June 3, 2012
Time to re-examine a wrestling comic book
By MATTHEW BYER - SLAM! Wrestling
With The Avengers movie recently passing $1 billion in box office revenue, and the last decade of comic books that have been translated into successful movies, the comic book medium is probably enjoying more mainstream attention then perhaps at any time of its history. Yet, when you look at the various comic books over the years, there has never truly been a successful mainstream comic book based on professional wrestling.
When pro wrestling experienced an upswing during the early and late 1990s, several comic book companies decided to see if perhaps a comic book based on a particular wrestler or an entire wrestling stable of talent would garner attention and sales.
One of the more prominent comic book companies who decided to give it a try was Marvel Comics. In 1992, Marvel Comics launched a series called World Championship Wrestling, which spotlighted a different WCW wrestler each issue. The series ran for 12 issues and essentially was a comic book version of a typical WCW Saturday Night Wrestling episode at the time. The series tended to treat wrestling storylines as reality. The overall series storyline featured Sting's quest to become WCW champion with Lex Luger standing in his way. The wrestlers in the stories were distilled down to fairly simple heroes and villains and the comic books featured very basic plot lines.
The Warrior Productions comic book, simply titled Warrior, was based on the Ultimate Warrior and was featured very prominently on WWE programming at the time. The comic book itself placed the Ultimate Warrior in a kind of fantasy world where he would battle assorted enemies. Unfortunately, while sales were good for the first couple issues, they soon dropped off and by early 1997 the series was cancelled.
Chaos! Comics, however, launched not just one comic book, but an entire line based on WWE wrestlers from the Attitude Era. There was an Undertaker series, a Mankind special, a "Stone Cold" Steve Austin limited series, two Chyna specials, and a special about The Rock. Out of the various titles, the Undertaker series probably had the most elaborate plotline with the Undertaker as the ruler of a kind of hell's prison. The series also featured Paul Bearer and Kane. Yet, none of these series enjoyed anything other than very fleeting success and were soon cancelled or discontinued.
So why did they fail?
So how could a successful comic book be done based on professional wrestling? The movie The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke definitely points the way. The movie follows Rourke's character Randy "The Ram" Robinson as he tries to deal with being past his prime, reconnecting with his daughter, health issues, drugs, and the continuing lure of the wrestling ring. The movie was made for a $6 million budget, but went on to make $26 million at the box office and garnered several awards.
One of the lessons that can be learned from the movie is that first and foremost, for a comic book series it would be beneficial to base it on a fictional wrestler, rather than a real one. This would eliminate issues of an inconsistent portrayal and setting across different mediums. Also, what enthralled audiences and critics was how the movie showed what life was like for someone who was a professional wrestler, so any comic book series should try to focus on that aspect, rather than making up some fantasy one or trying to pass off wrestling storylines as reality. By doing so it would open up all sorts of storyline possibilities for a comic book series. You could start the series at the beginning of a wrestler's career and show how their life developed over time, the toll being a wrestler takes on families, friends, and relationships, the political elements involved in being a wrestler, reactions to storylines, and what it is to deal with the level of fame that they do. Since such an approach would ground the comic book series in the real world its odds of finding a readership who would continue to read it over time would be infinitely greater in comparison to several of the past comic books that have been tried.
Matthew Byer is a Senior Project Manager who lives in Victoria, BC. As he is coming up on his one year anniversary of writing articles for SLAM! Wrestling, he would like to take this opportunity to thank Greg Oliver for giving him the opportunity, and hopes to continue to do so for many years to come.