In the annals of WWE history, there are multiple dream matches that never happened -- whether due to politics, injuries, untimely passings or the simple fact that time that the respective personalities performed in different eras.
Yet in the "WWE Superstars" comic from the "Super Genius" line at Papercutz, such practical considerations aren't a problem. This is, after all, a comic book that started its run with a neo-noir take on WWE's current performers, with pro wrestling maneuvers swapped in for gunplay. In the "Legends" arc starting with "WWE Superstars" #9, series co-writers Mick Foley (a WWE Hall of Famer as well as a best-selling author) and Shane Riches channel Marvel's classic 1984 event "Secret Wars," and stage fantasy match-ups -- including Hulk Hogan vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, John Cena vs. The Ultimate Warrior, Jake "The Snake" Roberts vs. "The Viper" Randy Orton, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs. "Bad News" Barrett and Daniel Bryan vs. The Iron Shiek -- in a variety of exotic locales, from a pirate ship to planet Mars.
CBR News spoke in detail with Riches about the "Legends" arc, taking cues from early '80s Marvel as inspiration, and collaborating with Foley and the arc's artist, veteran comics illustrator Paris Cullins.
CBR News: Shane, since the "WWE Superstars" comic book series debuted last December, readers have definitely taken note of it -- specifically, the rather unexpected directions it goes in for a WWE-based comic book. How pleased have you been with the reception to this book so far?
Shane Riches: We've been very gratified with the reaction thus far. From the first review [at ComicsAlliance] that perfectly described it as "straight up crazo," we were fortunate that fans and critics got the tone we were shooting for and were along for the ride in this crazy anthology Mick and I created. We've attempted to craft an over-the-top, exciting series that strives to be big, insane entertainment. Pure fun that can appeal to fans of comic books and WWE alike with its half-Kirby-esque madness an half-WWE zeal, where literally anything can happen.
Fans hopefully appreciate that we're staying true to the spirit of professional wrestling and WWE logic even if the stories themselves don't take place in "real" world of the WWE Universe -- from noir cities where cops and criminals use wrestling moves instead of guns, to a "Hangover"-esque comedy that has everything from talking gorillas to Robert E. Howard "Conan" nods. We just want it to be full of surprises and a blast to read -- just like watching an episode of "Monday Night RAW."
Obviously you've been collaborating with Mick Foley on projects for some time now, but this comic book is your first WWE-centric project together. How big of a fan were you coming into this?
I grew up a huge wrestling fan in the era of Hulkmania all the way through the Monday Night Wars when I was in college. My parents took me to the live events when they'd come through town, so I saw virtually every Superstar wrestle live at one point or another -- starting with Hulk Hogan vs. Big John Studd in the main event. Plus, we'd order pretty much every PPV as well. So working on the "WWE Superstars" book now is sort of a check off the old bucket list and an absolute blast to write.
When I began working in the film industry, Mick was already a New York Times No. 1 Bestselling author for his autobiography. When I heard he was working on his first fiction novel, "Tietam Brown," I reached out to his manger to read the galleys and was then fortunate to work with Mick as a producer as we developed an absolutely amazing film script written by the über-talented Mark Cartier. That then led to Mick and me writing "R.P.M." for 12 Gauge Comics, and eventually "WWE Superstars." As a guy who grew up a fan of Mick's way back when he was Cactus Jack in WCW, it's been a terrific experience working with him as a professional.
This new story arc has been compared to Marvel's "Secret Wars," and it certainly seems to have some deliberate similarities. How much does "Secret Wars" mean to you, and how did the idea to bring a similar scenario to "WWE Superstars" take hold?
I was actually always more of a DC fanboy growing up, and "Crisis on Infinite Earths," for my money, is still the pinnacle in comic book crossovers. Nothing has really even come close to touching that epic storytelling by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. My older brother bought "Secret Wars" when we were kids, and I had all the action figures, but I never actually read the series until about a year ago -- so while there's sentimental value there it never really made a huge impact on me.
That said, crossovers in general have always been my favorite part of the comic book experience. So when Mick suggested we do a storyline with the WWE Legends, I leaped at the chance to write my own big cosmic comic book crossover event. The trick was how to come up with a scenario to have all the WWE Superstars in their primes and from different eras be able to combat each other. Because "WWE Superstars" in a lot of ways is a big love letter to all things comics and wrestling -- with a lot of fun meta-messaging and the like -- I chose the "Secret Wars" scenario mixed with some nods to "Westworld" of depositing all these colorful characters in a crazy environment where you never know what's around the next corner. Savvy readers will recognize all sorts of nods to classic comic book history in the story.
One of the great things about writing "WWE Superstars" is that it never has to take itself too seriously. It can be flat-out bonkers, in a good way, and allows us to take risks with these incredible WWE characters and put them in scenarios that could never occur on the TV screen. There's going to be some absolute madness in these pages -- I can't wait for people to see our extremely unique pairing of John Cena and Hulk Hogan.
Of course, a big part of this is dream matches that never happened in real life playing out within the comic. Some are naturals, like Hulk Hogan vs. Stone Cold, something speculated about for years. Some are considerably more left field -- like Iron Shiek vs. Daniel Bryan. What can you share about the process of putting together the match-ups for this story?
The dream matches are the main reason for this book's existence. There's not a wrestling fan alive who hasn't fantasized about matchups like Hulk Hogan vs. Steve Austin or John Cena vs. the Ultimate Warrior. We're talking battles and interactions that have literally never been seen before beyond maybe some video game play.
The primary process in putting these match-ups together is attempting to create scenarios where everyone's favorite WWE Superstar pops up in these pages -- and where the victor is always in question. From Hulk Hogan vs. Steve Austin, to Undertaker facing off in a wild west showdown with a plethora of giants, to Jake "The Snake" Roberts teaming with Randy Orton in a Machiavellian scheme, to the Road Warriors in the ultimate tag-team turmoil. I have pretty much free rein to put as many cool current WWE Superstars and WWE Legends as possible into the book. Just as long as they're cleared with legal, they'll be in it -- all the way from Bruno Sammartino to Doink the Clown.
And apparently Daniel Bryan and Roddy Piper are also solving a mystery, which sounds delightful -- what inspired that pairing, and their mission?
I wanted two leads -- one current WWE Superstar and one WWE Legend. Daniel Bryan seemed like a natural from the current crop of stars, and Roddy Piper is the perfect antihero to partner him with. Plus, Piper was one of my personal favorites growing up, so there was no way he wasn't going to have a significant role. Also, both guys are still very human and easy to relate to, as well as have the street smarts to figure out what's going on in the crazy scenario they find themselves in.
That's basically their mission -- uncover why they find themselves and the other WWE Superstars captured and forced to fight on this "Battleground" planet and then get out of this lunatic mess.
There are quite a few WWE Superstars from the past in this story -- any personal favorites that you pushed for inclusion?
Oh yeah, tons and tons. The hardest part writing is trying to squeeze everyone in. I've got my personal favorites the Junkyard Dog, the Honky Tonk Man, Kamala, One Man Gang -- the list goes on and on. My favorite wrestler of all time is Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig. I still need to work him in as well as amp up the Ultimate Warrior's [role]. I'm trying to leave no stone unturned. That includes the Gobbledy Gooker.
This story also looks to keep the series' tradition of transporting action out of the ring -- by putting it way out of the ring, as far as, apparently, Mars. This series has already seriously challenged notions of what a WWE comic book would look like, but is it fair to say this story pushed that even further?
Without question. This story might get me locked up in an asylum with all the lunacy and mayhem in the pages. We've created a "Westworld" scenario where the WWE Superstars can battle in any environment you can imagine -- from a pirate ship to tumbling over the big heads on Easter Island. The crazier and more fun the better, as far as I'm concerned. When dealing with something like the WWE Universe, I think you need to go big or go home. Particularly in a comic book, I want to give the fans gigantic fun in ways that are completely unexpected.
Paris Cullins, a genuine comic book veteran whose credits date back to the early '80s, is illustrating this story. What does it mean to you to have an artist with his type of experience on this series?
I was absolutely elated when I heard Paris Cullins would be doing the artwork. "Blue Devil" was literally the first superhero comic book #1 I ever picked up -- the first series I followed from the first issue to the last. Oddly enough, I reread the series this past year, and Paris' work is still a beauty to behold. To have such an accomplished veteran on this big mash-up elevates the game to a whole new level. Fans will be in for some amazing panels amidst all the chaos.
This is your third comic book project, following "R.P.M." and "Afflicted." How do you see yourself evolving as a comic book writer? And is it a field you'd like to explore even further, beyond the current "WWE Superstars" gig?
A wonderful perk to writing "WWE Superstars" is that it forces me to write at least one comic book every month. It's great to have that regular pressure and experience to always try and top myself. I'm used to working in a medium -- film and TV -- where you often write in a vacuum and may never even see the end results of your work. Literally development hell. With comic books, I get to see the results within days of handing in completed pages. It's extraordinarily rewarding.
With "WWE Superstars" being an anthology series, it lets me dip my hands into all sorts of genres, from comedy to noir to sci-fi epic crossovers. In that regard, it's helped me to evolve into a more accomplished jack-of-all-trades. It's been great to garner more experience in all sorts of storytelling. In many ways, it's the most freedom I've ever allowed myself with writing.
I grew up a massive comic book fan, so it's been childhood wish-fulfillment to have my works like "Afflicted" and "R.P.M." be successful. I've also published a few other works, like "The Safest Place" by my brother Victor and Steven Grant, as well as "Death Valley" by Keith Champagne -- that's two other writers of WWE comic books there, funny enough.
Suffice to say, yes, I most definitely plan on staying busy in comic books, both as a writer and publisher/editor. It's a medium extremely close to my heart. And hopefully I can bring a little more entertainment and sense of fun to the fans.