Make It So: DC Comics’ Wrestling Earth by Jerry Whitworth
The history between comics and wresting was explored in the past here on Comic Art Community. Therein, the effect of wrestling in Marvel was briefly examined especially considering Fantastic Four’s the Thing who, for a time, was the world champion of the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation (UCWF). However, DC Comics’ offers a unique opportunity with its liberal use of the multiverse for creating an entire world where its characters could be adapted to wrestling. In the promotion Kaiju Big Battel, heroes and monsters battle in a ring that represents a city block as a means of conflict resolution. Such an idea is not far-fetched in comics when you consider Mojo would regularly kidnap the X-Men to perform for his audience’s amusement (which was followed in a similar vein in Intergalactic Wrestling with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). So, lets take a look at what a wrestling Earth for DC Comics could entail.
Undoubtedly the simplest to approach, the strongman type of wrestler goes back to the sports’ roots. To a large degree, pro wrestling is a modern day interpretation of melding Greek sports and plays with the legendary Heracles/Hercules considered the greatest wrestler of his mythological period. While the earliest pro wrestlers were in fact amateur wrestlers, the sport evolved toward entertainment value which for a long time drew its ranks from bodybuilders and football players. When the World Wrestling Federation transitioned the industry from a smaller, regional enterprise to a national (then global) entity, Hulk Hogan was at the forefront and even today large, muscular performers tend to be favored in the modern day WWE. In the same token, Superman was the character that largely created the superhero genre (pulps, comic strips, and radio serials aside with Bruno Sammartino being the Doc Savage to Hogan’s Superman) and has been repeatedly imitated. However, just as the strongman archetype has to a degree fallen out of favor in wrestling, so has Superman’s star fallen. Still being a huge draw, fans have largely gravitated toward newer, more flawed characters. In his prime, Superman would likely be the world champion of a wrestling promotion but haven held the title for so long (or so often), fans could have become tired with him leading to his move toward the mid-card where he would help sell the latest generation of performer with a lesser-degree title. Something similar is currently being done with wrestler John Cena who is the United States Champion selling younger talent after spending more than a decade on top.
Wrestling is not unique to the United States as the sport is as big (if not bigger) in places like Japan, Mexico, Germany, Canada, and the UK. While wrestlers have traveled globally for a long time, over the last couple of decades the phenomenon of the international journeyman wrestler has exploded thanks in large part to men like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Último Dragón, and Jushin Thunder Liger. Something like this is reminiscent of the journey Bruce Wayne took to become the Batman having scoured the world honing himself into a crime fighting weapon. There also exists another parallel as those wrestlers named spent years as huge superstars on the mid-card only to become big names at the top of the industry just as Batman, being a mere man among quasi-gods, rose above them to become his own legend. Today, men like Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura stand as two of the biggest stars in the wrestling world despite not being huge monsters like many of the champions before them. Both men also have a long history with carrying their company’s Intercontinental titles where they can carry the belts for long periods of time due to their popularity without burning out with the audience by being just below the top championships. Batman would likely fit into a similar role as his popularity has largely either stabilized or rose over almost half a century but even today he simmers just a little bit above over-saturation with fans.
Women’s wrestling has a strange history in the sport. Something of a novelty in the past especially for inter-gender matches (part of Andy Kaufman’s jaunt in the sport), for the past few decades its largely been a means to get models to physically expose themselves in various ways to an audience. However, in Japan, arguably where the wrestling audience is most critical of the product, joshi (female) wrestling became so popular it has spawn many several of its own popular promotions (becoming a breeding ground for innovation in performance which elevated the entire industry). The modern wrestling world in America has turned on its ear thanks largely to the advent of the powerhouse Ronda Rousey. Becoming a monstrous force in mixed martial arts, her prominence changed perceptions about female competitors which has translated in the WWE as arguably the hottest stars in the company’s developmental territory NXT are women wrestlers. It’s rumored the talent in NXT is so world changing, efforts are being made to improve WWE’s diva’s division to make way for them. Wonder Woman was very much a woman in a man’s world (be it within the confines of her comic or position in the industry) and her dominance in the comic book world was not only a revelation for her time but continues to keep her atop the heap in the business. In many ways, her journey mirrors that of Rousey. For WWE, Rousey would arguably have the biggest pop from the crowd at the last WrestleMania leading to speculation she may be involved in a match at the next annual event for the company (which maybe due in large part to WWE booking a huge arena after years of booking venues of decreasing size). Wonder Woman could be like a Manami Toyota, Chyna, or Ronda Rousey who is so dominate in the women’s division, she would compete in inter-gender matches for the sake of competition.
Typically, stables are more for building momentum to heels (villains) where faces (heroes) can align but, with the exception of tag teams, trios, or atómicos, act alone. An exception maybe something like an event such as Survivor Series or WarGames that uses a concept like torneo cibernetico where teams of all-stars of a promotion (or several promotions) face off against each other. In such an instance, several faces who share a loose alliance can join together toward a common goal. Something like that would be the basis of a Justice League. If you consider Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as a trio (being identified as DC’s Trinity) and a pair like the Flash and Green Lantern could be a tag team (that are able to operate individually but often capture championships together), the five could be the bedrock of a team that often fights side-by-side when outnumbered. Further, often times individual performers who are known as being part of a tag team can break away to form a new, dominant duo (for example, Arn Anderson has been part of arguably three of the greatest tag teams of all time). So, someone like the Flash could draw in another tag partner like Elongated Man or Kid Flash and Green Lantern with Green Arrow or any number of fellow Lanterns in the Corps. Of course, the door’s open for other faces like Aquaman and his valet Mera or the Martian Manhunter who, instead of shape-shifting can change his gimmick repeatedly (like Glenn Jacobs who found fame as the Undertaker’s brother Kane, but has also been Angus King, Unabomb, Dr. Isaac Yankem, “New” Diesel, Doomsday, and so on).
Something that makes the Legion of Doom interesting to a wrestling fan is that arguably the greatest tag team of all time in the Road Warriors Hawk and Animal themselves used the name Legion of Doom based on the villainous group from Challenge of the Super Friends. In any event, there’s a long standing tradition of heels coming together to form stables for the purpose of the numbers game towards gaining championships (for example, the stable leader can be wrestling the champion, another member can distract the referee and yet another member, or several, can attack the champion so the leader can steal the belt and bring it to the stable). Often times, a stable will either have a manager, leader, or sometimes both (the Four Horsemen, for example, had Ric Flair as their leader and J.J. Dillon as their manager). Perhaps the most dominant stable (and later faction) in wrestling history was the New World Order which had Hollywood Hulk Hogan as its leader and the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase as its manager that took over the WCW promotion for several years. Today, the Bullet Club (which borrows heavily from the nWo and D-Generation X) in NJPW is probably the most dominant stable in wrestling. Undoubtedly, Lex Luthor would fill a role as manager in the vein of a Bobby “The Brain” Heenan or Paul E. Dangerously (with someone like Doomsday in an André the Giant or Brock Lesnar mold) but could also wrestle like “Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan (who led an anti-Hulk Hogan stable called the Dungeon of Doom similar to the Superman Revenge Squad). The Legion of Doom could predominantly feature Superman foes but also a handful of other heels (similar to the original LoD).
Brian Pillman was a football player who found a second career as a wrestler after training with the Hart family, arguably Canada’s greatest wrestling dynasty. Becoming a student of the game, Pillman was a smaller athlete so he would consume tapes of international wrestlers learning their high-flying style which he paired with his expert chain wrestling from the Harts. Working as Flying Brian Pillman, he became one of the best wrestlers in the world for his weight class but it didn’t seem to be enough to get him over with the people behind the scenes to let him rise above the mid-card. So he became the “Loose Cannon,” a persona so nuts nobody was sure if he was acting or he had legitimately lost his mind. Pillman would let very few aware if he was working the company and the fans alike but the act would eventually work his way up the rosters of several companies before his untimely death due to an undiagnosed heart condition (the wrestler also innovated breaking the fourth wall, referencing “smart marks,” or fans aware of wrestling as being staged, and working metafictional angles like when he wrestled a pencil, a term for someone who books matches). In any event, Pillman helped shine a light on an emerging archetype in the wrestling industry as guys like Mick Foley (Cactus Jack/Mankind) and Raven were unbalanced performers coming into prominence at about the same time (though, Jake “The Snake” Roberts certainly deserves some credit as he developed a sadistic, unhinged persona in the early ’90s). If you were to take the Killing Joke origin of the Joker as his true origin, you can see parallels with Pillman who wanted to desperately become a football player but had his dreams dashed only to become one of the best wrestlers of his time. The Joker dreamed of being a comedian but his hopes fell apart leading to the events that transformed him into the unhinged villain he is today. There exist several models which the Joker could adapt elements of, including those already named as well as the likes of Rowdy Roddy Piper, New Jack, Shinsuke Nakamura, and the “Lunatic Fringe” Dean Ambrose (or, better still, his previous persona of Jon Moxley). Combining bizarre behavior with in-ring psychology, a disregard for his own safety, and employing a fluid style of combat which easily adapts the addition of weapons, and the Joker would make a perfect nemesis to the journeyman, scientific Batman.
In wrestling, there exist all manner of character types but perhaps the best for a heel is the monster. Seen as some unbeatable obstacle, some mountain no one dare climb, the monster makes the top face. Hulk Hogan was extraordinarily popular when Hulkamania was born, but it was his victory over André the Giant that really defined him. For American wrestling, it’s likely the greatest monster to exist is the Undertaker. Coming onto the scene in 1990, the Undertaker was a force of nature, an undead giant empowered by the forces of darkness which caused carnage and destruction wherever he fought. Of course, faces would come along and defeat the Undertaker, but he became the measuring stick for the WWE for over two decades. Simply put, you couldn’t be the face of the WWE unless you could somehow defeat the Undertaker. In this way, Darkseid is the measuring stick for DC Comics. When he appears, you know the situation is grim and only a handful of heroes could stand against him. What more, the Undertaker and Darkseid are so unique, it’s hard to describe another example. Most monsters in wrestling were able to be outsmarted but Undertaker was as devious as he was powerful. Perhaps the closest thing to exist today would be Kevin Owens, but even then his career has only just begun in WWE so only time will tell how he’s booked. Regardless, perhaps Undertaker’s most memorable period was as the leader of the Ministry of Darkness which could certainly be a model for Darkseid’s Elite, as the Ministry had the tag team of the Acolytes, the trio of the Brood, solo wrestlers Mideon and Viscera, and a manager in Paul Bearer. New Gods like Steppenwolf and Mantis, Granny Goodness and the Female Furies, Kanto, Kalibak, and Desaad could easily fall into such roles, respectively.
If you have a wrestling promotion, you have to have championships. Fairly safe bets are Heavyweight, Tag Team, and Intercontinental belts. Some other titles that could make sense would be US, Women’s, Trios, and the Titans Cup (for young talent like Chikara‘s Young Lions Cup). Already discussed, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman make sense for US, Intercontinental, and Women’s titles, respectively. Darkseid would make a good choice for Heavyweight considering his stable just as a team like Solomon Grundy and Bizarro make a good pick for Tag champs because of the LoD. With heels holding arguably the top prizes, Trios would likely be best with faces which would make the team of Flash, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow good because of the conflicting attitudes and styles (Flash with high speed moves reminiscent of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Green Lantern as a death-defying aerialist like a Rey Mysterio Jr., and Green Arrow with journeyman in-ring skills and a mouth on him like Chris Jericho). Leaving the Titans Cup for the up-and-coming performers, Static would be an excellent choice considering his popularity despite being a relatively new and original creation (although, Jaime Reyes’ Blue Beetle could be a close rival). As a nod to Dick Grayson being comics’ first kid sidekick, he could have been the first person to win the Titans Cup.