Don’t Call it a Comeback: Wrestling Puts Comics, Comedy & Pop Culture in a Headlock [GIFS]

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thorannual1In the past month or so, I saw a young Thor get drunk and Jon Stewart kick a man in the nuts.

Wait, this is going somewhere, I promise.

The Thor incident occurred in the 2015 Thor Annual, in a short story crediting CM Punk as the writer. Punk, who’s real name is Phil Brooks, is a now-retired professional wrestler, a former champion in celebrated independent federation Ring of Honor, a two time WWE Champion with his second record-setting reign lasting for 434 days, a new signee to UFC with his debut fight taking place sometime in 2015 and, oh, yeah, he is also kind of a huge comic book fan.

headlockAs for Jon Stewart, well, he had it coming. On a recent edition of WWE Raw, WWE Superstar Seth Rollins made an off-handed comment about how he could take over The Daily Show and “make it watchable.” Retiring Daily Show host Jon Stewart, a tiny little man, posted a video calling out Rollins. The barbs continued, leading to Rollins’ showing up on Thursday night’s edition of The Daily Show to challenge Stewart to a brief and very one-sided physical confrontation.

By one-sided I mean…okay, look, Rollins is another former Ring of Honor champion and was the first ever champion in WWE’s spin-off brand and developmental promotion, NXT. Jon Stewart is…what, like three feet tall?

The following week on Monday Night RAW, Rollins continued the taunting, only to be interrupted by Stewart. The Daily Show host entered the arena to much fanfare, entered the ring and proceeded to do a talk segment proving an incredible knowledge of and love for professional wrestling. This time, when Rollins got physical, Stewart took advantage of a distraction and kicked him right in the nards.

That’s right. Mr. Money in the Bank’s got nards.

jon-sethThe point is: professional wrestling is once again slowly climbing its way back into the mainstream.

It’s certainly not the first time. There was a major boom in the 1980s. Big name fans included the likes of Cindy Lauper, Muhammad Ali, and even Andy Warhol. Then, in the late 90s and early 2000s, another burst of popularity led to mainstream recognition and the launch of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s acting career.

But this time it feels a little different. Because the ways that wrestlers are sneaking into our culture these days feel a little…well, geekier. They’re on our comedy satire shows. They’re all over podcasts; guys like Colt Cabana, Steve Austin, and Chris Jericho all have their own weekly shows available out there. Former WWE champion Dave Bautista is Drax The Destroyer in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So they’re in our comic book movies.

And, as evidenced by CM Punk’s Thor Annual story (which features a drinking contest between Thor Odinson and a time traveling Mephesto), they’re in our comics.

This isn’t actually surprising, though. The link between wrestling and comics is nothing new. Professional wrestling was a huge part of Love and Rockets’ “Locas” storylines. Bane, The Man Who Broke the Bat, has a character history as a luchador. A number of popular Mexican and Japanese wrestlers have been popular enough in the ring that their characters have been given their own comic book series. One major example is the luchadore Mistico, who appeared for the WWE.

Speaking of the WWE (formerly the WWF, the name was changed in 2002, due in part to legal conflicts with the World Wildlife Fund), they have their own storied comics history. They partnered with Valiant comics in 1991, to release a campy series of “Battlemania” comics. During the late 90s resurgence, WWE launched “special edition” comics featuring several of their most popular characters, including The Undertaker and Mankind. In between his work for WCW and WWE, wrestler Kevin Nash released an independent self-written series that mostly featured his character/himself in a post-Apocalyptic wasteland where he rode a motorcycle and had sex with hot women. No, really, that was pretty much it.  If you ever wanted to see way too many illustrations of Kevin Nash’s butt, well, there’s a comic out there that will meet your needs.

There was also an Ultimate Warrior comic book series, but it seems too soon after his sudden 2014 passing to mock it. And I can’t talk about that series without a lot of mocking.

As for right now, there is a current “WWE Superstars” series co-written by Mick Foley (formerly Cactus Jack, Dude Love, and Mankind, currently just a completely awesome human being). But more on that in the future. Hopefully.

But it goes beyond that, because Phil “CM Punk” Brooks isn’t the only guy in and around wrestling with a love for comics. Just a quick rundown off the top of my head:

  • Shane “Hurricane” Helms, former WCW and WWE wrestler, sports a Green Lantern tattoo on his arm and for years performed under a superhero gimmick, complete with mask, cape, heroic theme music, and two different sidekicks: Mighty Molly and Rosie, the Super Hero In Training. You see what they did there?
  • Daniel Bryan, an incredible performer who headlined last year’s Wrestlemania XXX, is a self-admitted comic book fan. Beyond that, his ring attire has been designed by comic creator Jill Thompson (Sandman, Wonder Woman, and The Invisibles).
Jill Thompson's "dragon jersey" design.

Jill Thompson’s “dragon jersey” design.

  • Cody Rhodes, who may or may not be the same person as the mysterious Stardust, is a long time comics fan whose knowledge ended up coming in handy professionally. He ended up channeling the likes of Red Skull and Doctor Doom when working on a villainous version of his character, even adding a protective plastic mask to his look, leading many of us to endearingly call him “Cody Von Doom.” He’s also had ring gear designed that was a cross between Mr. Sinister and Assassin’s Creed. A repeated guest for Marvel.com’s “Fighting Fanboys” column, he’s talked many times about how his favorite character is Cyclops. This, folks, is proof that no one is perfect.
  • Rey Mysterio, one of the best known luchadores in American wrestling, has honored a number of his favorite comic characters with custom ring gear for past Wrestlemanias, including Daredevil, The Flash, and Captain America.
  • AJ Lee, WWE’s resident “geek Diva,” and record setting WWE Divas Champion, has openly declared her love for comics repeatedly, citing Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye and Image Comics Saga as just two of the titles she loves. She’s also done photo shoots sporting comic book shirts, including the logo of one of her favorites, Dark Phoenix Jean Grey.
  • Sasha Banks, current NXT Women’s champion, has a special place in her heart for magical girls, especially (obviously) Sailor Moon.
  • Sami Zayn, former NXT Champion, admitted on a recent episode of Chris Jericho’s podcast that he is a fan of Archie comics. The company responded by sending him a huge stash of comics, which he showed off in a selfie on Twitter

  • And finally, Triple H, former WWE champion who is now a major part of the business end of things, who has used multiple Wrestlemania’s as an excuse to basically appear in Conan the Barbarian cosplay.

There’s more I could go on about. Because let’s face it, if you’re already a fan of comics it’s not exactly a stretch to pursue a career where you get to put on a spandex or latex costume and go out and fight the forces of good and/or evil in battles on an epic scale where, in the aftermath, Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again. At least until the next retcon.

It’s enough of a part of wrestling culture that when former WWE wrestler Brodus Clay, now performing for Total Nonstop Action under the name “Tyrus,” was asked about the reaction to openly gay wrestler Darren Young’s coming out, his answer concluded with, “Honestly, we’re probably more angry if someone’s not reading comic books than whether they’re gay or straight.”

From the creator end of things? Jill Thompson’s a fan. So is Becky Cloonan, who even modeled a character after WWE’s Triple H, who models HIMSELF after Conan the Barbarian on occasion. Gerard Way of The Umbrella Academy suggested he write a theme song for The Cosmic Twins, Golddust and Stardust, who are very cosmic but not actually twins.

So there’s definitely something to be said about the places where comics, pop culture, and professional wrestling intersect, although not all of those places involve an award-winning comedian kicking a very, very pretty crossfit junkie in the balls.

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Ashly is a writer, part-time ghost tour guide and magical girl wrestler. One time she kicked a pigeon and she still feels awful about it

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