Comics and Wrestling, the classic combo
The morning of Wednesday, April 9th 2014, people everywhere woke up to the news that wrestling legend The Ultimate Warrior (real name James Hellwig) had passed away at the age of 54. The degree to which this news effected you depending on whether or not you were a wrestling fan of course, but it quickly became apparent from browsing through comic related chat groups and message boards that most comic fans were. In fact, it seems like the majority of comic fans either are or at some point in their lives were fans of professional wrestling. WWE even has a reasonable presence in comic books, having titles out chronicling the adventures of characters like The Undertaker, The Rock, and even the Ultimate Warrior. But what is it about wrestling that appeals to comic fans? Why do those two things go hand in hand? Particularly since so many comic fans are at best passive sports fans and at worst couldn’t care less about professional sports (not all of us geeks obviously, but enough that it’s noticeable).
The appeal of comics themselves have a great deal to do with it. We comic fans tend to get interested in comics at an early age, and more often than not the comics represent a nice form of escapism. We can hate the stereotype of the socially awkward physically unfit teenager huddled in a corner reading a comic book, and yes that’s certainly getting to be less and less common as comic books become more and more mainstream, but the fact is that for many people that was the case. Comics where a way to get away from the world for a few beautifully drawn pages. It wasn’t just about escaping though. It was about hope. When times were tough, when your home life was going to hell, when school was a place of harassment and unhappiness, you needed to believe that there were heroes in the world. Not regular heroes though. When you’re so small and the world is so big, you need super heroes. Ones who go above and beyond what mortal men can do, who can whisk you away from danger or fear, who can right the wrongs and save the day.
At some point, many comic fans discovered professional wrestling. And the magic of this sport for many of these kids was that it took that hope and made it somewhat real. These were people, real people that you were watching on live TV, who were doing the impossible. They were super heroes, capable of flying and coming back from the dead and defeating evil no matter what the odds were. Over time, you made them into more than the mere mortal men and women who came to you every week to battle each other over contrived storylines. They were legends in their own time, crashing through tables and plate glass windows, leaping off ladders twenty feet in the air to crash down on their opponents. When life was bad, it was never that bad, because you knew that there were heroes in the world, and one day you could possibly be one too.
The Ultimate Warrior was one of the greatest of these heroes. Hailing from Parts Unknown (because any great super hero needs a dark a mysterious origin), he was able to shrug off devastating blows that would destroy a lesser man. He was buried alive and poisoned by a deadly cobra, but could never be stopped. We loved him for the truth he gave to our stories, the knowledge he gave us that the world was a safer place because he was out there, fighting the forces of darkness. No bully was ever quite as scary, because if things truly got bad enough, the warrior would come and save day.
Yes, Virginia, there is a super hero. He is the Ultimate Warrior, and he exists as certainly as bravery and strength. Alas, how sad it must be to live a life where you do not believe in such things, to only believe in the plain and mundane. These are the people who will look down on wrestling and tell you “it’s not real you know”. Yes, we know what it is. It is the stuff of legends, made flesh and bones and (mostly) muscle. The Ultimate Warrior appeared on Monday Night RAW the day before his passing, and there is no more fitting end to this article than what he said there:
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper, and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.
You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend-makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends, some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”