It's been a while since I checked in with Cageside Seats regarding the latest run of WWE licensed comic books, Papercutz/Super Genius' WWE Superstars, written by Mick Foley.
Frankly, that's because my review of the second issue got somewhere in the vicinity of three to five hits. But the series is up to issue 7 (with issue 8 due shortly), I'm still reading them and I think they provide an interesting insight into where we are with the current WWE television product, so...here we go.
When last we left Titan City, the fictional metropolis where Foley, co-writer Shane Riches and artist Alitha Martinez set the first four issue arc of the series, things were getting kind of messy - both in story and from a storytelling perspective. This trend continued in the series third issue, as the creative team kept trying to keep twenty-plus wrestlers in the tale, each with a noteworthy role to play in the increasingly twisty noir plot of the stolen ten million dollars (the "Money in the Bank" that gave this four-parter its title) and the many factions out to reclaim the briefcase full of loot and/or punish whoever took it.
Issue 3 is probably my least favorite of the book to date for a writing perspective, but one of the best in terms of illustration. Martinez, colorist JayJay Jackson and letter Tom Orzechowski do get inventive in how they present wrestling action, and it really enhance some clever set-ups like John Cena and Randy Orton versus the Wyatts in a burning barn, or Rey Mysterio and CM Punk versus the Real Americans in a meat locker.
The problem is that the latter fight involves the tweener rogue Hornswoggle and his manservant Khali, the prime example of trying to shoehorn too many characters into the book. Bray and company are never seen again, and they, along with the Orton and Cena as The Defiant Ones scenario, could fill up an interesting arc of their own. Instead, they're lost in the soup of a single issue - along with a big final panel review that isn't nearly as dramatic as it wants to be because by the time it comes you're numbed by the size of the cast.
"Money in the Bank"s final issue is the best since the first one, precisely because Foley streamlines characters and set-ups in order to bring the story home. I don't want to give too much away - while the twists won't surprise anyone who's read a few pulp crime stories in their life, it's well executed and satisfying based on what has come before.
I will say that the way they incorporate Daniel Bryan, Christian and Orton into a ladder match scenario to retrieve the briefcase that completely fit in with the non-wrestling story had me grinning from ear-to-ear.
A couple of issues with the conclusion of the opening arc for WWE Superstars...one, just when things are getting interesting, we're leaving Titan City. While I still don't need to spend more time with crime lord Jerry Lawler, the main players are established, the city is still broken and there's even a cliffhanger ending that teases a heel turn that many of us have been begging for for years. But it's on to the next story, and a whole new set-up, in issue 5.
The second problem with the conclusion of the opening tale is really highlighted by the protagonist of the second...
It was probably inevitable. The lead time required to product comics, combined with the volatile nature of televised pro wrestling - the injuries, egos, fickle crowd reaction and scripting on the fly - makes it difficult to anticipate who to feature in your books that need to be written six months before they'll hit shelves and screens.
At least in the first four issues, Punk and Bryan co-star with Cena and Orton. The three leads of the second arc, "Haze of Glory", are the Best in the World, the YES! Man, and the master of the 619.
A guy who has no interest in wrestling at this time (if ever again), a guy who will hopefully only miss nine months due to injury and a guy WWE is currently paying to keep him from working.
Foley and the team at Super Genius probably had a meeting with WWE brass at the project's outset, and were either given the names of wrestlers to feature or got approval for the people they wanted to use prominently. It shows that, for at least the segment of the market that this product is aimed at (13+ year old pop culture afficiandos), CM & DB were integral to their plans going forward. And Mysterio was seen as a evergreen fan favorite who could move product to all ages - especially kids.
Their absence from TV doesn't stop WWE Superstars from being good comics, and in fact, makes for an interesting sales pitch that this is the only place you can see these guys in WWE right now.
But I think it does, especially in the case of Rey and Punk, given that they are not only not wrestling but also at odds with Vince McMahon and company, make WWE hesitant to promote this effort the way they have Slam City and other similar tie-ins.
Which is a shame, because I think the book could find a real audience among the internet wrestling community (IWC) and so called "smart" fans if it received promotion outside of comic shops and digital comics outlets. Issues 5 - 8, which I'll review as a whole when they're all released, show some real flourishes from Foley and team. The first issue of comedic farce set backstage at a real world WWE taping is entitled "RAWshoman", a nod to the Kurasawa film Rashoman that brought the device of multiple characters providing different versions of the same story into the pop culture lexicon.
It also features brilliance like Mankind as a Cryptkeeper-like narrator:
and Daniel Bryan version of events being a Robert E. Howard sword & sorcery epic:
I mean, come on, you wouldn't read D-Bry the Barbarian?
Maybe the plan for the arc after "Haze of Glory" to focus on historic dream matches will steer clear of names that are verbotten on WWE television right now, and let the sports entertainment giant throw their marketing muscle behind the series.
For the time being, it's a flawed but still precious hidden gem in the company's library.
You can by individual issues at your local comic shop, or for the screen at ComiXology. The collected edition of the "Money in the Bank" story
is available at the Papercutz website or Amazon.
Any of you Cagesiders keeping up with WWE comics?
Agree or disagree with me that they prove how thrown Creative must be to not have guys they were counting on like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to use right now?