Titan Comics sent me a copy (two actually) of the issue to review, so here are my thoughts on WWE Heroes #1...
Title: WWE Heroes #1Story by: Keith ChampagneArt by: Andy SmithColors by: Hi Fi Color DesignLetters by: ComicraftCover by: Andy Smith, Liam SharpePublisher: Titan ComicsCover price: $3.99 (USD)Release Date: March 23rd, 2010Rating: [-***]
I feel kind of bad hating this comic as much as I do. After all, Keith Champagne was nice enough to answer my questions and Titan was nice enough to send me two copies of the first issue (one of each cover). But, this is a very, very bad comic. The only thing that I can say worked was the lettering. Comicraft did their usual solid work. Everything else? Well, you can see my rating.
Given that this is a wrestling comic, I figured I'd use the rating system that I use when rating wrestling matches, not the regular CBR one where they won't let us give books negative ratings. This book, though, was the comic book equivalent of the Nasty Boys and Jimmy Hart winning a three-on-three tag match. Or a botched Divas match. If there were a comic equivalent of Botchamania, this book would get its own little video.
I'll admit that I'm biased against wrestling comics despite my love of wrestling. I've never really read one that appealed to me as a wrestling or comic fan, so it's easy to gain an anti-wrestling comics bias. That said, I would love for one to be amazing and win me over. However, there's something about the broad characters and quick action that make wrestling a tough adaptation for comics. The characters in wrestling lack a certain depth you want in comics, meant to play on a broad live stage with exaggerated mannerisms and simple motivations. Their promos are over-the-top often and somewhat laughable when they get too serious. But, part of what makes that work is the wrestlers themselves: you accept the bombastic promos of Triple H or John Cena because, well, an actual human is saying the words and seems to believe in what they're saying. A character on the page doesn't give that sense of conviction, that permission to go along with it, because you aren't alone.
Wrestling is also a form of entertainment meant for the audience, the shared experience. Even if you watch a match all alone, there's still a crowd, there are still the commentators, still some semblance of the idea that you aren't alone in enjoying this somewhat outlandish, ludicrous behavior. I don't think that I need or look to others to give me permission to like wrestling, but that sense that you're part of a bigger group that's also enjoying it is part of the basic, intrinsic level of wrestling. Taking that feeling of shared experience away changes it. The comic lacks that. It also lacks the space to really get across the action. What wrestlers can do in a few seconds would take a page to get across in a comic properly.
So, without those elements, it's easy to see why Champagne tried to introduce new elements to play with the idea of the wrestlers in a way that comics can do, but the live shows can't. It really doesn't work, though.
The basic plot of the comic is that, long, long ago, there were two brothers: the Firstborn and the King of Shadows. They fought and the Firstborn won, scarring the left half of the King of Shadows's face. Throughout history, they've been reincarnated and fought against one another as the King of Shadows sought revenge. Now, it appears that the Firstborn is one of the WWE superstars. In this issue, the King of Shadows accesses the memories of one of his priests, seeing wrestling matches and trying to find his brother.
Now, taken along, that idea isn't totally awful. It's pretty bad, but when you show it by having wrestling matches juxtaposed with wars throughout history, it just becomes absurd. Comparing a match between the Undertaker and Edge to the American Civil War? A triple threat match at WrestleMania XXIV to World War II? Those were real wars where real people died and wrestling is fictional characters fighting another for the entertainment of people. Putting the two side by side shouldn't happen, because it just makes the wrestling look cheap and stupid, which I would hope isn't the goal of the comic.
The WWE superstars aren't really the stars of their own comic here, which is an odd choice. Only a handful actually appear more than once and, when they do, it's in poorly drawn fights that don't really tell any story, acting as meaningless action. Champagne uses real matches as the basis for what we see, but changes what happens when it suits him (like John Cena winning the triple threat match for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXIV). Or even the order the matches. Not only that, but there isn't really an explanation of how one of the wrestlers is the Firstborn. While that will come later, telling us how their little recurring reincarnation dance goes would be helpful. As it is, everything is so mysterious that there's no way to get inside the story.
It doesn't help that Andy Smith's art is flat-out awful. He's done better work than this in the past. Given the amount of reference material to show the wrestlers in action, you'd think I would be able to tell who people are more easily than I can. And I'm a pretty hardcore fan, owning DVDs, checking out (and writing for) online sites, and spending far more time on wrestling than some would consider healthy. When I can't tell who is in the ring, there's a problem. Smith turns them in generic forms of who they are. The action looks stuff and unnatural. I like how he sometimes opts for perspectives not given by the camera since why not do something that the WWE doesn't do?
One way that the wrestlers become generic is in body type. They all have very similar physiques with the same musculature, something that isn't the case in real life (despite what people may think). Many of the wrestlers here are a lot less built or are muscular in different ways. John Cena, for example, is very muscular, but in a more straight-forward manner where his arms are just huge. Instead of the lumps of twelve different muscles that Smith draws, he's just got these insanely, almost freakishly, large biceps. Guys like Matt Hardy and Tommy Dreamer aren't as well defined as they are here, making up for the lack of obvious, superficial musculature with cardiovascular abilities and, you know, skill. Rowdy Roddy Piper even shows up looking in better shape in the supposed 2008 Royal Rumble at the age of 53 than he ever has in his life -- and, trust me, he looks a lot worse at 53.
Beyond that, the coloring also goes for generic portrayals of the characters. Why does Piper have red hair? Why do R-Truth and Kofi Kingston have such light skin colors? Have you seen R-Truth? That guy is dark. But, here, he looks Latino.
Another big issue is that the King of Shadows looks exactly like Triple H, particularly, as Chris Sims pointed out, when Trips was in his King of Kings persona where he adopted a Conan-esque wardrobe. Now, it could turn out that the King of Shadows will become Triple H or replace him or something to get a chance to fight his brother, but why telegraph that? And, if not, it seems unnecessarily confusing.
My girlfriend saw the copies of these comics and she watches wrestling with me usually, so she picked it up... and put it down after a minute, because it was that bad. She's a casual fan, I'm a hardcore fan, neither of us liked this. I wanted to, I even tried to, but it's impossible to deny that WWE Heroes #1 is a very, very, very bad comic and you shouldn't waste your money on it.