Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artwork: Nick Barber, Simon Gough
Release Date: 30th December 2015
After an incredibly strong opening issue, Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber’s Ringside capitalises on its early momentum here as we get dragged deeper and deeper into the world of retired wrestler Danny Knossos. Rather than providing a glossy, sanitised look at the colourful world of professional wrestling however, this is a series that instead examines the gritty, grimy and violent reality that takes place behind the curtain, and features some truly impressive characterisation and storyline structure from its co-creators.
Knossos is an utterly intriguing protagonist, from his hinted-at problems with the management of Champion Max Wrestling that have left him ostracised by the company to his deep-seated sense of loyalty that has him traveling all the way back from Japan to help out his ex-boyfriend Teddy who appears to have fallen foul of some local California gangsters. Once again, the pacing of the story is impeccable here, with the creators drip-feeding just enough of Danny’s backstory to keep us hooked, while still providing enough twists and turns in the ongoing narrative to keep the story surging forwards.
The supporting cast are also impressively well-realised, from no-nonsense bail bondsman Andre who brings Danny along on one of his jobs to wheelchair bound ex-Marine Amy, who opens this issue with an absolutely blistering speech which skilfully and confidently steers the title away from what could have easily become a cliched 80’s style revenge romp. Keatinge gives each of the characters their own unique voice, and while there has been a lot of moving parts being introduced so far, everything is handled in an easily accessible way so as to avoid the reader ever feeling overwhelmed.
Once again, Barber’s undeniably straightforward artistic style is packed with expression, with Simon Gough’s subtly shifting colour work doing a tremendous job of hammering home the emotional beats of the characters. In spite of this being a quote-unquote “wrestling comic”, the action is very much a secondary concern here, with tense verbal exchanges and realistic character development very much the order of the day. In that respect Barber really shines, with subtle adjustments in his minimalistic, almost Mignola-esque facial expressions conveying a wealth of storytelling nuance.
Overall, Ringside remains one of the most exciting new debuts from Image this year – which, given the incredibly high level of their 2015 output, is not an accolade I give away lightly. Readers expecting a bright, bold rock’em sock’em wrestling series are going to be bitterly disappointed, but for fans of grim, violent crime drama, this could be exactly what the doctor ordered. Once again, this is a book that comes highly recommended.
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