A Special Note from Troy Brownfield . . .
Finally . . . The Russ has come back to Newsarama! Rather, The Russ has finally come to Newsarama. That would be Russell Ray, aka The Russ; he’s written about wrestling and more at ShotgunReviews.com since 1999, and has himself worked in a variety of in-ring and creative capacities in regional professional wrestling for almost as long. Given the fact that Russ also has some solid comics acumen, we thought that we’d bring in the man himself to opine about the pending brand of WWE comics from Titan. Take it, Russ.
I have to tell you, as someone who has paid attention to professional wrestling for nearly twenty years, I’m to the point where I feel like I’ve seen it all. Then, as someone who got a real education on the business from the internet, and a true education on the business as a ring announcer, manager, writer, and all-around idea guy, I’m now incredibly cynical whenever I watch wrestling.
So when I heard that WWE-branded comics would be published next year, the cynical side of me said, “Haven’t we seen this before?” I don’t mean just WWE comics or even wrestling-based comics. I’m talking about failed WWE business ventures in general. I have to be honest that I was ready to jump all over this like Lex Luger shilling ICOPRO at a WBF event, an opening scramble between the Rage and the Hit Men at an XFL game, or Jacob Goodnight chasing a bunch of dopey teenagers with a hook.
Really, how many clichés of failed WWE ventures can one fit in a sentence?
A little bit of research shows that the pro wrestling license in the comic realm has a rather long pedigree (so to speak). I remember in the late ‘90s when Chaos had a WWE license to produce comics based on Undertaker, Stone Cold, The Rock, Chyna, and Mankind.
I know I had a copy of the Ultimate Warrior’s comic, and it was the wordiest thing I’ve ever seen. You know he wrote it too, because the dialogue was flat-out crazy. “I am speaking to all the Warriors before me who have made the ultimate sacrifice that I walk on their bones to produce the substantiation of destrucity that you see before you now known as the Ultimate Warrior!” I don’t think another human being on Earth can write the crap Jim Hellwig says like Jim Hellwig.
If you want to see some great fun, Google an image of “Ultimate Warrior raping Santa Claus” (but not at work). I never thought the ultra-conservative Hellwig for a bisexual.
I even had a couple of digests of WWF Battlemania that I found at Big Lots. These were comics produced by Valiant in the early ‘90s that pretty much looked and sounded like what you see on the cover. I don’t think I’ve ever asked what happened when Ray Traylor fell in the forest and Jacques Rougeau was the only one there. I’m pretty sure the only sound it would make would be the fake shock stick sound effect they used for the Mountie.
I remember most of these comics were basically wrestling matches in comic form with worse writing, booking, and special effects than they used on TV. In other words, it looked like pro wrestling looks these days, so I guess it was ahead of its time.
So, with the taint of failed WWE ventures and failed WWE comic ventures in particular, you have to understand why I’m skeptical. But, I’m willing to listen to the defense of the other side. WWE Heroes editor Ned Hartley says on their web site that he wants to use “the large personalities of the WWE to tell huge and dramatic stories. The way that the stars of the WWE have these twisting histories and these ferocious battles – it’s almost like the warriors and heroes of Greek myths.”
The problem with that logic is that many of us know that WWE wrestlers are engaged in fake fighting. So, you’re going to create a comic about fake fighters as if they are great warriors. That kind of marketing might sell Wrestlemania to the marks (the people who still think wrestling is real), but it’s not going to sell WWE Heroes to wrestling fans like me.
But is this comic really targeted at the average wrestling fan? WWE is now aiming their programming at a younger audience, eliminating the blood, sexual innuendo, and foul language that was the hallmark of the “Attitude” era ten years ago. Despite the fact that this new venture is getting a lot more coverage in the wrestling dirt sheets than I expected, I doubt it will translate into sales. Wrestling fans who are already comic fans probably know better to steer clear of this thing, and I doubt wrestling fans that aren’t comic fans are going to go out of their way to get a copy.
Looking at some of the advance pages that have been released on wwecomics.com, it certainly looks like a smarter version of those WWF Battlemania digests I had years ago. It has the same cheesy dialogue, but the overall concept is somewhat interesting. It parallels current WWE wrestlers fighting one another with a great battle in the past. The art is excellent, and it might actually be something that saves the book. Whoever put this venture together was smart to hire actual comic pros like Keith Champagne and Andy Smith, who have experience on mainstream titles. Past wrestling comic ventures looked like they were written by hacks and drawn by art-school dropouts.
But at the end of the day, is this comic really aimed at thirtysomething comic/wrestling fans? No, it’s aimed at the PG audience that WWE is currently pursuing. It’s aimed at young teens that might actually go out of their way to get to a local comic shop to pick up a copy. And while they’re there, maybe they’ll check out comics based on movies they’ve seen in the past few years—Wolverine, X-Men, Iron Man, Batman, etc.
The true benefit of WWE Heroes might not be to produce a comic that the hardcore fans will follow, but instead to bring new fans to comics that might not have gone to a comic shop otherwise. It will be interesting to see what comes from this venture.