The true story of when you stop faking fighting and start fighting for real…
Written by Joe Keatinge
Illustrtaed by Nick Barber
The past is present.
Coming from a circus family, pro wrestling always had a lot of the same elements. The glitz, glamour, the mystery and the wonder…it is not hard to see why people get sucked into it. With the advent of the internet and a wider audience, pro wrestling has taken on a bit of a different form. In the 1980’s, guys like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were larger than life itself. No one really cared about what happened in their day to day lives. That was until one day in 1996 that changed everything. With one stunning move, pro wrestling would not be known for the secrets, but rather the shock.
For me, as a teenager, this was something edgy that grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go. My parents forbid me to watching it, which of course I defied. Around the same time, it was becoming much easier to see different promotions outside of the WWF (known as WWE now) and WCW. Perhaps it was teenage rebellion or even blood lust, I simply could not get enough. Did I care it was scripted? Nope, not at all. The shows had violence, sex, rowdy crowds, heroes and villains. Think of it like the Roman empire coming back to life on TV at 9 PM on Monday.
In a flashback, Danny is contemplating leaving his boyfriend Teddy for a career in pro wrestling. The two have a nasty argument about Danny’s decision, ending with Teddy leaving Danny to figure this out on his own. In the present, Dan as he is known, sits at a bar bandaged and broken. He receives a phone call from a very angry Terrance, a bail bondsman, who wants to have a word with him. Meanwhile at CMW HQ, a meeting between the writers on how to address their championship predicament. Ragan, a newly hired sitcom writer, tries to me a strong case for something new. To his surprise, the boss will have none of that and wants things as they are. Following their tussle, Terrance and Dan devise a plan to solve Dan’s problem. Dan however is not thrilled with the prospect of doing something he doesn’t want to do.
“Ringside” is a book that does not follow conventional wisdom at all. From the cover image, I got the impression wrestling would be the only focus of the book. With that in mind, Joe Keatinge’s approach is not at all what I was expecting. If anything, the world of the sport is simply a back drop to connect all the pieces. Keatinge isn’t at all interested in showing grapples or crowd pandering, he would rather show how it gets to the point. In the “business” there is a word called kayfabe, essentially the omerta of wrestling. Everything story wise is close to the vest, little details are given slowly. There is a slow burn, much like you have in a match, the hero cannot dominate all the time. Dan’s quest for something the reader still isn’t sure about is mesmerizing. Keatinge giving as little as possible is frustrating, but also rewarding. If the issue doesn’t answer something specific, it will get addressed in a future issue. But much like watching wrestling, there is a possibility of a swerve always on the horizon.
Given the theatrics involved, Nick Barber’s art isn’t at all like that. Everything has a very flat and broken down look to it. All of these characters inhabit a world of darkness and secrets, never exposing anything you shouldn’t see. Barber does the same, he doesn’t need flash to draw you in, his technical skills is the focus here. What is clear, Barber is a fan of wrestling for sure. There are little nods here and there to the history of the sport. Certain characters, like Ragan, look like some of the stars of year’s past. To that point too, Barber gives excellent emotion to everyone, a funny nod to the industry again. Barber “sells” the reactions beautifully, never getting anything crossed along the way.Continued below
The colors for this book are equally compelling. Simon Gough adds an funny pallet to everything. While I was reading, I thought that everything had a look like it was behind a spotlight. Meaning, colors are faded and a little washed out. It adds to the mystique of this being an industry that wears you down. Even more so, there is not glamour here, this is a warts and all kind of look. Even in lighter moments, Gough adds to the emotion of a sequence. When the boss is chewing out Ragan, the background goes red, expressing the anger of the boss. While it might be telegraphed, it fits right into the world Keatinge & Barber are creating.
It is next to impossible as a wrestling fan, not to look at this book without a smile. If you have ever watched it in the 1990’s, a lot of things are going to look and sound familiar. There are legendary stories of WWE’s chairman Vince McMahon and his tirades. His attitude is on full display and in a way is a spirit animal to “Ringside’s” lore. But, even if you don’t know insider stuff, the book makes it easy to follow. Ragan oddly enough, is the outsider in this world too. He comes from Hollywood, having no understanding of how things work. He is the grounding element to the story, someone who is trying to navigate the waters. Dan on the other hand, is a guy who is out of the business, finding it is harder than he thought.
Cleverly, Dan’s lack of toughness in real life takes things to a different level. Keatinge hasn’t shown any of Dan’s life in the ring, adding to the aura surrounding him. The Minotaur sounds like someone who is fierce and heroic. Dan being a wimp outside the squared circle, shows the staged nature of the business. Ironically, having the owner of CMW be the most aggressive is hilariously absurd. Perhaps that is the point, as the real fight is outside all of this. “Ringside” doesn’t try to make any grand assumptions, Dan even says the business can break you down if you go all in.
Does “Ringside” satisfy the wrestling fan in me? Yes, to a degree. Now that I have level set my expectations, I can see things as they are. The interconnecting web is something different, but not wholly original. This is hardly a “dark side” story and it shouldn’t be. Showing the ins and outs, ups and downs and the past and present make for many an avenue to travel. How deep the story goes is up for grabs, which is just fine. Hopefully things will stay on course and not deviate too much. If this is the warm up match, the main even is going to be awesome.
Final Verdict: 7.2 – A solid entry into the world of “Ringside” giving some much needed backstory. It can only go up from here.