Wrestlemon: Gotta Review ‘Em All by Jerry Whitworth
Known primarily for his webcomic HEAT: The Space Age of Pro Wrestling (fusing pro wrestling and science fiction), cartoonist Jeff Martin is combining together elements of pro wrestling with another genre in battle monsters. Wrestlemon (2017) parodies the popular Nintendo property of Pokémon (short for Pocket Monsters) while also parodying pro wrestling with allusions to lucha libre in its featured monsters and homages for the likes of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, John Cena, Demolition, Ultimate Warrior, and more. The plot revolves around rookie trainer Jacey and her Wrestlemon Technico (after the lucha libre term “tecnico” meaning technician and referring to a babyface or hero) as they begin their path toward competition in the world of Wrestlemon. In their way is Jacey’s rival Thad and his Wrestlemon Roodo (after the lucha libre term “rudo” meaning rough and referring to a heel or villain) as Thad struggles to escape the shadow of his legendary father and his Wrestlemon Flaireon. All paths lead to a Wrestlemon gym where Jacey and Thad must prove their worth as trainers and their Wrestlemon demonstrate the ability to overcome in such a highly competitive environment.
Having previously reviewed Jeff Martin’s story “HEAT: Trail’s End” in Kayfabe: A Wrestling Anthology, I have some familiarity with his high concept fusion fiction however the concept of Wrestlemon is something that doesn’t readily appear to align as well it does (yet does quite well in execution). Having shared our review copy with Nerdfect Strangers co-host Bobby Fisher, an admitted superfan of both pro wrestling and Pokémon (as evidenced by our latest podcast), he was completely blown away. For me, who’s familiarity with the game franchise was the cartoon at the tail end of my youth and my myriad of friends’ fascination with it, it heralds to the classic trope of the hero’s journey. While equally ignored in Wrestlemon as in Pokémon, fans have theorized the latter features a post-apocalyptic world where youth become journeymen in order to obtain wealth and fame for their families and towns following a massive war that wiped out much of the adult population. In a manner of speaking, Wrestlemon takes this to another level by intermingling the concept with pro wrestling where the character Bullwood makes frequent reference to victory as getting to the “pay window” (though, admittedly, this is undoubtedly more of a reference to Dusty Rhode’s choice of vernacular). While without question Jacey, Thad, and their Wrestlemon are preoccupied with becoming the best for their own pride and honor, it’s not hard to see this is a means to lift themselves out of their own individual situations. For Jacey, it’s from a commoner’s roots as the character is likely an orphan (given her prominent bout in the story’s finale drew no familial support) who’s plagued by money troubles. For Thad, it’s trying to prove himself as a self-made man trying to escape his father’s legacy and forge his own path (and considering Thad’s monetary issues, it could be he’s cheap, cutoff from his father’s fortune, or his family bears fame but not wealth). To explain this in a different manner, Jacey is a Miyamoto Musashi and Thad is a Percival.
Often considered the greatest swordsman in history, Miyamoto Musashi was raised by his uncle in Shoreian temple and toiled as a foot soldier. Following his first duel at the age of 13, Musashi gained fame in Kyoto when he defeated the Yoshioka School single-handedly. In a manner, this story reflects Jacey’s tale in that she was instructed in Wrestlemon battle and conduct by Professor Golden in a small rural town before going on to the big city to compete at a Wrestlemon gym. The tale of Percival follows a boy of royal birth raised in comfort in the wilderness by his single mother. Becoming fascinated by knights, he journeys to King Arthur’s court where he is destined for greatness. Thad, for reasons unknown, appears to hail from the same town as Jacey despite his father’s fame where he journeys to the same gym as his rival. Stories like this are archetypal and Jeff Martin mashed together two of these journeys to form the basis of his stars’ intermingled tale. It heralds back to a long lost time where children were expected to grow up quickly in a harsh world where they would either thrive or die (though, obviously, their story is also a variation of Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak from the Pokémon animated series who themselves are based on the game’s characters Red and Blue, respectively).
It’s difficult to classify what Wrestlemon is exactly. Perhaps best described as a comedy parody fusing science fiction and action/adventure elements for all-ages, at its heart, it’s about the struggle to become relevant. The world as it is today is something of a beautiful disaster. Americans live in the richest nation while experiencing the greatest disparity in wealth, its people struggling to survive and seeking those that will speak on their behalf to ease their suffering. The world of Wrestlemon is not much different. On its surface, it seems like a great place but it relies on children training monsters for combat as its means of entertainment (shades of the Colosseum of ancient Rome). While Bullwood makes it clear the monsters would fight regardless of its trainers involvement in their lives, their use as a means of entertainment is akin to Bumfights as each battle is reminiscent of CZW’s Tournament of Death (just without the light tubes). Still, its in this harsh world that we see the guile and drive of Jacey to make something of herself through hardwork and dedication (which, like in the real world, still wasn’t enough as the story progressed). Wrestlemon is a must for children (especially in the modern age), fans of pro wrestling (or the 1987 film Body Slam) and/or Pokémon, and fans of comedic comics with some heart.