Dennis Hopeless, Serg Acuna, Tam Lattie
Maybe you’re not the sort of person who is drawn in by the premise “Dean Ambrose and Sasha Banks in a monster truck trying to outrun their respective rivals.” Maybe the idea of Sasha Banks diving out the door of a monster truck to attack Charlotte Flair and Dana Brooke doesn’t sound awesome to you. I respect that, I guess, but I don’t understand it.
As great as the premise sounds, the real standout of the issue is the pairing of Ambrose and Banks. It’s not something there’s really any reason for; the two haven’t been paired in WWE in any way. Dean Ambrose entered the company as a member of the popular group The Shield and has since struck out on his own as an anti-authoritarian figure and a general force of utter chaos. Banks, on the other hand, is “The Boss” of the WWE: a self-confident bad ass who isn’t afraid to take her share of risks in the wrestling ring.
The team up works as one of those “Okay, but what if…” scenarios that the comics can explore. While their personalities may deeply differ, the fact that both Dean and Sasha are risk takers who will put their body on the line is a common thread; of course Dean is the sort who builds his own monster truck in 90 minutes and of course Sasha is the type of person who agrees to take the wheel while Dean fights people on the hood. The pairing is very Max and Furiousa: there’s no sexual tension, no romantic involvement. It’s two people with their own problems who end up teamed together. And there’s something utterly joyous in Dean’s appreciation for Sasha’s dive out of the monster truck and onto a speeding convertible, as he throws his head back and exclaims “Lunatic Boss!”
Another highlight is the Deux Ex Machina arrival of Bayley, who in just a few panels is portrayed as her adorable and excitable fangirl self. She arrives driving a VW Bug covered in smiley face stickers with a giant “HUG LIFE” decal across the back and proceeds to talk nonstop about how awesome it is to have Dean Ambrose in her car—a seeming call back to an in-character tweet she posted from 2014: “Ambrose is so cool. He’s like Shawn from Boy Meets World.”
Ambrose is so cool. He's like Shawn from Boy Meets World. #RAW
— Bayley (@itsBayleyWWE) February 25, 2014
All that said, there was a lot in the issue I wasn’t wild about. The art style in these comics remains very hit or miss for me. There are some panels where I was all in: Sasha’s hair is whipping in the air, Ambrose’s eyes shine behind his scruff, the action feels real. At the same time, there’s just as many panels where things almost seem smudged or rushed, where fights and action seems more posed than anything else. The story does feature different pencillers, Tim Lattie drew the first seven pages while series regular Serg Acuna took over for the rest, but the inconsistencies aren’t a first half/second half problem. They are there throughout. It feels more of a problem with the art direction in the comic, not with an individual artist. (And the way Brock Lesnar is drawn in his short appearance, inserted to wrap up loose ends from earlier issues, makes him almost look like a very muscular Ed Asner. Which is honestly kind of terrifying.)
This wavering in quality was also a problem with the dialog. Dennis Hopeless captures some characters very well; Ambrose, Banks and Bayley all feel genuine and Paul Heyman’s short jab comes through convincingly. But at the same time, Bray Wyatt’s speeches feel almost like a bad parody of Bray Wyatt’s promos. They feel like the sort of rambling people claim the character does all the time, rather than a solid attempt at recreating the character’s voice. I will admit that voice is difficult to capture—that is part of Wyatt’s charm—but this was just disruptive for me. Also, the idea that Brock Lesnar would bother using the word “Lunatic” is boggling, even if it is the epithet most regularly applied to Ambrose. There is a reason that Paul Heyman does the talking for Lesnar: left to his own devices, Lesnar spouts things like “SUPLEX CITY, BITCH!” and, my personal favorite, “He’ll have something running down his leg. It’s piss.” “Lunatic” feels like a word that isn’t exactly in his vocabulary.
The back-up feature is a short piece about Paul Bearer watching The Undertaker build a casket for his upcoming casket match against Kamala, the Ugandan Giant. The match took place at Survivor Series 1992, but none of that is shown. Instead the story is from Bearer’s point of view, and we see him thinking about his “terrible secret.” The art is notably stylized and in some ways almost resembles old Addams Family strips. This feels fitting, especially if this is the first in a series of stories building up to the revelation of The Undertaker’s half brother Kane…who is Paul Bearer’s son. A dysfunctional, dark, wrestling family story with art resembling the Addamses is kind of perfect.
All together, I enjoyed the issue for the story, but there was enough “off” to bother me. I do hope to see further quirky team ups in the future, especially with the next few issues set to focus on Roman Reigns. But I also hope the creative team can tighten up some of the factors that detract from the stories they’re trying to tell.