Let’s get something out in the open first: As far as independent comics go, I’m pretty under exposed. I enjoy comics, any that I can get, but I’ve been a victim of a lack of diversity. I’ll probably be a little harsh on this book since it’s a one man show, but comparing something, however unfavorably, with big time books and creators isn’t meant to be negative. If anything, if I think of them when I read your book, it’s a compliment.

Set in the distant future of 3067 on an alien planet called Excelsior, a being known only as “The Manager” brings together the greatest fighters from across time and space. These “Vrestlers” will compete in a tournament which has only one rule. There are no rules. When your line-up consists of a cat-person, a Valkyrie, a crab monster and a being called “The Eye” you know you’re in wacky sci-fi territory and it’s worth noting this before you begin the book. It’s wild and crazy in there, with little regard for texture and pacing. It’s about crazy fights, with blood and gore and all simply to be crowned as number one!

The cover to Vreckless Vrestlers #0

As you can see, it’s a nuanced drama effect he’s going for.

Vreckless Vrestlers is a six issue series by Lukasz Kowalczuk. I’m glad this is a printed review since I’d almost certainly butcher the pronunciation of his name, but he’s from Poland if that helps. He brings us his tale in a stark, two-colour format, and yet even the bright green-and-black art may not be the most striking thing. Featuring no dialogue (“Vrestlers fight, not chat!”) the action and character come directly from the art itself, giving us a powerful story full of machismo and violence just like traditional wrestling, but without the one part that always drags down the WWE: The talking.

In issue 0 we follow The Manager as he gathers the Vrestlers from across the various dimensions. As with most issue’s zero, it is entirely set-up without much narrative. Rearrange the pages and you don’t lose anything. Each scene gives us a taste for the various fighter’s place in their own time, and a brief look at their circumstances. Very little about the various creatures needs to be said, however, since they are each a broad, two-dimensional character, whose visual details will tell you everything you need to know. It’s just like a fighting game, or “real” wrestling, really.

The guy with the crab claws is an undersea monster. The asian guy called Spike Lee? Martial artist. The muscular woman with the beard? Valkyrie. This isn’t even a detraction since, really, a book with no dialogue about people beating the hell out of each other is only going to be pulled down by some overarching storylines. Just look at almost every movie ever made out of a fighting game.

In issue 1 we have the first two fights which are, thankfully, dealt with one-at-a-time. To cross between the two fights might have been tempting, but they would have needed a more cohesive theme that connected them, and that’s not what this book is going for. We get to watch the Crimean Crab fight The Eye, and we learn through the Crab’s flashbacks that they have known each other quite well. The zero issue showed them taken from the same period in time, but now we know they were buddies. They injure each other and we learn very quickly that in Vreckless Vrestlers if a bout is stalled, or is in some way impeded, the officials will step in to make sure things continue. Both The Crab and The Eye are given encouragement that sways the match, leaving us in no doubt that entertainment is the only real reason these creatures are fighting. There is no honour in Vreckless Vrestlers.

In the second fight the relationship between the contestants is more straightforward. Vegan Cat comes from a feline-ruled planet but is hated for his strict Vegan diet, and his preaching of his values. The Flatwoods Monster is a floating nightmare from West Virginia, said to be an advanced alien but whose time on Earth was cut short unlike Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. This information comes from the short biographies at the start of each match, complete with statistics for height, weight, strength and intelligence. Did I say before it was like a fighting game? Our author, Lukasz Kowalczuk, also mentions children’s toys as a part of his inspiration. The stats on the back of the box are exactly what my childhood toys were like and I applaud their use here. I can almost feel the blister packed box containing the Vegan Cat.

Vegan Cat's bio card from Issue 1

There’s even the dotted lines to cut it out!

This fight has, for me, an interesting part of the issue’s major conceit, in that the Vegan Cat is the first, and only character who is actually a professional fighter. Monsters, aliens, soldiers, barbarians; all the other contestants come from a variety of places, but Vegan Cat is already a champion of this kind of sport. He might be a wrestler, not a “Vrestler” but the similarity remains and, for me at least, he could be the focal character (if the book had a central narrative, that is).

As it stands Vegan Cat and the Flatwoods Monster beat the stuffing out of each other and it’s within this match I began to see the series other, perhaps unintentional inspiration: Manga or, more specifically, Dragon Ball and its ilk, such as Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach. Not JUST because it’s a fighting tournament, of course, or because it’s almost entirely disposable, but the visceral visual styling, the large panels and almost monochromatic nature make this Eastern European comic much more similar to an Asian comic than anything from the West. Flip open any fight manga and you’ll see pages of these huge panels with no dialogue as the characters beat each other senseless. While Western comics seem to be satisfied merely showing us THAT the characters fight, Manga (and Vreckless Vrestlers) prefers to show us HOW they fight. And from that we learn who they are.

The second two quarter final matches to be shown in issue 2

The line-up for the matches in Issue 2! The lizard’s name is Sergeant Reptilion. What else do you need to know?

We’re left with the promise that the victors will be returning in the semi-finals in issue 3, leaving us with no doubt that issue 2 will be the other two quarter finals. Predictable, sure. But the nature of the story isn’t crying out for narrative style or tricks. It’s as brutal and simple as a concept can be.

Lukasz’ art, too, reflects this simple, brutal world, in glaring neon green, black, and the white negative space left over. Much as the material itself is like children’s toys, so too the art is like that of a child. Blocky, thick and exaggerated, his lines and figures are rough, sometimes malformed and often ugly. Has he has selected a theme that works for his style, perhaps? Or maybe a style that works for his theme?

I had fun with Vreckless Vrestlers. I’m not sure if I’m hooked, but issue 2 will be out in August and I’ll decide then. Unlike its characters and some of its meatier inspirations, it’s somewhat lightweight and it’s meant to be. Not every comic has to change our lives. Sometimes we just want to see a crab monster fight a Russian diver to the death.

Vreckless Vrestlers issues 0 and 1 are out now and are available via Comixology with a Trade Paperback confirmed for later this year from Wetta.

Overall Score
70 %

Really, it depends what you like and what you're into. This isn't the next Saga, or V for Vendetta. But if some fun and chuckles is what you're looking for, add 10 points.

Story 55%
Writing 70%
Pencils 70%
Colours 65%

About The Author

Living in Australia, my life is probably quite like yours, except hotter and with more dangerous animals. I've had a love of comics for the last 20 years, which is almost exactly two thirds of my life, and very little else has been with me that long. I fancy myself as a writer, but I fancy myself as many things that I'm not all that good at, so go figure. I have strong opinions but I love to discuss things, so please comment, cos I'd love to hear what you think of what I think.

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