Comics and pro wrestling go well together. I was a big fan of both when I was younger, and though in recent years my enthusiasm has shifted much towards the comic book realm and away from the stagnant wrestling scene, I’ve still long harboured the notion that combining the two could make for a natural fit, given the right story. Much like the superheroes of the printed page, pro wrestling often features larger-than-life characters in colourful, form-fitting costumes playing out good versus evil conflicts on a grand, theatrical scale. WWE’s weekly TV and PPV structure also creates an approximation of comic books’ monthly serialisation and event crossovers. I might eventually return to develop my vague wrestling comic idea, but for now I’ve been beaten to the punch by one Jason Caskey, who along with artist Phil Hester gives his wrestling story an offbeat, supernatural twist that proves as much a simultaneous blessing and curse as the magical mask at the centre of the story.
In the afterword at the back of the comic, Caskey talks about his twin childhood loves for cheesy old monster movies and for pro wrestling. Both are very much expressed in this opening issue as the story unfolds. There is definitely an attention to detail in his depiction of his ensemble of wrestlers. In the opening flashback sequence set 20 years in the past, the characters are working in small venues, entrenched in the death throes of the old territory system. Here, much as was the case in the old days, the wrestling in the ring is presented as real conflict. This made me cringe a little bit, as I was worried that the whole story would work under the notion that these wrestlers were really fighting each other, though I must admit that the kitschy throwback element of this made me feel a little nostalgic. But flash forward to the present, and we see a glitzy world with higher production values, a more jaded audience, and us getting glimpses of the wrestlers “out of character” behind the scenes. In this contrasting portrayal, I think Caskey is reflecting how the way wrestling presents itself has shifted in the internet generation, with the cat now well and truly out of the bag. Caskey also touches on tropes wrestling aficionados may recognise from the real world, such as the broken-down old former star who can’t leave the wrestling world, the second-generation wrestler struggling to make an impression under his celebrated father’s shadow, and the poor schmuck lumbered with a career-killing gimmick.
I could probably have happily read about the trials and tribulations of these characters as a story in itself, but things get problematic with the inclusion of the supernatural stuff. Not that it’s poorly done. The opening sequence sees us introduced to some potentially interesting characters, most notably a demonic, shape-shifting villain called Huehuecoyote, and the whole story thread has a nice grindhouse vibe to it. But I feel like the problem unfolding is that we have two good single stories crammed together into one comic, and as a result it feels like both threads get short thrift in the final product. Hopefully in subsequent issues, with the world-building out of the way, their combination becomes a little more seamless.
Of course, you are likely to recognise the name of artist Phil Hester from a number of high-profile projects, with him currently working on Wonder Woman. The story is that, after finishing the first two issues of The Holy Terror, Phil Hester was whisked away by DC and broke out as the superstar we know and love today. He delivers some quality work here, perhaps not as refined as his more recent output, but filled with spark and energy. With all the diverse, unusual body shapes, Hester’s style here has the vibe of a perverted Saturday morning cartoon (an “Adult Swim aesthetic”, perhaps?) which complements the trashy monster movie vibe. The credits list Aaron Gillespie for providing an “art assist”, and I don’t know how much input into the visuals he had, but I should give him an acknowledgement here alongside Hester for the success of the dynamic poses and page layouts. Also, if I hadn’t read the credits, I would be totally unaware that more than one artist had worked on the book, another sign that Gillespie did his job flawlessly. The thick inks of Jim Woodyard also help to make the characters pop and almost leap out of the screen.
It’s a shame, then, that the visuals of the book are let down somewhat by the colors. As provided by Fritz Mabuse (a pseudonym, taking the first name of the famous director and pairing it with the surname of the character featured in three of his films), the heavy, flat colors are almost completely lacking in texture and depth, and actually detract a lot from Hester’s artwork. And that’s unfortunate, as with the right colorist to enhance the pencils and inks, The Holy Terror could have looked stunning.
The lettering by Colin Wales is mostly competent, but the odd instance of sloppiness proves to be damaging. Most notably, in what could have been a nice little kick-ass moment where Father Mando Navarro cracks Huehuecoyote across the face with a crucifix, I found myself drawn out of the slick visuals, my intention instead drawn to a speech bubble that looked like it was scribbled onto the page in felt pen. As I’ve said before, lettering is often a thankless job, and it’s often only when it’s done wrong that people notice it.
While it’s not perfect, Jason Caskey has set up an intriguing premise with this first issue of The Holy Terror, bolstered by the lively artwork of Phil Hester and his collaborators. It certainly has the tools to accumulate a cult following, and I wish the series the best in its revival.
Check out The Holy Terror #1 now on IndyPlanet.