Writer: Michael Kingston
Artist: Randy Valiente
Publisher: Visionary Comics
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a professional wrestling fan. Whether it was saying my prayers and eating my vitamins while Hulkamania ran wild, or spray painting “NWO 4-Life,” or doing “DX” crotch chops to figures in authority while screaming “suck it,” I have always been enthralled by professional wrestling. There’s nothing that compares to the spectacle a major professional wrestling company like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) puts on. A combination of acting, performance art, endurance, athleticism and storytelling are what continues to make that form of entertainment popular. Often times, professional wrestling is stereotyped as “stupid” or “only for rednecks” and to be honest, that stereotype shows the greater ignorance of popular culture, similar to the old “comics are for kids” line that seems to have faded away over the past few years. I’ve never been bothered by the fact that professional wrestling is pre-determined or “fake” - that’s not what it’s about. If I really wanted to watch one man beat the holy hell out of another, I’d watch Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and sometimes I do purely for the martial artistry at work. But professional wrestling is storytelling, sometimes it hits the right chords with characters like Hulk Hogan and the Rock, and sometimes it doesn’t. Although often engulfed in controversy and tragedy, especially this past summer, professional wrestling is a major part of our culture. Even beyond the United States, professional wrestling is huge in Europe and is wildly popular in Japan. I feel that professional wrestling does not get the mainstream attention it deserves from major sports outlets. Yes, there are predetermined outcomes, yes the moves are rehearsed and performed before each show and yes, they are all friends backstage. But wrestlers are amazing athletes that have their craft down to a science. They are some of the most charismatic individuals on the planet. Professional wrestling is an art form, a form of athletic artistry for the purpose of entertaining. That is what Visionary Studios’ launch title, Headlocked is all about. It is my duty to inform you of one of the best comics this year because more than likely, unless you are a wrestling fan, you will overlook it because it’s about professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling is a subject matter that has rarely been touched in comics. However, don’t forget that Spider-Man was essentially a product of pro wrestling. Back in the day World Championship Wrestling put out a comic book series about the characters portrayed in their promotion. The Ultimate Warrior released a very strange comic book series in the ‘90s, and many professional wrestlers are comic book fans who incorporate comic book imagery into their gimmick. Headlocked is about one young man’s dream to become a professional wrestler. It’s a brilliantly written story that shows the ups and downs of the wrestling industry. The inner workings are explored, the dedication that one puts into making it to “the big show,” which in this story is the WFW, an obvious reference to the WWE. There’s a great deal of potential with a story like this, and writer Michael Kingston looks as if he is going to be touching on a number of different aspects of the wrestling world.
The story follows Mike Hartmann, a young artist who has dropped out of junior college to pursue a dream as a professional wrestler. He is already a great artistic talent; a writer, actor, singer and painter. It’s not until he attends a live pro wrestling event that he decides to change his career path. Michael Kingston hits the nail on the head during Mike’s conversion. He attends the event out of obligation to his cousin and doesn’t want to be there at first. But as the event plays out, Mike becomes more and more involved in what he’s seeing and eventually is cheering with the rest of the crowd.
I personally have been to a few WWE events, both televised and non-televised. I will be completely honest, there really is nothing quite like the feeling you get actually seeing a show like WWE live. It’s very hard to describe, whether you love or hate wrestling, the feeling of excitement and adrenaline you feel at a WWE show is a different experience than any other sporting event can offer. Kingston does an excellent job capturing his character’s emotions as he quickly becomes a pro wrestling fan.
This story is really done exceptionally well. It explores the very beginning of Mike’s career and journey into pro wrestling, from being a fan that drops out of school, to trying to find a way to break into the business. He goes so far as to follow a wrestler to a strip club in order to get advice and with this scene, the darker side of this series is explored. Kingston is very subtle in touching on this aspect of the business but it should prove to be a very interesting read as this story develops. What I think Kingston also does well is show and tell Mike’s year long training regimen. Mike goes from a skinnier frame to the bulked up and chiseled frame of a pro wrestler. While he does this, he begins to explain the way wrestling works based on size and looks. What I really appreciate is the way Kingston avoids the steroid topic. Mike bulks up naturally, and this works extremely well because contrary to popular belief, not all wrestlers are on steroids.
Much like the opening paragraph of this review, this book explains why professional wrestling is so enthralling. Professional wrestling, as the cover of this issue suggests, is indeed a “work of art.” The men and women who dedicate their lives to wrestling are amazing entertainers and performers who put their bodies through hell for pure entertainment. Through the main character Kingston does a fantastic job revealing some of the methods and the art behind the way professional wrestling works. The way Kingston describes the art behind wrestling also comes across a bit admonishing to those who look down on pro wrestling. As a wrestling fan that fully supports and believes the art in the sport, I have to agree with Kingston for coming across in such a manner.
But there’s more to this story than just what the wrestling world is all about. Sure it explains how Mike has to work the “independent circuit” before being considered by the big time WFW, but there’s also a great deal of character development in these pages. Mike has a strained relationship with his mother because of the choice he makes. From what I understand, it’s something many aspiring professional wrestling go through. His mother doesn’t approve and she doesn’t speak to him for the better part of a year, even when he leaves town, she still does not pick up the phone. She makes herself absent when he comes by her house and you can feel the heartbreak that Mike is going through. But like any motivated person, he continues to pursue his dreams. Kingston also touches briefly on something I’m sure will be a huge story point throughout this series. Mike basically detaches himself from his friends in order to make going out for pro wrestling so much easier. Any autobiography by any wrestler will tell you that in the wrestling business, you don’t have a lot of friends. It’s something that I’m sure Kingston will explore further as Mike’s journey progresses.
The artwork by Randy Valiente is very well done. It looks very realistic in terms of the action and I really liked the way he didn’t draw detailed backgrounds during the wrestling match scenes. This works because it allows the reader to focus what Mike is focusing on, the art of pro wrestling. Mike describes the action as it plays out, and Kingston writes it in such a manner where you can feel Mike’s growing excitement. Kingston and Valiente also do a fantastic job making subtle yet obvious references to wrestlers both past and present. There are references to the Iron Sheik, Hulk Hogan, Triple H, Batista and the Undertaker.
This is one of the best comics I’ve read all year. Just like a live WWE event, there is something different about this comic, something special. As a comic book reader and reviewer and as a wrestling fan, I have to encourage you to read this book. It’s extremely well done; the story is clear, coherent, easy to follow and fresh. Find this book, order it if you have to, it’s really worth it. This is my Pick of the Week.
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