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Published on August 25th, 2015 | by Russ Dobler


Comic Books and Pro Wrestling:  The Match of the Century

Fan art by Instagram user Lord Mesa

Last Sunday night in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Lunatic and his powerhouse met the challenge of the Eater of Worlds and his herald. And that was just a prelude to the moment when the Green Arrow himself teamed-up with The Man Gravity Forgot to face down Stardust and the Cosmic King.

That’s not information for upcoming Marvel or DC comics, but descriptions of two of the main attractions at WWE’s SummerSlam event, which took place at the over 15,000 seat arena of the Barclays Center.

Two fandoms intersected that evening, as Stephen Amell, better known as the lead in the CW Network’s smash hit, DC Comics-inspired television series, Arrow, stepped into the ring against Stardust, the self-proclaimed supervillain who has for weeks been begging Amell, on WWE programming and on Twitter, to “be his hero.” Amell’s partner, Neville, uses a finishing maneuver called the Red Arrow, so the two were a natural pairing.

The comics/wrestling connection is apparent in the great amount of fan-art inspired by tonight’s Amell/Stardust confrontation, including this piece by Danny Haas.

Much like superhero comics and pro wrestling in general. Both genres feature people with impossible physiques and abilities sticking up for what’s right in zip-pow battles. Yet somehow, there hasn’t always been as much overlap between fans of the two media as you might expect.

Patrick Ross is trying to change that. Ross co-owns a website called AIPT! which usually focuses on comic book reviews and discussion. Lately he’s been adding weekly reviews of WWE’s flagship television program, Monday Night Raw.

“I always think it’s kind of weird that wrestling is not seen as a nerd pursuit,” Ross says, “because you have comic books, where you have all these people in spandex being do-gooders and fighting villains, and then it’s like, well, pro wrestling is a real life version of just that.

“So why is that not more pursued within the geek community?” Ross asks.

Maybe it’s because while the negative stigma of superheroes has been mostly lifted in an era of ubiquitous comic book culture, wrestling is still partly plagued by its past. Originally a legitimate sport in the 1800s, pro wrestling became more and more rehearsed when promoters realized that manipulating what happened was better for business than just letting the dominant champions steamroll their competition. As competitors and contests became more outlandish throughout the 20th century, audiences began to cast doubt on the veracity of the “sport,” until its orchestrators were forced to finally lift the veil.

Pro wrestling’s 100-year journey has taken it from sport, to fake sport, to admitted theater, a long transformation the effects of which may not have completely shaken out yet.

“I think wrestling’s in kind of a weird spot where it’s too “jocky” for the nerds and too nerdy for the jocks,” Ross says.

But that could be changing. The “Green Arrow’s” appearance at SummerSlam is only the most recent example of WWE’s dabbling in the geek world. When dastardly heel (i.e. “villain”) CM Punk “walked out” of the promotion with the WWE Championship in 2011, his next appearance anywhere was at Comic Con International, where he brazenly displayed his purloined prize.  Semi-retired superstar Daniel Byran just appeared at Chicago’s Wizard World Comic Con five days ago.

The popularity of those two athletes in particular is a good example of how the winds of WWE may be shifting to meet changing demographics. Much like Marvel and DC Comics scout smaller, independent publishers for new talent to invigorate their product, Punk and Bryan largely began a trend of independent pro wrestlers becoming focal points of WWE programming. NXT, WWE’s televised training ground for new hires – usually populated by the best talent acquired from elsewhere – drew almost as many fans to the Barclays Center last Saturday as those who attended the premier SummerSlam event on Sunday.

The main event of August 22’s NXT Takeover broadcast featured a title defense by Finn Bálor (left) who, before joining WWE, often painted himself to resemble comic characters such as Venom, Carnage and the Joker for his biggest matches. 

And in that way, the creative and business aspects of wrestling and comics are even beginning to align. NXT has risen to prominence while offering a differently-directed product, much like independent comic book publishers have. Image Comics, for example, enjoys a 10% market share, something that wasn’t true just a few years ago.

“No one thinks of Lost in Translation and Ghost World as comic book movies, but they are,” says Michael Kingston, who has taken the next logical step of combining wrestling and comics in his self-published book, Headlocked. Similarly, independent wrestling promotions offer alternatives in content to the more “mainstream” WWE, while simultaneously nudging it to keep pace.

Ross believes that continuing to link wrestling with comics, in both practice and form, will only help WWE in developing its 21st century identity.

“There’s a lot more mainstream coverage of it [now],” Ross says, “so maybe this is the direction they should keep going.”

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About the Author

Better known as "Dog" to friends and weirdos, Russ specializes in the intersection between science and culture. He helps promote critical thinking with the New York City Skeptics, blogs at The Thoughtful Conduit and drinks beer wherever he can find a nice tap selection.

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