It’s January, and in the WWE Universe, that means it’s Royal Rumble season. However, while the 30-man -- and for the first time ever, 30-woman -- over-the-top-rope battle royals aren’t until Jan. 28, BOOM! Studios looks to get fans in the fighting spirit with WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Special #1 one-shot, on sale this week.
This anthology-style book features a collection of stories that recount some of the most iconic Rumble moments, including a story by Lan Pitts and Rodrigo Lorenzo on Ric Flair’s triumphant win for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1992, and a story from Kevin Panetta and Dominike "Domo" Stanton on Kofi Kingston’s various and creative means of avoiding elimination. The issue closes with the WWE debut of "The Phenomenal" AJ Styles back at the Royal Rumble in 2016 -- a debut that, until then, fans could only dream was possible.
The story, which is appropriately titled “I am Phenomenal,” is co-written by Michael Kingston (Headlocked) and AJ himself, and illustrated by Daniel Bayliss. CBR had a chance to sit down with the Phenomenal One -- and current WWE Champion -- to discuss this new addition to his already impressive résumé.
CBR: Your story in the Royal Rumble 2018 Special clearly comes from a very real place, since you made your WWE debut at the 2016 Rumble. The story also shows you being treated like a ”rookie” in WWE, despite being in the professional circuit for the better part of two decades. Does that come from a real place, as well?
AJ Styles: Well, ehh, we try to blur that line between comic books and what really happened. We gotta make this thing as entertaining as we can, but there was a talk of, I think they called me a rookie maybe once or twice, which is, was, crazy. I’m like, “Yeah -- I guess I’m a 38-year-old rookie all of a sudden.” I had been in the business 16 years at the time, so, you know, it didn’t last long as far as being called a rookie. Redneck? Yeah, that’s something that’s sticking, I can’t get rid of that. But likely, they saw through that pretty quickly. I think the fans would have gone crazy if they kept calling me a rookie.
Another interesting dynamic of the story is your interaction with John Cena, which teased some animosity between you two. Still, you guys had quite the series of phenomenal matches in 2016 -- how did it feel to work with “the face that runs the place?”
Oh, it was great. Listen, John and I have had some of the better matches, at least in my career, some that I’m very proud of, so I’ve got nothing but great things to say about John and the matches we were able to create. I’m very proud of those.
Steering things back towards comics, were you, or are you now, a regular reader? And if so, what’s your book of choice?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to comic books, nor the money to buy them while I was growing up, so I never really was a “comic book guy.” I think the great thing about comics is that kids get into it, and having kids of my own, now, to get them to read and make sure they’re good readers is difficult, so I think comic books are a very good way to help kids learn a little bit quicker and to get more vocabulary and whatnot, so I’d love to get my kids into comic books.
On that note, if there were any character in mainstream comics you could write for, who would it be?
Well, I’ve always been fond of The Punisher.
I just enjoy the fact that he’s just a real man that did really cool things. And listen, it wasn’t about having sympathy for these guys who deserved what they’re gonna get. I always liked that. So yeah, I’ve always been a Punisher guy.
What was it like working with Michael Kingston? He’s certainly no stranger to wrestling-based comics?
Yeah, no, he’s great. I’ve known Michael for a while, and his comic books. It was so fun working with him, and he’s one of the best.
Alright, last question -- which WWE Superstar, past or present, would you love to step in the ring with if you had the chance?
Oh, you know, that’s a question that’s been asked many a time, and my answer has always been, it’s not what I want. It’s never gonna be about who I want to get in the ring with. It’s about who the fans want to see, who they want me to be in the ring with. But if it was who I could pick to learn from, well that would be Shawn Michaels. I feel like we’re very similar. Having the matches he’s had in the past, I can only imagine what I’d get to learn from him. Shawn Michaels.
The WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Special #1 is available now.