Review by Frank Plowright
As with the previous Then. Now. Forever. anthologies, the sixteen short stories provided here look back over the greatest moments of WWE wrestling history. The pluses and minuses are the same as the earlier collections as well.
Grouping all the one and two page stories together near the front is a mistake. They’d have been better spread between the other material, as that brief a spotlight on a wrestler enables very little, and all five have the feel of contractual obligation about them. It’s as if WWE demand the full spread of their staff is featured somewhere, and if a wrestler doesn’t appear alongside a headliner, they’ve been allocated a short. These almost all follow the same pattern of a first person narrative emphasising how determined the wrestler is to be the best, and the obstacles already overcome. If the writer really lacks imagination, that’s also the template they follow when allocated more pages.
In too many of the ten page stories there’s little effort made to properly introduce the wrestlers of the past. If you only picked up on WWE when Macho Man Randy Savage was long gone, an illustrated version of his 1987 Wrestlemania bout from Lan Pitts and Jake Elphick (sample art left) isn’t going to resonate. Neither is Kevin Panetta and Dominike “Domo” Stanton’s ‘3 Faces of Foley’, which is actually a clever idea. It gathers the three most prominent identities under which Mick Foley wrestled to compare notes, but never actually explains the conceit. One story devotes ten pages to Stephanie McMahon contemplating which outfit she should wear to exude maximum power. Is this really what the WWE audience want to read?
It’s only a few strips that stand out, strangely all toward the end and by creators not involved with the earlier material. ‘A Show of Hart’ by Michael Kingston and Michel Mulipola runs through the career of Bret Hart, although conniving manager Jimmy Hart (no relation) might have been explained better. Brett Schoonover (sample right) both writes and draws the collection’s comedy highlight as Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan kidnaps Davey Boy Smith’s mascot, and Derek Fridolfs also uses Heenan getting his come-uppance, this time against Junkyard Dog.
Such is the overall lack of inspiration, it’s only these final few stories that manage to raise the ranking to two stars. Let’s hope for better from Volume Four.