Written by Jon Judy
Art By Dexter Wee
Cover Art by Chris Seaman
Art Director Sean McArdle
Production & Design by Jace Tschudi
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Release Date: February 15, 2012
Cover Price: $19.95
A funny thing about pro wrestlers – for all their flamboyant showmanship, sometimes it’s their lives outside the ring that makes them really compelling. The family man that puts his life in danger is the premise that made the documentary Beyond The Mat work. The role of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson – big, loving, flawed – is what almost singlehandedly brought back Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s seminal The Wrestler. A random stranger I still think of often: ten years ago, on an overnight Amtrak train, I once struck up a conversation with a retired semi-pro in his late 40s who lamented how he never got comfortable terrorizing little kids asking for autographs just to keep up his villainous persona. He was on his way to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter.
Swerve, a self-contained series from Archaia, is set in a seedy underworld of sex, drugs, and violence. What makes it stand out is that at the heart of the story are these compassionate characters. It’s not a flawless story; the alchemy of mixing the staged violence inside the ring with the very lethal violence outside it maybe doesn’t 100 percent click, but there are passages here that feel sharp and fresh.
Set in San Antonio, Texas, way back in 1976, before the big razzle dazzle days of WWF in the 1980s, a crime syndicate has set up shop, using the league as a front to launder drug and prostitution money, with some of their toughest enforcers doubling as star wrestlers. Enter our hero, Eric Layton – an ex-football star with a bum knee, turned college dropout – who’s desperate for cash for his cancer-stricken mother. With the promise of more cash dangling in front of him, he quickly discovers that the real money in his line of work is to get mixed in with the shadier aspects of the league.
Dexter Wees‘ art has a down and dirty quality that’d feel at home on a title like Jason Aarons’ Scalped or a run on Ghost Rider in 1993 – it’s not about being pretty, its jagged lines and swooping panels are more about putting you in the moment. There’s a terrific sequence halfway through where a rival gang ambushes our protagonists that’s just sheer exhilaration. He also knows how to make quiet moments of two men in a car, chatting, getting to know each other really touching. And then there’s some scenes that are so plot-exposition heavy they start to feel a bit dull.
Jon Judy‘s story has some nods to cool, heavy-hitter stories about people falling from grace – Goodfellas, The Departed, Breaking Bad, etc. What’s missing for me, that those classics have, is the slow descent. After a strong set up in issue 1, our hero Eric feels like he’s transitioned into the criminal world without too much spiritual remittance. In fact, come to think of it, throughout much of the second act I felt pretty disconnected from Eric as a character.
But, like a great wrestling match, there’s a real payoff at the end. The suspense elevates sharply in the third act and leads to an ending that caught me off guard and that I found rewarding. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all we want in our comics anyway?