all that, falls the big blanket of the wrestling.
Ringside is one of those magical books that takes a widely-derided subculture, and by raising that subculture into an art, it elevates the book itself to astronomical heights.
This is not a polished book about superstars and about the artifice of wrestling, it’s about the jobbers, the everyday schmoes who don’t have any better skills than selling the living bejeezus out of a piledriver. The story of Dan Knossos is the one of a lot of guys in the business--they burned too many bridges, and now they make a living where they can; maybe it’s Japan, maybe there’s no living to be made. There’s a revenge story and a crime drama on top of all the wrestling in this issue, but that comes later. In this first issue, Keatinge, Barber, Gough and Maher build a world focused on the wrestlers whose matches get cut from the broadcast, but they follow the caravan anyway. There’s a quiet poetry to the whole thing, like a Steinbeck novel, with frog splashes.
Joe Keatinge (whose work I was unfamiliar with until Shutter and who I may very well follow into comics-hell from how much I love it) does an amazing job laying out the fundamental contradiction of wrestling in the first two pages--the artifice of Sports Entertainment--but the showstoppers in this book are all from Nick Barber and Simon Gough. The neon coloring on these rough-hewed sketches of men, all improperly-healed broken noses and neon orange sunsets, reminds me of the aesthetic of Drive. Their renderings of characters run right up to the line of being too spare, and Ariana Maher tops it all off with a lettering style that looks like it’s made of the grit in the voices of these old jobbers.
Don’t pick up Ringside because you’re a wrestling fan--pick up Ringside because it’s a hell of a comic about guys that just won’t quit, ‘cause they can’t, or ‘cause they’re just too dumb to want to. There’s a tragedy brewing here, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Ringside #1 Writer: Joe Keatinge Artist: Nick Barber Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/25/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital