By: Jon Judy (story), Dexter Wee (art), Chris Hall & Alfredo Rodriguez (colors),
The Story: I knew the pro wrestling world was crooked, but not his crooked!
The Review: It has been a long time since we reviewed anything that didn’t come from one of the big-name publishers—not just the Big Two, but the prominent “indie” companies as well. I don’t really have a romantic view of these creator-owned comics, frankly; as I’ve said before, I’ve read bombs, winners, and solid middleweights in roughly the same proportions as stuff coming out of the Big Two. It’s just a matter of different expectations.
When it comes to non-superhero works, you expect a higher degree of originality, and Swerve does deliver on that front: the story of Eric Layton, a guy who turns to pro wrestling when his college football dreams get shuttered, only to discover an entire criminal underworld attached. It’s really novel to get a plot that is entirely grounded in reality, without any supernatural, sci-fi, or fantasy element poking its head in.
That, perhaps, is also part of Swerve’s weakness: it basically is your average crime-drama in a graphic novel. The motivations of the characters are exceedingly simple: want of money, lots of it, and when that doesn’t suffice, pure malice works as well. Judy attempts to cast a little bit of sympathy for his protagonist, but relies on an old plot formula to do so. How many times have you seen the story of a man driven to commit unspeakable acts in order to save someone in his family, preferably someone with a life-threatening illness—preferably cancer?
Eventually, Eric’s family problems fall by the wayside, never once becoming a crucial part of the series except as a narrative necessity to trap him into Southwest Wrestling’s seedier business ventures. Once there, the story feeds off a meat-and-potatoes diet of swearing (“No one wants to look at a fucked up girl wrestler, and no one wants to fuck a fucked up whore! You’re fucking with my livelihood here!”), violence, and black market transactions (culminating in the delivery of child porn mags).
At some point, the wrestling side of the story also disappears into the background, aside from Eric’s persistent concern about finding his own finisher. This is unfortunate, as a stronger focus on the sports element might have elevated the plot from its de facto gangster origins. Alas, pro wrestling in Swerve is as political and faked as you’d imagine it is in real life, so there are no real stakes in any part of it.
Where Judy succeeds is in giving some complexity to his wisely selected cast of characters: Tony Frank, the careless and temperamental boss of operations; Bobby Sweet, appointed champion of the wrestling league and all-around horrible person; Lilly Ann Burns, the female wrestler promoter without a heart of gold; Doghouse, Frank’s strong-and-silent enforcer; and Joe Thomas, veteran of both the wrestling and criminal business and Eric’s advisor. No, you don’t really grow too attached to any of them either, but they are consistently compelling and will regularly surprise you by depths of personality you don’t expect.
Wee, in contrast to his name, offers a gritty, rough look to the series which suits Judy’s story very well, although nothing about it stands out as particularly outstanding. His art never gets in the way of the story and generally looks good, especially where character expressions are concerned. At times, Hall and Rodriguez’s color palette is so dark that it’s hard to see what’s happening, but this only adds to the suspense of the story.
Conclusion: A solid effort by the creators to tell a more realistic tale, although worn with a few clichés. You’ll find little to complain about, but also little to love.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – A lot of shades of The Departed in the vicious cycle of turncoating and betrayal at the very end.