Writer Joe Keatinge
Artist Nick Barber
Image Comics, Inc
Alan smiled when he handed me this week’s assignment and chirped, “It’s about wrasslin’!” I was actually pretty excited based on that. I’m pretty sports-naive, and my knowledge of wrestling consists of adolescent hours watching the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, a devotion to action movies starring The Rock, Steve Austin, or John Cena, and one pay-per-view event in high school. And after reading today’s issue, I think my knowledge of the sport is about the same. But man, this book is one of the strongest first issues I’ve seen in a long time.
The story of Ringside follows Dan Knossos, a man retired from life as the colorful wrestler, The Minotaur. He’s coaching wrestling in Japan but returns to California when his ex gets into trouble. Readers are treated to scenes of a man on a mission as he checks in with helpful people from his past and explains repeatedly that he has left his competion days far behind him. This is not a comic about wrestling, not primarily. This is a comic about crime, about obsession, about duty, about the way we give up the things we thought defined us. This is Southern Bastards without the football. This is Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations without the retro style. This is Criminal without… well, this would actually be a terrific issue of Criminal.
Joe Keatinge’s writing is amazing on this one. I loved his adventure tale, Glory, and his lovely bizarre Shutter, but this is my new favorite Keatinge book. His use of profanity is natural and seamless, to where I didn’t realize characters were dropping f-bombs, but his creative construction of curses made me snicker at times. His appreciation for diversity is above and beyond – two major characters turn out to be gay, and they’re not in a relationship together or even headed that way. Keatinge can talk about life for a gay wrestler without feeling like he placed a token into his ensemble cast, and having more than one means he can make one of them a jerk if he wants without coming across as homophobic. This is diversity done well, and I am genuinely moved to see it in a book like this.
Nick Barber’s art, and Simon Gough’s colors atop it, nails the tone of this crime book. The characters all look a little rough, like a good film noir cast should, but the scenes aren’t drenched in moody dark washes. This is a California story, and it remains visually a California story. The backgrounds are sketchier than we see in, say, a Brubaker-Phillips noir story, and many background characters are represented without noses and with dots for eyes, but this feels like a deliberate artistic choice to emphasize the down-on-his-luck tone of the Dan Knossos’s journey.
I loved this book. I want the trade to come out now and I want to buy and read the trade and I want to have an argument in public about this book stacking up against Criminal and I want that argument to devolve into a headlock or full Nelson or whatever the sports word is, I don’t know. Head on down to Ultimate Comics in Chapel Hill or Raleigh to get started with this wicked little journey.
-Matt Conner for Ultimate Comics