Dennis Hopeless (Writer) Serg Acuña (Artist)
September 27, 2017
It’s the Big Dog’s turn to shine in WWE.
Issue #9 starts the third arc of the series. After concentrating on Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, we naturally move on to Roman Reigns. We also move onto the character hardest to tackle.
The comics have gone into depth on this, but I’m going to throw out a quick refresher here anyway. Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns debuted on WWE TV together as a group known as The Shield. Wearing paramilitary-inspired gear, they touted themselves as “the shield against injustice.” Of course, their idea of “injustice” was highly debatable, as it usually is in wrestling. Their claim was taking “revenge” on guys like John Cena, who they saw as keeping younger and less appreciated guys from succeeding. They were the best kind of wrestling bad guys: the ones who had just enough of a salient point to get you on board with them.
Eventually The Shield ended up becoming the heavies for The Authority, who ruled the company with an iron fist. After months of this, the so-called Hounds of Justice finally got sick and tired of being ordered to do dirty work while being disrespected and treated like, in their own words, “ponies.”
(Shout-out to this interview for having one of my favorite Seth Rollins moments ever.)
So, The Shield turns on the Authority, survives two incredible matches against the group Evolution, and then when things were at their best… Seth Rollins attacked Dean and Roman with a chair to side with their enemies.
Since the end of The Shield, Roman has been the character who has struggled the most with the WWE audiences. In reality it’s been largely due to missteps caused by writing and by trying to put the spotlight on a guy who wasn’t ready at the time. Desperate to get Roman “over” (popular) with the fans, the company has done just about everything outside of offering fans $5 for every time they cheer for Roman during shows. The problem isn’t Roman himself–he’s managed to improve exponentially since late 2014 when this all began–but with an out-of-touch corporate team trying to make him into what they think the fans want, he’s essentially become WWE’s version of Poochie.
The comic picks up immediately after the end of issue #8, where Dean Ambrose wins the Money in the Bank Ladder match. His reward is a contract that promises him a World Title shot at the time and place of his choosing. Almost every previous cash-in has happened after the champion has been through a physically demanding match or been blindsided, attacked and incapacitated. At this point, only two cash-ins have failed: Damien Sandow, who gave his opponent too long to recover, and John Cena– who announced his intent to cash-in a week in advance.
The issue mostly looks at Roman’s title defense at Money in the Bank 2016 against former Shield brother Seth Rollins. Despite being presented as the hero, Roman enters the arena to a chorus of boos (which draws from real life responses) while Seth, the villain returning from a major knee injury, is cheered. We’re in Roman’s head as he tries to ignore the crowd’s derision, but it’s clear how much it really gets to him.
The match serves as framing story as we flashback to other moments in Roman’s life. He was born into the famed Anoa’i wresting dynasty, a family that produced WWE stars Yokozuna, Umaga, The Wild Samoas Afa and Sika, Rosey, Rikishi, Jimmy and Jey Uso, Nia Jax and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In addition, famed wrestler Rocky Johnson (Dwayne’s father) and current WWE Women’s star Naomi have married into the family.
Through flashbacks we see Roman growing up watching wrestling and trying to piece together how heroes and villains work in the WWE. Which you can’t blame him for; there’s a lot of adult fans who can’t quite work that out, including myself. The hard-learned lesson seems to be that even when you act like a hero, it doesn’t mean the crowd is going to cheer for you. All you can do is keep doing what you think is right.
There’s also a ridiculous flashback to Roman’s high school football days, where he does his “lock and load” theatrics before a play. Later, he wins a post-game fight with the other team by using his signature wrestling moves: the spear and the Superman punch. When he follows this all up with his future howl taunt, the reaction from the other kids around him is just them staring and a single “What?” from a background character.
When Reigns eventually loses the match, the explanation given is that he was momentarily distracted by the fans booing. He watches from ringside in shock as Dean Ambrose comes out, cashes in the Money in the Bank contract that he won earlier that night, and immediately pins Rollins to become the new champion. The scene that follows is Ambrose extending his hand to Reigns in friendship, and Reigns slapping the hand away in anger.
That moment felt strange to me. It fit the foreshadowing in the first couple of pages where Reigns is torn by his feelings on Dean winning the briefcase: it means his friend has achieved something great and is basically guaranteed to win the World Title. But it also means his own title is at risk and gives him reason to distrust his best friend. At the same time, it kind of goes against other interactions between the two, including a moment at the Royal Rumble where they were two of the last people left and Dean grabbed Roman’s head and pressed their foreheads together in a show of solidarity. Also, a moment when the two of them were in direct competition during a multi-man match and the reaction to the face off was Dean saying “Loser buys the beers?” and Roman smiling and essentially saying “Let’s go.”
Since this was the end of the story it’s hard to say slapping the hand away is out of character. It’s very likely we’ll see this come up in the next issue; there’s plenty of room for Roman to struggle with what just happened and his greater questions of good and bad in a world where they can be very subjective. One thing the issue does very well is give more substance to Roman, and it presents us with a lot of philosophical questions, which seems pretty deep for a comic about professional wrestling. I’m not sold on all of it quite yet, but it’s enough for me to give it a chance.
But we’ve got to tackle a huge problem here. The solicitation for this issue promised a completely different story that it didn’t deliver.
The comic was solicited as, “Roman Reigns has fended off all challengers during the start of his Championship run, but will the rising Roman Empire be able to survive the Wyatt Family?”
The Wyatts still pursuing the former members of The Shield has been an ongoing theme in the comics so far. They had an incredible and short feud in February of 2014 and one of the best parts of the comics is that they’ve further explored how that might have continued behind the scenes. The cover for this issue even shows Bray, with the booing crowds worked into his beard as they hover over Roman Reigns.
Bray Wyatt appears nowhere in the issue.
Nowhere. Definitely not directly in the narrative and not even appearing in the shadows backstage, or hovering as Roman stalks up the ramp telling Dean, “And stop calling me brother.” Maybe this is a personal gripe, but don’t promise me Bray Wyatt and then not give me Bray Wyatt! (Though I do have great things to say about Eric Garza’s Bray Wyatt variant cover. The black and white rendering with just a blink of red in Bray’s tattoo captures the Wyatt family atmosphere, complete with requisite fireflies.)
The issue’s secondary story is a short piece about Golddust, a character whose WWE history is long and storied. Portrayed by Dustin Rhodes, son of The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, Golddust was essentially a villainous drag queen. Accompanied to the ring by his glamorous cigar-smoking manager Marlena, Golddust would appear in a golden robe and long blonde wig, which he discarded before the match began. He was known for flirting and groping with his opponents, his tactics largely centered around unsettling them with his ambiguous gender and sexuality.
Look, folks, there’s a lot about wrestling in the 90’s that I can’t defend.
The two-page story in the comic, however, concentrates on the reasons Dustin became Golddust, as he talks about growing up “in the shadow of a dream.” It’s an interesting read, though far too short. The glittering effect in the backgrounds of each panel are excellent, though, because they feel like they represent both being part of a dream and the glitter of gold. I hope this is continued into the next issue, because there’s a lot of room left to explore.
Overall, this issue feels like whiplash compared to last month’s high action offering. There is the in-ring action that dominates the framing story, but it doesn’t quite balance out the often dialog-heavy flashbacks. It feels necessary, after all, as Roman is a harder sell of a character, but I wouldn’t suggest this as an intro issue for anyone. And if you’re not a Reigns fan, I’m not going to tell you this will change your mind. Because I’m pretty sure it’s already made up.