It's a wonderful thing when two things you love seem to love each other as well.
When I read that former wrestling superstar and current Walking Dead enthusiast CM Punk is contributing a story for February 2015's Thor annual, I enjoyed a small moment of having my cake and eating it too. Forgive my indulgence, but trust me, comics and wrestling sort of sit together on the school bus of storytellling; although they're different mediums entirely, they share some common traits and interests that let one sort of lean into the other from time to time.
If you think about it, pro wrestling (or sports entertainment if you want to be more direct ) and comic books share a style of visual storytelling that starts in very broad strokes and becomes a masterpiece through the details and context of their respective works. Both deal in good and "bad"; whereas comics has its heroes and villains, wrestling has its faces and heels. Both heels and villains tend to do a lot of the heavy lifting, story-wise, as it's their antagonism that creates the context and drives the plot. It's why when Captain America and Iron Man fight, they're never doing it for the competition; one of them will be in the wrong, enabling the reader to root for or against someone. When the Undertaker fights Hulk Hogan, no matter how cool the Undertaker is (and he's so cool), Hulk Hogan is our hero, often our champion, so we hope he defeats the "bad guy."
Both also have combat as the general method of deciding the victor; we don't tune into Monday Night Raw to watch wrestlers peaceably discuss their grievances, nor do we want Reed Richards to sit down with Doctor Doom and talk out their storied rivalry. We want to see them fight and fight hard. Writers and artists plot out the moves of each character, and -- and I don't think I'm spoiling anything -- pro wrestlers do the same, for the most part. Matches are plotted to the strengths of each character and (when it's really good) to further the drama of everyone's story, which should lead to a pay-per-view show, wrestling's version of the "event book" ... if event books came once a month. Like I said, it's not perfect, but there is a correlation between the two.
CM Punk won't be the first wrestler to pen a Marvel book. Way back in 2002, there was a pretty fantastic anthology series called Spider-Man's Tangled Web that featured a variety of unique and "alternative" creators contributing shorter stories in and around the life of Peter Parker. It ran for a couple years, with Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso earning an Eisner nomination for Best Single Issue for their work on the series. Also in 2002, Brian Azzarello teamed with Scott Levy and Giuseppe Camuncoli for the one-shot "The Last Shoot." Levy is better known as wrestling superstar Raven; while he was under contract with the WWE at the time, Raven did his best work under the independent promotion of ECW, sort of the Image Comics to the larger promotions of WWE and WCW.
Raven thrived in the more violent and innovative environment and created a character for himself that was one part Patrick Swayze's manipulative Zen master of crime from Point Break and one part grunge-wearing comic book fan. The latter was right from the heart, as Raven wore comic book shirts under his flannel overshirts when he came to the ring and was one of the first wrestlers I ever heard talk passionately about comic books. He was interviewed in 1999 by Wizard Magazine praising the then-new Marvel Knights line and chatting about inspirational Vertigo comics. That he and then0Vertigo darling Azzarello would join forces for a story about Crusher Hogan, Spider-Man's first opponent ever from Amazing Fantasy #15 ... well, I was whatever the 2002 GIF equivalent of Jonah Hill would be.
"The Last Shoot" lets us in backstage at the wrestling promotion Crusher Hogan worked for and into a little bit of his life before he met our proto-webslinger. It's like if the film The Wrestler were set in Marvel's 616, especially interesting when you consider that The Wrestler wouldn't be in theaters until six years later. Mind you, it's not a particularly inventive tale, as Crusher is down on his luck and makes one desperate change in his gimmick to save the promotion he works for, his friend's careers and possibly his own. What makes this story so fascinating is in how it's both told and not told: The writing is pure Azzarello, with a strong feel for men at the end of their rope making criminal choices that will either elevate or destroy them. The story drips in so much of Azzerello's style, I wonder if Levy acted more as an idea man or consultant to the process. The last page leaves us with a lot of conclusions to make as to what became of Crusher Hogan after he lost to Peter Parker, an ending that's both hopeful and sad, giving us a quiet moment of personal tragedy and a little hope as one man rises and another falls. It's a simple and moving little story that I highly recommend checking out, as you can find a digital copy on Marvel Unlimited and hopefully in the back-issue bins at your local comic shop.
CM Punk will be contributing a smaller 10-page story with Chew artist Rob Guillory for the Thor annual. Interviews indicate his pitch was 'a story about young Thor as kind of a brash, bratty teenager who’s like, "I’m totally worthy of this hammer. My dad’s full of [expletive]. I don’t know why I’m not 'worthy' of the hammer. Look at all this cool stuff I did." I can't say that really excites me too much, considering young, brash Thor is covered pretty well in my favorite comics of all time, Thor: Ages of Thunder. It's a common story told plenty of other times by a variety of really talented creators, and it's really up to Punk and Guillory to put their own spin on things to give it just the right contextual twist. As Punk wants to continue his comic career with Marvel as long as he can (or at least until he gets his Punisher story published), let's hope he's in for the long haul.