The Gimmick #1

Writer: Joanne Starer
Artist: Elena Gogou
Colorist: Andy Troy
Letterer: Rob Steen
Main cover artist: Erica Henderson
Publisher: Ahoy Comics

In wrestling, a gimmick is a wrestler’s in-ring persona, what informs their behavior. It determines whether they lean good or bad, whether they’ll dress in bright or dark colors, and whether the crowd will want to trust them or hate them. Visibly spectacular though they may be, gimmicks also hint at the things a wrestler hides. They can harbor delicate secrets within and they can sometimes reveal more about what goes on behind the scenes than some wrestlers would like to admit.

This is what lies behind Joanne Starer and Elena Gogou’s The Gimmick, a dark comedy of sorts that infuses wrestling’s own brand of tragedy and violence with superpowered secrets for a story that quickly goes off the rails with the force of a superkick to the chin.

The story follows a wrestler called Shane Bryant, a face (good guy) that steps into the ring with a particularly nasty wrestler with a white supremacist gimmick (a detail that plays out to great effect later in the first issue). The gimmicks clash with a particular kind of violence that escalates once a third wrestler’s racial background is brought up. Shane reacts with a thunderous punch that leaves a bloody hole in the racist wrestler’s head, revealing to the world that he’s been hiding special abilities from everyone in plain sight. Shane escapes to Tijuana to try and continue his wrestling career under a new identity, a new gimmick.

Despite the superpowers approach to the story, Gimmick manages to capture the world of wrestling in a way that seems built on what we’ve come to learn about it thanks to the recent influx of documentaries diving into the sport (especially Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring docuseries). A lot is owed to Joanne Starer’s experience in the wrestling industry, though. In an interview for The Beat, Starer spoke about her time as the owner and operator of a women’s wrestling promotion in Pennsylvania and how the backstage drama rivaled and often surpassed what went on in the ring.

There’s a particular thing Starer mentioned in the interview that stuck with me given how beautifully it sums up wrestling. Starer states, “[wrestling] is a business full of people willing to destroy their bodies to get the approval of strangers.” It resonates well within the world of Gimmick, framing Shane’s superhuman abilities in a way that amplifies the dangers these warriors face for the sake of entertainment. It helps build excitement in the actual wrestling sequences, framing them as shows of strength balanced on an invisible tightrope that can end in tragedy should someone lose their balance.

The story has all of the makings of a dark and dread-filled tale that unravels more like a Coen Brothers movie than an episode of Monday Night Raw, but Starer’s quick and snappy dialogue coupled with Elena Gogou’s bright and kinetic art style keeps things refreshingly animated.

Gimmick’s pages are colorful and chockfull of life, going for spectacle rather than grittiness. It harkens to an era of wrestling where gimmicks themselves were larger than life, as was the case during the eighties, when wrestlers looked like beefed up Greek gods. Starer and Gogou have fun with this idea as it wouldn’t really surprise anyone if wrestlers like John Cena or Roman Reigns revealed they have superhuman strength all of a sudden. We already see them that way.

There was one thing that could’ve been played up for added impact that fell a bit short: the moment Shane use one particular super ability after killing the other wrestler on live TV. The scene is presented from the perspective of someone watching the events unfold on TV from their living room. The problem is that the shot is pulled too far back and it makes lose some of the detail that really would’ve made it shine. It really requires a few looks to fully decipher what’s going on. For such an important moment, it felt a bit underwhelming.

Fortunately, that’s the only complaint. Gimmick possesses a complex cast of characters with deep histories operating in the background. The darkness that powers the story never overtakes the story’s identity, keeping to a quick pace that makes for a high-energy read. More importantly, previous knowledge of wrestling isn’t required for enjoyment. That said, what makes it into the first issue of the series is strong enough to turn a few readers into wrestling fans in their own right. In fact, it’s the type of comic that easy to recommend for people looking to get into comics as well. Any comic that can do that should be okay in anyone’s book.

The Gimmick #1 is available for pre-order now and due out in comics shops on March 8.