It’s no secret that a lot of comic book fans also love pro wrestling — if you follow a lot of comics creators on Twitter, you’ve seen irrefutable evidence of this every time there’s a big WWE show on TV. The opposite also holds true, with plenty of pro wrestlers making their love for comic books overt; down to former WWE Champion CM Punk recently co-writing a run of “Drax” at Marvel.
Yet while there have been dozens of wrestling-themed comic books over the decades, the majority of them have, to put this as fairly as possible, not necessarily won over critical favor — especially the ones based on actual pro wrestling stars. BOOM! Studios — the publisher behind acclaimed licensed hits including “Adventure Time” and “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” — looks to change that with a new “WWE” comic book series, bringing the action of the world’s biggest sports entertainment company into the medium of sequential art.
This is far from the first WWE comic book, but it is taking a distinct approach — while others frequently went more over-the-top, this one looks to match the relatively (emphasis on “relatively”) grounded storylines of current WWE programming. “All New X-Men” and “Spider-Woman” writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Eduard Petrovich team for the main story of the ongoing series starting in January, for an initial arc titled “Breaking of The Shield” — depicting the mostly untold story of the break-up of the Shield, the popular three-man team of Seth Rollins, Roman Reings and Dean Ambrose; along with a back-up story by Ross Thibodeaux and Rob Guillory starring another trio, The New Day.
But those looking for a taste of Hopeless’ take on the WWE Universe don’t have to wait until the new year — the “WWE: Then. Now. Forever.” one-shot is on sale next week, front-loaded with a story by Hopeless and artist Dan Mora, featuring the Shield and directly leading to the ongoing series. CBR spoke with Hopeless about his plan for the “WWE” series, the appealing challenge presented by the book, what makes Seth Rollins a great comic book villain, and his own pro wrestling fandom.
CBR: Dennis, there have been a lot of pro wrestling-inspired comic books over the years, but it’s not a controversial statement to say that on the whole they haven’t been necessarily memorable. Aside from being a wrestling fan yourself, how did it click with you that it was possible to make a WWE comic book work? How much was BOOM! Studios’ track record with licensed comics a factor?
Dennis Hopeless: I think that challenge was a big part of what drew me to the project. It would be tough for a comic to compete with actual wrestling when in comes to in ring drama and action. One of the main fun things about wrestling is watching actual humans fly around the ring. In real life, diving off the top rope into another dude is awesome. In a comic book, where we routinely see gods fist fighting in space over the fate of the universe, that imagery doesn’t have the same gravitas.
I started looking for a way to move the drama outside the ring and tell a relateable story with the superstars we all know and love that feels like a legit WWE story, without trying to do exactly what they do on Raw and SmackDown. By the time I actually pitched it, I was super-excited about the project and luckily my editors were on the exact same page. It’s been a dream project from that moment.
And yeah, I trusted BOOM! from the jump. They clearly know how to crush it with licensed books. Turns out they’re really great people too. I am quite smitten with BOOM! Studios.
The Shield are at the focus of your opening arc. What inspired starting with them? And how fun was it writing the quieter moments in the one-shot, when they were all still buddies?
The opportunity to write a Seth Rollins heel promo inspired most everything. I love that guy and scripting him reminds me of the first time I got to type “Oh My Stars and Garters” [in “All-New X-Men”]. The one shot was a blast because, yeah, we got to do proto-Seth just before The Architect really started to emerge. I love character drama and bickering friend scenes so this storyline was perfect for me. It also tees the ongoing series up perfectly.
Even though he’s not as over the top as some pro wrestling characters, there’s something about Seth Rollins that just feels like he fits in naturally inside of a comic book. What’s interesting to you about him as a main character?
Seth is a self-obsessed, mouthy braggart who just owns the microphone because he’s so much fun to hate… But I think the thing that makes him such a good fit with so much potential, is that everything about him stems from his insecurities. He’s desperate to convince the world that he’s The Man because he needs to prove it to himself. It’s fraud syndrome, which is so relatable. So deliciously human. He’s like a great supervillain, except that the only thing he wants to rule with and iron fist… is our hearts and mine.
As opposed to a lot of past WWE comics — which have involved things like the characters solving crimes or being depicted as ancient immortal beings — this series is comparatively grounded, and focuses on actual storylines from the shows. What made that the right take for you? And how closely do you look to stick to a more realistic approach?
We wanted to tell stories that “matter” within the context of the feuds and championships, while expanding upon all of the drama fans already know and love. My first thought was a sort of “Friday Night Lights” approach. The matches and PPVs are the football games, but the drama builds in the spaces in between. Our stories take advantage of the matches and we show plenty of cool wrestling action, but the focus is behind the scenes and outside the arena. It’s a fun exercise in dancing between raindrops that gives us a lot of freedom to flesh things out and expand.
We see the Shield and the Wyatt Family in the one-shot — how many more Superstars get involved in this story? Is there anyone you were especially dying to write when coming on the series?
I work in as many of my favorite Superstars as I can. The first arc is a little more confined due to the structure of Seth’s rise and fall, but we still get to use the roster in fun ways. Going forward you’ll se a lot of Superstars popping up and getting involved. They all work together so it’s never too much of a stretch.
I’m a big New Day fan, so they’ve been in every draft of my outline. Yesterday I realized I get to write Paul Heyman and almost did a backflip at my desk. This really is a dream job for me.
Dan Mora’s art in the one-shot is a distinct balance of recognizable likenesses and comic book-y expressiveness. What’s exciting you about the work he’s doing visually here?
I love Dan’s work. He nails the likenesses but also gives everybody a lot of energy. It’s like a badass WWE animated series. Not cartoony at all, just full of life. He just nails every panel. The action sequences sing and the talky bits have great body language and facial expressions. Dan makes us all look great.
You talked in an IGN interview about how you came back to wrestling fandom relatively recently after years away. What differences have you noticed in pro wrestling between now and then, and how has that shaped your approach to this series? How is this WWE comic book different than if you were writing one in say, the Attitude Era?
The big thing is that WWE acknowledges the behind the scenes reality a lot more than they used to. Superstars’ progression from other promotions and NXT up to the main roster is talked about and becomes story fodder. They even produce these cool backstage documentaries TV shows that shed some light on the road life. That sort of thing didn’t happen much back in the Attitude Era, and when it did it was all very over the top. I love that a bit more humanity is seeping in these days. Our series definitely takes advantage of that realism.
That said, I would write an Attitude Era comic in a heartbeat. We definitely need 20 pages of Stone Cold stomping mud holes across the country. Consider that pitched.
How long term are your plans for this series? With as many years of storylines and as many different performers to choose from, the possibilities for a book like this feel pretty wide open.
We have the first three arcs mapped out. Each one focuses on a different former Shield member and their journey since the split. After that I’m obviously writing “Steve Austin: Mud Hole Stomper.” We’ll see how it goes.
Finally — the brand split’s been going on for about three months now. Are you more of a Raw fan or a SmackDown fan?
I’ve bounced back and forth. Raw blew me away right out of the gate with Seth’s return and Triple H gifting Kevin Owens the Universal Championship. Jericho has been on fire. But lately, this Dean Ambrose/AJ Styles/James Ellsworth has been my favorite thing on TV. Also the SmackDown women’s division has been crushing. So as of today, I’m on the blue team.
“WWE: Then. Now. Forever.” is on sale Nov. 9 from BOOM! Studios.
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