As I previously mentioned in my review of The Gimmick, in the Editor’s Notes of issue two, Tom Peyer writes about the first time he saw professional wrestling in a comic book. It was an issue of Superman (volume one) #155. On the cover was an illustration of a smiling Antonino Rocca, easily throwing Superman out of the ring. Rocca throws the Man of Steel with such force that he snaps through the top rope, while a shocked Jimmy Olsen exclaims from the crowd, “Wow! That wrestler, Rocca, has thrown Superman through the ropes! This is the greatest sports upset in history!”
Over the Editor’s Notes of the second and third issues of The Gimmick, Peyer discusses this issue of Superman and what happens between the covers. Spoiler alert for this 60-year-old comic book: the impish villain Mr. Mxyzptlk made Rocca stronger than Superman, but in a twist ending worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, it turns out Rocca and Superman traded places at some point, and it was actually Superman who tossed Rocca out the ring, so the whole thing was a work all along.
While Superman #155 may not be the most sought after issue of Superman in the long history of Superman comics, it’s still not exactly a cheap comic book, relatively speaking, but if you’re looking for an early example of wrestling in a non-wrestling comic (it’s the earliest example I’ve learned of, so far), this is a very cool option, featuring a real pro wrestler on the cover.
The funny thing is, Peyer mentions in the Editor’s Notes of issue four of The Gimmick that while Superman #155 may have been the first time he saw pro wrestling in a comic, this wasn’t the first time a Superman story featured a wrestling plot. In fact, while it’s not a comic book, Peyer mentions that an episode of Adventures of Superman from November 28, 1952, season one, episode eleven, titled “No Holds Barred,” includes a whole storyline about wrestling.
While I haven’t yet watched the episode myself, Peyer mentions that this episode of Adventures of Superman is quite racist, and doesn’t go into too many specifics about the episode, but one interesting tidbit I found, while searching for the episode online, is that the episode features a previously uncredited performance by Henry Kulky as a wrestler named Crusher. Kulky wasn’t someone I was familiar with, but thankfully SlamWrestling.net’s own Greg Oliver wrote an article about Kulky titled Bomber Kulkavich: From the Mat to the Bottom of the Sea, for those who wish to learn more.
These two early examples of wrestling in Superman stories sent me searching for more, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon Action Comics #372, from 1969. Action Comics #372 isn’t exactly a key issue, or anything like that, so collectors can pretty easily secure themselves a copy for a modest amount, especially if they’re not overly concerned with condition, but while Superman #155 might have wider appeal, because of the guest appearance of Rocca, I think Action Comics #372 is actually a better looking comic, with a much darker cover by Neal Adams, the artist behind Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Sure, it’s a boxing story, but since Ali had a match against Antonio Inoki, I’m calling this a wrestling-adjacent comic book.
The cover of Action Comics #372 depicts a masked Superman holding a wrestler up by the ankles, with his foot hovering over the back of the wrestler’s head. The men in the crowd, ringside, have a collective look of horror on their faces, while Superman exclaims, “So you thought you could beat me, eh? I’ll crush your skull like an eggshell!” The threat of this potentially fatal finishing move is quite gruesome, like something Homelander would do in The Boys, rather than Superman, but I have to say it looks like it could be a great variation on the curb stomp performed by Seth Rollins and other wrestlers, that is if a safe version is possible.
The wrestling plot in this issue is a short, one-off story, and it shares the issue with a Supergirl story, so like many other wrestling-themed non-wrestling comics I’ve reviewed, there’s not much of an actual story in this issue, but it’s another fun entry with a great cover created by a legendary artist.
With that being said, I’m not much of a Superman fan, but I am a fan of Batman, and I especially enjoy Batman’s “Rogues Gallery,” or the collection of villains that Batman has faced over the years, so let’s jump ahead from 1969 to 2023. Starting in October 2022 and concluding in May 2023, DC published an eight issue mini-series titled Batman: One Bad Day, in which each issue was dedicated to telling a one-shot story about some of Batman’s greatest foes. The fifth issue in this series, published in January 2023, was Batman: One Bad Day – Bane.
In my previous wrestling comics column, I discussed the pro wrestling imagery that inspired the appearance and moveset of Bane, but the comic book Batman: One Bad Day – Bane takes those allusions to wrestling and brings them to the very front of the story. At the start of Batman: One Bad Day – Bane, Bane isn’t a supervillain in a lucha mask, he’s literally a washed-up professional wrestler, off the juice (aka Venom), reliving his life’s single greatest accomplishment, breaking Batman’s back, night after night, in the squared circle. Except the Bats he’s breaking now aren’t Bruce Wayne, they’re stand-ins, copycats, jabronis in ill-fitting Spirit Halloween Batman costumes whose job it is to get their backs broken by Bane.
But when word comes in that somebody is making Venom again (an addictive and toxic performance enhancing super drug), Bane decides to seek and destroy this new source of the drug that once controlled his life. It’s a good, dark story featuring one of comics’ most pro wrestling influenced characters. It’s available widely in print and digital formats, even possibly free from your local library, and I highly recommend it.
So, from the earliest example I can find of pro wrestling in a non-wrestling comic book (Superman #155), to one of the most recent (Batman: One Bad Day – Bane), to all of those wonderful comics in between, it’s clear that comic book creators find professional wrestling to be a fruitful reference for their stories, and I’m excited to see what examples of wrestling in non-wrestling comics, old or new, I’ll find next.
- When pro wrestling inspires non-wrestling comic books, part 3
- When pro wrestling inspires non-wrestling comic books, part 2
- When pro wrestling inspires non-wrestling comic books
- Collectibles Archive