There are two distinct types of fandom I believe that share a kinship of sorts, in that they’re both inherently similar, attract the same sense of nostalgia and passion, and occasionally the same sort of ostracism from mainstream groups of non-fans. These two groups of fandom are mainstream Superhero comics fans and Professional Wrestling fans. While at first glance these two things couldn’t seem more disconcordant, there are actually many similarities at the base of their respective art forms.
Modern Superhero comics are an expression of idealism, and a way to communicate stories that can’t really be told in any other medium similarly. Whether these stories are meant to be experiences that are carried out vicariously through the character, or to establish a connection with a series of characters, the fact remains the same that these stories are and always have been about romanticized, idealized versions of characters that are larger than life. They’re bombastic, exaggerated, and are symbols more often than not of things we can aspire to be, or things to beware of and fear. These stories have been told for a long time, as myths of Gods and Demi-Gods, but are now represented as costumed, superpowered heroes who fight crime or the ills of society. They’re representatives of justice who are overcoming the odds they face against the villains, be they environmental, internal, or external. They’re here to right wrongs, teach lessons through example, or to serve as wish fulfillment for the reader.
The characters in wrestling have this exact same dynamic. They’re there to tell stories that are larger than life. They communicate the basic system of justice, wish fulfillment, and a moral lesson imparted via the action that happens in ring, both meta-textual and literal through the exploration of these themes. Watching Batman beat up the bad guy is fun in a comic book, in the same way that watching Stone Cold Steve Austin put his stunner on a villain wrestler in the ring is. At that base level they’re both providing a sense of justice imparted against the villain in that story being told, be it either on the page, or in a ring.
By that same token they’re both exaggerated characters who couldn’t, shouldn’t, and don’t really exist in real life, instead legitimately existing only within the contextual realities of their worlds. In the same way that a Batman would immediately get arrested and thrown into an asylum (a theme that’s often been explored in Batman comics), Steve Austin would have been fired, arrested, and put into jail for the many attempts at assault and battery, home invasion, reckless endangerment and what have you. Yet another theme that’s actually happened multiple times in wrestling, is a character being “punished” for their in ring activity with real world consequences, despite all of it still being inherently part of the story.
Roland Barthes was a famous literature critic and philosopher who wrote an essay about wrestling called “The World Of Wrestling”, in his book Mythologies, an exposition on modern mythologies and the undercurrent themes behind them. In it he writes:
[box_light]“But what wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice. The idea of ‘paying’ is essential to wrestling, and the crowd’s ‘Give it to him’ means above all else ‘Make him pay.’ This is therefore, needless to say, an immanent justice. The baser the action of the ‘bastard,’ the more delighted the public is by the blow which he justly receives in return. If the villain – who is of course a coward – takes refuge behind the ropes, claiming unfairly to have a right to do so by a brazen mimicry, he is inexorably pursued there and caught, and the crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken for the sake of a deserved punishment. [. . .] Naturally, it is the pattern of Justice which matters here, much more than its content: wrestling is above all a quantitative sequence of compensations (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). This explains why sudden changes of circumstances have in the eyes of wrestling habitueés a sort of moral beauty; they enjoy them as they would enjoy an inspired episode in a novel…”
“The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.”[/box_light]
This is the same for comics in turn. Here we are watching a spectacle on the page as the Justice League fights Darkseid on the open streets, or the Avengers take umbrage against the legions of Skrulls who have invaded (it’s been a while since I’ve read Marvel), and the entire time this spectacle is communicated on a never-ending regular basis. Wrestling is a constant stage of stories being told, involving a rotating cast of characters who over the course of years grow, develop, change, become bad or become good, and eventually “die” as their real life counterparts, the actual wrestler as opposed to the character wrestler, retire.
In comics, these characters never “die”, as any comics fan can attest to. Any “death” is merely a means to an end for further character development, and is almost always retconned given enough length on any timeline. The same is once again true for wrestling, as multiple characters have “died” either literally in the story, literally in life, or figuratively by leaving the company. In 1996 one of the most famous wrestlers for the then WWF was Razor Ramon, a character based highly off of Tony Montana from Brian De Palma’s Scarface, and a wrestler who captivated audiences with his signature look, mannerisms, speech and style. In real life, he ended up leaving the WWF, not taking the “Razor Ramon” character with him, and showed up on then rival wrestling promotion WCW as “Scott Hall”, his real name, but still the same character, albeit in plain clothes. In this manner his death was merely “retconned”, but in real life to another wrestling promotion. To make things even more similar to comics, WWF responded by simply casting another wrestler as the “new” Razor Ramon, who debuted to a major outpouring of fan hatred. Comics have done this countless times, most notably with Robin, Batman’s sidekick. It’s the only two mediums that have ever done this in this fashion, with any sense of regularity. It’s a dichotomy that exists with many examples, one being the death and resurrection of Superman, which is paralleled in turn by the multiple deaths and resurrection of famed wrestler, The Undertaker.
Furthermore, the serialized nature of both Superhero comics and professional wrestling, as I previously mentioned, is nearly identical. No two mediums share a similar amount of dissonance between the creator, writers, performer, and creative output. With comics, the story isn’t always told as we think it is by a man who writes and a man who draws, much like with wrestling the story isn’t only told by two men in tights who enter a ring to fight. There’s a committee or a gathering to create a consensus of how to best manage these characters, to tell stories that can be spun indefinitely, while still providing satisfying character arcs. Often this is the issue that both professional wrestling and comics run in to, what with the constant disconnect from what has been previously established, what is truly considered “canon”, and what is suddenly decided to be ignored and/or retconned out of history.
DC Comics has done this most famously and recently by entirely re-establishing a status quo, by erasing the entirety of their old history (except for the stuff that they didn’t) and starting over. While this approach hasn’t been directly emulated by professional wrestling yet, its parallel is similar to the creation of a new promotion based off of new interpretations of older wrestling characters that previously existed. In our modern state, this is TNA Wrestling, a promotion that competes weekly with WWE, yet mainly banks on the star appeal of its talent that became famous in other, more popular past promotions. It is in essence a “reboot” of all those wrestlers from other promotions, to start over with new characters, or a revamped version of their old characters, essentially creating a similar version of DC’s New 52, albeit unintentionally. It’s a correlation that some may find a stretch, but to look at the repackaging, and re-designing of a wrestling character, and to not compare it the repackaging and re-designing of a superhero character to me would be willfully ignoring that similarity.
There’s also the case that both comics and professional wrestling have distinct, and iconic “eras” or ages. In superhero comics we have the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern eras, all respectively dividing up distinct portrayals of these heroic characters in ways that reflected the zeitgeist. Wrestling has its own set of eras, divided up in into similar labels; Golden Era (which is pre-Hulk Hogan), The New Generation Era (where now legendary wrestlers like Undertaker, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels rose to prominence), and The Attitude Era, which is arguably the highpoint in professional wrestling’s history as the WWF became very popular with the advent of wrestlers like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin portraying anti-heroes in their medium in a new and exciting way. This was followed by the “Ruthless Aggression” Era, which is an era that developed in the midst of a massive double down between the two main competing wrestling promotions at the time, WWF & WCW, with WCW merging into WWF. At the time this was unheard of, and the comic equivalent would be Marvel buying DC outright, and every single superhero from both companies were then poorly implemented into a series of comics that dovetailed creatively, despite immense potential. Lastly and currently there’s the PG Era of wrestling, where focus has shifted recently into a more family friendly orientation. These Eras in both mediums illustrate further how similar they are, and shows how their lasting serialized nature necessitates being broken up into Eras, in order to better keep track of how they both reflect society, attitudes, and current events at the time.
The problem is, people see the vast majority of it as dumb or meaningless, and write it off as time wasted. Recently this has started to change due to the popularity of Marvel’s recent movie paradigm, but unfortunately I don’t see this changing in a similar fashion for professional wrestling. However, the dichotomy still exists, as in both forms of entertainment we’re watching the same old stories, those mythological Gods and Demi-Gods fighting for a sense of justice, combating moral relativism, and showing us who we are through storytelling. They are the only two mediums that do it in the way they do, and if you’re a fan of one, you should give the other a try. I implore you.
Welcome to Comic Rack! My pick of the top five comic news stories in no particular order…
Marvel’s Infinite Comics Launches New Weekly Wolverine Title!
Digital comics are weird. On one hand, they’re obviously the future of the medium, and I don’t mind them per se, but I’ve always preferred the idea of trades being released digitally, rather than individual issues. The bang per buck of a digital trade makes a lot more sense to me than a single issue for $2 or whatever the price may be. I can appreciate the attempt to give digital comics some added value over the printed page, specifically by utilizing the medium of a digital format in creative ways. That doesn’t mean I like it, exactly, and in my opinion I find it a bit redundant. It’s why I never liked “motion comics” or anything, because to me the beauty and simplicity of comics was the utilization of static images to convey motion and a sense of movement in every scene. It’s one of those things that sounds a bit fluffy when you describe it, but it’s a legitimate complaint, I believe. It’s yet to be seen if Infinite Comics will prove to otherwise be successful, but for not it’s an interesting idea, and this Wolverine comic will probably prove if Infinite Comics has legs or not.
Find out more here.
Chris Sprouse Leaves Adventures Of Superman!
A lot has been said about Orson Scott Card and his planned Superman story. The thing about it is, I truly can’t get behind reading the work of a man that vile and terrible. He’s pretty (obviously) famous for his vitriolic and terrible political opinions, and while at heart I think that shouldn’t affect the work itself, it definitely does. I’ve had a couple of discussions about separating the art from the artist and have generally come to the resolution that it’s amicable to do so, but ultimately impossible. A great piece of art can and will be tainted by the real life nature of the person who created it. It’s the focal point in some cases, as with serial killers and their art that is occasionally sold or displayed in museums. Did I just compare Orson Scott Card indirectly with the likes of John Wayne Gacy? Yes, but you know, F the both of them. A brilliant character who stands for acceptance, love and hope like Superman doesn’t need to be written by a hateful bigot like Card anyway, so good on Sprouse for deciding to leave the story. Obviously he can’t full on come out and admit exactly why, but c’mon, we all know why. A side of me is curious as to what Card’s story would have been though. Curious, but glad it didn’t happen.
Find out more here.
Scott Snyder and Jim Lee Unchain Superman
In other, much better Superman news, there’s the wonderful announcement that Scott Snyder and Jim Lee are taking over Superman soon with Superman Unchained, a new book coming out just in time to coincide with Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. Aside from there obviously being a terrifying conspiracy between all those named Snyder working on Superman projects, this sounds and seems pretty damn amazing. For those who haven’t or aren’t reading Scott Snyder’s work on Batman right now, he’s absolutely killing it. Just balls out, hands down killing it every damn month. Normally I’d be pretty worried by a book with just the mere idea and title of a book called Superman Unchained‘, because let’s be honest, that’s kind of a lame title. But the Snyder’s (Scott and Zack, respectively) seem to understand that you can inject some of that tried and true Gritty Edge™ the kids love these days and still keep the Superman character intact. Hopefully they will, anyway. I have more faith in Scott Snyder because he’s a pretty brilliant writer, and the idea of trying new things with the character is an interesting mission statement for the book. I’m looking forward to reading it in line for Man Of Steel come April.
Find out more here.
Astro City Returns!
I’m not terribly familiar with Astro City, I am pretty familiar with Kurt Busiek’s myriad DC works. He’s written a ton of great story arcs in the past and is one of those names that I see on books all the time. He’s not a super notable stand out for me, but I do know the name and know he means quality. It’s not like you’d jump into a book of his and find yourself reading something awful. That being said, perhaps it’s my own ignorance of Astro City that’s kept Busiek from joining the list of names that I immediately gravitate towards every time I approach the wall at my local comic shop. Here’s the description of the book, via [ComicsAlliance]:
[quote]Astro City began as a sort of anthology series in 1995 and followed the superheroes, supervillains and everyday citizens who lived in the eponymous city. Critically-acclaimed, and the recipient of a number of Eisner and Harvey-awards, the series has been on an indefinite hiatus since May of 2010.
The new series will be available in June, but you can find the original series collected at your local comic shop or public library.[/quote]
It certainly sounds interesting, and is yet another title to put on my increasingly longer list of books to read, when I have the time and money.
Marvel’s New Teasers Showcase New Savage Wolverine Creators!
New teasers from Marvel are no surprise, and lately have been hitting pretty much every other day. These new ones are unique in the fact that they are both promoting a new book with very minimal taglines that are very vague… which actually makes them not unique at all and well in line with the rest of Marvel’s teasers.
So the teasers obviously showcase both Wolverine and Spider-Man, along with the creative team of Zeb Wells and Joe Maduiera. It just so happens that this story, which had been previously teased as a Wolverine/Spidey/Elektra mini-series, will now follow Frank Cho’s arc over in The Savage Wolverine, which is apparently aiming to be a team-up book like Avenging Spider-Man. Wells and mad previously worked together on the opening arc of Avenging, and I am looking forward to this new arc for Savage. Seeing Joe Mad draw Wolverine always takes me back to the 90s X-Men stories like Onslaught that I remember so fondly, and I am definitely interested in this new story. – S. Fraser
Find out more here.
That’s all for this week’s edition! We’ll see you next time at the Comic Rack!
The excitement of Spider Island continues in full force in this issue of Spidey! The Jackal and his cohorts are hosting a meeting with all of the major crime families of New York to distribute a little something to the now spider-powered thugs. Spider suits. Almost every Spiderman costume there has been, and he has also given them orders to terrorize the city in every way possible. Not good! Peter in the meantime can’t get over the fact that his gal pal Carlie has spider-powers as well now. What makes it worse is that she flat-out told him instead of keeping it a secret. What a jerk that makes you Mr. Parker! Or it just makes her look like a gossipy woman who can’t keep anything to herself. I’ll let you the readers decide on that one.
Mayor J. Jonah Jameson as you can imagine is happier than a pig in its own excrement due to the fact that his idiotic Aniti Spider Patrol is somewhat relevant for the moment. After all the guy did spend 30 percent of the city budget on it…. good call JJ. A group of folks not so happy are the Avengers who show up in the issue to perform some spider control. I get the feeling that the spider powered criminals may be in over their heads because you have the likes of Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Red Hulk and the Thing whooping their web-clad asses in the issue.
I have to say one of the best moments for me was when Peter showed up in his spider suit to help out and was rewarded by getting pummeled by his comrades. Something tells me that he should have just thought that one over a few minutes longer before jumping into the fray. Overall I give the issue 4 out of 5 grizzlies.
The issue was a bit on the light-hearted side even as all hell breaks loose in New York. I have to say it kind of annoys me continuity wise when an event like this happens during the same time as another event, that one being Fear Itself. How can all of this crap be happening at once?! Regardless, Spider Island is just too much fun for me to care at this point. I hope Dan Slott keeps it up throughout the arc because I am thoroughly entertained. I may be one of the few but I still enjoyed the issue even when I’m not a huge fan of Humberto Ramos’ art. I’ve grown to accept it over the years but not enough to hope he’s drawing one of the books I read.
I have four words to say after reading this comic book: Thank you Mr. Rucka. The fresh start (and another #1 from Marvel) for Frank Castle has been one of my favorites from Marvel so far. Daredevil was great and Moon Knight is right behind but after all of the garbage that The Punisher character has been through this issue was nothing but win all the way through.
Frank Castle was like a ghost in this issue, lurking in the shadows before he would strike and when he did it was fast, bloody and brutal. This is the best Punisher since the MAX series by Garth Ennis, but it’s a step below it in regards to violence and swearing. I don’t mind the swearing being gone and the violence is only one notch down. They aren’t shy with it. I can’t believe I’m saying this but he almost reminded me of Spawn in this issue the way he showed up a couple times, took out some scum and departed.
Obviously I don’t want to see the whole series be about the detective in this story, Walter Bolt, while Castle is just some force of nature lurking in the shadows. I honestly can’t remember where Castle’s story left off because the character took a downward spiral after Civil War and was in the toilet with the abomination that was Franken Castle.
The art, story and return of Frank Castle was truly epic. It may seem like a quick reed because of this dialogue free opening and the last part that recollects events through a police report but the whole thing just flowed seamlessly. Excellent work by Greg Rucka and the artist Marco Checchetto in bringing the Punisher back to respectability. This $3.99 comic is worth every penny and there will be a new one out in two weeks! I can’t wait!