The Deadman. The Phenom. The American Bad Ass. Since his 1990 debut at “Survivor Series,” no other WWE wrestler has captured the imagination of fans quite like The Undertaker. Now, almost 30 years later, it looks like his career has ended at WrestleMania 33. Not much is known about the man himself after years living a quiet, reclusive life, but Undertaker left a lasting impression on the wrestling industry that will never be forgotten.
Given wrestling’s melodramatic nature and The Undertaker’s over-the-top persona, it’s no surprise he resembled a comic book character from time to time. Whether fighting for championship gold, scheming with wrestling’s most malicious villains or straight-up shooting lightning from his fingertips, The Undertaker would have been as much at home in a comic book as he was in the ring. With that in mind, here are 15 times The Undertaker was the ultimate comic book character!
15. HE WAS AN ACTUAL COMIC BOOK CHARACTER
Okay, this one might be cheating, but it does bear mentioning. The Undertaker probably most resembled a comic book character when he actually was one. In 1999, with the Attitude Era winding down and wrestling still the hottest property in entertainment, the then WWF partnered with Chaos! Comics, then best known for publishing “Evil Ernie” and “Lady Death.” “Undertaker” featured the titular Deadman as the warden of a Hell prison, fighting demons inside — what else? — a wrestling ring, as he contended with the likes of Kane, Mankind and a new character, The Embalmer.
Written by Beau Smith and featuring art by Manny Clark and Sandu Florea, the title featured Undertaker and The Embalmer fighting over the three “Books of Death.” The series, known for its crazy story and over-the-top violence, did end with the set-up for a second arc, but it wasn’t meant to be. Like other WWF Chaos! Comics of the time, the run was short lived, lasting a scant 10 issues before being canceled.
14. HE CHANGED HIS LOOK
Comic book characters need new looks to freshen up sometimes. Superman dropped his 60-year-old red underwear in “The New 52.” Spider-Man famously switched to an intimidating black costume during the original “Secret Wars.” Wrestlers are no different, breaking out new ring gear (also usually spandex) to signify a change in persona or to make a big match feel even more special. In 1999, The Undertaker tore his pectoral muscle and was shelved for eight months. When he returned in May 2000, he had changed his look and personality drastically.
Reflecting the WWE’s changing mentality, he dropped his familiar black garb and music and toned down his entrance theatrics. Instead, he wore a bandana and sunglasses, a long coat and rode a motorcycle to the ring to the blasting sounds of Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’” and later Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass.” Known as BikerTaker by fans, the “American Bad Ass” was more in line with Undertaker’s real life, motorcycle enthusiast passions.
13. HE WENT BACK TO HIS OLD LOOK
Of course, wrestlers and comic book characters typically go back to their old look eventually. Spider-Man always winds up going back to his classic red and blue, for example. After a year as “The American Bad Ass” and two more as “Big Evil,” The Undertaker lost a Buried Alive match at Survivor Series’03 after his storyline brother Kane interfered. For several months, Kane declared The Undertaker dead and gone, but vignettes started airing shortly afterward proclaiming he was still alive.
At “WrestleMania XX” The Undertaker made his return to the classic Deadman persona. Accompanied by Paul Bearer and an army of Druids, the reborn Deadman was a hybrid character. Though he retained the more down-to-Earth mentality of the “American Bad Ass,” he also played up the theatricality and mystique that had made the character so popular before. For many fans, his return and revenge match with Kane was the highlight of the night, as the classic iteration of The Undertaker finally returned.
12. HE BETRAYED HIS MENTOR
The villain of a comic is likely to betray his mentor, one way or another. Much like Sinestro betrayed the Guardians or countless Sith betrayed their masters, The Undertaker betrayed his (in storyline) father. Paul Bearer (portrayed by the late William Moody, an honest-to-goodness funeral home employee!) was a perfect fit for the gimmick, a cartoonish character with a high voice, carrying a golden urn and commanding the Undertaker into battle. Bearer would appear regularly during Undertaker’s career, but health issues occasionally kept him off TV.
In one such case, Bearer needed to be written out for gallbladder surgery. At “The Great American Bash” in 2004, Bearer was put in a glass crypt attached to a cement mixer. As The Undertaker fought The Dudley Boyz, he was told Bearer would be buried alive if he did not throw the match. Despite winning, Undertaker declared Bearer a liability he could no longer afford and threw the switch himself. Despite being buried in cement, Bearer was said to be “alive but gravely injured.” It was the last time the character would show up for six years.
11. HE WAS BETRAYED BY HIS MENTOR
When Bearer returned, he almost immediately betrayed The Undertaker in true comic book fashion. In September 2010, Undertaker was feuding with his half-brother Kane yet again. One night, on an episode of “Smackdown,” a casket was rolled out to the ring. Kane opened the casket expecting to find his brother but instead found Bearer, standing tall and holding his trademark urn. In the storyline, Bearer’s urn restored The Undertaker’s powers, giving him the edge over Kane. But it wouldn’t last long.
Just a few weeks later, Bearer shone a light from the urn in Undertaker’s eyes. Siding with his other son, Bearer allowed Kane to use the urn as a weapon and turned heel. Bearer’s return was appreciated by long-time fans, and he would stay with the company for a final brief run. In 2012, it was Bearer who was betrayed, this time by Kane who would lock him in a freezer. Bearer would never be seen again, and his real death less than one year later marked the end of the character.
10. HE WAS BETRAYED BY HIS OWN FAMILY
Kane and The Undertaker were half-brothers and rivals, much like Professor X and the Juggernaut. Kane was hinted at for months: the long lost brother of The Undertaker who had burned their family’s funeral home down as children. He would debut in 1997 at “Badd Blood: In Your House” to tremendous effect, ripping the door clean off the cage of the Hell in a Cell. Once inside, the hulking, mute Kane laid Undertaker out with his own move, the Tombstone Piledriver and history was made.
At first, Undertaker refused to fight his own brother, but it didn’t last long as the two were set on a collision course for that year’s “WrestleMania.” Since then, the two have encountered each other time and time again, locked in an on again/off again bitter rivalry for over 20 years. Whether it’s their first confrontation at “WrestleMania 14,” or their final bout at “Hell In A Cell 10,” the two have always found themselves in dramatic, tense feuds that fans couldn’t get enough of.
9. HE TEAMED WITH HIS WORST ENEMY
Much like Superman and Lex Luthor or Spider-Man and Venom, The Undertaker and Kane found as much success together as they did feuding. Despite initially hating each other, there were periods where the two were on the same page. United in the tag team division, Kane and The Undertaker became known as The Brothers Of Destruction. As fearsome together as they were apart, in 2001 the two defeated Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon to capture the WWF Tag Titles, unifying them with their WCW Tag Titles.
From time to time the two brothers would find themselves allied, helping each other in matches and competing in the tag division. Though the reunions became more sporadic over time, the two reunited for a segment on 2012’s “Raw 1000” to the delight of fans. Over the next few years, The Brothers would occasionally reunite to help each other in feuds, taking on the likes of The Shield and The Wyatt Family.
8. HE CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD
Whether it’s Superman or a random “X-Men” character, it’s always a big deal when someone comes back from death (or an approximation thereof). The same applies to The Undertaker. In 1994, Undertaker was suffering from a real life back injury and needed time off. That year at the “Royal Rumble,” then champion Yokozuna sealed him in a casket to retain his WWE Championship. After the match, The Undertaker appeared on the big screen from inside the casket, ominously warning that he would return as his “spirit” ascended to the heavens.
Seven months later at “SummerSlam ‘94,” The Undertaker would return as a revitalized version of The Deadman to face an impostor Undertaker. Similarly, Undertaker was buried alive by Kane after he lost a Buried Alive match to Mr. McMahon at “Survivor Series ’03.” Taking a few months off to allow fans to cool down on the “Big Evil” character and build anticipation, Undertaker was “resurrected” as his Deadman persona at “WrestleMania XX.”
7. HE FOUGHT HIS EVIL TWIN
It isn’t quite “The Clone Saga” or a Bizarro encounter, but Undertaker did once encounter an impostor version of himself. In 1994, The Undertaker was taking time off to recover from a back injury. During this time, WWE aired vignettes of everyday people claiming they had seen someone matching the description of The Undertaker. At “WrestleMania X” the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase announced he had found The Undertaker and paid him to join his faction, “The Million Dollar Corporation.” However, Paul Bearer would appear after this announcement.
Bearer insisted that it was a ruse during the following weeks, claiming he was communicating with the real Undertaker. At “SummerSlam ‘94,” Paul Bearer used his urn to call down the spirit of the real Undertaker, who made his grand return, facing down the impostor. Affectionately dubbed “The UnderFaker” by fans, Undertaker’s real life cousin Brian Lee portrayed the character. But fans didn’t take to the story and the two only faced off in this one match. Afterward, “The UnderFaker” was taken away in a casket and never seen again.
6. HE WAS PURE EVIL
Much like the most memorable villains in comic’ history, The Undertaker’s “Ministry of Darkness” persona was remarkably evil. In the storyline, Vince McMahon claimed Undertaker had started to believe his gimmick was real. Undertaker declared he was the reincarnation of a Lord of Darkness and turned heel, terrorizing WWE wrestlers for months. Forming The Acolytes, he attempted to embalm “Stone Cold” Steve Austin alive and kidnapped Ken Shamrock’s sister Ryan. The story came to a head on the night of Undertaker’s “Dark Wedding.”
Kidnapping Stephanie McMahon, The Undertaker crucified her on a giant steel structure shaped like his logo in the middle of the ring. He announced he would marry Stephanie and control the entire company. The wedding was stopped by the intervention of Steve Austin. Undertaker later revealed he was working for a higher power, revealed to be Vince McMahon in one of wrestling’s most infamous swerves. The two factions united, temporarily declaring themselves The Corporate Ministry. However, the joining was short lived as Undertaker was written out due to injury not long afterward.
5. HE WAS A VILLAIN WITH A HEART OF GOLD
The Undertaker, like so many comics villains throughout history, has also demonstrated that there’s a good side to him. The face/heel dynamic in wrestling tends to be a little more black and white than what you might find in comics, but it’s the same basic concept. When The Undertaker debuted in 1990, he was firmly a heel. Despite losing via count-out in his debut at “Survivor Series,” he continued to win other matches. During this time, he allied with fellow heel wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts. But even The Deadman had a line.
His came about when Roberts tried to attack “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s wife Miss Elizabeth with a steel chair. Undertaker grabbed the chair from Roberts, allowing Savage the opportunity to save Elizabeth. When confronted on the next episode of “WWF Superstars” about whose side he was on, Undertaker emphatically declared “Not… YOURS!” For the first time, The Undertaker was a face. The feud with Roberts come to an end at “WrestleMania VIII,” but a face Undertaker went on to feud with the likes of Kama and Yokozuna.
4. HE WON BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY
Like the noblest comic heroes or even the vilest villains, The Undertaker always fought to win no matter what, but he was a bit more nefarious. There’s no great example than his long rivalry with Mankind. The two fought off and on for years, but at “King of the Ring ‘98” they had perhaps the most famous match in history. It was contested inside a steel cage known as Hell in a Cell, hyped up as the most brutal match ever conceived. When he came out, Mankind immediately climbed to the top of the 16-foot structure. The Undertaker followed suit, and less than a minute later threw Mankind from the top of the cage and onto an announcer’s table below.
Mankind eventually recovered and climbed back up, at which point Undertaker choke slammed him through the cage. Landing on the ring below, Mankind remained motionless for some time. When he eventually got back up, the match resumed until Undertaker choke slammed Mankind again, this time onto a pile of thumbtacks. Undertaker finally pulled off a win by hitting a Tombstone Piledriver. A match with this level of brutality hasn’t really been seen again in the WWE, but its legacy and aftermath are still referenced to this day.
3. HE WAS STUCK IN A BIG EVENT FOR NO REASON
Comic book events have gone from being an occasional treat to a way of life. Wrestling does something similar with their monthly Pay Per Views, especially around their “Big 4” events. “SummerSlam,” “Survivor Series,” “Royal Rumble” and “WrestleMania” are where feuds typically come to a grand finish. At the 2016 “Survivor Series,” it was a huge deal as both “Raw” and “Smackdown” had feuds against each other. The roster had recently been split in two, and at Survivor Series they were going to fight for brand supremacy. Undertaker, who by now showed up roughly once a year, turned up just before “Survivor Series” on “Smackdown” in a highly publicized appearance.
Here, he declared that Smackdown was his domain, and implied he was back to stay. Speaking to the roster, he warned the Smackdown team of impending consequences should they lose, and even teased a feud with AJ Styles. Sadly, nothing really came of it. The feud with Styles never happened, and no one mentioned their interaction again. The next time Undertaker appeared was several months later on an episode of “Raw” to promote his entry into that year’s “Royal Rumble.”
2. HE WAS UNBEATABLE
The Undertaker has proven to be one of wrestling’s most tenured performers, and with it comes a certain degree of protection. The Undertaker has lost his share of matches, thanks to his old-school mentality of making new talent. But for a long while, he was also portrayed as the unbeatable standard bearer. This is no more apparent than in his impressive 21-match winning streak at WWE’s biggest show, “WrestleMania.”
Undertaker went one on one with some of the greatest names in the industry: Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Triple H, Batista and more. One by one, they all fell as The Undertaker racked up victory after victory. These became some of the most anticipated “WrestleMania” matches each year. It’s no surprise they were match of the year contenders, often drawing more attention than even world title matches. The Streak, like The Undertaker, became a legend, and when it did finally end, it was a moment so shocking that an arena full of fans fell deafeningly silent.
1. HE WAS A LEGEND WHO WOULD NOT STAY DOWN
The image of the spandex clad hero, fighting tooth and nail to so much as stand against an unbeatable opponent is one of the oldest visual stories. The Undertaker never encompassed this more than after “WrestleMania XXX.” When Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker, the over 75,000 fans in attendance fell completely silent, staring on in awe. No music played, no one left the ring, no one even declared a winner for some time. The Undertaker had finally been defeated. But he didn’t let it stop there. One year later, he responded to Bray Wyatt’s challenge. Defeating him at “WrestleMania,” Undertaker re-established himself as a dominant force.
That summer, when Brock Lesnar began bragging about his victory again, The Undertaker returned to defend his name. Lesnar and Undertaker fought again in a brief feud, at 2015’s “SummerSlam” and “Hell in a Cell” where they traded victories. Undertaker claimed a victory over Shane McMahon at “WrestleMania 32,” but lost to Roman Reigns in the main event at “WrestleMania 33.” At 52 years old and with 27 years in the WWE, all signs point to Undertaker finally being done in the ring. But if we’ve learned anything from his storied career it’s that you can never really count the Deadman out.
What were your favorite or most fantastic memories of The Undertaker? Rise up in the comments!
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