The 90’s were filled with some iconic things; movies, tv shows, music (HERE WE ARE NOW! ENTERTAIN US!!) and other celebrities. But another thing that peaked was Wrestling, thanks to WWE and owner/creator Vince McMahon. Yeah there was WCW too and the “Monday Night Wars” but I’m personally on Vince’s side here. WWE, known as WWF or “World Wrestling Federation before they had to change names to “World Wrestling Entertainment”, and that’s exactly what it was thanks to figures like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “Mankind” Mick Foley, D-Generation X and “The Rock” now Dwayne Johnson. This was lovingly known by fans as “The Attitude Era” and it shaped the face of wrestling for everyone including myself and comic writer Jay Sandlin. So much so that when Mad Cave was talking about coming out with a 5 Part series, Sandlin jumped into the ring for the chance!
Wrestling is fun to watch but there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes then people think. Before a Wrestler can get in front of a camera they have a long way to go starting with going to Wrestling School. That’s right, there are schools for Wrestling and no they don’t encourage backyard wrestling as training. One had to train and “pay your dues” aka “show you can work your ass off not just in ring but behind the scenes and not be a dick about it”. This includes; flyering, shaking everyone’s hand (out of curtsey) setting up the ring, setting up the venue, helping with any other issue during the show, all the responsibilities of cleaning up afterwards and once you have done ALL that for many shows. . . then you can start getting matches. But don’t expect to be the Champ right off the bat or even win your first match sometimes. Be prepared to be a “Jobber” or someone who is just going to be there to be beaten up all the time.
This leads me to our Main Character, Jason Lynn, a kid working his way to his dream of being a grappler, a shooter and eventual Champion in the 90’s through the fictional Southern Independent Wrestling Circuit. Under the tutelage of Legendary performer, “Barbwire’, Jason is working as a “Jobber” in “Southern Fried Wrestling” or “SFW” by not just owner, and promoter also Superstar himself thanks to lending his face to Radison’s Championship Chicken; Ramblin Ricky Radison. For his next story, this Champion is putting his Title on the line against his spoiled son, Billy Radison. But when the brat gets into a real fight, it leaves him unable to complete on the upcoming tour. Ricky calls Jason into his office to tell him his new job is to replace him, win and take the belt, but while this is Jason’s dream come true it does come with one big catch. Jason has to do it pretending to be Billy until he is cleared to compete again. But when Jason decides to paint his face, change the script and become his alter-ego “Phoenix” to win the belt and the hearts of the fans; it pisses everyone off.
Now, normally, if a wrestler does this then it’s because someone is hurt, and the match needs to stop. If a wrestler does this because of his ego or “just because they want to” then you best believe that won’t go over well with the promoter and or locker room. But Jason seems like the kind of “greenie” or “new guy” who feels like many wrestlers, make your mark now or you won’t get the chance which is what every underdog hero feels like at one point before their big moment. And that is what makes him so relatable. Radison is clearly the villain you want to hate and hope he and his son gets what they deserve. Every character you meet whether friend or foe is intriguing, original (which is hard to do because it feels like there is a character for every wrestler that ever hit the ring) and fits well into the story as well as the world of wrestling.
While the Attitude Era was known for guys like Steve Austin “breaking the law” and going against the boss… it was mostly because the boss said so. Let’s face it, everyone dreams of giving a stunner to their boss, laying the smackdown on them, flipping them the bird and swigging some alcohol. And that was a major part of the appeal of watching and what adults back then gravitated too. The kids loved the idea of the Hero or “Face” versus the Bad Guy or “Heel” much like a comic story. And Wrestling is basically men’s soap opera if you watch close enough. Problem is, sometimes the rivalries are real, and you can tell and in those cases they wrestlers don’t care about getting yelled at.
I was in a seminar once with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (he’s a Wrestling Legend btw google it) and he said “Wrestling isn’t fake. It’s Choreographed”. Which is true when you think about it with all the moves the guys do in the ring. You need to know how to perform every move with ease and flow and each step is a story. A painful one if not done right and many times there is some blood. Even in the artwork on the pages of each move the guys do to one another is drawn like a dance so if you as the reader don’t know the name of the submission esq move; you know it’s painful to the guys on the page. That being said, the artwork is ok, nothing super special but its enough to get the idea of sweaty men beating each other up with tables, ladders, and chairs. Antonello Cosentino makes it work and keeps it simple yet gritty for a 90’s look.
But that’s always what makes the story so great and Jay Sandlin weaves it perfectly, once again mostly because he was, is and forever will be a fan. This underdog story definitely makes you feel like you are backstage or even sitting in the arena of a show. From the wrestling moves, to the wrestling terminology to the bizarre chants the crowds give. And crowds shout really weird things sometimes at shows no doubt. And if the fans and the “Marks” (wrestling fans that think they know everything about everything wrestling) love it, then the company is going to keep using it because its what is going to keep fan’s paying for seats. Not to mention spending all the money on that TOO SWEET merchandise. And what fan back then didn’t have their own stories they wanted to see play out between two wrestlers in the ring. Sandlin actually gets the chance to do that with this story and it plays out entertainingly. The series is only 5 parts and its currently on issue #3, with #4 coming out later this month but it makes you want more. Much like each episode of wrestling you somehow mindlessly find yourself toning into.
Right off the bat, Sandlin preps you and tells it like it is about the business; “Wrestling is like Religion. You get it, or you don’t” WithOver the Ropes, you either get it or you don’t and I’m betting you are going to get it.