WWE’s Royal Rumble match is a major yearly event, heralded as “The Beginning of the Road To Wrestlemania.” The match itself is massive: 30 participants, two starting the match, and the other 28 entering at 90 second intervals (give or take). The goal is to be the last person standing after everyone else has been eliminated. For most of the Rumble’s history, the winner receives a guaranteed match for the top title at that summer’s Wrestlemania.
There are plenty of records surrounding the WWE Royal Rumble. For example:
- Most Royal Rumble Wins: Stone Cold Steve Austin (3)
- Most Cumulative Time in Royal Rumble Matches: Chris Jericho (4 hours, 56 minutes)
- Longest Time Spent in a Single Royal Rumble: Rey Mysterio (1 hour, 2 minutes, 12 seconds)
- Shortest Time Spent in the Royal Rumble: Santino Marella (1 second)
- Most Eliminations in a Single Royal Rumble: Roman Reigns (12)
It was in 2014 that Roman Reigns broke the previous elimination record held by Kane. But hey, after all, records are made to be broken.
So here is when I get to sound like a broken record. How in the hell do you have 30 years of Royal Rumble history and couldn’t find one women’s story to tell? To be fair, the Royal Rumble issue does better than the Survivor Series issue did with this. Sensational Sherri appears in a major role in the story Randy Savage: Not a Show King. But as the title implies it’s not her story; it’s “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s.
If and when this trend continues in the Wrestlemania special, I’m going to stop commenting on it because, frankly, it is like banging my head up against a brick wall. But it bears mentioning as WWE and BOOM! hype the upcoming arc in their monthly title, which is set to focus on their “Women’s Revolution,” and the increasing role of women in the company. It becomes hard to believe in their commitment, though, when not a single one of their specials has included a story highlighting any revolutionary women’s moments in WWE.
The Randy Savage story is the stand out in the issue. During the 1991 event, Savage interfered in a championship match between current champion The Ultimate Warrior and Sergeant Slaughter, during Slaughter’s embarrassing “Iraqi Sympathizer” gimmick. This was during the beginnings of the Gulf War, with Operation Desert Shield beginning just days before the Rumble Event. Slaughter had long been portrayed as a patriotic American hero, he had his own G.I. Joe for crying out loud, but in 1990 he “turned his back” on the US and turned heel (“evil”): he began wearing a keffiyeh and agal and cutting anti-American promos. This was not the proudest moment in WWE history.
Before the Slaughter/Warrior match, Sensational Sherri tried to convince Warrior to give Macho Man a title shot. Warrior, of course, refused, because the power of the Warrior cannot be swayed by the sweet promises of mortal womanflesh. Or something like that. Macho King, in response, ran to the ring during Warrior and Slaughter’s championship match, took his royal scepter, hit Warrior over the head with it and allowed Slaughter to capture the title.
This is not the story told in the comic, however. The story is actually about what happened later that night, when Savage was supposed to enter the actual Royal Rumble Battle Royal match. I say “supposed to” because he no-showed the match, having fled in fear for his life from Ultimate Warrior’s powers of destructicity. The comic by Ryan Ferrier and Kendall Goode actually follows Savage from this point on as he grabs Sherri and makes for the parking lot for a Kingly getaway.
I genuinely laughed out loud several times during this story. It does a terrific job of taking the over the top and wonderfully ridiculous characters of late ’80s/early ’90s WWE and placing them in “the real world.” In this case, it involves Macho and Sherri commandeering a station wagon that turns out to belong to Jake the Snake Roberts. Warrior pursues them on foot. Then there’s a fight in “Heenan’s House of Pancakes.” It is like this story was written for me.
The dialog rests in a spot that’s perfectly appropriate for the situation, where you can’t tell if it’s parody or completely accurate. Standout lines for me included “…Gettin’ pretty weird in this station wagon, YEAHHH!” and “FOAMED LACTOSE! The Warrior’s only weakness!” But really you need to read the entire 11 pages to get the full effect of the best story I’ve read in any of these specials. [Unfortunately none of this story’s pages are included in the BOOM! preview! You’ll have to flick through the issue to see’em —Ed.]
The runner up in the Rumble Issue is the New Day focused “Mr. Royal Rumble,” a series of flashbacks revisiting the best Rumble moments of Kofi Kingston. For those not familiar with the rules of the actual Rumble match, participants are only eliminated if they meet two criteria: they MUST be knocked over the top rope and both of their feet MUST hit the floor. So big thumbs up belongs to artist Dominike “Domo” Stanton who has the challenge of illustrating the utterly ridiculous stunts that Kofi has pulled to avoid being eliminated. These have included walking on his hands, hopping a chair back to the ring (which looks much less awkward in the Stanton illustrations than it did in real life) and riding fellow New Day member Big E’s shoulders. The dialog here also feels genuine, helped by the fact that the real team’s promo style always feels very natural and conversational, but naturalistic speech can be hard to land in a comic if you try too hard. That’s kind of the key with the New Day: it’s not about forcing things, it’s about letting things happen organically. Also, unicorns.
Ironically, the big draw for this special issue is a story written by current WWE World Champion, AJ Styles. Styles carries with him a celebrated 20 year career in wrestling, including major title reigns in TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan, along with four title runs in WWE (two as the United States Champion and two as World Champion). It is no real wonder that his title is “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles. But beside his in-ring accomplishments, his art has actually appeared in the indie comic Headlocked, written by Michael Kingston.
Kingston joins Styles as his cowriter for the story about AJ’s WWE debut at the Royal Rumble in 2016. While there had been rumors about Styles joining WWE prior to the event, no one saw the actual reveal coming. The first entrant in the 2016 Rumble was Roman Reigns, the reigning (no pun intended) champion who would be defending his title in the match: whoever won the Rumble walked out the World Champion.
Reigns quickly eliminated the #2 entrant, Bulgarian powerhouse Rusev. Fans counted down with the timer for the third entrant, while Reigns paced alone in the ring. When the buzzer sounded, it was followed by an unfamiliar music cue, a hip-hop beat that didn’t belong to any current WWE Superstars. Slowly, words began to appear on the TitanTron, the huge screen that dominates the entrance area.
The crowd reaction was deafening. This is the scene Styles’ story closes on in the BOOM special. The rest of the story shows him in the moments backstage beforehand, interacting with old friends, old enemies, and with WWE suits showing him their proposals for his first merchandise. He’s also shown talking to John Cena, who did not actually appear at the 2016 Rumble, but in the story has arrived to talk to Styles on his first night.
The wonderful–or should I say “phenomenal”–part about this story is that it reads like a great mix of real life and “kayfabe,” (to quote my previous explanation, kayfabe is “keeping up the illusion that everything that happens in the ring is genuine”). It’s obvious a lot of the conversation between Styles and Cena is kayfabe, the two arguing as if they are legitimately competing for the title instead of the decision being made by writers and booking agents and ultimate Vince McMahon himself, for better or worse. Same with Styles’ phone call to his long-time friends, and fellow members of the wrestling faction The Bullet Club, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. At this point Gallows and Anderson were still wrestling in Japan, but in the comic Styles insists the two hurry up and join him in WWE, so they can “beat up John Cena.” That quote comes from a later feud between AJ and Cena, where AJ bragged that all he was going to do every day was “Beat up John Cena.”
But moments like AJ reuniting with fellow indie workers Cesaro and Sami Zayn, as well as the beginning of his conversation with Cena, feel like they are completely factual. The moment that I believe is the most genuine is Styles talking to the WWE suits, looking over merch proposals with slogans like “The Redneck Rookie.” Not only do I think this actually happened, I believe that Styles included his exact response in the pages of this comic “Y’all know I’ve been wrestling for seventeen years, right?” Their response is “With all due respect, Mr. Styles, you haven’t done it here, yet.”
Which brings me to the first story in the issue. When “Nature Boy” Ric Flair debuted in WWE in 1991, he was already a wrestling legend. He had been part of Jim Crockett’s National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) since 1974, during which time he held multiple titles and formed the first version of the infamous wrestling stable The Four Horsemen.
But the biggest problem in WWE, historically and to this day, is their insistence that only what happens in WWE matters. Any triumphs someone may have had in the indies, in New Japan, in any other promotion? They don’t matter. Even records and titles held in their own NXT brand are considered “lesser.” In fact, former NXT Women’s Champion Asuka arrived on the “main roster” last year, bringing with her an unprecedented undefeated streak. Since her NXT debut on October 7, 2015, she has not been pinned or submitted in a match. She held the NXT Women’s title for 510 days, her undefeated streak has long since passed the one held by wrestling legend Bill Goldberg during his time in WCW. They’ve continued to mention this streak on Raw, but with the very important caveat that “this was in NXT, not in the actual WWE.” Even as Asuka continues to win match after match, color commentator Booker T went on a rant about how “it doesn’t matter what you’ve done before, all that matters is what you’re doing now.” He was saying this, by the way, as she was winning yet another match on the “main roster.”
I mention all of this because the story that opens this Royal Rumble special is based around that same message. The story catches up with Ric Flair just after he wins the 1992 Royal Rumble to become WWE champion. This was the first time the premier title was defended in the Royal Rumble and it wouldn’t be repeated until 2016. Flair had come into the match at #3, lasting over an hour before he eliminated Sid Justice. The opening panels of the comic focus on Flair hoisting the belt as he leaves Justice in the ring, heading to the locker room with his associates Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and “Mr. Perfect” Kurt Hennig. What follows is a very long conversation about how Ric Flair was great in those little Southern territories, but he can’t compete with the men in the Big Leagues of the WWE.
A little bit more WWE history for you. The WWE was actually created when Vince McMahon Jr. began buying smaller wrestling companies or “territories” from under his own father’s nose. He combined all of them into one massive company, then known as the WWWF, later the WWF and much later the WWE, which has been applied to all of the company’s shows retroactively.
There were many of the smaller companies that held out on selling to Vince, and Vince being a reasonable and mature adult responded by being a total jerk. This is a trend that would continue on until, oh, right now as you’re reading this. Consider the treatment he gave Dusty Rhodes, a huge success outside of WWE: he dressed him in polka dots and had him mocked on TV. There were similar treatments to other territory favorites who eventually found their way under the iron fist of Vince McMahon, stars who were brought in while announcers pretended not to know who they were, entire histories erased, the beyond talented women’s wrestler Rhonda Singh who was forced into fishnets and portrayed as “the queen of the trailer park” because of her size and weight.
So, I can’t help but read the first story in this collection as yet more propaganda of “the WWE is the only thing that matters.” It’s akin to the Montreal Screwjob story from the Survivor Series special, which sought to excuse Shawn Michaels of all culpability in the humiliation of Bret Hart. It’s the company’s party line, repeated with the subtlety of a Tombstone Piledriver.
It isn’t that the story is bad. It’s well told, if a little low on action to kick off a wrestling comic. But the dialog, Flair’s confidence in himself and a moment where Hennig and Heenan simultaneously point to each other saying “He’s got something to tell you” all stuck out to me. And Roderigo Lorenzo’s art and Doug Garbark’s coloring are stylized so that the comic looks like it came from the era it was set in. You can almost feel the thin paper pages of early 90’s books even while reading it digitally. Some of the faces feeling out of perspective fits this aesthetic theme, whether intentional or not.
Overall, I enjoyed this issue, probably more than any of the previous specials I’ve reviewed. The Savage story is so strong I could argue it alone is worth the purchase. But at a $7.99 price point that’s a hard position to take. I can say that three of the four stories genuinely entertained me; the critiques I have of the Flair story may not bother people who aren’t obnoxious smarks the way I am and AJ Styles’ hair looks absolutely and appropriately luscious.
Just, ya know, maybe next time throw in a story about Kharma or Beth Phoenix or something?