OVER THE ROPES #1
Writer: Jay Sandlin
Illustrator: Antonello Cosentino
Publisher: Mad Cave Studios
WHAT IS IT?
A throwback tale of a wrestler whose future as a jobber seems set in stone ... until he takes matters into his own hands and sets to charting his own push.
The powers that be sure as hell aren't going to give it to him.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Over the Ropes takes place in the early '90s South, one of the cradles of American professional wrestling. Vince McMahon, Sr. bought up all the old-school territories to form what is now the WWE, and before the conglomerate came the heyday of year-long rivalries, local heroes and some truly weird shit.
In Over the Ropes, Jason ("Phoenix") is a technically proficient wrestler whose opening matches and losing streak are starting to grate on him. The head of the promotion and his son take top billing at all times, and the marks love every second of it.
Things come to a head when Jason's ordered to step into the ring with a truly insulting opportunity. Will the Phoenix rise to dazzle the crowd and win them over, or will Jason's future peak in mid-card hell?
For those in the know, there are all sorts of little nods to the industry's checkered and ridiculous history – down to Jason's blind date being dismissed as nothing more than an encounter with a ring rat. Sandlin scripts the in-ring promos well, and the whole book assumes a familiarity with the past-time that means Jason's story is born of insider love.
Jason's a believable and relatively sympathetic protagonist if you're familiar with wrestling and its back-door dealings. It took a long time for us to get to a future in which Seth Rollins and Sami Zayn are even on television, much less headlining shows and winning titles. Jason's languishing in an era that hosted some of the best cruiser weights in history, and that tension helps the book succeed.
Cosentino's good on physical details and the pieces you need to sell a wrestling comic. Ricky Radison and Junior have a distinct family resemblance, and Cosentino also draws everyone's tights pretty well. There's a familiarity with the anatomy of wrestling moves on display as well, and some good moody shadows in the locker room and blind date scenes.
Special shout out to the phoenix background when Jason shares his name for the first time. It's the perfect blend of cheese and seriousness, and demonstrates that. Sandlin and Cosentino know their audience and the heroic mystique the industry works hard to maintain. Kayfabe might be out of fashion for smart marks, but the sanctity of the product must remain intact.
Segala puts together a good, unified color palette, with darker blues, pinks and purples in some of the quieter scenes and excellent contrasting oranges and yellows for the in-ring lights. Ricky Sr.'s bathed in the golden glow of success, while Jason's left clawing for his dignity against a subtle, burgundy background. Segala's work plays well with Cosentino's line and adds flavor where it's needed.
Birch picks a narrow, straight-ahead font for readability that complements Cosentino's economy. The balloons are butted well when they need to be, and placement's generally pretty intuitive.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
If you're not a wrestling fan already and not particularly intrigued by the wild world of sports entertainment, this book doesn't provide much of an on-ramp for learning the industry. The first line of narration, "Wrestling is like religion. You either get it or you don't," might sum it up for some and make this a bit of a niche book.
The balance of narration and dialogue in the intro scene is a hard sell. We're grappling with an announcer, the audience, two wrestlers and ring girls on the page, and the narrator's not featured until page 4. The "that's not me" spot doesn't track well because we have to wait too long for the reveal. Jason does the job, so to speak, but flipping that opener with the initial promo would make more sense, cement his point of view and contribute to the overall flow.
From a design perspective, Birch adds a phoenix feather to the narrative boxes but it's not always enough to help them stand out. There's one, in particular, that's also situated too close to a balloon. The intent is to hit that emotional punctuation mark after Jason's letter to his mother, but it feels squashed in between the characters' heads on the page. A different color, outline or even font might help here.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you, like me, have no interest in the heavyweights and are rooting for the Guerreros, the Punks, and the Mysterios of the world, this book's for you. Travel back to a time when cruiserweights weren't rewarded or featured the way they are now – and they still largely get the short end of the stick.
Wrestling is an incredibly strange world; it's drag, theater, comedy, sideshow and morality play all at once. If you're at all interested in one of the last bastions of pulp entertainment in our times, then check out this comic and be entertained.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia, by Matt Entin, Edward Kuehnel and Dan Schkade
The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling by Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno
Love & Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez (trust me)
If you like the art:
GLOW by Tini Howard and Hannah Templer
Assassin Nation by Kyle Starks & Erica Henderson
Shoplifters Will be Liquidated by Patrick Kindlon and Stefano Simeone
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Jay Sandlin – Writer
This is his first comic, but hardly his first media rodeo.
Multi-talented: He hosts the "What Happens Next" #VS podcast (along with the weekly hashtag on Twitter) and also has a novel in the works.
Antonello Cosentino – Artist
Outlander: He hails from Sicily.
Francesco Segala – Colorist
He's done work for a plethora of studios, including Boom! Studios, Mad Cave Studios, Magic Press and Oni Press
Outlander: He hails from Rome.
Justin Birch – Letterer
He was nominated for a Ringo Award in 2018 for "Best Letterer"
He's worked for Action Lab, AndWorld Design, Dynamite, IDW and Lion Forge, among others.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Click one of these to pre-order:
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