Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was being raised on a diet of superhero comics and pro wrestling – two mediums that had an awful lot in common. As the 90s progressed, the darker side of both were explored, with comics trying very hard to become edgy and violent in the wake of the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (seemingly oblivious to the meta-commentary in the former at least, if not quite the latter) – and wrestling being exposed as the not-quite-wholesome form of ‘sports entertainment’ that it had been trying hard to sell itself as; Hulk Hogan’s ‘demandments’ (train, eat your vitamins, say your prayers and believe in yourself) ringing hollow in the face of revelations about rampant, widespread steroid abuse in the industry.

It took me a while, once I’d tired of the hollow heroics and lack of self-awareness in the dark mainstream comics of the 90s, to realise that there was more to comic books than Marvel and DC; more even than the upstarts such as Image, who essentially pushed that violent anti-hero subject matter even further. When I discovered crime comics, for example, it was a revelation; the visual language in comics lent itself well to noir-style storytelling and never is that more evident than with Ringside, which also highlights the dark realities of life beyond the wrestling ring.

Issue 4 continues to look at the backstory of our protagonist Danny Knossos; here we get great insight into how his relationship with troubled ex Teddy developed, right from its earliest stages. As Danny’s presented with information that may well lead him to find where Teddy is at last, can he do the right thing and stay out of trouble, as he’s advised?

The contrast between the jaded, bitter, damaged – both physically and emotionally – Danny and the man he used to be is striking, but we can see exactly why he is so determined to find his ex; despite their stormy, broken relationship, they do genuinely care for each other. We also get a glimpse at Reynolds and his protegé, setting up shop at a tiny, somewhat depressing wrestling convention – with Reynolds once more doling out advice on what awaits his young charge as he ages and is potentially spat back out into the real world by the often uncaring, exploitative industry he works in.

It’s so hard to find a bad word to say about Ringside; not a panel is wasted and it’s all so impeccably written and presented – right down to that phenomenal cliffhanger. This is a comic that not only deserves a wider audience, but even an adaptation to TV or film; though it feels perfectly at home in the comic book medium, it’d make for an explosive, Breaking Bad-style Netflix show.

You can read the first issue of Ringside for free online at Image Comics here.

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