For wrestling fans, the "Road to Wrestlemania" begins this month - and BOOM! Studios kicked it off early with the launch of their new ongoing title, WWE.
Acting as an in-continuity expansion of the storylines in the world's premiere wrestling company, WWE kicks off with a detailed story looking into the rise and fall of the wrestling faction the Shield. Although their break-up is old news for wrestling fans, this inaugural WWE storyline turns the storyline into a fleshed-out story where what happens outside the ring is just as engrossing as what happens in it.
While publishers ranging from Valiant to Papercutz and even Marvel have attempted to do licensed wrestling titles, BOOM! is approaching this from a markedly-different standpoint with a connection to characters and storylines seen on televion and at live events. With that in mind, Newsarama spoke to BOOM!'s primary editors for its WWE line, Jasmine Amiri and Eric Harburn, about the title, their approach, and some deep cuts from WWE's past they have an eye towards bringing back.
Newsarama: WWE #1 is on shelves now, and it’s the opening of a whole new world for comic book and wrestling fans. For those that haven’t picked it up, what can people expect?
Jasmine Amiri: It’s just 22 Pages of the List of Jericho – we’re leaking it, Watergate style. Just kidding.
With this first issue, fans should expect a deeper look into what Seth Rollins was dealing with immediately following the breaking of the Shield. Our goal is to add to this saga in a way that we haven’t seen on television. Seth went through quite a bit of change throughout this period - from winning Money in the Bank to his cash-in at WrestleMania 31 – and this is an opportunity to explore the evolution of that character. One of our mantras is that with these comics, we’ll never be able to do the wrestling bits as good as they do on TV. It’s a comic! It’s just not going to be as visually interesting. But what we can do is dig deeper into stories they might have not had time to cover and get into the heads of what fuels these characters. Our writer, Dennis Hopeless, is very much of the same mindset and has been knocking it out of the park. Sometimes he’ll send a script over and we’ll have this “Wait...did Seth just write this himself?” moment. He’s got that Rollins promo on lock-down. And artist Serg Acuna has been taking the ball and running with it! Can't imagine another team on this book.
Eric Harburn: And outside of Dennis and Serg Acuna’s Shield-focused main storyline, each issue will also feature a series of rotating backup stories, from a wide variety of creators in a spectrum of styles and tones. Because WWE is more than just great athleticism and serialized drama - it’s a variety show, with a little bit of something for everyone, young and old.
Nrama: Wrestling, and WWE specifically, has been in comics for over 20 years, with different companies and takes - but BOOM! seems to be taking a different tact, approaching it like a group of characters like the Muppets, each with particular stories to tell. How does BOOM! see the WWE license?
Amiri: When WWE approached us, we had a few brainstorm meetings, purely as fans of the product and discussed, in a perfect world, what we would want to see in a WWE comic. We’ve been put in an interesting situation because at the end of the day, we’re a bunch of wrestling nerds, but we’re also the decision makers here. There’s a balance that we need to keep in mind and we’re extremely aware that with this product in particular, no two fans like exactly the same things. So, we’re trying to capture all the different aspects of wrestling and get it as true to the license as possible without letting the things that we enjoy more, personally, affect our decisions. You’ve got to look at this objectively! While one person might be a huge Roman Reigns fan, another might not like him at all. So, we’re hoping to include as much as possible - something in the comic for everyone, old fans and new, Roman marks and haters alike.
Harburn: Can I make the obvious “Jericho is Fozzie Bear” joke? No? Sorry.
Nrama: Ths current opening storyline is a recap and expansion on the rise and fall of the Shield. What made this the right story to kick off the series?
Amiri: Honestly, we took a look at big moments in recent WWE history and who the current main players were, and it felt like an obvious choice. The breaking of the Shield is something that stirs tons of emotion in current wrestling fans – every time they hint at a reunion, the internet breaks. I can’t watch the replay of Seth with the chair without my heart rate picking up a little. And it seems that I was not alone - the reaction to our WWE: Then. Now. Forever. issue was incredible to witness. But beyond that, each Shield member has gone on to carve meaningful paths in the WWE, independent of each other. We saw an opportunity here to create a nice little program, each arc of the first year revolving around a different member. And because they’re all so incredibly different, in doing so, we could explore different types of storytelling within the WWE universe while still tying it together in an organic way. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that each arc is going to have its own unique vibe, just like the wrestlers themselves.
Nrama: Who do you and the creators consult with at WWE for this? Do you talk to the wrestlers at all?
Amiri: WWE has been great throughout the entire process. Our main contact, WWE’s Manager of Book Publishing Steve Pantaleo, been an absolute blast to work with. He’s obviously a huge wrestling fan, but also a big comic fan and his extensive knowledge in both has made this an incredibly easy and collaborative relationship. As far as the wrestlers themselves, I personally have yet to meet any of the superstars, but hopefully it’ll happen one day!
Harburn: When we officially announced our partnership with WWE at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2016, the New Day was kind enough to stop by our booth to shake hands, kiss babies, and shower the crowd with Booty-O’s. Just wait until you see our Emerald City exclusive cover - we’re hoping it lures Daniel Bryan out of the Washington wilderness...
Nrama: Do you know of any plans for BOOM!'s WWE products being sold at WWE events or on their website?
Harburn: Not that I know of, but we barely have anything out yet. Only time will tell.
Nrama: Wrestling fans are known to be just as detail oriented as superhero comic book fans. It's early on, but have either of you had an experiences with wrestling fans coming in to check out WWE comic books that BOOM! is doing?
Amiri: Absolutely and it’s been wonderful! There’s a ton of good will behind this series, and it’s been humbling and encouraging. People have been reaching out on social media and we just had a panel at New York Comic Con where the participation and feedback were extremely positive. Getting to nerd out and hearing feedback directly from WWE fans has been invaluable. Our mission statement was to make a WWE comic that fans of the product deserve - we want to get it right.
Nrama: Several wrestlers have moonlighted in comic books, both current and past. Any chance readers could see that in BOOM!'s WWE comic books?
Amiri: At this point in time, anything is possible!
Nrama: I’ll take that. Could each of you tell me what characters or storylines from WWE history you'd be most personally interested in telling in comic book format?
Amiri: Something I’ve always been interested in exploring is developmental and getting a bit of the work that goes into perfecting the craft and creating a persona at the NXT stage. It could be cool to get a little behind the scenes look through the eyes of someone at that level! As far as specific superstars, I’m a notorious heel mark, and I also have a weak spot for anything that’s a little more "out there": Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Mankind, Seth Rollins, the Wyatt Family, Charlotte Flair, Shinsuke Nakamura, and of course, my king, the Shockmaster all make the wish list.
Harburn: Tag teams, all day. Any given workday, there’s a good chance you’ll find me in an American Alpha or the Revival shirt, and I think the brotherly dynamics of tag teams are a pitch-perfect fit for comics in the superhero team-up vein.