WWE Superstars Issue 1: An Honest Review

  Two panels from CM Punk’s contribution to the 2015 Thor Annual. For the story Punk used a style of writing pioneered in the 1960s called the ‘Marvel Method’.

Two panels from CM Punk’s contribution to the 2015 Thor Annual. For the story Punk used a style of writing pioneered in the 1960s called the ‘Marvel Method’.

In the worlds of comics and professional wrestling there are countless paths to the top of the proverbial heap. For many would-be stars, years are spent toiling, honing their craft working for indies. For the comic creator they turn to publishers like Boom! Studios and Dynamite Entertainment while the wrestler goes to work for promotions like Ring of Honor and Chikara. And for a lot of fans this is the right way to ‘get over’, improving yourself steadily over time until your skill level and work ethic can’t be ignored. So eventually you’re rewarded with an opportunity to write for the X-Men or wrestle a mid-card bout at SummerSlam, but then you have those who get to cut in line because they have a show on the CW Network or they’re a popular comedian. Which isn’t always a bad thing, as when noted journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates, breathed a greater sense of depth into the character Black Panther while writing him. But for every Coates there also seems to be a Jay Leno to counterbalance any sort of good being done.

Now it’s not very common, but every so often a celebrity that crosses over into comic books actually hails from wrestling’s squared circle. In 2015, CM Punk was signed to write Drax for Marvel comics, having previously contributed to the Thor Annual earlier that year. But certainly more apropos to our discussion here, in 2013 Mick Foley and co-writer Shane Riches (previously co-writers of the miniseries RPM) were brought in to write WWE Superstars for publisher Papercutz. And while there are some translatable skills from wrestling to comic books, like the construction of long-form narratives and the fostering of bizarre characters, there are also elements that have no equivalent - like panel layouts and the importance of the page turn. Still, Foley is a WWE legend and a bestselling author, so if anyone can adapt to the role of comic author it would be him, right? To answer that I read the first issue of WWE Superstars and what follows is a brief examination of the comic, an attempt to ‘grapple’ with the material and decide if Foley truly transcends mediums and writes like a Main Eventer or if he’s just a wordsmith jobber with nothing original to say.

  Contrary to traditional comic artistry, men like Ryback (pictured left) and Brock Lesnar actually appear less muscular than their real world counterparts in this book.

Contrary to traditional comic artistry, men like Ryback (pictured left) and Brock Lesnar actually appear less muscular than their real world counterparts in this book.

The story starts with WWE Superstar, John Cena, behind bars and charged with a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Cena narrates, “YOU CAN’T SEE ME. THEY HID ME AWAY. TOOK MY BADGE. STOLE A YEAR OF MY LIFE”. Only a panel in we see one of the more clumsy creative choices that Foley employs, shoehorning in catchphrases and wrestling references into every possible opening. And beyond the heavy-handed nature of it, the allusions to the “CEREBRAL ASSASSIN” or “MONEY IN THE BANK” seem at odds with the more serious, film noir inspired tone the comic seems to be going for. Alternatively, Foley could have leaned into the goofiness of the concept of a world of wrestlers, turning chunks of the narration into wrestling style promos and playing to the absurdity of wrestling’s storied history. But the fact that he doesn’t commit fully to the ‘wacky wrestling world’ or to hard-boiled realism (that happens to have wrestlers) makes for a weaker comic overall. However, Foley does write snappy, digestible dialogue that works well when not disrupted by forced references. The characters also have a bland likability about them, again tapping into that film noir aesthetic, but sadly this approach seems to come at the cost of showing any resemblance to their real life personalities. The plot itself is about a missing 10 million dollars with subplots about social protest and Daniel Bryan spray painting ‘YES’ everywhere, but nothing about the narrative seems to be enough to really draw the reader in. The air of mystery is too vague to be interesting and the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to prop up that lack of substance. But more of an issue than anything else is the art, the underlying pencil drawings being below average and the colouring ranging from decent to eyesore. Environments are awash with hideous custard shades of yellow and royal purple with large portions of background left unshaded. At a few high points, the scenes take on a moodier, gothic quality but scenes like these happen far too infrequently and only spotlight the laziness of the other pages.

  98% sure those are real trees photoshopped into the background there to the right.

98% sure those are real trees photoshopped into the background there to the right.

Honestly, the hardcore legend is one of the stronger parts of this comic, having a tonally consistent sound to the characters and writing nothing that comes off as awkward (with the exception of the occasional forced reference). But his writing isn’t enough to save the comic from a slow plot and its ugly art. This isn’t a comic for wrestling fans, nor a wrestling story for comic book nerds, but if you happen to be that rare sort that loves comics and wrestling you might get some enjoyment out of this whodunit mystery. In most cases though, a hard pass; 2.4/5 stars.

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