Pro wrestling and comic books have a lot in common. Both are colorful, outlandish, over-the-top, and regularly retcon their storylines the second something from the past gets in the way of whatever story they want to tell now.
With that in mind, it’s small wonder that the two liberally borrow from one another, though pro wrestlers do it far more egregiously than comic book characters, who are usually too busy saving the world to bother with knocking some angry guy over the head with a chair. The ring world has become its own comic book store in a myriad of ways. Such as …
7. Complete and Total Plagiarism
For some wrestlers, coming up with your own original, entertaining character is the hardest part of the job (well, that and not eating everything on the catering table). Perhaps those lost souls can do what countless others have done, and just outright steal a popular comic-book character. Fuck subtlety; just pretend you are the character come to life. Kids are stupid, right? They won’t notice the difference.
Like these guys – they’re totally Batman and Robin, right? This is actually Tony Marino, a ’60s grappler who suffered from Not-Bruno-Sammartino Syndrome and thus had to slap on a cape and cowl to overcompensate. He billed himself as Battman, which was apparently all the they needed to avoid the Copyright Cops, since neither he nor his promotion (Gotham Championship Wrestling probably) got sued into oblivion. Nobody on the Internet seems to know who Robin is, so let’s just assume that one’s the real deal.
But it’s not just some schmuck from the ’60s. Completely plagiarized gimmicks are everywhere, and by that, we mean Mexico. If a wrestler isn’t their own masked marauder, he’s blatantly ripping off a funky their favorite hero. There are multiple Spider-Men, Gokus (Dragon Ball Z), Power Rangers, Supermen, and just about anybody else who made it to Issue 2.
About the only change they make is how, since this is Lucha Libre, everybody wears masks. EVERYBODY. Even Goku is simply a guy with a Goku face over his own. So if you ever wanted to see Superman don a red and blue mask and beat the living crap out of the Pink Ranger, book a ticket to Mexico and enjoy.
6. Almost-Clever Bootleg Knockoffs
Some thieving wrestlers don’t want to risk angering the world’s lawyers, but they still wanted to appropriate like all the crazy sexy cool kids were doing. For them, bootleg knockoffs were the key to almost-fame and more-or-less-fortune.
Here we have two ’90s wrestlers dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But unlike the jokers above, neither was stupid enough to name himself after one of the actual Turtles, so they got away with it. Hell, they didn’t even spell the Turtle’s catchphrase correctly, naming themselves Kowabunga as opposed to Cowabunga. You know, just in kase.
Offender #1 was a guy named Chris Champion, who eventually turned Japanese and became WCW’s Yoshi Kwan. It was a white dude playing a stereotypical, slanty-eyed Asian – that’s all you need to know. As far as turtling goes, his costume isn’t too bad – as far as cheap wrestling gear goes anyhow. Good move going for the black eye mask. That way it’s like a whole new turtle, one nobody can take you to court over!
Then there was Kowabunga #2, who went the glittery purple mask route popularized by little sisters raiding their big brothers’ toyboxes and glitterating everything inside. The guy in the suit, Mark Kurtis, was a 140-pound manager who later became a 140-pound referee in WCW. He was the Hero in a Halfshell who squeezed into the vents of the Technodrome that the other, more-muscular Turtles could not. Sadly, though, they never thought to lock him inside and leave.
Then there was poor Brad Armstrong, who WCW turned into the superhero Arachnaman. They stuck poor Brad in a mask and bodysuit that looked suspiciously like Spider-Man if he wore the same costume forever and the colors started to fade. Red became dull yellow, blue became dull purple, and happy audience members became dull refund-demanders. They even had him shoot webs, which were nothing more than curled up streamers that looked exactly like webbing if you turned off the TV and read a Spider-Man comic instead.
Marvel was none too pleased, and sent a cease-and-desist letter. Though it’s possible WCW could have beaten a lawsuit, given the differences in both name and color scheme, even they realized fighting for the survival of Arachnaman would have been the biggest waste of Ted Turner’s money since that time he tried to colorize Citizen Kane. RIP Not-Spidey.
5. Original (and Totally Ridiculous) Superheroes
Not every comic-obsessed wrestler straight-up rips off a trademark. So what happens when a company decides to create something new-ish? More often than not, like many things in wrestling, it started out cool, got beaten into the ground, and ended up completely lame and hated by everybody.
The Hurricane was the alter ego of mild-mannered reporter Gregory Helms (a wrestler having his own secret identity was, admittedly, pretty damn inspired). He was good cheesy fun, enough so that the writers granted him a sidekick, Mighty Molly. Possessing the power of being adorable, Molly helped Hurricane save the world for six months (which is wrestle-speak for “a century and a half”).
Once Molly abandoned superhero’ing, Hurricane found another sidekick, a 400-pound fatass named Rosey. Rosey was a Super Hero In Training (S.H.I.T.), because Vince McMahon never evolved his sense of humor past the second grade. Fleshing out the Hurri-Squad was Super Stacy, who was Stacy Keibler (a.k.a. George Clooney Ex #8217463492) in a little tiny mask and a littler tinier costume. Rosey and Stacy were both completely useless and killed the Super Squad gimmick dead, though at least Stacy had the super ability to walk in ten-inch heels without snapping a tendon.
Hurricane was far from the first original superhero wrestler. That honor might go to Super Nova, the alter ego of, well, Nova, a comedy wrestler who eventually found fame by parodying Hulk Hogan in a group called the Blue World Order. Super Nova was apparently the worst hero ever, because we haven’t seen him in years. Whoever his arch-rival was, clearly they got to him and fed him to a ravenously hungry shark or something.
There’s even a Captain Comic down in NXT (WWE’s minor league system). He’s part of the Adam Rose party posse, so he only shows up when Rose supplies the good drugs. Thus far he’s only had one match, but since the whole Adam Rose thing hasn’t really panned out so far, maybe they can give Captain Comic more chances to shine. He deserves it, if for nothing else than the ballsy decision to wear his logo on his ears.
Finally, we have Super Eric, the heroic alter ego of TNA’s Eric Young. Unlike with the Hurricane, this character was a failure from the start. Just looking at him will tell you why. it also didn’t help that Young’s character had been a moronic man-child for years, and now he was suddenly a superhero? What could possibly be dumber?
How about making that same man-child World Champion? Because TNA absolutely did that too.
4. Whatever This Poor Guy Is Doing
In one night, poor Damien Sandow invented an entirely new genre of Comic Book Wrestling: one where you dress up as a character, pretend you ARE that character, and get laughed at by everybody else in the company because clearly you’re just a loser who forgot what day Halloween fell on.
Sandow, who had previously enjoyed success as an intellectual superior who just happened to enjoy baby oil and headlocks, abandoned being smart in favor of being generic ages ago. With nothing else to do, he found himself reduced to clowning around in a Magneto costume that looked to be made almost entirely out of pajamas. He attempted to use his “powers of magnetism” on Hugh Jackman, only to get his lights punched out because Hugh Jackman is a celebrity and therefore a better and more powerful wrestler than any mere wrestler.
Since then, Sandow’s been doing an “identity crisis” gimmick, where every week he’s dressed as someone different. Thus far, he’s been Davy Crockett, Sherlock Holmes, an Indiana Pacer, and a white-boy rapper named D-Sizzle. Honestly, he should just do the Magneto thing full-time. It’s a hell of lot better than what he had been doing, and losing in 15 seconds as Magneto has to be more dignified than losing in 15 seconds as D-Shizzle.
3. Cherry-Picked Theft
Of course, if stealing from a comic character wholesale isn’t your thing, perhaps you can try stealing bits and pieces of a character, and only keep the parts you like.
Sting was probably the greatest example of this. In response to all his friends thinking he had turned heel because some guy who barely even looked like him wore the same face paint and did evil things, Sting ditched all his favorite colors and became The Crow Only Not.
Obviously, he was channeling The Crow. How else can you describe that look? He even hung out in the rafters with a real-life goddamn crow for months on end, silently stalking the other wrestlers, never once saying a word. He didn’t die like the Crow, though his disastrous Starrcade ’97 match, where he lost to Hulk Hogan on a fast count that wasn’t fast in the slightest, helped WCW die a slow death. Close enough.
Sting didn’t settle for cherry-picking one character, though. Here he is pretending to be The Joker:
What? Anybody could sport smeared red lips and white facepaint while acting completely psychotic. Besides, no green hair! So see, it’s a totally different character.
Just like Ultimate Warrior was totally not Batman when he had his WCW run in the late-’90s. While we hate to mock a recently deceased legend, it’s awfully hard not to when they have this kinda crap on their resume.
While Warrior didn’t dress like Batman, clearly he had read a comic book or two and immediately started borrowing. For one thing, he introduced a Warrior Signal, which was different from a Bat Signal because nobody ever laughed their nuts off at the Bat Signal.
He also disappeared and reappeared at will, much like Bats does whenever he tires of the current conversation. But instead of just darting off whenever the other person turned their back, Warrior made the trick cooler (In his own mind anyway) by adding clouds of smoke. This had everything to do with coolness, and absolutely squat to do with how hard it is to sneak away when 15,000 people are watching you be old and slow.
If that isn’t enough, he also introduced a new catchphrase, to replace the one he primarily relied on in WWF: *SNOOORRRRRRRRRTTTTTT*. This time, we got “same Warrior time, same Warrior place, same Warrior channel.” Anyone who wasted their time watching the Adam West Batman should know where that little gem came from.
In a totally unrelated note, millions of fans chose instead to watch a non-Warrior channel. Namely, the one the WWF was on.
2. Cool-Ass Cosplay
Christ, doesn’t anybody in wrestling rip off comic books with dignity? Yes, but they’re rare. One such person is Rey Mysterio, an underrated comic nerd if ever there as one.
Rey-Rey normally just dresses as himself, wrestles as himself, and injures his knee over and over again as himself. But for certain big events, he will transform into a sweaty, oily cosplayer, paying tribute to his favorite heroes and villains. We’ve seen Captain America Rey, Batman Rey, Iron Man Rey, and even Silver Surfer Rey. Sadly, he’s all but retired by now, so our twisted dream of seeing Wonder Woman Rey at WrestleMania 31 will likely never come to pass.
He even goes all out when he knows his camera time will be severely limited. For WrestleMania 25, he came out clad in full Heath Ledger Joker attire for a 20-second match. That either shows incredible dedication to the art of wrestling cosplay, or an incredible desire to stuff as many write-offs into his taxes as humanly possible.
Then there’s Prince Devitt, an international indie sensation who WWE just recently signed. Hopefully they trust their legal department enough to allow him to continue painting his body like so:
Depending on his mood, Devitt will paint himself up to look like anybody from Venom, to Carnage, to Darth Maul, and just about any other character he can think of. If WWE chooses to use Devitt this way, he should get super-popular, super fast. They’d just have to do something about how many of these characters require Devitt to basically don blackface.
Probably the best thing about these random costumes is that they’re actual proper tributes. Rey and Devitt don’t act like the characters, don’t turn them into jokes, and don’t wear the same costume night in and night out until people actively turn on the guy playing dress-up. More of this please, and much less of *sigh, vomit, pained weeping* Super Eric.
1. Actual, Licensed, Legitimate Tributes
Of course, if you really want to see wrestlers get comic book characters right, you need to travel to one of the few countries that truly understands both art forms: Japan. Two of their most famous wrestlers, Tiger Mask and Jushin “Thunder” Liger, are 100% ripped from anime and manga, but not in a joking, ridiculous, or outright shady manner. Everything’s legit, the wrestling characters are licensed by Big Comic, and the portrayals are treated with the utmost respect.
In Liger’s case, the Jushin character is a boy who magically turns into a horned demon. In the hands of a lesser promotion (Hi TNA!) this would’ve resulted in some random jabroni getting his ass kicked in the ring, only for the lights to go out and Thunder Liger to appear in his place once they come back on. That will never work, no matter how dumb wrestling fans get. So when wrestling, Thunder Liger stays in the demon suit the entire time, works his ass off, and wows everybody. Sounds like a fine deal, and a fine tribute.
Tiger Mask is even easier to translate from comics to the ring, because in the comic book world, he’s already a wrestler. Mask was an evil grappler in a tiger mask (hence the obtuse moniker) until he realized he was corrupting children, which made him turn good. Damn kids ruin everything.
The real-life Tiger Mask, who has been played by five people since his debut in the early ’80s, has always been a face, and has always wrestled honorably. There are no stupid tiger mannerisms, no wacky backstage vignettes featuring him wolfing down a big bowl of Frosted Flakes — just a man and his mask, applying his trade night in and night out.
But because McMahon still has his precious monopoly, Mask won’t truly make it in the business until he dons red pajamas and pretends to have magnetic powers. Nice joke, life.
Previously By Jason Iannone