Written by: Jon Jody
Artist by: Dexter Wee
Published by: Arcana
Cover Price: 99 cents an issue!
Note: This review is for the digital version of the comic available from Comixology
Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!
Full disclosure, when working on this review, I actually did have access to a digital copy of the full trade paperback coming out in February (THANKS JON), but I decided to read and review just the three issues available on Comixology. That said, I pretty much devoured these three issues in one sitting and can’t wait to go back and read the rest once I have finished typing this review.
I’ve been a wrestling fan on and off since just before Wrestlemania 3. I have fond memories of sitting at my uncle’s house watching WWF and NWA/WCW. I practically worshipped Hulk Hogan,Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair, and Sting as a kid. Early this year, I started watching the WWE regularly again when my favorite wrestler Chris Jericho made his return. I even got tickets to go to Wrestlemania with some friends next year! While I do think some of the writing and booking has often been cringe inducing, I also think that the level of in ring talent is far above anything I’ve seen as a life long wrestling fan. But that is a conversation for another time…
When I was told that Arcana was doing a comic that focused on indy wrestling in the 70’s, I was definitely curious about it. I really didn’t know what to expect from a comic about wrestling…a big part of me was expecting something like the awful Mankind, Undertaker, and Warrior comics from the 90’s. But, like the name says, Jon Jody and Dexter Wee hit me with a pretty big swerve.
Swerve often reminded me of the movie The Wrestler with heavy influences from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s crime comics like Criminal. You get to see a heavily fictionalized look at the seedy underbelly of pro wrestling. The writer, Jon Jody, worked as a indy ring announcer, and is a life long wrestling fan, and that love really stands out as you read Swerve.
The comic focuses on Eric Layton, a once promising football star who is injured and ends up looking for easy money by getting involved with a Texas wrestling federation. Eric quickly realizes that there is no easy money for a rookie wrestler, and ends up getting beat up by a stiff worker who goes by Doghouse to show him his place.
Instead of the $500 payday he was expecting, he ends with $60 for his pain. Eric is in desperate need of money to help his family, and quickly finds an opportunity to make some. We find out that the promoter has his hands in drugs and other criminal enterprises. Eric ends up getting more involved in these activities, and quickly rises up the ranks as a trusted foot soldier and a successful in ring performer.
Throughout the first three issues, we watch Eric selling off more and more of his soul, including finding himself surprised at not being as upset by witnessing a particularly horrific murder as he should have been. I love that Jon Jody never really hits the reader with any strong judgement about most of his characters’ actions. There are some bad guys doing bad things, but viewing them through Eric’s eyes, you can’t help but feel some sense of connection, almost sympathy for them. I also love the small moments of light humor that pop up unexpectedly, especially between Eric and his mentor, Joe Thomas.
While there are lots of insider and technical wrestling things slipped in to the story, they are never particularly overwhelming. Any fan of a good crime comic (which I am) will find plenty to enjoy here. There is a terrific balance between the two worlds here.
On top of the solid writing and great characters, I thought Dexter Wee captures the violence of this story perfectly, both in the ring and out. And while there are some disturbing sequences, I think Wee does a perfect job of keeping it from being over the top or gratuitous something that I run in to in a lot of these kinds of gritty crime comics.
In a lot of ways, I am reminded by some of Mike Grell’s work on Jon Sable or Longbow Hunters, and that is probably the biggest compliment I can give an artist.
I do have one small complaint about this book, and it’s more a matter of production than the creative side of things. The end of each of the digital comics is the last page of the trade…which seems to spoil some story elements from further down the comic. That said, this never takes away from the experience of reading it. Actually, towards the end of the first issue, they tease the reader by telling us that a particular character gets killed later on, and that just added to my anxiousness to read more and more of this series.
And I did think that the first three issues did feel a little bit cliche at points. I had definitely seen similar stories before, but Jody and Wee definitely have some new things to say, and setting it in a corrupt wrestling territory from the 70’s was an inspired choice. They really created a compelling world inhabited by some unique and fun to read characters here.
For three bucks, you get three issues a terrific series in Swerve. That just can’t be beat. For those people still reluctant about digital comics, there will be a print trade coming out in February. I would definitely recommend this to any wrestling fan or crime comic fan!
Final Score: 8.5 – Great concept for a story, and very solid execution. Swerve is definitely on my much read list now! Jon Jody and Dexter Wee have the talent to be huge names in the years to come.