WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Bodes Well for the Future of Wrestling Comics

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<i>WWE: Then. Now. Forever.</i> Bodes Well for the Future of Wrestling Comics

Writers: Dennis Hopeless, Ross Thibodeaux, Rob Schamberger, Derek Fridolfs
Artists: Dan Mora, Daniel Bayliss, Rob Guillory, Rob Schamberger, Derek Fridolfs
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Release Date: November 9, 2016

Those of us who have closely followed the development of BOOM! Studios’ new line of licensed WWE comics may remember the publisher initially promised stories firmly grounded in quasi-plausible pro-wrasslin’ reality. So when Erick Rowan appears behind the wheel of a big green monster truck in WWE: Then. Now. Forever—a de facto issue 0 for a series debuting in January—it feels like a betrayal.

Erick Rowan is a follower of Bray Wyatt—a doomsday guru properly analogized as the offspring of Max Cady and Squeaky Fromme. As established on numerous episodes of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown, The Wyatt Family can magically appear and disappear via hillbilly magic. But never once have we seen Wyatt or any of his footsoldiers operate a monster truck. Why would they ever need to? Bray Wyatt can frickin’ teleport, man!

WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Interior Art by Dan Mora

Making the transgression even more egregious, Dennis Hopeless masterfully lands the other characterizations in Then. Now. Forever., which indicates that he knows good and gosh-darn well that Rowan would never drive a monster truck, and simply doesn’t care. The book’s primary yarn retells and expands upon the 2014 dissolution of The Shield—arguably the most significant WWE plot point of the modern era. Noted Scott Stapp lookalike Seth Rollins betrays best buds and fellow Shield members Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose at the behest of evil authority figure Triple H. In and of itself, this is not an unusual scenario—wrestlers form alliances and turn on each other for myriad reasons all the time. But Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins all went on to successful individual careers, thus long-term implications give The Shield’s splintering tremendous retroactive importance.

WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Interior Art by Dan Mora

Funnily enough, Hopeless makes his most insightful, impressive effort in Then. Now. Forever. with a single line of dialogue spoken by Triple H in one of the only two panels in which “The Game” appears. When Trips announces the start of a secret, pre-Shield-destroying meeting with Rollins, he asks, “Now, shall we step inside my embarrassing yacht and discuss a little business?” Triple H’s bashfulness about flaunting wealth, even while orchestrating what’s essentially the wrestling version of a mob hit, denotes downright obsessive attention to detail and major wrestling nerd bona fides on the part of the creative team.

WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Interior Art by Dan Mora

A real life WWE corporate executive and husband of company part-owner Stephanie McMahon, Triple H’s TV character has had major consistency problems in recent years. Sometimes he’s presented as the Machiavellian, sledge-hammer-wielding sociopath persona associated with his numerous runs as world champion. In other contexts—particularly during cameos on NXT—he comes off like a humble, encouraging big brother figure to up-and-coming talents. Instead of picking one iteration or the other—like WWE writers probably should’ve done a while ago—Hopeless melds Trips’ Machiavellian and self-deprecating sides.

WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Interior Art by Dan Mora

Like the writing, Dan Mora’s art scans as solid, but only so without prior knowledge of WWE’s comings-and-goings-on. When Rollins whacks Reigns in the back with a steel chair, Mora devotes a whole panel to the shock and anguish that only lasted on Ambrose’s face for a few seconds on television. On the page, the sublime heartbreak of the grappler nicknamed “The Lunatic Fringe” hangs frozen for a brief moment before he too, gets whacked with a chair, emphasizing an emotional dimension that professional wrestling usually ignores. When your best friend screws you over and then beats you unconscious with a blunt object, it is perfectly acceptable, if not downright healthy, to have a good cry about it. Unfortunately, there’s no crying allowed on Monday Night Raw.

WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Interior Art by Dan Mora

Then. Now. Forever. also includes three supplementary stories. In the first—illustrated with a bit more cartoony panache than The Shield’s section—lovable dorks The New Day embark on a quest through space-time. Unlike The Wyatts’ monster truck-related shenanigans, time travel absolutely syncs with WWE canon as long as Kofi Kingston, Big E. Langston and Xavier Woods pilot the faux Tardis. Then there’s a quick recap of Sasha Banks’ career penned and painted by Rob Schamberger, and a two-page tale featuring The Natural Disasters in the style of a vintage Popeye strip. In 2016, if we want, we can all actually purchase a recently produced comic book featuring 1992 WWF Tag Team Champions Earthquake and Typhoon. Will wonders never cease?

WWE: Then. Now. Forever. Interior Art by Dan Mora

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