Review – Ringside #1 (Image Comics)

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Publisher: Image Comics
Story By: Joe Keatinge
Art By: Nick Barber, Simon Gough
Release Date: 25th November, 2015

Ringside, a long-time passion project of Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber, has finally been given an opportunity to see the light of day courtesy of the fine folks at Image Comics, and this double-sized debut issue sets out the stall impressively for this “beyond the mat”-esque look at the life of a small group of current and former professional wrestlers and the painful, violent world they inhabit.

Having been a part of the local Scottish indy wrestling scene for the best part of a decade – albeit in a part-time, “weekend warrior” role – I was intrigued to see whether Ringside would manage to capture the authentic ‘feel’ of the professional wrestling life.  While the scale of the promotion here is most definitely larger, many of the characters and conversations were definitely familiar, from the wide-eyed rookies willing to do anything to achieve their dream to the grizzled vets trying to hold on to their fading spot on the card, dispensing gruff, blunt pearls of wisdom, to the puzzling creative decisions that leave the athletes wondering just what the hell they’re meant to be doing as the script is shuffled mid-show.

Keatinge also nails the terminology and ‘lingo’, which isn’t necessarily a huge surprise given his deep passion for wrestling and how smartened-up the audience has become over the last couple of decades, but which definitely adds to the authenticity of the story.   One of the major benefits of the increased page count of this double-sized debut is the fact that Keatinge and Barber are able to take their time with the story here, gradually introducing us to the world of Danny Knossos – formerly known as wrestling legend “The Minotaur” — and letting the bleak reality of his situation wash over us.

This is a first issue which very much mirrors the old-school sensibilities of its lead character.  It doesn’t explode out of the gate with a flurry of pointless “spots”, but rather takes its time with the psychology of the story being told, allowing us to gradually build up a deeper emotional investment in Danny and the world he finds himself in now that he has hung up his boots.  Interestingly, the creators have stated that subsequent issues will show the story from different perspectives, which should definitely provide an interesting change of pace and refreshingly unique take on the sometimes punishingly unkind world of professional wrestling.

Barber’s artwork, while not necessarily featuring a huge amount of detail, is perfectly suited for a title like this, and is crammed full of expression and emotion, particularly from the weary, cynical lead character.  Simon Gough’s colours also add to the washed-out appearance, with bleak diners and murky hotels rooms very much the order of the day.  The actual in-ring action is wisely kept to a minimum here, with the occasional explosion of light and colour as the larger-than-life characters do their thing, but the focus remains squarely on the tired, desperate human beings who exist away from the spotlight, giving the book an added relatability and sense of intrigue that a clichéd, dime-a-dozen “the rookie has to defeat the champion in order to achieve his dream” wrestling tale would lack.

Wrestling fan or not, Ringside is a title that any self-respecting comic mark owes it to themselves to pick up.  Taking a long, unblinking look at the violent and gritty world outside of the ring, Keatinge and Barber have created something truly special here, and one of the most exciting new series of the year.

Rating: 5/5.

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The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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