Top-Down Smackdown: Headlocked, the Comic
Writer Michael Kingston isn’t just blowing smoke or flexing his mental pythons when he says that most wrestling comics suck, and his is finally a good one. They do, just like most wrestling movies suck, in large part because until very recently, nobody who knew what the business was actually like behind-the-scenes was allowed to talk about it. Thus, any fiction about wrestling mimicked the onscreen storylines, unconvincingly trying to persuade the reader that it’s all real competition.
Thanks to documentaries like Beyond the Mat, shows like Tough Enough and the Oscar-nominated drama The Wrestler, we now know how to do things right. And Kingston’s comic mostly does.
In the TPB, which covers the first five issues, we follow the dreams of one Mike Hartmann, a wanna-be wrestler who clearly has not seen any of the aforementioned productions and has a lot to learn about the business. Because the narrative jumps around in time quite a bit, we know that he blew his first opportunity to break into the business, though we don’t know yet how. For his second, he dons a mask to become the protegee of Scott Nightingale, a wrestler who quit the business to make movies and is now looking for a comeback. Nightingale gets Mike a spot on the ring crew, which is an opportunity the kid does not appreciate at first.
The villain of the story is a thinly veiled take on New York Post writer Phil Mushnick, who bashes pro-wrestling every chance he gets. This version of him, named Paul Ambrose, is a crack investigative journalist, who’s so determined to take down the wrestling business that he chases leads like a detective in a noir movie. This is the biggest stretch the story makes, but longtime fans will at least find it funny. Likewise, “Spenser McLane” and his “WFW” promotion are pretty obviously Vince McMahon and WWE. Other in-jokes are more subtle – there’s a tag team with a construction crew gimmick reminiscent of Mike Enos and Wayne Bloom, and at one point they visit strippers named Beau and Blake – the identities Enos and Bloom assumed when they became the Beverly brothers in the old WWF.
By the end of five issues, it’s still not clear what Mike did wrong the first time, but the stakes are upped for his potentially getting found out. Kingston’s story is compelling, though I think and hope he might scale back on the disjointed chronology once the reader is hooked. The art, by Michel Mulipola, is the standard realism-with-a-slight-touch-of-manga that so many artists today do – not exceptional, but certainly not bad. Jerry Lawler’s covers are much more fun.
Fans will appreciate the book the most, but may find some exposition redundant – there’s a lot of explanation of the basics for the casual reader who may not normally know anything about wrestling. It may not be as visceral as watching something like Tough Enough, but remember that a comic can go places reality-TV cameras can’t and won’t.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Michael Kingston at Comic-Con, telling you why you should read his comic.
Michael Kingston, Author of the Wrestling Comic "Headlocked" from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.
At Comic-Con, we caught up with Michael Kingston, to ask about his wrestling comic book that has actually been endorsed and worked on by wrestlers.
Feel free to talk about this and Raw below.