Chances are, you already know what World Championship Wrestling was. If not, you at least remember the days when World Wrestling Entertainment was referred to as the World Wrestling Federation. WCW was the WWF’s competition and for quite a long while, relegated itself to being a distant second.
Though the company leaked money for many years, it stayed afloat because it was billionaire Ted Turner’s pet project. He kept the fed around because it amused him. Sure, it had its talented wrestlers and a couple personalities like Big Van Vader and Cactus Jack that I admired, but I could never really get into it at that age. I was strictly WWF. Maybe it was just a sense of being loyal. Maybe it was the feeling of blandness that clouded a show that didn’t have the Undertaker and Ted Dibiase. Maybe I was turned off by the rules that dropped the entertainment potential like a rock (like being disqualified for throwing someone over the top rope, being on the top rope or even backdropping your opponent).
That’s in the past. The product would finally get the shot in the arm it needed in the mid-to-late-90’s and would, for a while, dominate the WWF. This lasted for only a few years before the WWF got its act together and fought back, using wrestlers that WCW discarded. Two of which appear heavily in this series I’m about to review. WCW lost its momentum thanks to a lot of amusingly bad decisions, many of which came from hiring the wrestling equivalent of Chuck Austen to write the shows. It eventually drowned on its own suck and was bought by Vince McMahon, who incorporated WCW and fellow beaten wrestling fed ECW into his own company, like some kind of Crisis in Infinite Arenas.
I’m getting ahead of myself. This 12-issue comic, released by Marvel, took place during 1992-93, years before the New World Order would turn the tide. At the time, WCW had its share of problems. Their golden boy Ric Flair was off in the WWF. Another mainstay, Sid Vicious, was also playing for the winners. WCW had talent, but it didn’t have much in terms of big names.
Chances are that while I’m writing this article, I’m going to delve into wrestling terminology. For those of you who spent the Monday Night Wars watching Ally McBeal instead and have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, here are some definitions for the wrestling lingo:
Face: Good guy
Heel: Bad guy
Face/Heel Turn: Changing from good to bad, or vice-versa
Selling: Acting like the move hurt you
Kayfabe: Staying within character; not breaking the fourth wall
WWE: WWF after losing a court case against the World Wildlife Fund
I have to make it known that there are no crossovers with Marvel names in the WCW comic. Like many of you, I’m both relieved and disappointed. Think of all the possibilities.
“You may be full of yourself, Apocalypse, but nobody endures the Torture Rack without having to cry uncle!”
“Good God! Can Wolverine’s healing factor help him come back from the fury of the Stinger Splash?!”
“Lord Almighty! Of all the things I never thought I’d see, three different men have Doctor Octopus locked in the Figure Four! AT THE SAME TIME!”
Our epic series, mostly written by Mike Lackey, begins with an image of Lex Luger flexing and wearing his championship belt.
“His name is Lex Luger, and he’s’ the WCW World’s Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. The Total Package! The winning combination of speed, muscle and intelligence! He’s the man to beat. A lot of guys don’t like that. They think they’ve got what it takes to step into the squared circle with Lex Luger. But they don’t realize that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his championship. If a few necks get broken, he won’t lose any sleep over it. He’d probably laugh. Some guys think they’re fast enough… or strong enough… or hungry enough to grab the gold from the arrogant champ. But they’re wrong. In Lex Luger’s eyes, they’re just trash. And Lex Luger specializes in taking out the trash.”
As a way to jumpstart whatever story Lackey’s trying to tell while introducing as many wrestlers as possible, the initial issue is about a 15-man battle royal where the winner gets a shot at Luger. The entrants are: Ron Simmons, Terrence Taylor, El Gigante, Rick Steiner, Scott Steiner, Flyin’ Bryan Pillman, PN News, Big Van Vader, the Diamond Studd, the Natural Dustin Rhodes, Johnny B. Badd, Barry Windham, Arn Anderson, the Z-Man Tom Zenk and Sting. There’s a rather good chance that at least a couple of those names pass over your head. Heck, you might not even know who Lex Luger is. For the more important wrestlers, I’ll give you a quick who’s who once we get to them.
Lex Luger is like Hulk Hogan mixed with Thomas Hayden Church, but without the charisma. He’s just a boring guy with a really good physique and a hardened face. He is great at screwing up promos, though. As the story goes, he was good friends with Sting, but after winning the title, he became a real jerk.
Get used to him, because the Stinger is the main hero of the WCW comic. This face-paint wearing wrestler has always been the heart of WCW. He’s the only mainstay to never work for the WWF, even after WCW closed shop. He also won the final WCW match ever against Ric Flair. As time went on, he dropped the colorful surfer look to come off as more of a Crow ripoff, but here, he’s more of a smiling role model type. Annoyingly, in the comic, he’s constantly followed by a never-ending army of face-paint-wearing kids with no parental supervision.
If God were to take a mortal form and walk the Earth, I imagine he would be Ron Simmons. A former NFL player, Simmons played a secondary hero role for his WCW tenure under Sting. That continues in this comic, where he is fresh off a face-turn to the point that few people trust him. Sadly, Ron isn’t quite as entertaining when you can’t hear his word bubbles.
Johnny B. Badd
Johnny B. Badd was a wrestling Little Richard. No, really. That was his gimmick. Little Richard. As a wrestler. Other than that, the guy who played the role, Marc Mero, is most well-known for once having a really hot wife. Here, he’s a heel.
Big Van Vader
Before getting ridiculously fat, Vader was a brick wall of a human being. He was like the wrestling version of the Juggernaut. A huge powerhouse who’s unstoppable as a bad guy, but as a good guy, he gets his ass handed to him 23 hours of the day. He’s also the inspiration for the Fatal Fury character Raiden/Big Bear. Though he appears in this battle royal match, we won’t hear more from him for quite a while.
The Steiner Brothers
Rick Steiner (with the headgear) and Scott Steiner (with the long hair) are one of the most legendary tag teams in wrestling history. They had a real high school wrestling style, mixed with a home-team hero charm. As time went on, the two would break up and Scott would dye his hair, get a crew cut, wear chainmail over his head and buff up to the point that he looked like he couldn’t even scratch his ass. Rick went on to… uh… get in a shouting match with Chucky the killer doll.
The Diamond Studd
The Diamond Studd would gain great success in the WWF as Razor Ramon and even more success upon coming back to WCW as just plain Scott Hall, being one of the three original members of the nWo. The only reason I’m giving him this semi-profile is to point out that for some reason, in this comic, he would constantly wear his sunglasses during his matches.
The battle royal begins and it’s apparent how different this is all going to be. In the live action wrestling matches, it’s a different experience due to the wrestlers themselves. Yes, there’s a basic story they’re supposed to be acting out, but whether it’s a good or bad match depends a lot on whether the guys can carry themselves physically to play the fight scene well in one take. That’s why a truly great match can feel so special. The guys in the ring worked their asses off to tell a story and make it exciting.
In comic form, everyone’s as skilled as the writer wants them to be. If Lackey wants Lex Luger to do backflips, he can. If he wants the plus-sized PN News to do cartwheels across the ring, who’s to stop him? If he decides to have El Gigante say something in English that’s clear and understandable, then go ahead. They may not be able to do it in real life, but it’s a comic, so everything goes.
On one hand, that leaves our characters as being mostly one-dimensional. On the other hand, it does mean that the over 7-foot-tall El Gigante is no longer an awkward, sloppy mess to watch.
Not to mention that wrestlers get way more in-ring dialogue here than on TV.
As the pages continue, more guys are tossed over the top rope and eliminated from the match. Early on, everyone teams up on El Gigante and flips him out. Rick Steiner gets thrown out and sprains his ankle. Brother Scott decides that means he should hop out of the ring and eliminate himself, because Rick is probably too stupid to call for medical help. Again, all the wrestlers go after the biggest threat, this time Big Van Vader.
This has all been pretty basic so far, but there’s a subplot added in. The first taste of the comic’s major plot – which will indeed get sillier and sillier as it goes on – starts here. Three shadowy figures make their way to the ringside area.
These three sit in the front row and proceed to give the eliminated wrestlers the Statler and Waldorf treatment. The match winds down with Sting, Ron Simmons, Johnny B. Badd and Diamond Studd as the only ones left. The artist continues to forget whether or not Studd is wearing glasses from panel to panel. Sting flips Studd over the top, makes a speech about how wrestling’s a real sport, dives at Badd, misses, and gets tossed away. Ron Simmons gets angry at Badd and lifts him over his head.
“Put me down, man! I give up! I quit!”
“Johnny, I hate quitters!”
Then Ron cracks Johnny B. Badd over his knee and then eliminates him. For winning the battle royal, Ron wins a title shot against Luger, a trophy and a donation to his favorite charity.
That’s when one of our mystery guys makes his identity known. Lex Luger removes his coat and fedora to sneak into the ring, hit Ron with a trophy from behind, piledrive him onto the trophy, and then tear up the charity donation for good measure. He’s interviewed by Missy Hyatt and pulls off a decent enough promo against “this stinking slab of flesh named Ron Simmons”. He walks into the back, ignoring the boos and debuts his new catchphrase, “’Cause Lex Luger always has an angle!”
The next issue features a match of the Steiner Brothers beating the crap out of some made-up no-names, before getting in a fight with Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson. Transitioning out of that, the commentators Jim Ross and Terrence Taylor discuss a newcomer to WCW.
Anyone who knows anything about wrestling can figure out who the hell that’s supposed to be under the mask. But we’ll continue with the Ghoul later. Unfortunately.
The main part of the issue deals with Lex Luger’s punishment for what he did to Ron Simmons. He’s going to defend his title against Z-Man, Sting and Ron Simmons all in one night. Using his title belt, his shadowy goon friends and an exposed turnbuckle, he somehow manages to get pins against all three guys. Then El Gigante comes out and Luger beats him down with a chair. Some more faces run out from the back and Luger probably deals with them too.
The level of retarded begins to rise. Lex Luger does an interview about how he’s beaten the best. Now he is, without a doubt, the best.
“And now, dear Missy, with a tear in my eye, I take my leave. Greener pastures await the Total Package. Don’t worry where I am – or how I’ll get by. Because Lex Luger always has an angle!”
That part kind of passed me by the first time I read it, but as I read more and more of the series, I realized what was going on. See, around that time, in real life, Lex Luger had left WCW for the WWF. That meant that they had to cover for this in the comic. It made no sense to have Lex Luger hanging around when he wasn’t even part of the company. I’m sure a lot of you will agree that it made even less sense to have him single-handedly obliterate the entire WCW roster as a way to write him out of the story. Maybe they already had the issue drawn and changed the dialogue last minute. Maybe they figured he was going to come back in a month or so. Either way, this would be the last we’d see of Lex Luger in the WCW comic.
El Gigante was gone too. At least he got a proper sendoff by being beaten within an inch of his life.
Ha! I just noticed that in the next issue, they try as hard as possible to wash their hands of the whole Lex Luger mess. Look at this panel.
Notice the asterisk? Now notice the box in the corner? I swear to God I didn’t edit that in.
Anyway, our story takes a turn for the weird. Sting is on the Bruise Cruise, a cruise ship WCW used to have with its own wrestling ring. Sting takes apart fictional wrestler Yukon Pete, finally gaining a victory for once. As he celebrates his win and signs autographs, shady dealings go on in the background.
Cactus Jack walks around in his wrestling gear with a Hawaiian shirt over it. He goes to a bar to meet with the Pistols, a tag team of evil cowboys in white briefs. I know nothing about these Pistol guys, but I can tell you quite a bit about Cactus Jack.
Real name Mick Foley, Cactus is regarded as the Hardcore Legend among wrestling fans. Though at the time of this comic he was a hated heel, his career is fondly looked back upon. Cactus was a psychotic risk-taker who would welcome self-mutilation if it meant he had a chance at handing out even a fraction of that pain to his opponent. He was still early in his career during this comic, and as time went on, he would lose an ear, get thrown off the roof of a 20-foot cage, become a 3-time WWF champion and write a series of New York Times bestsellers about his life.
Back to our story. Cactus works closely with the Ghoul and gives orders to the Pistols. They have a bomb set up and it’s their job to use it to mess with Sting. There’s stuff involving kidnapping and the Ghoul leaving notes of Riddler-like clues, but I don’t need to go into that.
I will say that if I was hanging out in a Jacuzzi, the last thing I’d expect is this:
Oh shit! Snuff film! And it’s western snuff too!
Sting is partying around with Missy Hyatt while wearing a suit and Terminator sunglasses. He is given a note from the Ghoul that there is a bomb on the boat. Tearing the note apart in anger, the Stinger springs into action!
…In the next panel, he’s wearing his full wrestling gear.
If this was Clark Kent, I’d have no problem if he just spent a second turning into Superman. If Bruce Wayne spent half a minute changing into his Batman costume, that’s fine. I’d even be cool with Peter Parker taking a quick run to change into his spandex, despite the fact that everybody knows his secret identity.
But with the lives of hundreds lying in the balance and time of the essence, why the hell does Sting feel the need to put on his face-paint? You just wasted 45 precious minutes, asshole! And he used two colors! Well, in some panels. The artist, much like a certain Rob Liefeld, can’t keep it straight what Sting’s paint design is supposed to look like. I’m still outraged.
Sting follows the clues and meets his wrestling cowboy terrorist enemies along the way. After taking down each of the Pistols, he searches the ship for Cactus Jack. Truly, nobody matches Sting’s detective skills.
That’s some good investigation right there. Sting does find Jack, who is holding a handful of dynamite, and succeeds in outfighting him. Sting tosses the bomb overboard and gets just enough distance that the explosion doesn’t hurt anyone. Sting feels like he’s only being played with, so he doesn’t feel too excited about saving the day.
Unbeknownst to our hero, Lex Luger’s shadowy allies plot in the background.
You better be glad that they blew it, Max! You’re on the same boat, moron!
And who the hell are you, anyway? We’ll get to that eventually, I guess. In the meantime, the issue ends with Sting and Missy disco dancing. The blurb says that the next issue will feature War Games, but just to spoil it for you, that blurb is a dirty liar.
In the next update: Sting vs. the Ghoul, Cactus Jack in a towel and more Johnny B. Badd than anyone can possibly stomach.