WWE Survivor Series 2017 Special #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writers: Dennis Hopeless, Box Brown, Derek Fridolfs, Kevin Paneta, Lan Pitts, Aaron Gillespie
Artists: Lucas Werneck, Rodrigo Lorenzo, Derek Fridolfs, Kendall Goode, Kelly Williams, Tim Lattie
Colorists: Jeremy Lawson, Doug Garbark, Fred Stresing, Dee Cunniffe,
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Main Cover: Rahzzah
WWE What If? Incentive Cover: Jim Rugg
Unlocked Retailer Cover: Juan Doe
I really hate repeating myself.
I am well-aware that the people behind WWE’s Boom comic series are unaware of me and my criticisms of the title; even if somehow they are aware, the odds that they would change anything based on one of my reviews are pretty much the same as Enzo Amore retiring Brock Lesnar. In other words: there are no odds, it’s never going to happen.
But I feel like my biggest issue with the Survivor Series special isn’t even something that should need to be mentioned in this day and age, in wrestling or in comics, because both mediums have made claims that they are diligently trying to be better about this particular topic. Yet somehow, just like with SummerSlam, the Survivor Series Special fails to include a single story that centers around a moment in WWE Women’s history. Out of six stories, not a single one even involves a named female character. The only woman to even show up in the 40 pages of story is a radio DJ interviewing Kurt Angle— her name is never even mentioned in passing. Like with SummerSlam, I can understand a major obstacle here is the lack of big women’s wrestling moments in the history of the event. For a long time the attitude towards women’s wrestling matches in WWE was that they were the “bathroom break” match: a time filler to let people get up from their seats without the risk of missing anything important. Even if it was a title match it was less important, that point was hammered home when for years the only title for the women in the company was a butterfly design in pink and purple rhinestones.
When you start with that limited history, it gets even harder when you have to exclude moments for certain reasons. Chyna defeating Chris Jericho to retain her Intercontinental Championship (otherwise a men’s title) wasn’t an option as she is still considered a persona non grata in the company. A story about Nikki Bella beginning her record setting Diva’s Title reign could be compelling, since it involved her twin sister Brie turning heel and helping her win for reasons that were never really explained. But to tell the story of that 33 second match you’d have to include Nikki’s opponent, AJ Lee, who retired from the company the following year and who the WWE has swiftly worked to erase from their history books. But all that said? There are stories that could be told. I found them. I could list them here, but honestly? That shouldn’t be my job.
It should fall on WWE and BOOM! to make sure those stories are included, not because they “have” to but because they should want to, and they should see those moments as being just as important as some of the other moments that made the cut for the issue. Those moments are a mixed bag.
The issue opens up with the story of the Survivor Series Screw Job, aka The Montreal Screw Job. In 1997, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels was challenging Bret “The Hitman” Hart for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. But what was going to happen in the ring paled in comparison to the backstage drama that was ongoing between Michaels, Hart and company owner Vince McMahon. Hart had decided to leave WWE for their major competitor, WCW. The two companies were locked in what’s become known as “The Monday Night Wars,” a battle for ratings superiority between their Monday night shows. To say there was some bad blood there is a major understatement. The story has since been told from all sides with different rationales and different recollections— no matter what the truth is, and it is probably somewhere in the intersection of the points of view, the night played out in unforgettable fashion.
The match went back and forth until Shawn Michaels put Bret Hart into his own signature submission hold, the Sharpshooter, and held it longer than the two had planned. At ringside, Vince McMahon ordered the match ended and declared Michaels the winner. Hart was never told this was going to happen. Hence, he was “screwed.”
I hate using terms like “real” and “fake” to describe wrestling; we don’t use those words when we’re talking about TV or movies, we don’t call Supergirl “fake” because it’s scripted, we don’t say Wonder Woman was “fake” because the ends of the fight scenes were pre-planned. To apply those words to wrestling because it is fictionalised performance feels weird to me. But it’s true that wrestling at its best feels like the most real thing in the world (as any performer can tell you, the falls and the slams and the injuries are very, very real), so confusion is understandable when a person learns there’s choreography involved, and there’s even a term in professional wrestling, “kayfabe,” which means keeping up the illusion that everything that happens in the ring is genuine. That the rivalries are real, that the fights are genuine. And that’s part of what keeps the Screwjob alive in legend.
The Survivor Series Screwjob managed to change wrestling forever because it pulled back the curtain just enough to make people, even people au fait with kayfabe, feel a need to question what is and isn’t “real” in wrestling. The screwjob’s immortality is part of what keeps SummerSlam’s legacy relevant, so including a screwjob story in this special makes a lot of sense. The comic, of course, portrays everything as kayfabe: Hart and Michaels were really fighting for the title and McMahon calling for the bell was wrong because Hart never actually tapped. This was strange to read, but not necessarily a problem. The problem is that the story is told from Shawn Michael’s POV, the least interesting point of view they could have used.
Focusing on Michaels means the story becomes an attempt to absolve him of any wrongdoing. There have always been rumors that Michaels was aware of the plan to screw Brett; Michaels has always insisted he was in fact totally unaware of how Vince intended the events to play out in Montreal. The story also wants us to sympathize with Shawn by the end— while he was victorious in the end the real legacy of 1997 Survivor Series wasn’t his win but Hart’s loss. But the story feels very “don’t blame me, don’t you see how I was the real victim here?” Which is never a good look.
Honestly? The most interesting choice would have been to tell the story from the point of view of Vince McMahon. It was his actions that night at Survivor Series that transformed him into a tyrannical corporate overlord. The Mr. McMahon character was pivotal in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s rise as the new face of WWE, playing Austin’s beer-swilling everyman character against McMahon as his corrupt corporate boss. By the following year a new dynamic was established; WWE’s weekly narrative became the working class and the outcasts against McMahon’s corporate machine and those who aligned with him for their own gain.
Telling the story about how it was this one moment that revealed what McMahon really was could have been a really great take. Was it desperation to prevent Hart from getting one up on him that finally forced his hand, showing everyone what he was willing to do with his power? What was the driving force behind him becoming the biggest villain in WWE?
(One other small nitpick about this story: during Triple H’s brief appearance in the locker room, he’s depicted wearing short wrestling trunks. He didn’t begin wearing those until years later, at the time the story is set he was still wearing full-length tights. It was a two panel cameo and ultimately doesn’t matter, but it bugged me.)
The rest of the stories are a mixed bag. The only one that stood out for me was Derek Fridolf, Fred Stresing and Jim Campbell taking on the short, strange story of the Goobeldy Gooker, the giant turkey that hatched from an egg at Survivor Series in 1990. I want to give you more context, I really do, but there isn’t any. A giant egg hatched at ringside, revealing a man in a turkey costume, he danced around in the ring with announcer “Mean” Gene Okerland and was never seen again. Fridolf’s art style works perfectly here, I’m becoming a fan of him as the designated “WWE has done some weird stuff” artist in these specials (I had previously enjoyed his take on The Bushwhackers in the SummerSlam special). The previously mentioned story about Kurt Angle’s WWE debut was all right, if a bit forgettable.
The story about Ted Dibiase recruiting The Undertaker has a great and fitting look, but ultimately felt too similar to other shorts featuring The Phenom in BOOM!’s WWEseries. The retelling of Goldberg taking on Brock Lesnar in 2016 did justice to the shortness of the match and the shock of Lesnar getting no offense in, but I wish it had just been the entrance and the action without the set up and dialog. It would have perfectly captured the feeling of watching the match take place. The story I looked forward to the most left me completely disappointed. I’ve mentioned before that I am a huge fan of the trio known as The Shield and a story about their decision to crash Survivor Series 2012 was right up my alley. The writing was good, hinting that from the very beginning Triple H was manipulating the trio and planning to split them when they were no longer useful. However, the art did not fit the story at all, Tim Lattie’s drawings managed to make Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns outright ugly—and that isn’t exactly easy to do. The three young talents look haggard, Reigns is almost unrecognizable. The final panel makes Seth Rollins look as if his head is half-shaved rather than bleached white!
Overall, this special was a let down. I am beginning to feel like the comics work the same way the Pay Per View schedules do: the regular monthly events tell some interesting stories but the big four special events end up feeling like a mishmash. We’ll see if this trend holds up in January with the first ever Royal Rumble special, featuring a story co-written by WWE Superstar AJ Styles. Who is a great wrestler, but also a flat-Earther and allegedly a homophobe. So maybe I won’t get my hopes up.