A new arc begins as Dennis Hopeless and Serg Acuna examine one of the most controversial wrestlers in modern times. Does it work? Let’s find out.
Written by Dennis Hopeless & G. Brett Williams
Illustrated by Serg Acuna & Kelly Williams
Colored by Doug Garbark & Kelly Williams
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Roman Reigns has fended off all challengers during the start of his Championship run, but will the rising Roman Empire be able to survive the Wyatt Family?
Roman Reigns. The Big Dog. The iron fist of the Shield. The “2” in “23-2”. His is a name that means very different things to very different fans of wrestling. Is he the flat, boring annoyance that is constantly being shoved down the fans throat and proof Vince McMahon needs to get over his admiration for large, perspiring gentlemen? Or is he a talented wrestler being maligned by factors outside of his control? After this Sunday’s No Mercy, where Roman Reigns beat last-gen’s resident Fanbase Breaker John Cena to the thunderous… well… boos, “WWE” #9 is timely if anything.
First-Things-First: The cover. While a fine cover by Dan Mora, very movie poster of the looming villain in Bray Wyatt and badass hero in front, it has two big flaws. The first is depicting Roman with blue eyes. Yeah, not unlike when it happened to Cass Cain in “Batman & Robin Eternal”, it’s really dodgy when this happens to non-white people and needs to be called out when it can. The second flaw… the cover is a dirty lie. The Wyatt’s don’t appear in this at all, not even mentioned.
What we got was something better.
The setting: July 2016, Money in the Bank. The night all three members of the Shield became WWE champion within the span of five minutes. But more than that, it’s an examination of Roman Reigns, his relationship with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, WWE fans and a look into the past of the character as a child. I have to specify that it’s the character, even though it does blend in aspects from the actual past of Joe Anoa’i, including his time as a football player and his wrestling heritage.
“Perception” is the theme of this story. How we perceive our relationships and the relationships we see between others people. It starts with Roman and Dean, after Dean won his Money in the Bank contract but before Roman has to defend his WWE Championship against Seth. Hopeless and Acuna do a great job of conveying the brotherhood between these two, even if their current circumstances will put them at odds. When we finally get to the match between Roman and Seth, we get a good look inside the Roman Empire’s head with all the Boos from the crowd directed at him, while Seth Rollins, the infamous traitor and general snake, gets cheered.
This skewered perception is nothing new to Roman, as we flashback to him as a child watching his dad, himself a wrestler back in the eighties, getting booed as well. It confuses the young Roman. He knows his dad’s a good guy, but the whole fanbase still booed him and cheered his opponents. This trend of people picking good guys and bad guys continues in other flashbacks, including another as a kid with him playing with his cousins, the Usos, along with a scene with their father, Hall of Famer Rikishi and an altercation during his football days.
To put it simply, this is the Roman Reigns that the WWE wishes it could present to us. This is a man clearly at odds with himself and the people around him. Trying to find that kind of balance between being the “Good Guy that Gets Cheered” and the Big Dog that doesn’t care what people think. Every bit of fans booing causes that slight bit of hesitation, enough for Seth to get the win… just in time for Dean Ambrose to cash in on Seth and claim the WWE Championship. The combination of loss and frustration with the fans is enough to see that brotherhood between Roman and Dean crack by the end of the issue and leave our main character a much more conflicted and interesting one.Continued below
Serg Acuna and Doug Garback continue to be a great combination on the book. They blend that sweet spot between cartoonish and photorealistic so we have figures near true to their real-world counterparts. Their Dean is perhaps the most true to life, capturing Jonathan Good’s likeness and mannerisms incredibly. They do a great job of conveying action, never being stiff with the art to convey impact, even when it’s Roman and the Usos playing with wrestling action figures back in the day. One particular highlight was during the present day with Roman about to set up for the Spear and getting distracted by the Boos. Acuna and Garback depict the boos as background images, pictures of the booing fans forming the interiors of the letters. It was a very “The Wicked + the Divine”-ey image with the distracted Roman in the foreground.
There is a two page backup about another wrestler that was part of a wrestling lineage: Dustin Reynolds, the man who would become Goldust. Like the main book, G. Brett Williams and Kelly Williams explore the idea of perception and how it always seemed Reynolds was in the shadow of something else until he changed the perception with a change in persona, creating a character that lasted to this day. The artwork here is a lot more sketchy, but it’s the coloring that stands out most, almost everything a dim wash except that majestic Gold.
At the end of the day, I want you to do me a favor. Imagine Vince McMahon trying to get a wrestler over for four years and it just doesn’t work. A guy who won the Royal Rumble twice, main evented Wrestlemania three (possibly four in 2018) times, retired the Undertaker and still that guy wasn’t getting over. Then, imagine all that work getting upstaged by one comic creating the best version of the character. I know licensed comics are at the whims of the companies they’re based around, but in this case, the company should be taking notes from “WWE” #9.
Final Verdict: 8.4- The best interpretation of Roman Reigns ever.