I haven’t been a fan of professional wrestling since about 1987. Back when the big American promotion wasn’t WWE, but WWF. Back when Hulk Hogan shredded that yellow shirt… and Jake the Snake brought that terrifying sack out to the ring with him… and the Ultimate Warrior exploded into a fireball of energy and popularity. It’s been that long for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a great wrestling film (Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was a heartbreaking masterpiece), or a great wrestling book, like Ringside Vol. 1: Kayfabe.
The beautiful thing about Image Comics is their consistent willingness to take risks. Not every publisher out there would have welcomed a book like Ringside to their lineup. It’s easy to see this as a risky proposition. But that’s part of what makes Image special; somewhere, there’s a guy or a gal with an incredible eye for talent and expectation defying books. And that guy, or gal (who knows how many are involved in this step, really) has done a superb job of snagging stories that aren’t just different and refreshing, they’re legitimately amazing.
That’s right, Ringside is amazing, on every front. As sad as it is accomplished, as brutal as it is sensitive. It’s simply too human to be anything other than amazing.
Joe Keatinge writes an extremely engaging tale (for the record, Nick Barber’s art has a fantastic almost pulp quality about it that fits the story perfectly), and he forces a number of characters through the greatest of all emotional gamuts, nothing is missed. We care about our characters. These struggling, injured or retired wrestlers work their way into our hearts because, even if we can’t relate to professional wrestling, we can relate to failure and success; we can relate to pain and redemption.
That’s what Ringside is about. Sure, there’s a magnetic narrative here, but I don’t need to spoil the specifics of the narrative, all I need to do is tell you that you’re going to adore this book, because it puts real people, succeeding and failing, experienced and green as grass, right under the spotlight, where we get to feel for their personal situations.
In many ways Ringside could be recognized as a spiritual sibling to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Both stories touch down on some very similar topics, and both place a very sympathetic character in the driver’s seat. And both of those characters really make you feel something. In a market that churns out hollow fodder with frequency, it’s really nice to stumble upon a book like this, a book that is all heart.