While it’s a piece that desperately needs an update, once upon a time I wrote about the history of WWE comics. Since 1991, they’ve bounced from publisher to publisher and have had many, many different incarnations. Each one had its own problems and nobody was able to truly hit the potential of mixing wrestling with comics. Some came close, but most were there to be laughed at instead of being laughed with.
BOOM! Studios has been pretty successful for the most part. Their take on the WWE franchise has been more of a hit than a miss. Little emphasis has been about building on brand-new adventures and more has been on taking moments and storylines from the past and expanding on them. Sometimes there are issues, like how the comic portrayed Seth Rollins’ main event heel run as a plucky antihero trying to succeed on his own terms, when in fact his actual run made him one of the most cowardly wrestlers of all time. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful way to play with the license and deals with the limitations of a fictional show that takes the form of a sports event.
The format works out well enough. The BOOM! WWE comics take two forms. You have the WWE ongoing, which for the first year centers around the Shield break-up storyline and features one or two unrelated backup stories. Then there are the one-shots, which are usually centered around some kind of event, such as WrestleMania.
Last week, BOOM! released WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Special. Within its 40 pages, there are four tales that each take place during a different year. More specifically, it’s 1992, 1991, 2018, and 2016. Each one is very different and each one feels incredibly on-brand for the wrestlers portrayed.
First up is “To Be Number One” by Lan Pitts and Rodrigo Lorenzo. This is the immediate aftermath to Royal Rumble 1992. In a time when the WWF Championship was vacated, the Royal Rumble match was used to figure out the new champ. Ric Flair came out on top due to both his perseverance (entering at #3) and taking advantage of a tiff between Sid Justice and Hulk Hogan.
Hogan, by the way, is not referenced once in this story. You know how it is.
The story is about Flair’s entourage, Bobby Heenan and Mr. Perfect, reluctantly warning him about how much of a target he’s about to become. Not only are the top names remaining from the Hogan Era still there to seek the championship like Undertaker, Sid, and Randy Savage, but there’s also a “new generation” of talent like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels who intend to rise up and make their names by taking down the Nature Boy.
Despite some good dialogue and art that’s on point, this story doesn’t really have much to actually say. Though it does feature one thing that comes up regularly in both the WWE comics and on WWE TV: the dismissive claim that, “Yeah, you were a big deal elsewhere, but this is WWE and this is different!” When used on TV, it’s usually there to bury the wrestler and his accomplishments, but seeing as it appears at least three times in the WWE comics, it has a different context. After all, we wouldn’t be reading these comics if these guys weren’t that good and proved to be successful.
Next is “Mr. Royal Rumble” by Kevin Panetta and Dominike “Domo” Stanton. This one takes place backstage at the yet-to-actually-happen-in-reality 2018 Rumble match where the New Day get Kofi pumped for this entrance. The 8-page story has the trio reminisce about all the crazy tricks Kofi’s done every year since 2012 to stave off elimination.
In comic form, the three excitedly flashback to times when Kofi walked around on his hands, jumped from the barricade to the ring, and used a chair as a pogo stick. They also take a second to mention that they barely remember Tensai despite him being a major part in one of Kofi’s stunts.
Again, there’s not that much to it, but it’s the two stories that follow that truly make the issue – and BOOM!’s WWE stuff in general – worth checking out.
The third story is “Randy Savage: Not Show King” by Ryan Ferrier and Kendall Goode. It’s a comedic take on something that always stuck with me as a kid. See, back at Royal Rumble 1991, “Macho King” Randy Savage shattered a scepter over the Ultimate Warrior’s head, causing Warrior to lose against Sergeant Slaughter and lose the WWF Championship. When it came time for the Rumble match itself, nobody came out for #18’s entrance. It later became apparent that that was Randy Savage’s number and he simply no-showed.
For me and my friends, there was speculation. Did the Ultimate Warrior chase him out of the building? Did the Ultimate Warrior get to him? Was Savage just smart enough to high-tail it before Warrior regained consciousness? We got the gist, but they never really explained it on the air.
Ferrier and Goode fill in the blanks by showing an amazing tale of the Macho King and Queen Sherri stealing Jake Roberts’ car in order to escape the Warrior, who follows on foot because he’s a maniac. Things continue to get increasingly silly from Jake’s bizarre monologues to seeing Warrior and Savage duke it out in a family restaurant. Everything escalates until crashing into a hilarious finale punchline that makes me want to say, “This happened in kayfabe. This is canon.”
Again, Hulk Hogan is not even referenced despite winning that Rumble match.
The final story is “I Am Phenomenal,” co-written by AJ Styles and Michael Kingston (who has been writing his own wrestling-based series Headlocked for well over a decade) with art by Daniel Bayliss. This one goes back to Royal Rumble 2016, where AJ Styles made his surprise WWE debut. Now, while the actual event played up AJ as a shocking development by focusing way too long on Roman Reigns’ confused face, the comic treats it as a known deal for everyone backstage. The fans are in the dark, but guys like Kevin Owens and Cesaro get their chance to interact with him.
Part of the happenings plays into the frustrating corporate take that AJ Styles was a young rookie go-getter, even though the guy was around during the latter days of WCW. He’s accomplished and pushing 40 by this point, yet marketing wants to name him “The Rookie Redneck” and a certain top name refers to him as “kid.”
Considering how successful AJ would become in WWE, this has to be a cathartic piece for him to be involved in writing. He’s looked down upon for being successful outside of the company when in fact that should be a good thing. Getting a top outside talent is like a movie studio getting the rights to a critically acclaimed book, only WWE sometimes makes it more like Fox and the Fantastic Four franchise, using it as tissue paper so nobody else can.
This attitude is used to build on and form context for some developments for AJ’s first year in the company so that his Rumble entrance seems less about a mystery man showing up and more about the first step to a kickass run in the big leagues.
Soon we’ll be getting comics about Raw’s 25th anniversary and another one-shot of WrestleMania stuff. Personally, I hope we get more interesting expansions of open-ended WWE moments. Maybe they’ll do a storyline that finally explicitly explains that the Big Boss Man lifted the briefcase back in King of the Ring 1999. Or how about that weird thing where Wyatt Family Daniel Bryan time-traveled back into the late-80s and appeared on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event?
Gavin Jasper hopes next year we can get a story about Mantaur worked in there. He was in a Rumble match! Follow Gavin on Twitter!