Review by Frank Plowright
The major difference between this collection of short stories about the WWE wrestlers past and present and the earlier volumes is far greater creative consistency. Of the credited writers Bill Hanstock supplies eight of the fourteen stories, although most are one or two pages, with only Arune Singh from the others submitting more than one. In terms of art, Rodrigo Lorenzo draws four stories, while Daniel Bayliss (sample art left) and Kendall Goode (sample art right) supply four each, although Bayliss is restricted to shorter content.
Whether it’s due to the greater consistency or the creators stepping up their game, this is the best of the four Then. Now. Forever. anthologies. Some context is given to who the wrestlers from the past are and what made them great, the best being Ryan Ferrier and Goode comparing Ric Flair at the height of his career in the 1980s and the day the curtain came down in 2008. The emotional pull is supplied by the story being told as seen through the idolising eyes of Shawn Michaels whose duty it is to finish Flair’s career.
One and two page spotlights have continually been the weakest element of the previous three Then. Now. Forever. collections, but the appointment of Hanstock changes that, making them a strength, and he achieves this without straying from the established formula. These are still first person narratives of contemporary wrestlers like Shayna Baszler or Aleister Black explaining themselves, but under Hanstock there’s a greater understanding of who the people are and what motivates them. He greatly transcends the previous repeated mantra of a wrestler striving to be the best because the belt means everything to them. He also benefits by having artists like Bayliss and Lorenzo who’re capable of the dynamic pages many earlier contributors didn’t manage. Overall Serge Acuña is the star artistic turn, which is why he’s also drawing the main WWE series.
After three poor volumes, it’s nice to see Then. Now. Forever. finally achieving its potential. The shame is it’s too little, too late as the series ends here.