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Panel art from Hell is a Squared Circle from AfterShock

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Review of "Hell is a Squared Circle"

November 14, 2022

Hell is a Squared Circle
By Chris Condon, Writer
Francesco Biagini, artist
Mark Englert, Colorist
Dave Sharp, letterer

Image Comics Sept 2022, 48 Pages

Panel art from Hell is a Squared Circle

Though Hell is a Squared Circle is contained within a world of wrestling matches, with visuals of the muscles and costumes of the competitors and the shouting mass of fans, a large part of the tale is a meditation on rage and the slippery practice of avoiding responsibility. In a more human-sized way, it is also a paean to the powers of sheer knuckle-headed stupidity.

Our non-hero star of the tale is an often confused but hard-working wrestler named Ted Walsh who has an expert skill at making bad choices, especially when under stress or in a panic. Since many of his choices provoke situations of additional stress and chaos, it all accumulates until his solutions take on a more lethal nature.

Walsh's inner-monologue introduces us to him with simple insight into his character :

"They say 'Hell is other people," right? That's the saying. I don't think that's right. Other people weren't the problem. My problem was a guy named Ted Walsh. He kept getting in my way. He was my curse. Only problem was... He was me."

As Walsh relocates himself but continues to be dogged by his practice of avoiding the past, Hell is a Squared Circle expands like a well-fleshed out short story visually depicted by the dynamic, muscle-bound art from Francesco Biagini and colorist Mark Englert. The professional wrestlers often look like human mountains, and Walsh seems to never see an opponent or other human that he can't beat in a fight, and in general he's right, but though he can give up alcohol (the use of which only exaggerates his malfunctioning self-control) and though he can discipline his body, he can't make himself change his own character.

None of this gets tiring in Condon's story as Walsh moves through his role as a wrestler and sometimes bar bouncer, often phantasizing about reliving the glories of the past and making attempts at making a respectable future. Walsh particularly wants contact with his estranged daughter Daria. Though mostly a peripheral person in the tale, we see the little girl become a young woman over the stories 48 pages, and she is one of the few instances in which another human being seems to even matter to the self-absorbed ring fighter. His reunion with her in Canada where Walsh is fighting is an emotional highlight, but Condon's script doesn't let us believe it is the pleasant payoff for hard work that it feels like to Walsh, instead, by then we know the amorphous power of circumstances is also the tightening vise grip of consequences getting closer, and closer.

The oversized magazine format of Hell is a Squared Circle allows for well-populated pages of panels, and the ferocity of the ring is well presented by Bagini's artwork. In a few places transitions between panels are not clear as they ought to be, so the storytelling is not flawless. The coloring is bold, with humans often in a state of purple or red anger, bursting with oversized expressions. Visually it is a good combination with Condon's writing, since so much of the story is happening inside of the wrestler's head, related to us via monologuing, as if no one else really exists and Walsh is just wrestling against himself for 48 pages, and losing.

Early in the tale, Walsh shows us that within him is the desire to stop being a "heel" character in the ring, and to "go over" to being a "face," which is a heroic good guy who battles evil and triumphs. The ideal is there in his head, but Walsh will not make his hands obey, and they are dangerous, vicious weapons.

Page at Aftershock Comics about Hell is a Squared Circle

Cover art from Hell is a Squared Circle from AfterShock

Back Cover art from Hell is a Squared Circle from AfterShock

"Is wrestling noir a genre? It is now!" Blurb on the back cover

Artwork samples on this page used by permission of AfterShock Comics.

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Original page November 14, 2022