Plenty of licensed wrestling comics have come and gone throughout the decades, but none have had the success and staying power of BOOM! Studios’ WWE ongoing. The franchise has been going strong for over a year with a monthly title penned by Dennis Hopeless with art from Serg Acuña, Doug Garbark and Jim Campbell, and monthly back-ups from guest creators. Fleshing out BOOM!’s license are annual specials centered around the WWE’s “big four” pay-per-view events, with shorts that follow historic moments and figures in WWE’s history—including a second WrestleMania special, out this week.
Professional wrestling sits in the middle of a weird Venn diagram blending sports and scripted television, where extremely talented athletes find themselves embroiled in storylines with demons and supernatural cult leaders. It’s easy for wrestling media to play to “smarks”—smart marks, fans who pride themselves on insider knowledge of the “real” business of pro wrestling—or to lean so far into the comedic, supernatural elements that it loses the relatable warmth that endears some wrestlers, whose only magic may be their incredible skill, to fans.
The BOOM! Studios WWE team has managed to straddle that fine line in storylines centering around fan-favorite stable The Shield, and currently, the Women’s Revolution; Hopeless, Acuña and Garbark weave wrestling’s wilder elements like the eerie Wyatt Family or the gregarious New Day with extremely heartfelt storylines like Seth Rollins’ recovery from injury or Bayley, Sasha, Charlotte and Becky Lynch’s rise through NXT to become the faces of a major shift in how women’s wrestling is treated in the WWE.
Now BOOM! has announced the fourth arc of the series, starting this June: the story of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, one of the most emotional, longest-running rivalries in modern wrestling history. We talked to BOOM! Editor Eric Harburn and Associate Editor Chris Rosa about their thoughts on this upcoming arc, and Sami and Kevin’s upcoming match at WrestleMania. The arc kicks off in WWE #18, available this June, and this year’s WrestleMania annual special just hit shelves this week.
WWE #18 Cover Art by Dan Mora
Paste: First thing’s first: Sami Zayn versus Kevin Owens at WrestleMania. How are you feeling?
Chris Rosa: Well, now with the Sami/KO match morphing into a tag-team showdown between Sami and KO vs. Shane-O-Mac and THE RETURNING DANIEL BRYAN, all bets are off. The original Sami/KO clash was going to be epic, but now, this rivalry will take its place among the greatest Wrestlemania moments, no matter which team comes out on top. That said, Eric has a deep, deep hatred for ska music, so it’s safe to say he’s Team Yes! all the way..
Paste: What drew you to this rivalry? Is this a story you’ve been itching to tell in the comics?
Eric Harburn: This program has really been an embarrassment of riches—there are just so many epic characters and stories to explore over the 40+ years of WWE history that it’s impossible for us to tackle them all. Sami and KO have been on our list (ahem) since the beginning, and we’re very happy to have the chance to take a deep dive into their stories.
Paste: Will this arc touch on their time in NXT, or be more focused on what’s happened between them on Smackdown in recent months?
Harburn: This story will touch on Smackdown Live, NXT and even Kami’s earlier humble origins, but it is most prominently set in their current epic feud with the higher powers of SmackDown Live.
Paste: A highlight of the series for me has been emotional moments in unexpected places—I still think about the sequence of Seth’s recovery with The New Day in volume one—but this story feels much more emotional in a much different way. Are you approaching this any differently than, say, the Shield arc?
Harburn: Even more so than the Shield arcs, “Fight Forever” is focused on a single relationship—Zayn and Owens’ on-again/off-again bromance for the ages. And as Dennis, Serg, Doug, Jim and the rest of the team have done so well over the past 18 (!) issues, this arc is equal parts visceral in-ring action and emotional gut-punches.
WWE #16 Interior Art by Kendall Goode
Paste: What’s it been like collaborating with Serg Acuña and Doug Garbark? Serg in particular does great work in those emotional moments—this arc feels tailormade for him.
Harburn Serg, Doug and Jim do fantastic work together—an ongoing comic series is no easy task, but they consistently deliver, and we can’t wait for everyone to see what they’re bringing to the table for “Fight Forever.”
Paste: What other rivalries would you want to explore in the series, if you had the chance?
Harburn: Stay tuned! But if you’d like a hint, some of the other WM matches hold the answer…
Paste: Let’s say someone who doesn’t typically watch wrestling picks this up WWE #18 this June, and their interest is piqued. What Kevin vs. Sami match would you recommend? (Or matches, if you can’t pick just one!)
Harburn: It’s an easy pick, but Battleground 2016 is a great gateway match before diving further into their storied (and YouTube-able!) history.
Paste: What was it like having Sami and Kevin cut a promo on the BOOM! team? Any chance this WrestleMania match is going to turn into a tag match with some special appearances from BOOM!?
Harburn: Absolutely surreal. One of the coolest things to have happened in our careers—huge shout-out to Steve Pantaleo and the entire team over at WWE for facilitating that promo, and being an amazing licensing partner.
Paste: This might be a dangerous question, but: who’s your money on at WrestleMania?
Harburn: The milk truck.
Rosa: Much love to The Queen, but no one is ready for Asuka…