Review by Ian Keogh
If there’s any TV experience akin to superhero comics it’s the world of wrestling, with its over the top combat, costumed identities, team-ups, grudges, bombast and strange and wonderful characters. Yet back when it was the WWF in the 1990s, the WWE’s previous dip into comics was hardly a critical, commercial or creative success.
Boom Studios! presumably saw those previous comics, and rapidly worked out what didn’t work. For starters, this version looks so much better. Both Dan Mora and Serg Acuña produce art where the wrestlers leap from the pages, and where the action is always full pelt. Dennis Hopeless writes the wrestlers as if living in character, hanging out in their various allegiances and taking their grudges outside the ring, and the artists thrill with pages of attacks at the yacht club (honestly) or in the street.
Hopeless begins with Seth Rollins dissolving The Shield in 2014, giving him a first person narrative voice to explain himself and his thinking, at least to a degree. Hopeless is limited by the ongoing plots devised by the WWE staff, so fills in gaps rather than generates new themes, the downside of which is that anyone who follows the WWE (pretty well everyone who might buy this) already knows Rollins’ journey. Hopeless does sell the idea that the only opportunity in the world more valuable than a shot at the title is actually possessing that championship belt. Compared with those, lifelong friendships are nothing, and any action resulting in one or the other is justifiable. This is a world where everyone’s dedicated to taking care of business, getting things done, and has big plans. Woe betide anyone who steps in their way.
Despite the limitation, Hopeless builds a convincing picture of a wrestler that induces sympathy. Yes, in the WWE world you’re not supposed to like Rollins. He’s arrogant and selfish, but what these scripts do is balance that with dedication, and behind the scenes manipulation of his negative personality traits. Plenty of other WWE characters feature along the way, and it ensures Redesign, Rebuild, Reclaim is a fun read.
Filling out the back of the book are a frankly astonishing selection of variant covers to what was serialised as five issues of comics. Artists leapt at the chance to draw their favourite wrestlers past and present whether or not they had anything to do with the story inside. One omission that’s a shame is the short strips looking at other wrestlers that featured in those comics. They’re unconnected to the main story, but a lot of fun
While this can be read entirely separately, it’s the first of a trilogy looking at all three one-time members of the Shield, with Dean Ambrose spotlighted in Lunatic Fringe and Roman Reigns in Roman Empire.