Review – Kayfabe: A Wrestling Anthology by Jerry Whitworth
In November 2015, writer and letterer Micah Myers (The Disasters), editor Marta Tanrikulu, and letterer Zakk Saam sought to put together an anthology of fellow comic creators featuring fictional wrestlers for the book Kayfabe (a wrestling term describing fictional elements of the sport’s performance art). Published last May and available through DriveThru Comics (digitally and physically), the graphic novel is 120 pages in length and features pin-ups and short stories from Mario Candelaria, Mark Bertolini, CW Cooke, James Hornsby, Chris Welsh, Daniel Franco, and more. The stories range from realistic tales like “No Time Limit” by Tom Alexander, Daniel Franco, and Raphael Andrade featuring retired wrestlers to the fantastic in “Glopkicked Starring Thunderbolt Holt” by Mike Exner III, DC Steulpner, and Micah Myers featuring men versus aliens. The title offers very much a mixed bag of art with a classic comic book style at times, a hyperactive version of reality in some, and more artistically unique for others.
Of the almost twenty tales within Kayfabe: A Wrestling Anthology, many stand out. Some examine some rather intriguing concepts such as CW Cooke, Kurt Belcher, Randy Haldeman, Matt Kelly, and Matt Krotzer’s “Infinity 3-Count” which intertwined the history of pro wrestling with the eternal struggle between good and evil and “Astro Dragons: Second Chances” by Zakk Saam and Ammar Al-Chalabi that spoke to man’s life as a circle, trying to change their fate to only revert to their base self. Much of the short stories spoke not only to the struggles of the business of wrestling but likely in the struggle of mankind. Roddy McCance, Derek Chua, and Brandon Bullock’s “Top Rope Blues” described a fairly common tale in the world of pro wrestling: a young person who grew to love the sport as a child and dedicated himself to it despite the many hardships he had to endure for it. But while that tale spoke to hope, “Dead Horse” by Lou Frontier, Stan Yak, and Alex Giles went to a much darker place where even success can come to feel like a very hollow consolation for the inherit loneliness of the business. Another notable tale that seemingly begins with hope only to crumble into horror is “Almost” by Alex Giles, Chase Dunham, and Maxi Gonzalez about a wrestler that had loved the sport as a child, paid their dues, and was set to finally hit the big time. Kayfabe also tapped some wrestling comic royalty in James Hornsby of the webcomic Botched Spot fame who produced the incredibly amusing tale “Business Management” that merged the kayfabe elements of wrestling with reality. While these short pieces were remarkable in their own ways, three stories stood out above the others.
Mentioned earlier, “No Time Limit” by Tom Alexander, Daniel Franco, and Raphael Andrade told a story about wrestlers well beyond their prime but who nonetheless remained legends. When three youths desecrated the three authentic championship title belts hanging in honor of the men who earned them in a wrestling-themed bar, the titles’ holders stood up to return them to their places upon the wall. The wrestlers each represented some of the most dominant archetypes in pro wrestling in the tough-as-nails, take no guff badass, the cheating pretty boy, and the monster of few words. On its surface alone the story works to show that legends die hard and one has to be tough just to get into the ring (as well as earn their place in history through sacrifice and determination). But as a metaphor for the business itself, while the young may have their time now to be stars with all the tools the world has today to become famous without any true talent, it’s only those that give respect that can earn it, who traveled the long roads and bled for no more reward than pride in one’s self and a job well done, and that taken life’s hardest hits and continued to rise up deserve the right to be revered and honored. Another tale within Kayfabe hits on similar notes.
Jeff Martin’s “HEAT: Trail’s End” merges together pro wrestling with the genre of speculative fiction. In the year 3043, wrestlers are generally enhanced bio-mechanically. Dick the Bastard, on the other hand, chooses to rely on himself, even well into his older years as his contemporaries lose more and more of themselves in order to continue the struggle. Against an opponent that bears a striking resemblance to the legendary Dusty Rhodes (even the wrestler’s bionic elbow is paid homage with a cybernetic arm), Dick desperately tries to compete in a losing effort between time’s assault on his body and his opponent’s use of science to turn the clock back. The story in some manner reminds me of manga in two ways. The first is the art style is somewhat reminiscent of Kinnikuman, an Ultraman parody that took its comedic journey toward pro wrestling (which also parodied Dusty Rhodes in the character Beauty Rhodes who was adapted for its toyline, known in America as M.U.S.C.L.E.). However, more importantly, “HEAT” speaks to determination. While several virtues are important to Japanese society, such as honor and integrity, determination is perhaps its most desired behavior. Fighting spirit is largely what separates the strong from the weak and the ability to pour your entire soul into bringing a hope or dream into reality is a cornerstone of their stories. Dick’s desire to not only make his way on his own power but his inability to succumb to his physical weakness speaks to the drive within all warriors to achieve. As his body is torn apart, his blood soaking the ring mat, his knee buckling under the sheer force beating against him, Dick fights on because he is a warrior and warriors either walk away the victor or are carried out on their shield.
“Glopkicked Starring Thunderbolt Holt” by Mike Exner III, DC Steulpner, and Micah Myers was noted earlier and it maybe the most amusing tale within the anthology. In wrestling, the term gimmick is either applied to a character (such as having a career separate from their role as a wrestler) or a match. Ladder, steel cage, battle royal, strap, hardcore, lumberjack, there are dozens of matches that go beyond two or more opponents competing to a pin, submission, knockout, disqualification, or count-out. “Glopkicked” opens to some rather ridiculous alternatives that (thankfully) have yet to come into reality before completely going into another direction entirely by introducing aliens and the story’s protagonist Thunderbolt Holt competing against a gelatinous mass named Gloppenheimer. Breaking kayfabe by admitting the match is predetermined and Gloppenheimer is not cooperating toward his planned defeat, Holt’s manager has to try and learn what the problem maybe while Holt must try to survive. The story is remarkably funny and clever, the characters extremely entertaining, the art is very well executed (using a traditional comic book style), and the use of color works to great effect. Where many of the tales within Kayfabe may have tried to pluck the heart strings to varying degrees, “Glopkicked” was simply an engaging, comedic episode that honestly would make for an entertaining ongoing series of adventures. Kayfabe is a very good collection of stories relating to the sport of professional wrestling. It takes this idea to many places, even some ridiculous ones not covered herein in great detail such as the use of the Great Old One Cthulhu or the possessed wrestler Belzebooze, and it’s an affordable read for comic reader and wrestling fan alike.
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