I’ve been a wrestling fan for as long as I can remember; back in the early 80s, my Grandad was addicted to the action that unfolded every Saturday on World of Sport. It was hard not to be drawn in to the larger than life characters and their impressive feats of athleticism; the pantomime-esque theatricality and showmanship of wrestling was dramatic and ridiculously fun. When my Dad got us hooked up to satellite TV at the end of the 80s, WWF – now WWE of course – became an instant addiction for me. It was certainly a lot glitzier and more glamorous than the action I was used to seeing when I watched the UK-based wrestling matches on TV with my Grandad.
Though over the years my interest in wrestling has waned, I’ve recently been hugely impressed with the way that the spirit of classic wrestling has been captured in numerous forms of media – Rumbleslam by TTCombat, for example, which mashes up a diverse fantasy setting with the world of wrestling (finding time to include plenty of homages to famous wrestlers too) or the sci-fi/pro wrestling hybrid Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia, a comic which has a good, realistic look at the business of wrestling before opening it up into a daft, fun intergalactic competition. One of my favourite comics of recent years was the superb Ringside, a gritty, brutal and tragic tale of love, desperation and mortality set in and around the world of professional wrestling.
The latest wrestling themed comic to attract my attention is The Crimson Cage, by John Lees and Alex Cormack. Its strikingly bloody cover immediately marks it out as a very different kind of wrestling-themed tale and indeed it is; The Crimson Cage is a horror/wrestling mashup which homages Shakespeare’s Macbeth, transferring it to the underbelly of New Orleans in the mid-80s.
Chuck Frenzy is a dedicated, loyal and popular star of the local wrestling scene in Louisiana, but despite finding himself at the top of the local federation’s roster, he wants more. A supernatural encounter in the bayou with some terrifying creatures gives him a glimpse at the destiny he craves – but there’s a price that’ll set him down a very dark path if he pays it…
From that stunning cover – which strongly evoked Hellraiser-esque horror in my mind – right through to the final panel, the atmosphere is brilliantly evoked, whether it’s the vicious, perhaps desperate (but exciting) world of the 80s regional wrestling scene or the outright supernatural horror lurking outside of the brightly lit action of the ring.
Unlike wrestlers themselves, The Crimson Cage doesn’t pull any punches – it’s genuinely creepy, unsettling stuff at times. Of course, the art – by Alex Cormack, with a great, desaturated colour scheme courtesy of Ashley Cormack – goes a long way in selling that feel, but the writing by Lees also gives us a great look at the contrast between in-ring, in-character rivalries and the backstage reality of wrestling personalities. That is, before we head into the deeply weird and unsettling supernatural elements of the story – though the comic does open with a more ‘out there’ intro before we head into the ring.
It’s genuinely compelling, with great writing and superb art. It almost feels repetitive of me to note this at this stage, but AWA – the publishers of The Crimson Cage – have yet another winner on their hands; whoever’s in charge of quality control at the comic book publisher is doing an absolutely blinding job.