The Webcomic Overlook #176: Botched Spot
As you may have guessed from my online handle, my image of myself if a silver mask, and the banner with an image of Eddie Guerrero with an iPhone for a head, I’m something of a fan of pro-wrestling. I blame my sister, who was all over that stuff in the mid 1990’s. This was in the middle of the Monday Night War, and both WWE and WCW were throwing up crazy storylines and outlandish gimmicks to try to grab the viewers. As someone who’d been a casual viewer in the 1980’s, I preferred WCW since it featured several of the wrestlers I knew, like “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, “The Macho Man” Randy Savage, and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
Also, we only had basic cable, which, at our house, meant that we had TBS (where WCW aired) and not USA (where RAW IS WAR aired). That’s right: my intro to wrestling was the much-maligned WCW Thunder. Which, frankly, wasn’t a terrible show. While the big name stars got the spotlight on Monday Night Nitro, Thunder focused on the mid-carders, who were, by far, the better wrestlers. There was Chris Jericho, Booker T, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and my first introduction to the luchadors: Rey Mysterio, La Parka, Silver King, and El Dandy. Seriously, who are you to doubt that guy? There was a refreshing can-do spirit to those guys, all trying to become huge stars through a combination of showmanship, athleticism, and incredibly corny gimmicks… like that time Hugh Morrus rebranded himself as the military-themed Hugh G. Rection. (Seriously.)
I haven’t really been watching wrestling that much recently, but I do know enough that Raw is now the John Cena show, Triple H is taking the Vince MacMahon role of WWE president, former wrestler Brock Lesnar caused a tidal wave of pride from wrestling smarks by winning one of the top belts in mixed martial arts, and The Miz, CM Punk, Sheamus, and Jack Swagger are all former champions. Oh, and apparently Hulk Hogan is still kicking around in
TNA Impact Wrestling.
When you have a niche but rabid fanbase, inevitably someone’s going to try to make a webcomic out of it. While James Hornsby’s Botched Spot isn’t the first wrestling-themed humor webcomic I’ve come across, it probably does the best job at capturing the zeitgeist of wrestling fandom.
(Incidentally, while the title sounds like a particularly lewd and filthy sexual position, Botched Spot is named for when a wrestler badly screws up a move.)
I discovered Botched Spot mainly through the wrestling parodies. In my opinion, wrestling is one of the most difficult things to joke about because everything is already so cartoonishly loony. And I’m not even talking about the Rock ‘n Wrestling era. A wrestler named “Sexual Chocolate” getting it on with octogenarian Mae Young, which leads to her giving birth to a hand? It happened. It’s nigh impossible to come up with anything to approach the sheer inanity of that sketch.
However, you soon treasure moments like that and Katie Vick and a mumbling zombie character and Shawn Michaels forming a tag team with God, because, in a way, they actually give you some easy targets to make jokes about. Hornsby started writing the comic in 2008 … and I’m hard pressed to think of any angles that approached that level of insanity. Both the WWE and TNA were intentionally toning down their product (and, in effect, making both shows blander) for economic and political reasons. (WWE CEO Linda MacMahon cleaning up Raw because of her Senatorial bid, for example.)
Botched Spot acquits itself pretty well, even if a lot of the jokes are pretty low key. He touches on the last vestiges of the remaining cartoonish gimmicks: when the the Undertaker chokeslams Edge to Hell, he literally finds himself having a conversation with Satan. There’s a silly gag on why Sheamus is so pale and why Randy Orton is so orange. I imagine this aspect of the comic would have thrived better in the 80’s or the Attitude era, when there was a heck of a lot more to make fun of. The best gags are generally rather insider, goofing on backstage politics and the double standards by the carny-esque owners.
There are times I think certain strips could be better laid out, like one where a joke about wrestling announcers gets trounced by a punchline robbed of its surprise impact. Still, the hits generally outnumbered the misses, and I did like how the WWE superstars looked when rendered in Hornsby’s drawing style.
The surprise, for me, was how much I liked Hornsby’s original characters. Botched Spot follows two wrestlers trying to make it in a small, indie wrestling promotion. Our hero is Rad Bad DeBone, a pale, scrawny cruiserweight who looks something like Zack Gowen if he had two legs. He’s a generally nice guy, but his scrawny build and his lack of any real gimmick means that he’s destined to go nowhere. At least he’s a little realistic and aims a getting into the more cruiserweight-friendly promotion formerly known as TNA … but even that turns out to be a dead end.
It turns out that there aren’t that many interesting stories to tell about a nice, clean cut guy. There’s even a strip that sorta spoofs that. So, naturally, the comic’s focus oftentimes shifts to the other regular characters.
He’s joined by Olav Orlav, an older wrestler who’s unfortunately been stuck with a Soviet gimmick. Seemingly based on Nikolai Volkoff, Olav had a career playing the evil foreigner and jobbing to elderly good guys until the Soviet Union fell and his gimmick became suddenly archaic. Among his old wrestling partners are a Nazi and a bear. He has no problems taking questionable pharmaceuticals as long as he’s not caught, he’s a terrible wrestling teacher, and he has no problem screwing over his friends as long as it gets him a world title (which, in general, are ultimately useless).
Still, Olav remains very likable and he’s often in the starring role. Perhaps because years of sitcoms have predisposed us to liking curmudgeonly old men. But perhaps it’s because he’s often the underdog. Many times, Olav tries to do the right thing, and it always turns up biting him in the end. Former friends turn on him based on flimsy rumors and accusations, people prey on his trust to cheat him out of a job, and his knowledge is ultimately useless in the modern wrestling world. You can sorta see where Olav’s coming from.
There’s also a third character named Russell, who’s both an unpleasant little troll and the character that most readers can probably relate to. Russell is a smark — which is shorthand for “smart mark,” a breed of fan that knows that wrestling is fake and is more interested in the behind the scenes actions. Think of the smark as a wrestling hipster (not to be mistaken with a hipster wrestler, which also exists in the world of Botched Spot). Smarks root for wrestlers who they feel are unjustly depushed, but when they do become popular, then they turn on them in a heartbeat.
Anyway, Russell is some sort of uber-smark. He not only spends most of his time lingering on wrestling message boards, he also runs a blog and attempted a podcast, where he spends most of his time grumbling about the state of wrestling. Not that he would have it any other way. There’s a story arc where Russell, with the help of a tiny Shockmaster, learns that his dream wrestling scenario is one where all his nitpicks about wrestling come true, since there’s nothing he’d love more than to complain all the time on his blog.
Wait… why does that sound familiar?
Russell is also the catalyst to what, I think, is Botched Spot’s most entertaining storyline. He recruits Olav to go undercover and infiltrate a sketchy wrestling federation and to report on the findings to his blog. Olav pretends to be a manager, and he drags Rad Bad into his scheme by disguising him as a hardcore wrestler interested in joining the fed. When they find the owner, a scrawny kid named Jerry, they discover that not only is he still living in his Mom’s house (which I think is a reference to ECW’s Paul Heyman), he also has no idea how to actually run a wrestling federation, which turns out to be of the backyard variety.
One things leads to another. Rad Bad gets exposed for his lack of hardcore wrestling skills, Jerry’s mom takes over the fed and tries to clean up her son’s mess by making the fed more family friendly, the disgruntled wrestlers get revenge on Rad Bad by scrawling “I HATE JESUS” on his face with permanent marker, yadda yadda yadda, Olav becomes the new owner of the fed.
It’s a refreshing and reinvigorating change of pace for the comic. With Olav running his own fed, we’re soon introduced to a whole roster of eccentric back-up characters (including some minor ones reintroduced from earlier in the series). There’s Barbwire Betty, a lady wrestler with a string of wire in her beehive hairdo who has no problem fighting the guys, and Branwen, an emo-based wrestler who soon discovers that people don’t really hate emos that much anymore. The build-up to Olav’s first big show is chaotic and fun, and everyone learns a very important lesson: sometimes, it’s better to be hated.
Real life forced Hornsby to abandon Botched Spot early this year. He only recently returned to drawing the comic last month. Since the return, though, it’s been mainly wrestling parody strips. I suppose that Botched Spot may be going down the path of the similar genre-focused and infinitely more successful Penny Arcade, where the characters are merely avatars of the writer. More than likely, these pop culture editorials are what get the precious eyeballs, and an experienced wrestling fan knows you go with what gets the biggest reaction. Still,… I miss Olav, Russell, Rad Bad, Barbwire Betty, emo guy, and lady who appears once a year, mainly because they got to the heart of the wackiness of why we defensive smarks love watching a fake sport/soap opera for men with so many deep seated problems.
But let’s get to the important question: is there, at any point, a reference to el Enmascarado de Plata?
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)