I’m back again with the third installment of “When pro wrestling inspires non-wrestling comic books.” Last time, I discussed reader suggestions of Death of Superman, Spider-Man’s Tangled Web 14, and the solo series of Marvel’s The Thing, which lead to my discovery of Dennis “Demolition” Dunphy, a gay, pro wrestling superhero from Detroit. This time, I’ve returned with more reader suggestions, some new and some classic, so thank you again to the SlamWrestling.net readers for your comments and messages.
The first two new suggestions I received came from Lavie Margolin (@laviemarg), author of Trumpmania: Vince McMahon, WWE and the Making of America’s 45th President and co-host of The Business of the Business podcast, and I didn’t know about either of them before he suggested them. First, Margolin mentioned a comic book from January 2022, Looney Tunes #264, which stars Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. According to a DC summary of the comic, “While attending a professional wrestling event, Bugs and Daffy are handpicked by the audience to take part in the main match. Daffy is sure their two-on-one advantage will bring them fame and fortune… until he discovers that their opponent is none other than the heavyweight champion, the Crusher… whose previous opponents each left the ring on a stretcher!” Despite the warning on the cover that this comic is appropriate for ages 13 and up, it’s pretty standard Looney Tunes fare. I’d call it a kid’s comic even, but it’s a fun and more recent entry in the genre of pro wrestling inspired non-wrestling comic books.
The other comic Margolin suggested is Marvel’s Venom #28, from September 2020. Specifically, Margolin introduced me to the Kael Gnu variant cover of Venom #28, which features a stunning depiction of Venom, who many feel has a very luchador-inspired design, standing victorious in the middle of a wrestling ring, foot on the back of Spider-Man, hoisting a championship belt over his head. The actual story inside the comic is unrelated to wrestling, but the cover is a gorgeous example of comic book wrestling art. While the standard issue of Venom #28 still sells for the cover price, or even a little under, of $3.99, Gnu’s wrestling variant will cost collectors a little more. There’s several copies on eBay for about $25, as of this writing, but if you’re willing to spend a little more, you can also choose from the “virgin” version of the wrestling cover (meaning no text), in color or black and white, but any of these variants would look fantastic displayed in a frame.
The next example of a pro wrestling inspired non-wrestling comic book wasn’t suggested to me by any one person, but it’s been discussed and speculated on quite a bit since a WWE-adjacent superstar was initially connected to its adaptation. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6, published by Marvel in May 2006, could have been found in comic shop dollar bins until April 2022, when it was reported by Deadline that Bad Bunny was set to star in a standalone film about the Mexican wrestler, El Muerto, who makes his debut in the comic. Overnight, lucky ducks who owned multiple copies of this once forgotten and ignored comic were raking it in, and collectors were spending upwards of $100 per comic for a small piece of the action. In the year since Deadline broke the news, the big screen adaptation of El Muerto has hit several snags, including Sony removing El Muerto from its release slate, and now Bad Bunny himself has pulled out from the role. As a result, the comic book has significantly decreased in value, not quite sinking back to the dollar bin, but there’s far less speculator interest now that Sony and Bad Bunny have shied away from the project.
With that said, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 remains a pro wrestling inspired non-wrestling comic book, and while I won’t be buying a copy for myself anytime soon, because I am at heart a cheapskate, I did read it for free on the Hoopla app, thanks to my local public library. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 is the first of a two-issue story called “Masks,” which features the debut and origin story of El Muerto, real name Juan-Carlos Sánchez, a masked, Mexican wrestler who J. Jonah Jameson books for a charity wrestling match against Spider-Man, who’s featured in more wrestling-adjacent comics than any other superhero that I can think of, but I suppose that’s what happens when pro wrestling is a key element of your origin story (see my previous articles for more on that). Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 and #7 cover the entirety of El Muerto’s character arc, so it’s difficult to summarize while avoiding spoilers, but I will say that, in my opinion, there’s good reason why this comic was previously relegated to the dollar bin, so if you just want to read it for yourself, and aren’t interested in the possible investment value of the comic, I recommend doing so with the assistance of your friendly, neighborhood librarian.
My final entry for this installment of “When pro wrestling inspires non-wrestling comic books” is possibly one of the most obvious examples of when pro wrestling inspires a non-wrestling comic book, but I honestly hadn’t thought about it until it was suggested to me by Slam contributor Rasslin Merch Machine. Basically, the Merch Machine suggested I revisit Knightfall, one of the most popular and celebrated Batman stories of all-time, and not just because the design of the central villain of the story, Bane, is clearly inspired by the masked luchadores of Mexico. More on that, though, to start.
Not long after the Merch Machine suggested I reread Knightfall, I was randomly flipping through the July 2012 issue of WWE Magazine, and I came upon a brief interview with Graham Nolan, the artist for Batman: Vengeance of Bane, where the character made his first appearance. “Lucha Libre was definitely a starting point for me,” Nolan said. “Because the character is South American and has lived his entire life from childhood in the Santa Prisca prison. So, the way I rationalized it was, if he had been exposed to any kind of masks or costuming, that’s what it would have been from.” I had always assumed that the character of Bane was inspired by the look of masked, Mexican wrestlers, but the WWE Magazine interview with Nolan confirmed that it was even more intentional than I thought.
With that said, the Merch Machine didn’t suggest I reread Knightfall just because of the way Bane looks. He encouraged me to focus on the pro wrestling-esque elements of the story. Without giving too much away, because Knightfall is definitely worth reading (all 600+ pages, depending on which collected edition you choose), the character of Bane comes to Gotham from the fictional South American island of Santa Prisca with the sole intention of “breaking” Batman. In order to do so, Bane blows up the walls of Arkham Asylum, freeing the inmates within, initiating a chain of battles with Batman. Essentially, Bane books a gauntlet match for Batman, who begins by picking off the low-hanging fruit before making his way up the ladder to more imposing challengers such as the Scarecrow and Joker. It takes Batman nearly three restless months to capture and reimprison the Arkham Asylum escapees, after which he is physically and mentally exhausted, and it’s at this point that Bane finally issues the challenge, in Batman’s home of Wayne Manor. In Batman’s diminished state, Bane quite easily defeats him, and finishes him off with a backbreaker, a literal pro wrestling maneuver.
After Bane “breaks the Bat,” the mantle of Batman is taken up by the character of Azrael, who debuted in 1992, not long before the Knightfall story. Azrael quickly establishes himself as a far more brutal version of Batman, and it’s through these tactics that Azrael, in a new mechanical Batsuit, is able to defeat Bane, before Azrael himself eventually turns heel. While Bane remained a major character in Batman comics for years to come, it’s for the Knightfall story 30 years ago, and his iconic victory over Batman with a backbreaker, that he’s most remembered.
And that’s a wrap on this very luchador-inspired edition of “When pro wrestling inspires non-wrestling comic books.” As always, I want to thank readers for their comments and suggestions on these articles, and I want to encourage them to continue to share with me their favorite, and not so favorite, wrestling and wrestling-inspired comic books. Will we ever run out of wrestling comics to discuss? Will we uncover even more wrestling adventures of Spider-Man? Tune in next time and find out!