Wrestle Maniacs from Honey Badger Press collects horror, sci-fi and thriller stories with – you guessed it – a wrestling theme. If the title didn’t give it away, the flesh-ripping cover definitely does, setting you up nicely for the mayhem that follows.
Tom Leins’ Real Americans is set in the 90’s but reads like an 80s action flick, and that’s no bad thing. Taking a pair of ex-wrestlers, now cops, and having them look into some wrestling-related murders offers some entertaining thrills in a grim, drug-filled universe.
A Fiend in Need by James Newman is next, taking a look at another ex-wrestler forced to confront his past. This breaks away from Nick Bullman, the main character, to involve some nosy neighbours, offering some much needed levity alongside the bone breaking tragedy.
Next is Eryk Pruitt’s Last of the High Flying Van Alstynes, which has another out of commision sportsman dealing with crime, but there are a lot more layers here. Brad Van Alstyne tries to keep the violence out of his life but by the end of his story, you’re not sure how much was true or not. So even though the fists fly by fast as the story does, it’s a tragic kind of tale, and that final punch hits you right in the moneymaker.
Then comes Rassle Hassle by Adam Howe, featuring his long-suffering human punchbag, Reggie Levine. After the events of Tijuana Donkey Showdown, Reggie’s back to keeping the peace in a local bar, until he’s forced to use his fists for…well, not good exactly, but to scrape by in his existence. That involves babysitting, gimp masks, drug deals and sucking venom like Spiderman on a rule 34 website. And if that’s not your idea of an entertaining story, I don’t know what to tell you.
Ed Kurtz’s Duluth also involves hell coming down on a man, with a more supernatural approach as a man fights for his soul. Obviously you expect fights in a wrestling anthology, but with the first few stories following a fairly similar formula, this gives the anthology a much-needed different spin.
From Parts Unknown by Hector Acosta goes all-in on the paranormal with luchadores fighting demons just like Santo and Blue Demon back in the day. In that tradition, our hero Jorge learns of his family’s past and the tradition of beating back hellspawn in the ring, before doing that very same thing. Heart and action in this one, making for one of the best stories in the collection.
Joseph Hirsch’s Three Finger Bolo takes us down the dirty backstreet fighting path, with a boxer against a wrestler in a barbed wire fight to the death. This one virtually drips with sweat and gore.
Glassjaw by Duncan P Bradshaw talks you through a match from a coach’s POV as he eggs on his buddy through all manner of horrific injuries. It’s an origin story of sorts with plenty of dark humour, and plenty of authenticity.
David James Keaton’s El Kabong follows a revenge story format with a masked wrestler tracking down those who killed his wife. Only this isn’t a lucha, this is a man determined to get his own back but still retain his life afterwards. This isn’t as much of a wrestling story as the others, but it was still a solid read.
El Nuevo Santo’s Last Fight by Gabino Iglesias takes us back to the ring, as a man’s family is threatened, forcing him to perform in the ring one last time. And El Nuevo Santo fights hard for their lives, going to punishing lengths to succeed. This one is told in great style that keeps you gripped all the way to the bloody end.
Kill to be You by Patrick Lacey takes the wrestling theme and rockets its main character into a pan-dimensional spider people war. Funny stuff, and a definite highlight.
Last of all, Jason Parent’s Canadian Donkey Punch sets you up for something gross right there in the title, and it keeps up the sickness throughout, as a referee deals with all manner of fluids and pain during a few gruelling bouts, with an ending that you won’t forget that fast.
Thanks very much to Adam Howe for the review copy, it’s a definite thumbs-up from me whether you like wrestling or not. Check the links below to grab your own copy, and why not swing by my video review to see me ham it up as a professional wrestler!