Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist: Nick Barber, Simon Gough (Colours)
Release Date: 10th August, 2016
With its first arc “Kayfabe” establishing the key players and building up our emotional investment in the troubled story of retired former wrestler Dan Knossos, Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber’s RINGSIDE is set to make its triumphant return next month from Image Comics. With Dan making a deal with the devil – local crime boss Eduard – in order to protect his drug addict ex-boyfriend Teddy at the end of the previous arc, this latest issue kicks off with Knossos firmly in Eduard’s employ, grudgingly filling the role of brutal enforcer as the sleazy criminal goes about his business.
Once again, Nick Barber’s artwork – while scratchy at times and almost abstract in places – provides an impressive whole which is far greater than the sum of its individual parts. There’s a hell of a lot more to sequential storytelling than intricately detailed linework, and Barber does an impressive job here of keeping the story flowing smoothly from panel to panel, underscoring the emotional beats along the way with his impressive, almost cinematic page layouts.
Aside from the main narrative surrounding Dan’s struggles, there are also interesting side-stories aplenty – the “undercard”, if you will – including the potential rise of greenhorn Reynolds, who finally seems poised to step up from the the house show circuit to take a crack at the big time. However, given the tone of this series thus far and its brutally realistic recreation of the grueling, politically motivated wrestling business, it’s unlikely that things are going to go particularly well for the youngster. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though. I mean, everyone loves an underdog story, right?
Oh and of course, it also wouldn’t be wrestling without a good ol’ fashioned swerve, and that’s exactly what Keatinge provides on the final page with a jaw-dropping twist that frames the whole story in a brand new light moving forwards. Sometimes with comics, as with wrestling, twists can often feel shoehorned in for shock value alone rather than any logical meaning (let’s call it the Vince Russo factor), but given Keatinge and Barber’s track record on this series, I’m fully confident that the shocking final page is going to play out just fine over the rest of this arc.
While it’s ostensibly a quote-unquote “wrestling comic”, Ringside is actually far more than that, providing both a gripping crime drama and a collection of nuanced character studies about the men who have dedicated their lives to the professional wrestling business. Brutal and emotional in equal measure, Ringside is a series that will appeal to die hard wrasslin’ fans and disinterested bystanders alike, and I have no hesitation once again in giving it my highest possible recommendation.