When COVID-19 brought the comics industry to a screeching halt, my colleague Tony Thornley and I decided to dive deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you a new Comicon feature called New To You Comics.
Comics are on their way back, but we had so much fun with this thing, we decided to keep going.
Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. I tend to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.
We’re here to break up that pattern a little. Tony’s throwing some of his favorites my way, and I’m sending him some of mine. Every title we cover is brand new to one of us, and every stinking one of them is available on digital and mail order platforms, in case your local shop is still closed.
This week, we’re going to explore the similarities between superhero tropes and professional wrestling storylines with BOOM! Studios’ WWE Volume 5: The Sami and Kevin Show.
Here’s what BOOM! Studios says about the book:
Long-time frenemies Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn take the spotlight in this new arc. As ‘Hell in a Cell’ looms, will KO finally corrupt Sami to his side? Also featuring a series of shorts celebrating 25 years of Monday Night RAW!
Brendan Allen: We’ve talked about the correlations between pro wrestling storylines a few times. It actually comes up quite a bit. The foreign heel, face-in-peril, heel and face turns, factions, double-crosses, monster heels, shiny tights…
I picked this volume because Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and Serg Acuna absolutely kill it with accuracy, and the story of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens pretty well sums up the roadmap to success for professional wrestlers trying to make it to the big stage.
There are also a few shorts that kick this collection off, which makes sense, I guess, since this arc only spanned three chapters of the WWE ongoing. I don’t like the shorts as much as Hallum and Acuna’s work on the series, though. Let’s focus on the main story instead of those filler pieces.
What were your initial impressions?
Tony Thornley: So we’ve talked wrestling quite a bit since we’ve become friends. And I’m not a fan (not in the sense that I dislike it, just that I’m not into it). So this was probably a bit of a baptism of fire for me. A lot of stuff I was unfamiliar with, and some that went over my head. You threw me a little bit in the deep end.
Brendan: Of course I did. Just like you do with your supers books. This is the best arc for a newbie, though, I think, since it gives you the context of these two guys’ careers from a point that’s toward the beginning of their long and storied relationship. The timeline of this arc bounces around through various points from the duo’s humble beginnings on the indie circuit to their individual WWE roster call-ups.
The coolest thing is how Hallum takes WWE’s kayfabe storylines and mashes in Owens and Zayn’s actual personal history with each other, and somehow finds a way to reconcile the known version of events with the scripted elements in a way that speaks to smarks and casual fans alike.
Tony: I’ve liked a lot of stuff Hallum has done over the years. This is engaging, and he really does a lot to get us interested in the characters. I really like that this doesn’t try to mythologize these two. They’re down to Earth guys who get caught up in the fame and attention that the spotlight has given them.
Brendan: Totally. One of the appeals of KO is that he looks just like a dude you’d see at a block BBQ. You could easily see yourself helping the guy move for beer and a slice.
Tony: You mention their beginnings and that’s one thing that I wish the arc had done more of. An issue of the duo fighting their way from the amatuer leagues, through NXT and up to the big leagues? That would have been fun.
Brendan: There’s a little bit of an issue with going back that far, as Sami Zayn was performing under a mask as El Generico at the time, and Kevin Owens was performing under his real name Kevin Steen. I like that the creative team alludes to the stuff that they can’t say outright. Kicking off in the parking lot after the card allows a nod at the Steen/Generico past, without breaking trademark laws or outright mentioning the other organizations, which is a HUGE no no in Vince Mcmahon’s playbook.
And “Some armory in the middle of Ohio, eight years ago” takes a hard poke at ROH, PWG, and Chikara, for whom the pair were performing in that timeframe. The smaller promotions rent out bingo halls and armories to put on their shows.
Tony: Who knew it was that complicated? Hah! I will say probably the best thing about the book is the line art. It’s an extremely energetic and slightly cartoony style that just leaps off the page.
Brendan: Serg Acuna is my favorite artist on any of the WWE comics. His attention to detail is completely bonkers. Likenesses are dead on. Every character’s ring gear is spot on, down to the last sequin. I’ve gone back and freeze framed PPVs, RAW episodes, and Smackdown episodes. The ring aprons, ramps, ring steps, gear, boots… It got to a point where I was looking for errors, and I couldn’t find any. He gets it all right. Every time.
Tony: There are very few modern wrestlers that I know, so I don’t recognize that sort of thing. But I really loved how much Acuna made everything pop. Even the quieter moments, like Sami’s conversations with Daniel Bryan, have this energy that feels like it’s the middle of an action scene, not an athlete talking to his manager.
His expressiveness was awesome too. He’s able to make fascinating little touches, like a look of shock, or someone’s eyes widening so important. They’re not huge Tex Avery-style exaggerations, but they grab your eye in the same way. It draws you into the emotions that Hallum’s script is putting on the table.
Brendan: There are also some funny little details in the art if you know what you’re looking for. One thing that gets me is there must be something blocking these guys from showing any McMahon faces. Every time Shane-O Mac, Stephanie, or Vinnie Mac is in frame, it’s either from behind, or from the neck down. Has to be a licensing issue, and Vince is known for weird stuff like that.
Did you notice the headless figures at all? McMahons.
Tony: I hadn’t noticed it until you pointed it out to me, but it was kind of funny to see them avoid it. It also made the ONE panel where you see Shane’s face in the third issue pop that much more.
Brendan: One of the other things I find hilarious is that everyone’s tattoos are PERFECT, except Randy Orton’s. WWE and 2KSports got sued a while back for showing Randy’s tattoos a little too clearly in a wrestling video game. The artist who tattooed him claimed copyright infringement. So, Kevin Owens’ bull tattoo is crisp and clear. Randy Orton’s skull sleeves are all smudged up and blurry.
Brendan: I obviously love this stuff. I’ve been watching WWE since I was a kid. I remember the very first pay-per-view I ever saw. Wrestlemania VI back in 1990. I heard the announcers and the crowd noise coming out of a neighbor’s house at insane volume, and I sat on his lawn transfixed, listening to the spectacle. He saw me out there and invited me in right before the main event, Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior in a champion vs. champion match. I had never seen anything like it in my life, and it made me a lifelong fan. The product has changed, but the spectacle remains.
I absolutely LOVE what Hallum and Acuna were able to do with these books, bridging the gaps in storyline between the live shows and pay-per-views. These dudes make sense of some of the stuff the actual show writers struggle with. If Hallum weren’t writing comics, I am dead certain he could be one of WWE’s head writers.
What did you think?
Tony: This is one of those that I admire the craft quite a bit. It’s an interesting and well-constructed story. It’s energetic and engaging art. It’s a good comic and was fun to read. It’s probably one that I never would have read without doing this column. I’m still not into wrestling, but it helps me understand the world and some of the folks in it better. So in the end, I liked it, but it’s one of those that I’m not the audience for. But it was a good comic!
Brendan: I’m not going to stop sending you videos. Just so we’re clear.
Tony: Just the same as me telling you that you need to check out an old Chris Claremont story.
Brendan: Fair. What’s up for next week?
Tony: Oh, you threw me in the deep end on this one, but I’m throwing you into an ocean trench!
Next week, we’re diving into our biggest story to date. We’re going to talk House of X/ Powers of X, the massive X-Men reimagining from last year!
WWE: The Sami and Kevin Show SC collects Collects WWE #13, 18-20, BOOM! Studios, 27 February 2019. The Sami & Kevin Show written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, illustrated by Serg Acuna, color by Doug Garbark, letters by Jim Campbell, cover by Dan Mora. Undrafted written by Samoa Joe and Michael Kingston, illustrated by Michel Mulipola, color by Doug Garbark, The YES! Movement written by Julian May, illustrated by Rodrigo Lorenzo, color by Doug Garbark, Unbroken written by Lan Pitts, illustrated by Kendall Goode, Fest Prep written by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Daniel Bayliss.
Some of your local shops have re-opened. As always, we’d like to ask that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.
If your local comic store is still closed, not offering safe curbside pick up, or is out of stock, The Sami and Kevin Show is available digitally and through several mail order services. Stay safe.