The history of the WWF/WWE can more or less be broken up into eras. There’s the Golden Age, followed by the Hogan Era, followed by the New Generation, followed by the Attitude Era, followed by the Crossover Era, followed by the Cena Era. At least, that’s how I see it. The Attitude Era is easily the most successful era, regarded for bringing wrestling into the media forefront. Chronologically, it begins with Stone Cold Steve Austin’s rise as a top face and ends with Wrestlemania 17, where Austin turns on the fans shortly after the company had freshly bought their competition, WCW.
Professional wrestling was at its apex during this era, mostly due to WWF and WCW trying to outdo each other. It seems silly now, but the idea of a WWF comic was pretty natural back then. In 1999, Chaos Comics got the rights to the property and let loose with a handful of comics. Mankind, The Rock and Chyna each got their own one-shot, while Steve Austin got a four-issue miniseries. I’ll save those for a later day.
Today I’m going to discuss The Undertaker’s comic. Unlike the others, he got a full-blown series out of the deal. It lasted 10 issues, plus specials. On one hand, it makes sense. Undertaker was always one of the most unrealistic and open-ended characters in the WWF. On the other hand, during the release of this series, Undertaker was the top heel of the company. We’re basically meant to root for the WWF’s top villain.
I’ll get into a who’s who for those uninitiated with wrestling in a bit, but first I’ll go over the Undertaker Halloween Special. While it did come out towards the end of the series, it doesn’t exactly fit in with anything and makes as a good introduction to the four wrestling-based characters.
It’s written by Jim and Dan Monti with Leonardo Jimenez on art. As bad as it is, it makes sense that there are two writers. The one-shot features two subplots that have absolutely no connection to each other. The main story deals with the Undertaker visiting the graves of his parents; an act he apparently does every Halloween night.
This time, a pentagram appears and broadcasts the image of an evil wizard Samhain. He has stolen the souls of the Undertaker’s parents and will hold them ransom. He wants the Book of the Dead in return and tells Undertaker to meet him at the site of his parents’ death in twelve hours. The Book of the Dead thing is something I’ll explain when we get into the main story, but the mentions of it here don’t mesh with what they go with in the series.
Undertaker drives there in a hearse. A series of demons appear from a portal to mug him and take the book. The back of the hearse opens up and the Brood (Gangrel, Edge and Christian) jump out.
This is the only appearance these guys make in the entirety of the series.
The demons overwhelm them and capture the Undertaker. He wakes up, chained in a dungeon. At his side is Mankind, speaking to his sock puppet Mr. Socko about asking Undertaker a very important question. That question being, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” Undertaker ignores that and gets Mankind to break through the chains and set him free via a giant bone he just happened to have on his person.
Undertaker journeys through Samhain’s domain, but Mankind attacks him out of nowhere.
Then it starts raining snakes for no reason. Undertaker punches Mankind away, picks up the giant bone and continues. Samhain is in the middle of some big magical corrugation set to make him all-powerful. Undertaker interrupts it by throwing the giant bone and impaling him in the chest. Samhain fights back with magic spells, but Undertaker fries him with Force Lightning. Samhain fights back AGAIN with his true form, but Undertaker follows up with even more Force Lightning. Hey, if it works, why stop? Then he goes back to his parents’ grave and returns their souls.
The other storyline has to do with two little boys who are warned by their mother not to visit the funeral parlor down the street due to some crazy shit that happens every year. The kids go anyway and are greeted by Paul Bearer. He invites them in and then chases them through the house in hopes of murdering them. They try to hide in a coffin, but Paul locks them in and puts it on a conveyer belt into the crematorium.
When it seems like all is lost, Kane appears, breaks open the seal and saves the children. He grunts, “Leeeaavee…” and… that’s about it!
Like I said, not a very good comic.
Now let’s get to know our contestants!
Real Life: After a short career in WCW as Mean Mark Callous, Mark Calloway joined the WWF in late 1990 as the Undertaker. His first year was incredibly successful, culminating in his first title win on its anniversary. Though he started as a heel (bad guy), he became so popular that they eventually had to make him a face (good guy). He remained in the company for years as one of its top names and is respected for both being the locker room leader and seemingly never holding anyone down due to backstage politics. His true legacy comes from being granted an undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, currently at 17-0, which is certainly the highest praise a wrestler could ever expect. He continues to wrestle today, though sparingly due to shoddy knees.
Gimmick to This Point: Hailing from Death Valley, the Undertaker first appeared under the management of crazed televangelist Brother Love. Soon after, he was joined by the mortician Paul Bearer. Undertaker made an impact due to what seemed like a complete inability to feel pain. He’d shake off most offense and was so dominant that within his first year, in one Saturday Night’s Main Event segment, he manhandled the Ultimate Warrior and then shrugged it off when Hulk Hogan nailed him in the face with his gold belt. “The Dead Man” wrestled for years, usually as a fan-favorite, up until a falling out with temporary tag partner Steve Austin. The Undertaker returned to his darker roots, becoming a Satanic leader of a cult of wrestlers known as the Ministry of Darkness. After feuding with Vince McMahon’s Corporation, it was revealed that Undertaker was really taking orders from Vince. They merged their teams to become the Corporate Ministry.
Afterwards: The Ministry eventually disbanded and shortly after, the Undertaker took time off due to injury. He came back months later, no longer supernatural, but as a bandana-wearing biker dude. This lasted for a few years until being buried alive in a match against Vince McMahon. Undertaker resurfaced as a hybrid of his classic and biker incarnations and has become something of a “secret endboss” to the WWE roster.
Oh, and he has superpowers too.
Real Life: William Alvin Moody spent several years as a manager and wrestler under the name Percy Pringle in the 80’s. He even managed Calloway early in his career, as well as Steve Austin and Rick Rude. He took a break from wrestling to gain a degree in the mortuary sciences, which led to Vince McMahon hiring him to be Paul Bearer. He remained a mainstay on WWF/WWE programming for many years, retiring temporarily in 2002. He joined the competition TNA for a short while, but came back to the WWE for a brief on-air role and a stronger backstage role. He is now fully retired, working full-time as a funeral director.
Gimmick to This Point: Paul Bearer spent many years in the Undertaker’s corner, lovingly carrying a golden urn that was said to hold the key to the Undertaker’s powers. After five years, the high-voiced manager turned on the Undertaker and joined with his rivals Mankind and Vader. He later revealed the existence of Undertaker’s brother Kane and soon after dropped the bombshell that Kane is his son. In other words, Paul banged Undertaker’s mama. Due to Kane’s inability to defeat the Undertaker, Paul betrayed his son and rejoined the now-heel Undertaker.
Afterwards: After the Undertaker’s injury, Paul was without a job. He came back soon after, managing Kane once more. He left for another few years, but came back to manage the Undertaker during his big return from being buried alive. In a pay-per-view match too stupid for me to fully describe right now, the Undertaker – despite being a face – had to murder Paul by burying him in concrete, as Paul was his only weakness.
Real Life: Glenn Jacobs, the world’s most monstrous Ron Paulite, wrestled in the independents with many gimmicks, including Unabomb and the Christmas Creature. He came to the WWF in the mid-90’s with the gimmick of Isaac Yankem DDS, an evil dentist with horrible teeth. His next gimmick was Diesel, an attempt to take Kevin Nash’s old persona and stick it onto another wrestler. It was a colossal failure. In 97, he was given the gimmick of Kane. Since then, he’s been a mainstay in the company’s ranks for years, even helping land him the lead role in the horror movie See No Evil. He still wrestles for the WWE.
Gimmick to This Point: According to Paul Bearer, when the Undertaker and Kane were young, the Undertaker burned down their house, killing their parents. Kane was thought to be dead, but all these years later, Paul revealed that he’s alive. Kane debuted during a match between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. He manhandled his brother and started a lengthy feud. Very briefly, he became champion. He was eventually betrayed by Paul, starting a seemingly never-ending series of storylines where Kane would have his friends turn on him.
Afterwards: Kane would regularly jump back and forth between face and heel and would be involved with some undoubtedly stupid storylines. One of the dumbest would be when Triple H insinuated that Kane killed a teenage friend in a car accident years back and then had sex with the corpse. Yeah… One day, Kane had to remove his mask, showing that despite all the claims that he’s horribly disfigured, those were all lies. The scars were all mental. Then he had another stupid storyline where he feuded with his masked self. Anyway, Kane continues to be just an angry guy who beats people up, whether they’re face or heel. The crowd loves him regardless.
He too has supernatural powers. Fire-based, for the most part.
Real Life: Mick Foley spent many years trying to break into the business, finally getting his big break in WCW in the form of the maniacal Cactus Jack. He had many high-profile matches with the likes of Sting and Vader, before going on to join ECW. In the mid-90’s he was signed to the WWF, where he came up with the gimmick of Mankind. He gained popularity, mostly due to a legendary Hell in the Cell match against the Undertaker that nearly killed him and even moonlighted as Dude Love, a gimmick he came up with during his teenage years. As a face, he won the title from the Rock in an act that made a huge impact in the WWF/WCW Monday ratings war. In early 2000, he decided to retire from wrestling, only to make a quick comeback. And another one. And another one. And another one. And… okay, he made a lot of comebacks. You know how sometimes there’s a great movie followed by a never-ending string of sequels that get lamer and lamer as they appear? That’s Mick Foley’s career. After his attempt at being a commentator fizzled, Foley left the WWE and joined TNA. Poor, poor man.
He also wrote a lot of books, including three autobiographies. The third one sucked.
Gimmick to This Point: Mankind came to the scene via a series of vignettes that showed him in a dark dungeon-like place, holding a rat and speaking to it. Other vignettes were nothing but a close-up of where his ear used to be as he discussed pain. He flew to the top of the card quickly and feuded with the Undertaker. Mankind, wearing a medival leather mask of some sort, was a complete psychopath with little grasp on reality and an inhuman pain tolerance. Despite being smaller than the Undertaker, there was something about him that made him able to stand up to him and become Undertaker’s first true rival. Mankind became more frank about his real life as Mick Foley, which gained him sympathy and allowed him to morph into other gimmicks, like Cactus Jack and Dude Love. He returned to the Mankind persona, but with a goofy doofus take to it. He started wearing a white shirt and tie and carried around a gym sock puppet named Mr. Socko.
Afterwards: Mankind traded the WWF title back and forth with the Rock. The two became unlikely partners, calling themselves the Rock and Sock Connection. In the beginning of 2000, Foley feuded with champion Triple H, choosing to revert to the more hardcore Cactus Jack personality. He lost a retirement match and although Mick Foley would come back many times, Mankind was rarely seen since.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get to business.
They released a preview issue, which gave us character profiles and explained the comic’s backstory. Years ago, the Undertaker was the ruler of Stygian, otherwise known as Hell’s prison. I always thought that Hell was a prison, so having its own prison within is kind of redundant. I don’t know, maybe someone else is in charge of Hell’s cafeteria and Hell’s daycare center. Anyway, Undertaker’s power as ruler came from three volumes of the Book of the Dead.
Then there’s this other guy. He was an evil druid who became so engulfed with the black arts that he gained immortality and the ability to walk both Earth and Hell in the form of either a human or a demon. His name is – get this – The Embalmer!
The Embalmer attacked the Undertaker and used a spell to separate the three Books of the Dead. Embalmer got his hands on one of them, Undertaker got his hands on another and the third ended up sucked into a vortex, where it somehow ended up in the hands of Paul Bearer. In other words, it’s a war between the three of them to gain ultimate power. In all that confusion, Undertaker got sucked into another vortex. His soul was lost for hundreds of years before he was reincarnated in the 20th century. His Book of the Dead is within his very soul.
Get all that? It’s okay if you didn’t.
So if you look back at that Halloween story, Samhain acted like stealing the Undertaker’s Book would have given him total control over Stygian, when it’s really pretty worthless without the other two volumes to go with it.
Wizard Magazine featured two different insert comics for the series. The first is #0, which shows a WWF match going on between made-up wrestlers Killer Kongo and Blonde Apollo. Accompanied by dry ice, the Undertaker walks to the ring. According to him, these two wrestlers aren’t who they say they are. They’re really two demons who have escaped from Stygian, enacting a war. One works for the Embalmer and the other works for Paul Bearer. Only the Undertaker can see through their illusions.
He swats aside the referee and starts fighting the two demons. Undertaker, of course, wins. With one, he hits a tombstone piledriver. The other, a chokeslam. Each time, the demons would be pulled away from the bloodied human husks and tossed back into Hell. The crowd cheers the Undertaker on, ignoring how he appears to have straight-up murdered two guys. Then again, nobody seems to give half a shit that Superfly Snuka killed a prostitute, so I suppose this isn’t so different. This is all being watched separately by Embalmer, Paul Bearer and Kane.
You know what, Paul? Undertaker’s killing two demons at the same time while Embalmer’s fresh off a three-way. What have you accomplished that’s so great?
The second Wizard insert is Undertaker #1/2. This time, we see a redheaded woman with a snake tongue discussing the war between Undertaker, Embalmer and Paul Bearer. She summons all three to her lair, angering them all. She reveals that she is Cassandra the Chronicler, who wrote the Books of the Dead in the first place. Even though she died many centuries ago, neither Heaven nor Hell will accept her, so she’s constantly reincarnated. Having written the books, she has all the knowledge, so I guess she can grant its power to whoever partners up with her. In return, she’ll get stability in Hell, rather than live and die over and over again.
But this is a wrestling property, so it’ll be decided in a wrestling match! The characters find themselves in a WWF arena with Cassandra in a cage suspended over the ring. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler announce the rules. The first to get to the cage and release her is the winner. “_____ on a pole” match enthusiast Vince Russo was the head writer of the WWF back then, so I guess this does make sense for the time.
The signs in the arena are mostly just Undertaker symbols. Here are some other ones I’ve noticed:
– “MR. ASS SUCKS!”
– “GOT HEAD?”
– “X-PAT” (sic)
– “IN MEMORY OF OWEN”
– “DARTH MAUL RULES”
– “SHANE – SUCK IT!”
– “CATDOG RULES!”
I figured that this story’s scribe Steven Grant must have been a writer on Catdog or something, but nope. He just really loves Catdog. Go figure.
To the commentators, they just think that Embalmer is a new guy and Cassandra is a super awesome manager. They don’t even bat an eye when the Embalmer SHOOTS FIRE OUT OF HIS FISTS.
Paul Bearer has Kane represent him in the match, rather than get a beating himself.
Undertaker and Kane fight back and forth. I believe this is actually the only time the two of them do fight each other in this entire comic series. Once Undertaker gets an advantage, Paul Bearer hits him upside the head with his Book of the Dead. Embalmer scares Paul Bearer away and tortures Undertaker for a moment.
Undertaker gets back up, just as Kane puts him in a full nelson. Embalmer uses the diversion to get to Cassandra. He hops off the top rope and jumps onto the cage, declaring that he’s won.
Kane attempts a tombstone piledriver on Undertaker. Undertaker reverses it and we get one of those “wrestling is really gay” moments.
Undertaker hops off the top rope and grabs onto the cage. Cassandra screams that the cage isn’t meant to hold that much weight. The wire breaks and the cage falls through the ring. They all appear in a barbed wire ring surrounded by fire. Cassandra appears as a green demon. She realizes that she has died and will be once again cast from Hell to live another life. Undertaker mocks her, saying that he’ll gain ultimate power his own way and that she’ll never rest in peace.
Then it returns to the arena, where Undertaker crawls from under the hole in the ring to be declared the winner by the confused announcers.
Just to point out: in a comic that has a sign saying “IN MEMORY OF OWEN”, a woman falls to her death in the middle of the ring. Wow. That’s balls right there.
And now the main series. The team behind it is Beau Smith and Manny Clark. It begins with the Undertaker in Stygian, fighting two escaping demons. One of them is able to get away in a portal to the Embalmer’s home, though doing so with his torn-off tail in the Undertaker’s hand. The stuff I described about the Books of the Dead are brought up in exposition in this issue, again and again. The Embalmer hopes to not only use the Books of the Dead to take over Stygian, but to overthrow Satan himself.
Undertaker faces a big, bald guy with tattoos and giant claw hands named Mezzmor, apparently sent by Paul Bearer. The two fight it out while two demons cackle in the background, hoping to devour the loser. Undertaker wins by hitting Mezzmor with one hell of a tombstone piledriver.
Yeah! His fucking head exploded! The next page shows that the move caused Mezzmor’s entire body to explode in a bloody mess, meaning that Steve Austin got off lucky. Owen Hart’s botched piledriver could have been a LOT worse.
A vision of Paul Bearer appears to taunt the Undertaker about what he’ll do to the Undertaker and the world itself once he gains all three Books. As this is going on, we see the Embalmer being physically affected by this meeting. On Earth, he takes the form of Augustus Slayer, head chairman of the corporation Millenium Tricorp. He regularly springs demons from Stygian and has them work for him under the guise of wrestlers or business executives.
Something mentioned in the early issues that they later ignore is that this whole story is supposed to be what gets Undertaker into wrestling. I mean as if starting from issue #2 he joins the WWF for the first time. Mankind creeps around and watches the Undertaker fight two demon wrestlers backstage and regards Undertaker as “the new guy”. I’m not sure what the point of that is.
Mankind is also able to see the demons for what they are, due to his own insanity. He, like the reader, questions Vince McMahon’s judgment in hiring “the cast of The Exorcist.”
The demons try to escape through teleportation, but the Undertaker has his hands on both their throats. He ends up in the Embalmer’s NYC skyscraper, where he quickly turns both demons into a bloody mess with his bare hands. He fights through each floor of the building, fending off against demon after non-descript demon with nothing but his fists. By the time he finishes off the last of his attackers, the Embalmer hits him with a wave of fire from behind.
Undertaker falls 100 feet and crashes into the ground. What better place than to hit his old bread and butter no-selling gesture.
Notice the talk of how fat Paul Bearer is. I feel genuinely bad for Mooney, considering how harsh they go at making fun of his weight problem. Yeah, I know he’s a bad guy in this comic and all, but the insults are more towards the actual human being. It’s wrong, you know?
Paul Bearer is shown hanging out in his own lair. A mysterious figure steps in and says that he’s accepted Paul’s offer. Out of interest, he asks to see Paul’s volume of the Book of the Dead. Paul does this by literally pulling it out of his stomach. It’s a neat trick.
Undertaker goes back to a cemetery to heal up from the fall. He thinks back to how all this came to be with the battle between he and the Embalmer centuries ago. During the time when the Undertaker was floating through the void and unable to do anything, the Embalmer had used his demon underlings to cause death and violence in his name under the guise of humans. This includes both Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson.
This is our protagonist talking, by the way. I swear, I feel like I’m reading a Lobo comic here.
Unseen, Paul Bearer ran in, grabbed Kane and drove off with him. Immediately after, Undertaker was captured by the Embalmer. Embalmer forced Undertaker to grow up Conan the Barbarian style by pushing a wheel around and around until he became a muscular dude in a loin cloth. He broke his restraints one day and killed the demons that tortured him.
Elsewhere, Mankind is peeved. As he tells Mr. Socko, nobody believes his claims that there are a bunch of reptilian demons on the roster. Or maybe they just think he’s talking about Terri Runnels.
With his trip down memory lane complete, Undertaker gets up and takes a stroll. He doesn’t realize that he’s being watched.
That’s the end of issue #3 and a good place to stop for now. I’m going to conclude the look at Undertaker next time. Stay tuned because there is some hilarity to be found, including the most stomach-turning rape scene this side of Garth Ennis.