Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Over the Ropes’ #1, out December 4 from Mad Cave Studios.
by Clyde Hall. Protagonist Jason Lynn says early in the first issue of Over the Ropes, “Wrestling is like religion. You get it or you don’t.” He’s not wrong. I was brought into the congregation by family in the 1960s and 1970s. Saturday night’s Wrestling at the Chase, broadcast from St. Louis, was our weekly tradition in an extended family not big on tradition.
When organizations like Sam Munchnik’s National Wrestling Alliance were swallowed up by the McMahon machine, I fell from the purer faith. With only occasional passing interest in WWE, Lucha Underground finally made me dust off my attraction to the ringed performance art form.
A mixture of two kidhood passions, comics and wrestling, appealed. A wrestling comic not attached to WWE, even moreso. (I’m not anti-WWE but having competing venues in comics or wrestling inspires better product from all parties.)
However, Over the Ropes #1 takes place in my wrestling ‘missing time’. It’s 1992, and wrestling’s national popularity is about to hit FTL mode. Would the timeframe make the story of interest to someone not invested in wrestling of that period, and only a casual observer currently?
Jay Sandlin manages a savvy script that overcame my reluctance. Not brought me back into the fold, but far surpassed my expectations. His narrative follows Jason, a jobber who learned his craft in Mexico. Now he serves as a low-paid curtain jerk for a regional federation where a preeminent wrestling family holds all the keys to its ringdom.
Sandlin builds empathy for the young underdog, revealing his not-stellar family life and less-stellar career opportunities. Some dramatic work earns pennies but comes with all the prestige you can eat. Jason’s starving on all fronts, a grappler consigned to card obscurity and barely making enough to subsist while doing it. He’s living his dream of being a pro wrestler but watching aging ring legend Ricky Radison and his son monopolizing the fame and fortune.
Jason has a trainer once connected with the Radisons in his corner along with his partner, Blue Bomba, a luchador who came up with him in South American arenas. There’s also Courtney, a prospective girlfriend who’s not a wrestling fan but may be a Jason fan.
By the time circumstances land Jason a chance to elevate his status by pulling a screwjob, Sandlin has us in his hero’s corner, too. There’s less emphasis on Jason’s skills as there could be; we’re told he’s a solid performer but seldom shown it. It’s balanced, however, by Sandlin taking the time to make him smart. One of the best elements of this book is dialogue, and Jason’s is delivered sharp as an elbow smash.
Fleshing out his wrestling chops and dropkicks is lacking in the final act. When a young, tough kid faces an older and more experienced pro, either muscle memory and adrenaline rises to leave the kid taken to school despite his physical prowess, or being on top has slowed the older athlete and softened him for a fall. Sandlin leans toward the latter combined with a plot device of backers expecting a specific outcome to keep what could have been a climactic ring moment hasty.
Its brevity allows more time to exhibit Jason’s other strengths in other scenes, but the ring moment might have done the same in a different way. For the most part, Sandlin’s managed a lot of storytelling using such brief interactions. Bomba, Courtney, and Barbwire have enough heft to work, especially Barbwire. He’s a fount of professional wisdom, some of which he may have learned by not following his own advice when he was Jason’s age.
The setup for issue #2 introduces another seasoned wrestler who is meant to menace but seems more comic relief. A kingly character using an Elvis of the Ring persona didn’t fill me with concern for Jason’s continued good health as much as a Bonesaw McGraw might have. But Sandlin has the chops to pull off some surprises.
The style of Antonello Cosentino’s art is good for a wrestling book concentrating on the real drama behind the kayfabe. Colorist Francesco Segala adds distinct and effective touches, such as a brightly lit mansion scene, with panels of earlier events indicated mainly by their monochromatic nature. It’s a clever coloration choice for defining past occurrence with the less vibrant tones of memory. Justin Birch’s fonts stay simple, but there are no stylistic snags in the way his words flow. He lets that dialogue roll smoothly.
Like Jason, the opening match of this comic has heart. It adds in protagonist smarts and a story about overcoming that’s as much a staple of great wrestling rivalries as other sports films featuring leads named Rocky and Daniel-san. It may be a preliminary for a legendary Main Event, told from both personal and ringside perspectives.
Mad Cave Studios / $3.99
Written by Jay Sandlin.
Art by Antonello Cosentino.
Colors by Francesco Segala.
Letters by Justin Birch.
7.5 out of 10
‘Over the Ropes’ #1 hits stores December 4.
Check out this unlettered 5-page preview of ‘Over the Ropes’ #1, courtesy of Mad Cave Studios!