There was an unusual sight this past weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. And it wasn’t fully grown men and women dressed as Spider-Man, Catwoman and the late Blue Beetle.
Those types of things are expected when the event in question is Wizard World Philadelphia, one of the larger comic book conventions in the United States. Instead, the surprise came in the form of a large two-story booth rising above the throng of comic book companies, dealers and all things super hero. With a DJ spinning hip-hop music for most of the show from the second floor balcony, the exhibit by Spike TV — the cable network dedicated to manliness — seemed at first glance to be a little bit out of place.
Spike actually had a directly comic-related reason to be at the show, since it will be debuting Blade: The Series, based on the character born in Marvel Comics and made popular in the Wesley Snipes movies, later this month. Superstar comic book writer Geoff Johns helped write the pilot episode, so his appearance to promote the show was a natural. But some of the biggest lines at the booth on Friday and Saturday were for autograph signings by TNA wrestling stars like Jeff Jarrett and Team 3-D.
Once you dig a little bit, the worlds of comic book heroes and pro wrestlers overlap quite a bit. Both feature larger than life men able to apparently sustain punishment that would kill normal humans, as well as uniquely proportioned women. Both are important parts of North American pop culture, though except for boom times like the early ’90s for comics and the late ’90s for wrestling, both are usually accepted somewhat grudgingly by the mainstream. And while comics and wrestling are enjoyed by male and female fans of all ages, now more than ever they both rely on the 18-to-34 year-old male demographic to keep them going.
The WWE, with its tendency towards over-the-top personalities and less reality-based storylines, probably benefits from the overlap the most. There are the obvious signs, like Hulk Hogan sharing his first name with a certain green-skinned goliath or Gregory Helms spending a few years in his “super hero” persona as The Hurricane. Some are a little more subtle, like the pay-per-view outfit once sported by Rey Mysterio that had to be a tribute to The Flash. Long-time writer Brian Gerwitz is known to be a huge comic book fan. Thus, it wasn’t shocking to see former WWE star King Kong Bundy at Wizard World getting people to fork over $20 or more for his signature. Even Virgil, not a star by any means, got some love at the show.
TNA, though, is a slightly different story. With its focus on in-ring action and its placement in Spike TV’s Thursday night block that also features UFC programming, wrestling’s second largest promotion has its feet planted more in the real world than it’s four-color counterpart. It’s almost certain that the stereotypical Marvel Comics fanboy and the guy that Spike targets with its adds and programming aren’t the same person.
That didn’t matter on Saturday, when the line to see the artists formerly known as the Dudley Boyz snaked ironically past the Marvel booth. We snuck SLAM! Wrestling Raw reporter Dale Plummer into that line, and in his brief encounter with Team 3-D, they revealed that the bitterness on display in their promos promising to uphold “the honor of the Bingo Hall” is absolutely real. That reality is about as far from comic books as one can get, but it all managed to converge on the floor of the convention center nonetheless.
This is the kind of thing that has to be encouraging for the people involved with the new incarnation of ECW. Rumored at first to be internet-only, fans quickly got excited when the announcement came at the end of May that Paul Heyman and company would get a prime time slot for their show. That revelation came with a healthy dose of eyebrow-raising — and a few jokes in some places — that the home for ECW would be the SCI FI Channel, because, well, it had an open slot, and NBC Universal could air it wherever it pleased.
Scenes like the one at Wizard World suggest that while ECW may not have much in common with the rest of the SCI FI lineup, this seemingly random pairing of program and network may actually be a stroke of genius. Science fiction and comics are first cousins at the very least, and it’s very easy to imagine extreme superstar and comic shop owner Rob Van Dam commanding a pretty big line of his own next year. That’s assuming ECW’s deal with SCI FI continues on, as for the time being it’s only for the summer of 2006.
It’s hard to imagine that a co-worker of mine who’s a big fan of Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica will tune in to watch wrestling just because it’s on SCI FI, so it’s important not to take this thing too far. I can guarantee there were at least two people in Philly this weekend who will, because Dale and I had tickets to the convention long before we knew any wrestlers would be there. So here’s a free programming suggestion for the folks at NBC Universal: if you have any comic book-related shows, they might make good lead-ins for ECW.
Fans of the two have more in common than you might think.