Last month, WWE was all over the San Diego Comic Con. Mick Foley was announced as the writer of not one but two new series from the company, Dolph Ziggler was appearing on panels and Daniel Bryan was filming YouTube videos from the convention floor.
It all got me thinking, why hasn't there been a decent comic book about the pro wrestling business, at least in the English speaking world? The fandoms overlap, and even include many top professionals in both fields. Comics have made bestseller and even some loftier critics' lists, so dealing with the subject in more than the larger the life, good versus evil sense wouldn't be breaking new ground. (Not that there's anything wrong with a more kayfabe approach, but it would have to be better than HHH versus the undead)
Just as I was ready to put those thoughts aside and go read X-Men comics or watch Chikara DVDs, I received an email from Mike Kingston, the man behind this:
The email directed me to a slick-looking Kickstarter page and dropped names like Jerry Lawler, Christopher Daniels and Eisner-award winning creator (and designer of CM Punk t-shirts and Daniel Bryan ring gear) Jill Thompson. An impressive presentation, but I wanted to know if this was the book I'd been clamoring for?
Was it any good?
So I ordered the first collection, " A Single Step", featuring the one-shot "Work of Art" and the three issue "The Tryout" mini-series.
First and foremost, it is very much the kind of story I was hoping it would be. This volume follows Mike Hartmann, a college drama student, through his decision to pursue a pro wrestling career and the first steps (or mis-steps) of that journey. His travails won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's read a few wrestler's bios or listened to some shoot interviews, but they're still depicted well, with enough dramatic tension that you feel for Hartmann as he deals with them.
Unfortunately, while the protagonist serves as a good point of view character and mouthpiece for writer and creator Mike Kingston's defense of pro wrestling as an art form, I was never entirely convinced of his motivation to burn all of his bridges and dive into the shady unknown. It succeeds in getting across the point that sometimes you have to sacrifice everything for your dreams, but it isn't the best way to build a character.
The flip side is that the WFW (Headlocked's fictional stand-in for WWE) wrestlers and other guys in the business are much more interesting than our protagonist. I want to know more about the slimy Killer Creegan, or internet favorite but perennial mid-carder Christopher Coleman, how "Golden" Brian Boulder rose to the top and why Leo London is a bitter old grifter. Heck, for all my pseudo-intellectual claptrap, I'd love to read an issue that was a good old in-ring battle between Johnny Wrestling and the Certified Public Assassin.
Under a cover by WWE's Jerry Lawler, the art is...okay. Randy Valiente's work is kind of a cross between the Image house style of the late 1990s and the more pencil-heavy approach you see in small press or DIY books. Its biggest strength is in depicting the wrestling action; its biggest weakness is that most of the characters faces, haircuts, etc. look the same and can make the characters hard to tell apart. It rarely detracts from the story, but it doesn't enhance it the way a collaborative medium like comics should work.
Grade-wise, this volume of the series earns a B-, or a B for potential. But there's a lot of potential.
That comes across in the "Convention Exclusive Preview Edition" of the new series "The Last Territory" that Kingston sent along with my order. The art, now by New Zealander and pro grappler Michel Mulipola, takes on a bit more of a cartoony look that is a good fit for the material and really serves to differentiate the characters while not sacrificing the kinetic energy that a sports comic has to convey. And Kingston's story really looks to be fleshing out the colorful supporting characters, the creation of whom appears to be one of his strengths, while still developing Hartmann's tale.
Sample page of Michel Mulipola (pencils) and Chuck Obach (Colors)'s art, via s3.amazonaws.com
It's not hard to see Headlocked becoming an engine that could support a number of different storylines and even kinds of stories within the world of pro wrestling, and living up to Kingston's vision of it as "a wrestling cable drama in a comic book".
So while what's out there now isn't quite all it can be yet, the book is the comics equivalent of someone like Corey Graves in NXT. All of the tools are there, and there's every reason to believe it will pull them all together and become something special. And it's going to be a lot of fun watching it happen.
Mike Kingston and I are planning to talk further, and CSS will have that conversation about what inspired him to launch the book, where he's planning on taking it, how he's gotten the buy-in and/or contributions of so many name wrestlers (seriously, peep his photo wall on the website) and more.
You can follow Headlocked on Facebook or Twitter. Sound off in the comments - are you interested in a wrestling comic? What would make you interested in one? Have you checked out Mike's book and, if so, what did you think?