The WWE and comic books just belong together.
Both value larger-than-life characters, high stakes, and a vibrant sense of showmanship, so why have so many WWE-based comics been so bad? They have a long history of disappointment, whether that be in Chaos Comics’ making the Undertaker a warden of Hell, or "WWE Heroes’" batshit blend of cults, time travel and the Bible. But BOOM! Studios has something different in mind for the WWE’s latest dip into the inkwell. Where most WWE comics sought to transport WWE superstars into mythical settings, this latest batch is looking to keep things kayfabe (i.e. in the WWE Universe). In short, WWE's characters won’t be superheroes in these new books -- they’ll be wrestlers.
BOOM! announced as much at this year’s Comic-Con International, saying the comics will take place in “actual world of wrestling.” Perhaps that sounds like common sense, but any wrestling fan knows that “common sense” has never been a staple of the McMahon family approach to storytelling. Still, it’s a promising avenue. The first issue, for example, tells the backstage story of The Shield’s demise, with a heretofore unseen look at Seth Rollins’ corruption at the hands of Triple H and his internal struggles with destroying one of the best factions in WWE history.
This approach provides greater synergy between the comics and the onscreen product, rather than the escapist fantasies of yore. It’s a tactic that the El Rey Network’s "Lucha Underground" promotion used to great effect earlier this year. LU not only expanded upon the storylines, but used the comic to explain away characters who would no longer be a part of the promotion. Big Ryck, for example, was killed off in the comics after travel conflicts prompted his departure from the show. How amazing would it be for the WWE to embrace such continuity?
Should this “wrestle-centric” approach work, it could open up more creative avenues in the universe of WWE comics. The most interesting hypothetical is in the realm of fantasy booking. Imagining this wrestler facing that wrestler is kibble for wrestling fans, whether you’re using it to nitpick WWE creative’s decisions or simply to imagine a universe where your favorite wrestlers could meet at the right place and, most importantly, the right time.
There’s a reason people are actually stoked for the upcoming Brock Lesnar/Goldberg rematch at Survivor Series, and it owes nothing to WWE’s poor build-up to the event. Also, let’s not forget that the duo’s last match at Wrestlemania XX was a disaster, a cheap, poorly laid-out slog with no stakes due to each performer’s external circumstances. And while Goldberg’s return is good for a pop or two, the reason people are excited is because they want to see him fight this version of Lesnar. Sure, the ideal match would be 2016 Lesnar vs. 1998 Goldberg, but nobody, despite what Vince McMahon thinks, actually wants Goldberg to win. They want to see 2016 Lesnar, an infinitely more assured and vibrant performer than his 2002 self, suplex him back into retirement.
Still, imagine actually being able to see 2016 Lesnar vs. 1998 Goldberg. Imagine a stable of wrestlers that encompasses the industry’s best at the peak of their talents. Imagine the possibilities!
- 1996 Shawn Michaels vs. 2016 AJ Styles?
- 1985 Ric Flair vs. 1998 Stone Cold Steve Austin?
- 1987 “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. 2002 Triple H?
- 2005 Lita vs. 2015 Bayley?
Of course, this presentation is far from ideal. This being print and all, the speed and athleticism would inevitably be left to the imagination or, say, "WWE 2K17." But the right illustrator and a writer versed in the tics, move sets and attitudes of the wrestlers could achieve something far more intimate than a game could. There’s the small moments in the matches: a whispered word, a botched finishing move, or the moment a wrestler decides to grab that steel chair.
Perhaps more importantly, what we could indulge in is the ramp-up. The birth of the feud, the promos, and the run-ins, as the match itself allows us to delight in how Michaels would take a Styles Clash, or how many Stunners it would take to keep peak Flair down. It’s a particular kind of wish fulfillment for wrestling fans to see these matches unfold somewhere, anywhere.
It’s also its own kind of escapism. Over the past few years, we’ve lost heroes like Roddy Piper and Chyna, and watched talent young and old succumb to injuries. As heartbreaking as it is to see Finn Balor bow out of action right after winning the Universal Title, it couldn’t nearly match the anguish of seeing a 57-year old Sting end his career not with a celebration, but instead an uneasy diagnosis. Sure, Sting is in amazing shape for a man his age, but he’s not the Sting we grew up loving. Nobody is. Bodies don’t work like that.
There’s an inherent sadness in watching our athletic heroes grow older. They carry the inevitability that the very thing for which they are loved will one day betray them. It’s why Mickey Rourke is so great in "The Wrestler" -- we’re watching someone kill themselves to feel the way they did when they were younger. There’s something beautiful about a space where wrestlers can live on forever in peak condition.
BOOM!’s approach is great, especially in how it serves to preserve and deepen iconic moments in modern wrestling. It’s also done what virtually no WWE comic has done since their inception: focus on the wrestling. Now that we’re there, it opens the door for endless possibilities. There’s more than enough myth already inside the squared circle.