Book Review: Ultimo Dragon graphic novel



Submitted by Joe Babinsack ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )
Several weeks ago, Dan Madigan reached out to me about a project he was working on. Being a huge comic book fan to go along with my wrestling mutant infamy, it was already interesting. A few weeks later, he tells me it’s a Graphic Novel, with the story of the mask of …. Ultimo Dragon!
How much better can that get?!?
Well, last week Dan got me the link, and the Kickstarter project page and all things about this Graphic Novel are mind-blowing good.
My following of the comic book industry has waned over the years, but I’ve reviewed a few books, including JT Yost’s Digestate and other crazy good stuff. My comic book background includes 10k of books, work at The Phantom of the Attic (Oakland, nestled between Pitt (alma mater) and Carnegie-Mellon (CMU)), more than a few calls from editors and one writing gig that I actually got a check for.
Add to that some self-published stuff, APA work, a newsletter that hit 40 states and a few countries, and my resume (hey, more words that need accents!) is looking more interesting than my wrestling one.
Ironically, I also received an email this week from The Union’s list, about a comic book called The F1rst Hero, written by Anthony Ruttgaizer (aka Kingdom James), and produced by Action Lab Entertainment (www.actionlabcomics.com). In one more of too many links, this book is being funded at indiegogo.com with the campaign being launched on August 21st. See also www.kingdomjames.com/comics.php
Professional wrestling and the comic book industry are really sister entertainment forms: serialized, highly creative and having a lot more in common than not-in-common, although experience has shown me that the fan bases are a lot more antagonistic than they should be.
Strangely enough, the comic book world is skyrocketing, at least in terms of mainstream visibility, with a lot of big budget movies and of course with Big Bang Theory showing that geeks are cool, marketable and ratings worthy.
Sheesh, I hope I haven’t doomed Big Bang Theory, but Heroes it is not, and it has absolutely nothing to do with professional wrestling.
What is amazing is that the comic book world (yeah, I’ll get to the relevant stuff soon enough, like in the next clause,) is much like professional wrestling in the modern “creative” sense that stories get dictated from the top down, talent is almost entirely shaped from the same mold, and big names of the 1980’s and 1990’s seem to be the biggest movers in marketing product.
In both industries, I’ve gone from a fan that once spent much on many products back in the day, but in the past decade I’ve become jaded, disinterested or just plan indifferent of the mainstream stuff.
Comic book heroes, much like professional wrestling faces, are no longer clean cut, honorable, believable or heroic. The age of “grim and gritty” and the age of the “tweener” has caused nothing but harm, irreparable I would say, and what’s worse, the industrial mainstream’s imposition of the house style of art in comics and the house style of wrestling has made every book look the same and every wrestler look the same.
Now that I’ve griped about two industries I still love but love even more to criticize (hey, I am a critic!), have randomly strayed around a few topics, and otherwise made it appear that I’m not just hyping Dan Madigan’s project, let’s talk about Dan Madigan, Gary Lee Jackson and Ultimo Dragon’s Graphic Novel project, the important details of which can be found at:
Let’s start with Ultimo Dragon – the Luchador by way of Japan, or is that pro resu talent by way of Mexico? Who once held like eight different Junior Heavyweight belts and called it the J-Crown. For a month he held the WCW Cruiserweight Champion, and a total of ten belts.
(Eight more to go, Forever Hooligans, before I’m impressed!)
The masked man also innovated high-flying moves, popularized a vastly impressive dive called the Asai Moonsault, and well, the days in WCW are not so fondly remembered due to the long injury situation with his arm, but his dream of being in WrestleMania was accomplished in 2004.
Ten years in this industry was a long time ago.
The Ultimo Dragon always had a mystique surrounding him, along with the tower of gold made up of ten Championship belts, but mostly the cross-cultural, professional wrestling imbued, lucha inspired, Japanese intensity and all around talent that he wore like a mantle of greatness.
Because he was all that and more.
It’s interesting to build up a mythical story around the legend of a professional wrestling’s mask, but Dan Madigan’s no stranger to masked professional wrestlers: he’s the screenwriter for See No Evil, starring Kane; and he also wrote this nifty cool book about Lucha Libre with a lot of El Santo (and other Luchador) movie references (Mondo Lucha A-Go-Go).
"Those who wear the mask do not fear death. Death fears those who wear the mask."
What I know from watching, reading and exchanging emails (let along that pull quote above) is that Dan Madigan is that he knows his stuff, he’s respectful of the subject matter, and he’s definitely at the core of a comic book (er, Graphic Novel to the nouveau fandom of mainstream perspective) that I’d actually shell out some money for.
But beyond Madigan’s involvement is an art duo that upon first glance, had me wanting more.
I’ll not pretend to know much about Musetap Art Studio, but the look of the panels provided on the Kickstarter site are nothing short of awesome. Reminiscent of Chris Bacchalo as well as late 1980’s Crying Freeman (and other Hong Kong comic books), there’s a strong sense of reality, solid lines and images that just pop out. Weirdly, I’m also seeing references that can only scream Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on Thor with those dark elves (or am I seeing a bit of Ben Edlund’s jumping/leaping ninja’s … wait a minute…. that’s just too crazy).
All I know is that this is not the murky, blurred and altogether similarity of modern day comics I quickly browse through anymore.
Musetap talent is Wil Woods and Tirine Carver.
What’s crazy good about their art it is the weird masks, the warped faces and the dynamic action they put to paper via pen and ink. The color is amazing and the creativity is no less than what I would expect from a team built to support the legend of the amazing Ultimo Dragon.
Plus the spider-symbols are pretty cool on the katana and kana wielding baddies… heels, rudos or what have you… heck, check it out for yourself:
Check out their stuff at:                http://musetap.deviantart.com/
Check out the Kickstarter site for more specific images, but there’s also a Darth Vader image that has gotten raves and Wil has done work for the manga based Last Airbender. The project hypes that this Graphic Novel will put Musetap on the map….
I can’t doubt that one bit.

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