Chyna II: An Honest Review
It takes a confident person to use a hang glider as a getaway vehicle.
Over the years the comic book industry has produced a large number of bad comics, ones with boring characters, appalling art, or those that just so happen to be written by the somehow still employed Scott Lobdell (who really sucks by the way). But when people say the worst of the worst, the title is often thrown around with an air of hyperbole for exaggerated effect. Except of course when I say it, because when I say the 1994 miniseries Lynch Mob is the worst comic of all time I really mean it. To summarize it, every character feels like an uninspired Rob Liefeld homage, the page layouts are nauseating to navigate through and the title is for some reason derived from a hate crime [0.01/5 stars, DO NOT READ]. Though you may be wondering why any of this is relevant when discussing the 2001 Chyna II single issue special (the subject of this review), and that’s because in the late 90s, in response to the booming popularity of the Attitude Era, the WWF partnered with Chaos!Comics to to develop a number of books based off their wrestlers. The line focused primarily on the Undertaker, but other stars like Austin, Mankind, and of course Chyna were given titles of their own to star in. Still confused? You see, before picking up Chyna II at my local comic shop, my only other experience with the now defunct Chaos!Comics is the aforementioned Lynch Mob series. So given that Lynch Mob is an irredeemable stain on the medium of comics, my expectations were understandably low when I read Chyna II, by Steven Grant and Mike Deodato Jr. for this review. But honestly, and to my utter shock, the comic turned out much better than it really had any right to be.
To begin with, Chyna is a certifiable badass in this book. We open on a splash page as she holds a pair of gunmen in twin headlocks, kicking a third assailant partially off-page. “This is a SOCIAL event, boys. Now would you call guns SOCIAL?” And right away you’re hit with what this comic does exceedingly well; snappy dialogue and exciting action. The story itself feels fairly standard in that late 90s/early 2000s mould. Chyna provides protection to a young woman before she testifies against a mobster in court (with a twist I won’t get into here). But while the story is formulaic and basic in terms of character motivations and interplay, you can’t help but get caught up in how much fun the comic is. Chyna is playful, confident, and how she’s drawn perfectly accentuates both her femininity and her amazonian physique (while also steering clear of depicting her in a lecherous way). And the story keeps up a good pace throughout, giving you enough plot to justify what’s happening and sprinkling in action scenes that don’t feel too excessive. It even manages to ‘wink at the camera’ smartly when Chyna offhandedly mentions she’s a bodyguard, a reference to the role she played for fellow wrestler, Triple H, early on in her WWF career. Though it does raise certain questions about the nature of this world, wherein the wrestler Chyna has taken center stage in a drama involving mobsters and criminal conspiracies. But if Chyna is the WWF wrestler she plays on TV, is wrestling performative or real in this world? And if she’s not a wrestler in this version of reality, why is she called Chyna and what’s her backstory? The comic does little to answer any of these questions, but as far as problems go it really is a benign issue.
Interestingly the comic hit store shelves in July of 2001 but Chyna had all but wrapped up her WWF career two months prior (wrestling her last match with the company at the May 2001, Judgement Day Pay-Per-View). And as spectacular as so much of Chyna’s career had been with the WWF, somewhere from 2000 onward she’d lost a bit of her shine. Instead of the no nonsense bruiser she’d historically played, she was now doing storylines centered around ‘relationship troubles’ and having her neck injured by a group of moral busybodies. She’d reached newfound heights in terms of her popularity, but the experience had left her feeling like a less unique character. Which is part of what makes this comic so special, it takes more inspiration from a point in her career where she was a serious contender for the WWF title rather than her time as a playmate of the month which had the unfortunate side effect of dramatically defanging her.
To draw this to a close, if you’ve ever been a wrestling mark or if you’re a fan of high-octane action films, this is the comic for you. While by no means perfect, it’s a fun, self-contained story that’s written well and looks good, making for a great introduction to comic books. The story itself is a little paper-thin and the characters feel underdeveloped, but given the constraints of time (only being 20 pages long) and how much the comic does right, it’s hard to hold such minor gripes against it. If you see one of these at the local comic shop give it a buy; 3.7/5 stars.