NXT has become WWE’s third global brand and the launching pad for some of today’s biggest Superstars including Seth Rollins, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss and many more.
Learn the untold stories behind NXT in this special event from writer Dennis Hopeless (WWE) and artists Jake Elphick (WWE: WrestleMania 2018 Special), Kendall Goode (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) Hyeonjin Kim (Sisters of Sorrow), and Rodrigo Lorenzo (WWE: Undertaker).
WWE developmental has come a long way in the last couple decades. Vince McMahon used to send green wrestlers to various independent territories to prove out or wash up. Among others, Deep South Wrestling, Ultimate Pro Wrestling, Heartland Wrestling, Memphis Championship Wrestling, Memphis Power Pro, Ohio Valley Wrestling, and Florida Championship Wrestling all had a hand in bringing the McMahon product up to standard.
In the early 2010’s, someone in the back offices had the brilliant idea to take complete control of the process, and NXT was born. Not only could every aspect of training be monitored and fostered, WWE could turn a buck during the process by having a third, completely fresh brand. It was a bold move, and it was dead brilliant.
WWE: NXT Takeover SC is divided into four chapters depicting four separate stages in the evolution of NXT as a the third brand of WWE. All four chapters are scripted by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, who also penned the scripts for BOOM! Studios’ WWE ongoing, but each chapter features a different line artist.
The Blueprint throws a well deserved spotlight at The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, who was instrumental to the success of NXT during the early years until his passing in 2015. If you ask any of the performers who came up through NXT during Dream’s tenure, they’ll tell you he was a major driving force in their careers. Dusty was one of those rare talents that not only had the “it” factor, he had the ability to bring “it” out in others. This is a fitting tribute to a man who became a legend in all the seasons of his career.
The American Dream was larger than life. He was cocky and confident, but found ways to use that charisma to elevate everyone around him. Hallum provides a rare glimpse of The Midnight Rider that only the folks behind the curtain ever got the honor of witnessing first hand. The deep and lasting respect shown by Rhodes’ proteges and peers is a testament to the man’s work ethic and his selfless dedication to putting them over, time and again.
The artwork by Jake Elphick is slightly more caricatured than my personal taste, but it plays. The action scenes pop, and the likenesses are good. There are a couple scenes where Dusty looks a little too skinny, and his forehead is a little too pristine without all those deep scars, but Dream’s expressions and his sweet, sweet dance moves are spot on.
Proving Ground focuses on the strained relationship between two of the greatest stars to rise up through the NXT ranks and onto the main WWE roster, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe. Kevin Owens makes a short cameo, just long enough for The Demon King to lift the NXT Heavyweight strap off him.
This chapter also pays tribute to Dusty Rhodes, during the curtain call segment where the entire NXT roster stood for a ten-bell salute, and then again by featuring the Dusty Rhodes Classic tag team tournament. I cannot stress enough what Dusty Rhodes meant to this entire industry, and it’s awesome how prominently his influence is recognized in these first two chapters of NXT Takeover.
Dennis Hallum walks the same line here as he did in the monthly ongoing series, landing somewhere between Apter mag and smark website. There are definitely kayfabe elements layered over real life events and the storylines we already saw on WWE programming. It’s a lot to keep straight, and Hallum doesn’t miss a beat.
The likenesses by Kendall Goode in this chapter are more to my taste than the slightly caricatured style Jake Elphick delivered in the last chapter, but Elphick’s action sequences packed more punch. The chapter looks good, though. Cinematic angles with clever panel and gutter work keep things interesting from bell to bell.
Into The Fire throws a spotlight on Paige as she plans her big comeback after nearly a year on the disabled list due to neck injury. Realizing the climate has changed dramatically in her absence, she’s scouting the deep pool of female talent in NXT, hoping to recruit a couple thirsty up-and-comers to watch her back on the main roster.
Paige’s top two choices, Asuka and Ember Moon, are enjoying way too much success on their own to even consider a team-up at this point in their respective careers. Paige’s second round of picks decide they work better without her, but she finally hits paydirt with a couple strong contenders she already has rapport with from her stint as a Tough Enough mentor.
Hallum carries the momentum from the first two stories, bringing a nuanced understanding of professional wrestling, the structure of the WWE, and the motivation that drives these performers. Dialogue flows really well, and fits the individual voices of each character. The storyline expertly fills in the WWE programming gaps without breaking continuity.
Hyeonjin Kim pulls art duties on this chapter, using the same style as the Asuka shorts in WWE #13-17. The likenesses aren’t perfect, but they’re close enough to quickly figure out. Ring gear and context helps. One of the best action sequences features Ember Moon hitting her finisher, a corkscrew stunner off the top rope. Even if you haven’t seen how spectacular Total Eclipse is, Kim sells it with a well planned sequence, torqued panels, and intense facial expressions.
There aren’t a lot of characters in the world of professional wrestling that I would put anywhere near the status of The Undertaker, but Aleister Black has a lot of the tools that ‘Taker leveraged into one of the most iconic careers in the history of professional wrestling. Great look, super creepy backstory, solid ring work, mic skills… Even the spelling of his ring name calls up images of one of the most charismatic occultists in history.
Redemption focuses on the enigma of Aleister Black, covering the period from just before his arrival at Full Sail University through his entire NXT Heavyweight title reign. Black moved pretty quickly up through the ranks, leaving Velveteen Dream and Andrade “Cien” Almas in his wake.
I loved every chapter in this book, but Redemption is the standout for me. Black doesn’t talk much, but when he does, he doesn’t mince words. Most of Hallum’s narration in this chpater takes place inside Black’s head, and it’s some seriously dark and twisted stuff. “Bizarre little sacks of meat.” That’s the best description of the locker room talent you’ll read this week.
Rodrigo Lorenzo, who also drew the first couple chapters of the Undertaker OGN, does a bang-up job with Black’s story. Innovative layout, dynamic action sequences, and fantastic likenesses make for an amazingly engaging read. The imagery in this chapter is right up there with Serg Acuna’s work on the WWE monthly title, and that’s probably the best compliment I can give.
WWE: NXT Takeover SC is a well planned, highly entertaining book, and an absolute must-read for WWE fans. Hallum’s scripts are spectacular, and it doesn’t seem to matter who they pair him with. The end product is highly entertaining and synched brilliantly with WWE’s live action programming. Dead brilliant.
WWE: NXT Takeover SC collects the entire 4-issue mini-series. Published by BOOM! Studios, released 28 March 2019. Written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, lettered by Jim Campbell, cover by Lukas Werneck. The Blueprint illlustrated by Jake Elphick, colored by Doug Garbark. Into the Fire illustrated by Hyeonjin Kim, colored by Wesllei Manoel. Proving Ground illustrated by Kendall Goode. Redemption illustrated by Rodrigo Lorenzo, colored Wesllei Manoel.