It’s a bit in on 2018, but I wanted to start the year in #1’s and one-shots with something that brings my love of comics and men who wear no pants fighting over belts, together. Boom! Studios is celebrating the 30th Anniversary of WWE’s most awesome and ridiculous match by examining fan favorite moments in the Royal Rumble 2018 Special.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2018 SPECIAL #1
Story: Lan Pitts, Kevin Panetta, Ryan Ferrier, Michael Kingston, “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles
Art: Rodrigo Lorenzo, Dominike Stanton, Kendall Goode, Daniel Bayliss
Color: Doug Garbark, Jeremy Lawson
Letters: Jim Campbell
Published By: Boom! Studios
For those of you without the award-winning WWE Network, the Royal Rumble is an annual match where 30 wrestlers compete in an over the top rope battle royal for the right to challenge the champion at the company’s biggest event, WrestleMania. It’s regarded as the beginning of the road to WrestleMania and through its 30-year history, the Rumble match has had more than its share of memorable moments. This anthology of short stories examines certain moments in its history as if wrestling were real.
Since launching an ongoing WWE comic series, Boom! has done anthology specials that coincide with the sports entertainment giant’s quarterly extravaganzas. They haven’t always been as good as some of the pay per views they honor. This Royal Rumble special streamlines much of its content and stays truer to its mission statement than the awful Summer Slam special last year. Hooray!
Beginning with “To Be Number One”, a story which for some unfathomable reason isn’t called “To Be The Man”; writer Lan Pitts tells a story of WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair’s first tenure in WWE. Fans get a backstage tale from the 1992 Royal Rumble match where Flair captured the vacated WWE Heavyweight Championship. The short itself doesn’t have much purpose other than showing more of Ric Flair’s on-camera persona, but the piece’s co-stars end up stealing the show. Flair is winged by the late great “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning and the iconic Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. It’s euphoric to see two greats interact once again even if it’s only by proxy of comics. When Henning says “That was THE perfect win”, that’s all I really needed to hear to get on board with something that was just looking to take me down memory lane.
The book’s biggest selling point is the attraction of current WWE Champion AJ Styles co-writing the behind the scenes story of his “surprise” debut at Royal Rumble 2016. It’s written by Styles and Kingston as an underdog finally gets his moment story. Even though, to those who love all wrestling, AJ has never stopped being one of the top performers in the world for the past 20 years before he ever got to WWE. That’s neither here nor there. This story paints a somewhat believable picture of the WWE machine. From Styles, the character, reuniting with former indie wrestlers like Generico and Cesaro to having company suits make him approve his P1 merch right before heading into the match; it all seems plausible that it could have gone down that way. There are some kayfabe story moments such as when Styles secretly reunites with his Japanese run in buddies or that John Cena was the sole reason AJ made it to WWE. “I Am Phenomenal” is a great example of what the publisher has been doing right with WWE; start in a grounded place and sprinkle in nonsensical wrestling story for entertainment value.
As far as the art of comics is concerned, Royal Rumble special is definitely a mixed bag with the stand out of the book being Kendal Goode’s Macho King story. The artist captures the cartoony vibe of 80’s wrestling. Whether it was the over-muscled physique of the Ultimate Warrior or details as small as leopard printing everything Randy Savage touched, they’re pages that captured its intended vibe to the letter. Daniel Bayliss illustrating AJ’s story would be a close second, his characters look more close to photo real than any artist who’s drawn WWE wrestlers other than Rob Schamberger.
Royal Rumble 2018 Special took the proper road in its content selection. Everything in these pages is tailored to the book’s theme meaning there’s no random New Day story that continues something from the ongoing comic. Plus, the stories focus on what people care about, the wrestlers. You won’t find some made up tale about a fan you have zero reasons to care about.
If you’re a big WWE fan, you definitely won’t be disappointed by the nostalgic chuckles you’ll get out of this book.