It’s still pretty hard to believe that it took this long for someone to produce a truly great WWE comic series. There’s so much crossover between wrestling and comics that fans of one are bound to find something to love in the other, and yet it wasn’t until BOOM! Studios acquired the license that we’ve had comics consistently providing stories that fill in the kayfabe gaps between the matches.
The WrestleMania 2019 Special is no different. It would have been nice to get a one-shot devoted to the biggest wrestlers of this year’s Mania, a sort of primer on the matches and storylines that led to the main event itself, but with the lead-in time that comics need, that might not have been possible. The closest we get to that here is a look back at the Asuka/Charlotte Flair match from last year’s WrestleMania, which helped pave the way for Charlotte to be co-headlining this year’s Mania alongside Ronda Rousey and The Man, Becky Lynch.
That’s the first of four stories in the book, written by Bill Hanstock and illustrated by Hyeonjim Kim. While the narration doesn’t quite feel like Charlotte, this story does a good job of recapping the WWE careers of both wrestlers and building up exactly why this match was so important to both of them. It was a great match, and the story captures the feeling of watching it nicely. Kim’s depiction of both Flair and Asuka relies heavily upon their outfits for you to know who they are, as their faces aren’t entirely recognizable, but the choreography on the page, especially during the match itself, is dynamic and engaging.
The second story, “The Destruction of Brothers,” takes us back to 1998’s WrestleMania XIV and the grudge match between Kane and the Undertaker. If you were watching wrestling at that time, this match was a big deal, and the drama on screen reached a fever pitch that’s more than accurately represented here. Andrew Scott and Andy Belanger do a great job of recreating the match highlights, while also interspersing a kayfabe flashback to Kane and ‘Taker’s acrimonious childhood. For those that didn’t watch the on-screen storyline build-up to this match, this is a fairly smart way of driving home the decades of bitterness between these two brothers.
Belanger’s art captures the gothic melodrama of Undertaker’s childhood, giving his mother a Bride of Frankenstein hairdo to fit in with the grim mortuary of their upbringing. Lee Loughridge’s colors equally depict how hopelessly dark their past was, with washed-out sepia tones to contrast against the brightly colored conflict reaching its culmination in the ring. Throughout, Paul Bearer is there pulling the strings, much like he was during the match itself. Sure, this whole story is over the top and dramatic, but so was this feud. It fits perfectly.
Next up, we return to last year’s WrestleMania, and writer Lan Pitts takes us inside the mind of Shinsuke Nakamura in the days leading up to his match against AJ Styles. Pitts neatly avoids spoiling the twist that immediately followed that match, but if you do know how it turned out, then there are plenty of signposts scattered through the story that makes the events even more plausible. Nakamura is lamenting his previous 12 months, and how they haven’t gone his way when an encouraging conversation with Asuka over some beignets (hey, they were in New Orleans after all) prompts him to rethink how he sees not only the upcoming match but himself.
It’s fun to think that Asuka could have had a hand in Nakamura’s decision-making, but either way this story does more for Shinsuke’s character than WWE has over the last year, so any development is welcome. Serg Acuna’s art depicts Shinsuke well, but it feels like it takes a little while for the artist to settle into the story. The first three pages or so don’t have the same energy the rest of the story does, but by the time we get to the final page splash of Nakamura’s entrance, you’ll believe Shinsuke is right there in front of you.
Finally, we travel back to 2008 and the match between Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, which saw the retirement of Flair. It’s strange to get two generations of Flairs depicted in this special and nothing about Becky Lynch, but this was nevertheless a monumental moment in WrestleMania history. Entitled “I’m Sorry, I Love You,” writer Ryan Ferrier takes us back through Shawn Michael’s career, specifically his interactions with Nature Boy, in order to truly drive home why this was built up as such a heartbreaking moment.
We see Michaels first meeting Flair in 1985, and then following them both as Michaels narrates just why Flair is so important to him. With arguably the best art in the book, Kendall Goode does a great job of not only recreating Nature Boy and the Heartbreak Kid, but doing so over different time periods. Finally, the last page captures the moment where a kick to the face ended Flair’s career, before one last panel that gives a small taste of the farewell that Flair received from the crowd.
While WrestleMania 2019 Special does little to prepare you for the feuds and matches we’re going to see in this year’s event, it does capture the essence of why WrestleMania is so good. By splitting its time between matches from the recent past and those from longer ago, there’s something for all ages of fans to connect with. Whether you remember watching these matches when they happened, have revisited them since or have never seen them, the creative teams do a great job of capturing the spirit of those moments, and as a complete package, this one-shot really gets you in the mood for WrestleMania.