Combining professional wrestling and comics seems like a match made in heaven. Over-the-top personalities and silly stipulations for matches could create magic on the pages. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) teamed up with BOOM! Studios to release comics based on their characters and history, inspiring a slew of independent wrestling-themed comics. However, they’re not the only ones: although not affiliated with the WWE, Suspicious Behavior and Starburn Industries’ Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia serves as a love letter to the history of the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and professional wrestling in general.
From the title page of the first issue, “A Date with Destiny,” it is evident the creative team is passionate about professional wrestling and this project. Before introducing the writers and artists, a note appears on the title page: “To anyone who’s ever taken a bump, done a job or left color on the canvas for our entertainment—this is for you.” To some this could be confusing. To wrestling fans and professional wrestlers, it simply means “Thank you.” By using wrestling terms such as bumping (hitting the canvas hard to sell a move) and doing a job (allowing the opponent to look good by beating you), writers Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin establish credibility. In the first two issues every contributor has a ring name, the best belonging to colorist Marissa Louise who goes by “Col. Von Slamstein.” I hope they continue to do this for creators in upcoming issues.
Although this series is not a local creation, the story opens in 1984 at the St. Paul Sportaturium, which is a pleasant nod to Minnesota’s wrestling history. Minnesota was a hotbed for body slams and German suplexes from the 1960s to 1991. The AWA ruled the Midwest, establishing such superstars as Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and Ric Flair, all of whom started in the league before moving to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the ’80s. Main character ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’ Rory Landell, an amalgam of Flair and John Cena, wrestles for the American Wrestling Foundation and acts as a nice tribute for those who grew up with territorial wrestling. He spends the first few pages cutting promos—that is, talking instead of wrestling—in the same way that made Flair and Cena stars in the industry.
The first issue introduces Rory and Don, Rory’s manager, who is a Hawai‘ian man playing a Chinese character. It was, and still is to some extent, a common practice for wrestlers to usurp stereotypes to bolster the characters they portrayed. Don and Rory have a father-and-son dynamic throughout the first two issues as they face wrestling politics, getting old, and an eventual alien invasion. That’s right: Rory claimed in 1984 that he was the “Galaxy’s Champion” during a promo, unaware it would lead to an invasion 15 years later by the planet Wrestletopia.
After the alien reveal in issue #1, issue #2—titled “Two Worlds Enter, One Leaves!”—gives the reader a glimpse of what to expect from the series. Entin and Kuehnel’s writing mixes perfectly with Dan Schkade’s art as they create a world where professional wrestling is the key to saving the planet. The storytelling is ridiculous and nonsensical, aligning well with the absurd stories seen every Monday and Tuesday night with WWE productions.
I’ll admit I hesitated reading Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia. At first glance it seemed like something I would not enjoy despite the fact that I’m a lifelong wrestling fan. I felt that the premise would be cheesy and would not present an authentic representation of professional wrestling. But my hesitations were misguided, as it’s more enjoyable than most of professional wrestling today. The book is flat-out funny at moments and crafts a story both wrestling fans and mainstream comic fans will enjoy. A good introduction in the first issue leads to a fun experience with the second and had me wanting more. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy seeing government officials suplexed outside the White House? I certainly did.
I would recommend this for any wrestling fan who longs for the zaniness of professional wrestling in the 80s. And for fans of comics, it’s enjoyable for all the reasons we love a book like Deadpool. Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia has a premise that may discourage some readers with its silliness and flippant tone, but the approach allows the reader to escape in much the same way professional wrestling itself does. Honestly, I never knew that a series like this was needed. I am glad that Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin created a wonderful tribute to professional wrestling, and I hope it continues well into the future.
The first two issues of Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia are available on ComiXology. Issue #3 is out June 19, 2019.