By Ben Kooyman
Filmmaker turned comics creator and scribe Nathanael Hopkins-Smith’s previous work, The Vagabond, was a low-fi, gritty, dirty-minded black & white charmer about a homeless man who pushes back against the society that browbeat him. His latest project, Wrestlers in Space, is a colourful, arch romp with slick artwork by Francesco ‘Prenzy’ Chiappara…
There’s a handful of genres and cultural activities that I simply don’t get. Which isn’t to say they’re no good, simply that they’re not for me. I don’t get steampunk. I don’t get Adult Swim cartoons. I don’t get mindfulness colouring books (seriously, WTF?). And I don’t get wrestling. Luckily for me, Wrestlers in Space has romance, betrayal, retribution, witchcraft, and werewolves, all of which I do get.
Actually, for the most part Wrestlers in Space is relatively light on wrestling. And space. Like the recently reviewed Mechanical Knight #1 (read our review here), which didn’t feature the mechanical knight promised by the cover but instead laid the foundations for his arrival, this issue is an origins story laying the foundations for future titular wrestling in space. The protagonist, The Matador, is a womanising master of bullfighting with a fatal predilection for beautiful ladies. He seduces a beauty and swears to be faithful, then immediately breaks her heart. She confides to her witchy mother, who casts a vengeful spell upon him. The next day he transforms into a werewolf before a crowd of adoring fans who quickly turn on him, sending him fleeing for safety to his wrestler brother.
While the high concept wrestling in space is still to come, womanising bullfighters turned werewolves isn’t exactly low concept, and Wrestlers in Space runs with its gimmick. The book’s a light-hearted romp that moves along at a steady clip like a south of the border Asterix. It’s comics as confectionery, and The Matador is an amusingly clueless, libidinous creation: think Ron Burgundy in a torero. But like Burgundy he’s also an expert at his job, and the visual highlights of the book are Chiappara’s slick presentation of the master matador at work. Chiappara conveys the character’s simultaneous economy and extravagance of movement and the theatricality of his craft, and these compositions are given an extra layer of gloss, crackle and pop via Simon A. Wright’s colours.
This origin issue wraps up with a mini-story at the end offering a preview of things to come, followed by a series of pin-ups from various artists. Like another Kickstarter baby, Shaun Paulet’s XCT: Extreme Champion Tournament (read our review here), Hopkins-Smith has created a world with infinite potential nooks and crannies that I imagine many artists will wish to play in. According to the author’s Comixology profile, his prior series The Vagabond originated as a short film, and he turned to comics because he wanted to tell stories without budgetary constraints. From an ass-kicking homeless anti-hero to a Mexican werewolf wrestling in space: it’s a pleasant reminder that in comics there are seemingly no constraints…
Wrestlers in Space is available on Comixology.
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