Unless you were at San-Diego Comic-Con this Summer, last Wednesday (Nov. 9) was your first chance to get your hands on the latest licensed pro wrestling comic book, courtesy of WWE’s partnership with Boom! Studios.
You can buy a copy of WWE: Then. Now. Forever. #1 at a comic shop near you (find one here) or online (I got mine at ComiXology). But before you plunk down your hard-earned $4, you probably want to know how it is, though, right?
In the opinion of this lifelong pro graps and funny book fan... pretty darn good. The better news is, it seems to employ a formula that can not only sustain a monthly schedule, but also embrace all the facets of sports entertainment fans expect from a WWE product. More than that, Boom!’s approach should let them use the comics page to expand on what’s great about pro wrestling in a way live television or arena shows don’t allow.
The lead story, by Dennis Hopeless and Dan Mora, is a behind-the-scenes look at Seth Rollins’ betrayal of The Shield on June 2, 2014.
If you’re hoping for an in-depth character study of the Architect’s emotions, that isn’t the main focus here. But if it were, you probably wouldn’t get a fight scene where Seth, Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns are attacked by the Wyatt Family at a yacht club... and you don’t want to miss that.
Hopeless & Mora weave elements from the story as it was presented on screen - Bray and his boys were major thorns in the side of the Hounds of Justice in 2014 - with a vision of backstage life that’s part WWE 24 documentary and part Bad Boys-esque action comedy. It works - mostly because the writer nails each of the wrestlers’ voices. I can hear Ambrose flipping out because Seth forgot the potato salad for their truck-top cookout. Little character tics such as Roman explaining a joke feel right, too.
The other reason this expansion of a past story succeeds is because the creators liberally sprinkle in action, in and out of the ring. Mora’s work is solid thoughout, a nice upgrade from the previous series from Papercutz where the quality level often varied panel-to-panel. The art really shines in fight scenes; he’s not afraid to employ different grids to simultaneously show the battle and develop the characters.
Another way this book varies from the Mick Foley-penned Superstars series (which I enjoyed) is by keeping the violence, at least in the main storyline, between characters we know from WWE television operating within the fictional universe we see on Raw and SmackDown. It’s a lot easier to go with a parking lot brawl between the Shield and the Wyatts than to accept City Councilman Del Rio vs. District Attorney Orton at the local rec center (the Papercutz book’s first arc was a crime story set in “Titan City”).
And while there isn’t in-depth character development here, that’s not to say there’s none. This quick tale adds small but worthy layers to the Shield break-up, providing depth to Dean & Roman’s hurt and making you wonder if Rollins every move was calculated, or if maybe he loved his brothers but decided to burn them at the altar of his own ambitions anyway.
Seth’s story will continue into the main book, titled simply WWE, launching in January. There are seeds planted here for more wrinkles to be added to his relationship with Triple H... perhaps not only adding more context to a two year old story, but a major future feud, as well.
If that were the only story this one-shot offered, my recommendation to check it out would be a little more luke-warm. But this bad boy is loaded with back-up features. None are perfect, but you sure are getting a lot of bang for your (four) buck(s).
First up is a New Day comedy tale which is more in the vein of the old Superstars book. Kane, Bray Wyatt and a character I honestly can’t identify (he or she looks like a grown up Butthead) crash the closing ceremony of the tag champs’ Camp of Positivity, so Xavier Woods breaks out a gimmick from their feud with Vaudevillains - and Big E speaks for us all:
This one is a bit all over the place, and probably requires you to be a fan of Chew co-creator (and illustrator of AJ Lee’s upcoming autobiography) Rob Guillory, whose art sold me on a story I might have rolled my eyes at otherwise. It works as a supplement to the main story, and its cliffhanger promises a caveman Ric Flair vs. dinosaur Brock Lesnar bout. And if you don’t want to see that, I don’t think we can be friends.
Following that is a short piece that most leans on this issue’s Then. Now. Forever. subtitle. It’s worth it to see WWE’s in-house portrait artist Rob Schamberger flex his sequential art muscles, but it doesn’t break any new ground in charting the course from Eddie Guerrero to Sasha Banks to a future Superstar the Boss is inspiring today. Your enjoyment will probably be inverse to how cynical you feel about the marketing of the Boss as a babyface.
The issue wraps up with a pretty adorable two-pager in the style of a vintage cartoon which pits Fred Ottman in his Tugboat persona against his tag partner Earthquake, and the one-sheet character histories Boom! handed out in San Diego. The latter don’t really tell wrestling fans anything they don’t already know, but they’re cool graphic design exercises from Daniel Bayliss and fans of the subjects (Stone Cold, The Rock, Triple H, John Cena, Banks, New Day, Undertaker & Dusty Rhodes) will certainly appreciate them.
WWE: Then. Now. Forever. #1 is all over the place, but nothing contained within its covers is bad. If the goal was to create the comic book equivalent of sports entertainment, they’ve succeeded. You get the variety show feel of Raw with a character and plot-driven storyline worthy of NXT or SmackDown up front, and lots of WWE’s version of pro wrestling history to fill out its page count.
For comics readers and wrestling fans who aren’t completely fed up with WWE, it’s good stuff.