Wrestling and comic books are two of the most purely American pieces of art our country has created. Something about people who are too strong settling all their disagreements with each other by fighting in ridiculous costumes seems to resonate with the American public. In essence, wrestling and comics are both long-form soap operas, where you have to tune in next time to catch the end (or maybe just the next twist?) in your favorite storylines. Wrestlers also just seem to like comic books -- look at the amount of wrestlers who have taken gimmicks from comics for no other reason than they thought they were cool.
The aesthetics of comics have seeped into professional wrestling as well, both narratively and visually; it is especially visible storylines about literal (kayfabe) superheroes in WWE, and wrestlers who paint their faces to look like intimidating comic book characters. And some wrestling characters were only created to tie in to other properties, sometimes outlasting those properties by decades. What tangled webs these wrestlers weave. So who's the biggest comics nerd in wrestling? It's a tough call, but we put together a list of 15 times that wrestlers ripped off comics -- and we're not even mad about it. Check them out!
15 REY MYSTERIO
Rey Mysterio is a living legend of wrestling, working all over North America to great acclaim -- he's been involved in some of the most bonkers feuds of all time (including one match against Eddie Guerrero to determine the paternity of Mysterio's son); but Rey Mysterio also just loves comic book stuff. Always theatrical when it comes to costumes, Mysterio goes particularly hard for WrestleMania (understandably).
He started off at WrestleMania 20 as the Flash, but his budget was pretty low; when he returned to the comics gimmick for WrestleMania 25, he went full-bore for Heath Ledger's Joker, complete with a shiny purple coat and a shock of green wig attached to his mask. His best is probably his costume from WrestleMania 27 as Captain America, even if he did lose to Cody Rhodes that year.
14 THE NEW DAY
Big E Langston, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods are the most unrelentingly positive dudes in wrestling. They banded together several years ago to form the tag team stable The New Day, which uses all kinds of posi iconography, from neon-hued cereal boxes to unicorns. They're all avowed nerds from way back, having dressed as Dragon Ball Z characters in the past, but most recently they took a complete reversal for their SummerSlam 2017 look.
They emerged from behind the Titantron dressed in complete Red Lantern costumes, with unicorns in the place of the Red Lantern symbol, wearing their Tag Team Title belts. Some thought this would herald a heel turn for the ultimate positivity team, but not so -- they remain beacons of hope and joy in an otherwise sometimes dour company.
13 STEPHEN AMELL VS. STARDUST
As one of his final feuds before leaving the WWE to become Cody, the current champion in Ring of Honor, Stardust struck up a Twitter war with Arrow star Stephen Amell. Words were exchanged, statements of wrestling prowess were undercut with harsh ripostes from both sides, and eventually the world ended up with Stephen Amell and Neville defeating Stardust and Wade Barrett in a tag match at SummerSlam. It was the kind of gloriously weird feud that wrestling makes you learn to love.
Stardust's entire characterization was an offshoot of his real-life brother Goldust -- however, where Goldust was an effete screen icon in his own mind, Stardust became a wily, overdramatic supervillain, taunting his enemies (he renamed his finishing move "the Queen's Arrow" as a dig at Amell's Oliver Queen), and generally doing his best Joker voice.
12 FINN "THE DEMON" BALOR
Finn Bálor is one of the fastest-rising stars in wrestling. After a long career wrestling as Prince Devitt (after his birth name, Fergal Devitt) in Japanese, UK, and Mexican promotions, Bálor was signed to NXT, the developmental division for WWE; when he was bumped up to the main roster, it was less than a month before he achieved a major title as the inaugural Universal Champion.
Finn Bálor is also a big fat comic book nerd; he comes out for major matches in various stages of body paint, usually modeled after famous comic book characters. When he wrestled the indie circuit, where you can pretty much get away with whatever, he used to do more specific paint jobs, such as Carnage, Punisher, and, once, Anti-Venom (deep cut). Nowadays, the WWE allows him to perform as "the Demon" with Venom-adjacent makeup. It's working out for him -- he's undefeated as the Demon.
11 HURRICANE AND ROSEY
Gregory Helms is a man who's been around long enough in the WWF/WWE to have feuded with the Rock, when that was a legitimate proposal and not just a death sentence for whoever the Rock was showing up to demolish while promoting a movie. He had the most success during his run as The Hurricane, and teamed up with other masked wrestler, Rosey. Rosey was a member of the Samoan-American Anoa'i wrestling dynasty (and brother of Roman Reigns), whose potential was seen by Hurricane, who thereafter named him the "Super Hero In Training."
Helms' comic book cred comes as no surprise, given the fact that he has a Green Lantern tattoo on one shoulder -- his persona as The Hurricane when he originally debuted was very much Hal Jordan in Alan Scott clothes. Rosey never had as inspired of costume choices, and he tragically passed away earlier this year.
Sting is renowned as being the face of the WCW, the WWF/WWE's longtime rival in the '90s during the Monday Night Wars. He was the original legend of WCW, and for much of his tenure there, neither his look nor his gimmick changed much. He always maintained a black and white makeup scheme, and usually kept to all black, with the occasional accent garment, but in the summer of 2011 he began adding some different touches to his look, as he became the "Insane Icon".
Where his normal facepaint looks more akin to something like KISS by way of The Crow, with meticulous lines and curves, his makeup during this mood swing in his gimmick looked pancaked on, greasepainted with a heavy hand, and began to include red lipstick smears as well. Why he decided to latch onto Ledger's Joker three years after the fact remains a mystery.
9 ALEXA BLISS
Alexa Bliss is one of the most acclaimed wrestlers in the modern Women's Division era, having won the SmackDown Women's title twice as well as the Raw Women's title twice. Bliss's look is usually heavily inspired by Disney, with occasional forays into Iron Man and Nightmare on Elm Street-inspired choices, but since Backlash in 2016, she has been leaning into a legally acceptable Harley Quinn character -- quite the pivot.
Inspired by Quinn's appearance in Suicide Squad, Bliss started adopting short leather jackets, and baseball shirts in two-tones. She's also started holding the belt behind her head much the same way Margot Robbie holds her baseball bat in Suicide Squad--this may be a case of good-girl-gone-bad, but her recent dominance shows Alexa Bliss is nothing to mess with either way.
8 CM PUNK
CM Punk is possibly one of the biggest nerds in the world, not just in professional wrestling (now UFC). His ring entrance during his time with the WWE was shouting "It's clobberin' time!" in imitation of Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew, and he has tattoos of Cobra Commander and other G.I. Joe iconography. He's even made a complete transition into the realm of comics several times, writing several of them for major publishers.
His first work was a short in one of Vertigo's Strange Sport Stories anthologies, followed by a Thor short, and an 11-issue run co-writing Drax in the wake of "Secret Wars". He made his nerdhood clear all along -- he even wrote the introduction to the special hardcover edition of Avengers vs. X-Men, and maintained that all Ed Brubaker had to do was call him; he's available.
7 EL SANTO
El Santo's importance to Mexican pop culture is almost impossible to overstate. In a career that spanned 50 years, he appeared in over 50 lucha libre movies, and starred in a comic book series that saw continuous publication for almost 40 years. Santo is best known to American audiences through several of his movies that were imported as midnight movies.
El Santo also behaved like a superhero, keeping his mask on in public at all times; he had one specially built so he could eat with it on, and he made his crew take separate flights so he could take off his mask at customs without them seeing his face. El Santo was a hero with a secret identity, and in fifty years of wrestling, he only removed his mask in public once, on a Mexican television program, a week before his death.
6 TIGER MASK
Tiger Mask is the masked identity of five men in Japanese wrestling, based on the eponymous character of the manga by Ikki Kajiwara and Naoki Tsuji. The comics character Tiger Mask is a repentant heel -- he was a bad guy in the States, but when he realized he was inspiring the youth to villainy, he returned to his home country of Japan to become a hero -- a classic tale of redemption.
In Japanese wrestling, the character of Tiger Mask has been handed down to several wrestlers for reasons as varied as disgust with backstage wrestling politics to a loss in a match where the stakes were the participants' masks. Recently, Kota Ibushi made an appearance as Tiger Mask W in a New Japan Pro Wrestling match to promote the release of the anime of the same name -- luckily, he worked a hell of a match, even if it was a commercial match.
5 JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER
Jushin Thunder Liger is, alongside Tiger Mask, one of the most bombastic and respected competitors in New Japan Pro Wrestling's Junior Heavyweight division, with a career spanning the last 30 years. While originally wrestling under his given name, Keiichi Yamada, he introduced a finisher he called the Shooting Star Press that was inspired by the manga, Fist of the North Star by Tetsuo Hara and Buronson.
In 1990, Yamada changed his name to Jushin Liger, later amended to Jushin Thunder Liger, to tie in with a newly released anime of the same name, along the same lines as the creation of the Tiger Mask wrestler. Jushin Liger was an anime and manga by Go Nagai, and they share a theme song with Jushin Thunder Liger -- while the anime only ran for 43 episodes, the wrestler's tale goes on.
4 NIKKI BELLA
Nikki Bella arrived at 2016's Backlash pay-per-view angling to take the Women's title and become the champion, especially coming hot on the heels of her return after a severe herniated disc the year before. To celebrate Wonder Woman's 75th anniversary, Bella had special ring gear made, inspired by Diana's iconic look. She wore the same star-spangled blue trunks that Wonder Woman made famous, and had a top made that read "Stay Fearless."
In a move that was hopefully planned, she was wrestling in this ring gear against Alexa Bliss, who was just debuting a Harley Quinn look. Unfortunately, both the cosplayers in the ring lost the title to Becky Lynch, who didn't even show up in a superhero costume for the match.
3 HALLOWEEN COSTUME MATCHES
Here's a fun wrestling tradition: pretty much any year that Halloween falls on the night of a wrestling show, the wrestlers usually do what they can to wear costumes as ring gear. Some hits from the past have included Naomi as the Hamburger Helper Hand, and the Bella Twins as Mario and Luigi, but some other wrestlers have really gone for the costume, both in and out of the ring.
Mickie James, an industry veteran and country singer, made a WrestleMania appearance as Elektra, in an accurate costume save that she wouldn't dye her blond hair, and Melina, the first multiple-time champ in the Women's and Diva's championships, dressed up in a Spider-Woman costume that almost had to be professionally made, possibly custom-made for her. That's the kind of dedication to cosplay that's nice to see in the WWE.
2 THE YETI
In 1995, World Championship Wrestling kind of lost their minds on their Halloween Havoc pay-per-view. They were still riding high on having wrestling's biggest hero, Hulk Hogan, in their promotion, and he was involved in a feud with a loose-knit group called the Dungeon of Doom. The Dungeon's champion "The Giant" (who you would know these days as WWE's Big Show) was set to face Hogan, but they wanted to bring in an insurance policy, so they brought in The Yeti.
The Yeti was really Ron Reis, whose claim to fame is that he's enormously tall -- one of the few wrestlers who could help The Giant without looking cartoonishly small next to him. The Yeti gimmick is something straight out of the old EC Horror comics, with a dash of Conan the Barbarian thrown in there, but it was unfortunately short lived, making only two more appearances.
1 AJ LEE
AJ Lee is the wrestling persona of April Mendez Brooks (married to one Phil Brooks -- aka CM Punk), and she always traded on her unpredictable lethality. She was one of the longest reigning Divas champions in company history, and her unstable tendencies earned her the nickname "Black Widow," a name that she transferred to her finishing move.
"Black Widow" was the name that Lee gave to an octopus hold, a complex submission hold in which the wrestler wraps their leg around their opponent's leg, and hooks their other leg over their opponent's neck. It looks brutal and it puts the full weight of the wrestler on their opponent. It must have worked out for Lee -- she retired from wrestling at the top of her game to start a family and writer her bestselling memoirs, Crazy is My Superpower.
Which of these wrestling/comic crossover us your favorite? Let us know in the comments!