It began with a Batman Day proclamation: All Elite Wrestling wrestler/executive Cody Rhodes announced that DC's iconic Dark Knight to be “All Elite.” What followed days later ripplied across both comic book and wrestling circles, as DC and AEW revealed a series of illustrations of AEW wrestlers by DC artists.
"People were super hyped about the DC crossover, and so every time something like that happens and there's a really great response, there's always a chance to do a lot more," said AEW Chief Brand Officer/wrestler Brandi Rhodes. "So we absolutely want to do a lot more, and we're hoping that DC does too."
AEW wrestler Nyla Rose was excited by the first piece - a Chris Jericho illustration by JLA artist Howard Porter - and was thrilled to be included in a later release.
"I saw Jericho's and I'm like 'Oh, you know, this is -- what, Villains Week on TNT?'" Rose told NEwsarama. "And I'm thinking okay, cool, well, I just got to the dance. There's no way on Earth - but they did. It was fantastic."
Nyla Rose was the subject of one of the later AEW/DC illustrations, drawn by Robson Rocha.
Growing up as a fan of comics and video games, you just ... I don't think it's a secret, my background is in acting in performance," Rose said. "I've always wanted to do cartoons, do some voiceover work. Only scratched the surface of it, but never fully got into it. So seeing myself that way was truly a dream come true, especially in DC comics. Like, what is this world coming to! Then I made a little quip on the internet and was like oh, I think it's canon! Having one of the artists be like yeah, I can confirm, I'm like, ahhh!"
Jack “Jungle Boy” Perry and his Jurassic Express partner Luchasaurus were drawn by avowed wrestling fan/Wildcats artist Ramon Villalobos. For his part, Perry enjoyed being one of those depicted.
"I love all these sort of art things in general," Perry said. "For the first time I'm getting a lot of fan art too, which I think is really cool. It's just awesome that someone takes time out of their day and kind of puts their effort and their love into creating something. So I love seeing that. The DC Comics thing was awesome. I just, I kind of don't even have the words for it it's just so cool. I don't really even know how to say it."
While Rhodes, Rose, and Perry are new to the world of comic/wrestling crossovers, other AEW wrestlers such as Jon Moxley (WWE's Dean Ambros), Chris Jericho, and Awesome Kong have all been previously featured in comics in one form or another. But even then, the experience was still thrilling.
"I was like a little kid running around the house like, look at it! Look at it!" Kong said. "My husband and I, we printed it out and made them fight each other. We were so silly that whole day. What do you do when you become a DC character?"
"I don't know if you know this, but I have the Welfare Queen doll [from G.L.O.W.] and I have an Awesome Kong doll, and so we literally printed out the DC art and were having this fight with the doll," Kong added. "It was fun. We had a good time that day."
Moxley was particularly impressed with how Villalobos drew him for the DC/AEW collaboration.
"It's pretty cool. I wish I looked that good in real life," Moxley told NEwsarama. "Yeah, that was cool, especially because it like oh, it was a DC guy. So I'm like oh, cool, I've been immortalized among Batman."
On the experience of seeing himself as a comic book character, Moxley added,"It's surreal and you just get used to seeing surreal stuff, where you're like, the first time you're on Monday Night RAW is surreal. The first time you see yourself is an action figure, at least for me, it's like, that's so weird. It's almost like you can't even go that's so cool! The first time you do, but after a while you just go, that's so weird."
AEW World Champion Chris Jericho broke a record with his part in the AEW/DC collaboration, being the only wrestler to appear in four different wrestling companies' comics projects: CMLL, WCW, WWF/WWE, and now AEW. Jericho “absolutely” sees AEW comics in the company’s future, and pointed to the AEW roster’s own passion for other pop culture mediums as what makes them uniquely situated to take advantage of these opportunities.
"I think that we have a real good finger on the pulse of the comic book culture, video game culture," Jericho said. "It's something that for me, I'm not going to say I don't get it. It's not for me. But the Young Bucks, and Kenny [Omega], and Cody [Rhodes], and the Elite, that's their thing, and there's a whole myriad of fans who are into that too. We are embracing that. So I think it's only a matter of time before you see a video game. We've already done games for I'm assuming games, dolls, et cetera. And the comic book, I mean when I saw that DC art [by Howard Porter/Hi-Fi], I was amazed. It's maybe the best one that I've seen. I want to get that as a print."
Jericho went on to tell Newsarama about his own comic book fandom, especially of Aquaman.
"I was a huge comic book guy back in the day. DC was my shit, so when finally Aquaman became a thing again, I was like, 'I told you!'" Jericho said. "What's his power? Alright, Mister Batman, drop you in the middle of the ocean, see what you've got in your utility belt, when you start getting tired and you start to drown, you're going to wish you were Aquaman. Call a whale and take you back to shore. That's a superpower."
It’s that entire idea that makes comics and wrestling such a natural fit for each other. Comics and wrestling fans alike are constantly debating who would win in fantasy match-ups of dream competitors, comparing the merits of your super-powered high-flyers versus your more technical-minded mat-level competitors. Plenty of wrestlers have even been open about the inspiration they take from the panels or other forms of pop culture, going so far as to create ring gear and moves inspired by their fictional favorites -- most recently Star Trek for AEW’s own Cody Rhodes, while Nyla Rose herself took inspiration from Sucker Punch and her own culture in developing her gear.
"I think a big connector is kind of these larger than life characters," said Jack “Jungle Boy” Perry. "When I think about when I first found wrestling and fell in love, I was a little kid, and I just remember these big buff crazy cool looking dudes. There were fireworks, there were pretty women, and there were just the craziest athletic action things I'd ever seen. I think if you look at it, that's what comic books are as well. So I think it's just the most over-the-top craziest fun that you can have."
Nyla Rose summed it up perfectly.
"This dude rides a dinosaur. The last time I saw that was in the Savage Land," Rose said. "That's all I'm saying."