I don’t think of myself as a wrestling guy. Sure, like any good 90s kid I fondly remember the WWF Attitude era, have told multiple people “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOUR NAME IS” at volumes louder than the situation called for, and have enjoyed my fair share of John Cena memes. But, that’s pretty much it . . . until now. Ahead of the Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns Title Belt match at Royal Rumble on January 28th, I’ve been pretty into this whole KO vs the Bloodline, Sami Zayn as honorary Uce storyline. I kept wondering “why now? Why THIS storyline?” and suddenly, it hit me like an elbow drop coming off the top rope: There have been a ton of dope wrestling comics recently.
Why wrestling? I’ve been wondering about that, and what I landed on is that structurally wrestling shows like Smackdown and Raw emulate a Super Hero comic pretty well. You’ve got big, spandex clad action heroes with larger than life personas. Much of the actual show is dialogue between these characters that develop into long-running storylines. Along the way, smaller stylized fights break out with over the top fight choreography. The big showdowns, though, have to wait, continuing to build until there’s a big match at a Pay-Per-View event, much like the fights at the end of a story arc. Given the similarities to the style of storytelling, it makes sense why there are so many wrestling fans in the comic community. Let’s talk about some of my recent favorites.
One of 2022’s biggest titles (and one of my predictions for Comic of the Year) was Do A Powerbomb! by Daniel Warren Johnson (with Mike Spicer on colors and Rus Wooten on lettering) which, if you can’t tell from the title, is all about wrestling. Except, in classic Daniel Warren Johnson fashion, it’s also not about wrestling at all and is a book all about exploring family dynamics and what lengths we’ll go to save the people we love. As always, DWJ delivers on amazing action sequences, filled with movement and impact at every step. But more than just the in-ring choreography, this book delivers a story about a family that’s brought together by wrestling and torn apart by it. It’s hard to talk more about this one without inadvertently spoiling it, so I’ll just say that the book is amazing and should definitely be picking it up if you haven’t yet. Time to tag out on this one and tag in one of my favorite under the radar comics of last year.
Hell Is A Squared Circle was an oversized one-shot prestige format comic (what is “a collection of comic terms that mean nothing to anyone outside of the comics hobby, Alex) from Aftershock Comics last year. Written by Chris Condon, illustrated by Francesco Biagini, with colors by Mark Englert and lettering by Dave Sharpe, the promo text refers to this story as a Wrestling Noir and it’s hard to think of a better description than that. Following the exploits of a down and out wrestling heel who’s hungry for his big-break as the face he always wanted to be, the story quickly devolves into a crime story and one about how far a man will go to follow his ambition. The wrestling takes a bit of a back-seat to the tale of crime that’s central to the plot, but there’s enough in-ring action to get even riled-up mark satisfied. Condon’s script keeps the pace moving and does a fantastic job of balancing quieter character moments with high-intensity crime. Throughout it, Biagini’s illustration seems perfectly suited for this story in particular, capturing both the brutal collisions in the ring and the solemn moments of character introspection. This was absolutely one of my favorite “one-sitting” reads of last year (as a father of two small children with limited reading time, I am becoming more and more of a fan of these types of stories) and one I would highly suggest any crime comic fan check out, even if you’re not that much into wrestling. Was this whole article just an excuse to talk about how much I like this book? Probably.
Next up on the Indie comic circuit, we’ve got The Crimson Cage. Written by John Lees, illustrated by Alex Cormack, with colors by Ashley Cormack, and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, this one tells the story of Shakepeare’s Macbeth, as told by a troupe of small-time wrestlers set in the late 80s. We’ve seen a lot of these types of stories, the “classic literature story reimagined as X-genre”, and they’re pretty hit or miss for me. This was definitely a case of a hit. You might not think it from the premise, but Lees manages to make all the plot points of Macbeth work for a Louisiana bayou wrestling story of friends, ambition, and betrayal without anything ever feeling shoehorned in. Every issue starts with a one page character monologue delivered as a presser, a neat nod to story as play. Heck, Lees even found a pretty darn clever way to adapt the classic Macduff “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth” plot twist at the end of the play. Throughout the comic, Cormack’s linework sets the scene beautifully, alternating between triumphant and impactful ring shots and horrifying visuals of the things that live beyond the swamp and the dark deeds they inspire. I didn’t know that Wrestling Horror was a genre of comics, but when the book is this good I’ll take all of it I can get.
Now for some quick (yeah right, like I can do anything quick) hits from our undercards. In Brubaker and Philips’ modern classic Criminal: Cruel Summer, the climax of the book happens at a sold-out wrestling match. It’s definitely not a wrestling book, but it’s not NOT a wrestling book either thanks to that scene. Pound for Pound from TKO Studios is about an underground MMA league that leads to a revenge tale. Throughout the story the main character wears a Luchador mask. It’s not wrestling but it’s still a combat sport and with the addition of the Luchador mask, I’m counting it. Over The Ropes is a wrestling comic from Mad Cave Studios that came out a few years ago. It’s probably really good, but . . . I haven’t read it. Yet. I’ll need to change that. Lastly, did you know BOOM! Studios published a WWE comic? I sure didn’t until I started researching this article. When you think about it, it only makes sense that a comics studio called BOOM! (complete with an exclamation mark in the name) would make a comic for the WWE. The main series ran 25 issues with a number of one-shots and mini-series coming out as recently as 2021. Also? Dan Freakin’ Mora worked on this book! Back when it launched in 2016, Mora was one of the regular artists and even did the amazing cover to issue #10, featuring an homage to The Dark Knight Returns #1 with Roman Reigns performing his signature move The Superman Punch. It’s all way too fitting.
Outside of the wrestling itself, there’s not a ton of similarities between the comics mentioned here. Despite dealing with the same subject matter, you’d never confuse DWJ’s family-centric plot of love-driven ambition in Do A Powerbomb for the grounded crime story of Hell Is A Squared Circle or Shakespearian tragedy of The Crimson Cage. However, there’s one thing that all of these books have in common: you don’t need to be a wrestling fan to enjoy any of the comics mentioned here (well, maybe you do for the WWE comic, but I’m disqualifying that one since it doesn’t fit my point). Even if you don’t know a chokeslam from a German suplex, you’ll find a central story in each of the books mentioned that uses wrestling as a backdrop to tell a uniquely human story. Despite the in-ring choreography and high-flying action, wrestling at its heart is all about story-telling. This, I believe, is ultimately why it’s so naturally crossing over into the comic world. It’s exactly the reason I’ll be tuning in to Peacock (not a sponsor, but could be! Jack Donaghy, give me a call, we’ll talk) this Saturday night. Who’s winning the Rumble? Will Kevin Owens finally unseat The Tribal Chief? Will Sami Owens finally break away from The Bloodline? These are the things I’m excited for. And really, whether it’s in a comic or in the ring, isn’t a good story all we’re looking for?