Earlier this summer, BOOM! Studios announced they were partnering with the WWE to come out with a new comic series starring current and past WWE Superstars. The WWE has tried to get into the comic book market for years, but past efforts have fallen flat on their face for two reasons: below-average artwork and a reluctance to actually show the wrestlers as wrestlers. Older WWE comics have depicted John Cena as a Roman gladiator or Chris Jericho as a cyborg superhero, but rarely do the wrestlers appear as their WWE "characters".
BOOM's first attempt at a WWE comic, a one shot titled WWE: Then Now Forever, succeeds where those books failed by featuring stories set within the WWE "continuity" and using a team of quality artists. Then Now Forever is a well-drawn and fun series that plays to its core "WWE Universe" audience by choosing to exist in a world they already love.
The main story, by the creative team of Dennis Hopeless, Daniel Bayliss, and Dan Mora, delves into the last days of the Shield, an unstoppable wrestling staple that dominated the WWE for several years. Although the Shield broke up nearly two years ago, all three of its former members are still major forces and are arguably the WWE's three biggest full-time stars.
The main thing that stands out about the main story is the more "cartoony" style of Bayliss and Mora's artwork, which actually helps the story. Too many licensed comics based on live action TV shows/movies rely on photo tracing, which makes the art feels flat and lifeless. Instead of fretting over capturing every face wrinkle and muscle Bayliss and Mora give Ambrose, Reigns, and Rollins more stylized looks that make them feel at home inside the pages of a comic book.
This type of art style allows the reader some suspension of disbelief, so we can see Seth Rollins bounce off the windshield of a Wyatt Family truck without worrying that he's sustained some sort of life-threatening injury.
That stylized art is a common theme in Then Now Forever #1, as BOOM! wisely chooses to depict the wrestlers as characters instead of "real" people. A short illustrated by Rob Guillory leans heavily on the bright and absurdist humor of the New Day while a 2 page story by Derek Fridolfs depicts classic WWF wrestler Tugboat in a Popeye-esque style. Although each story has its own art style, most of the art emphasizes that these WWE Superstars are larger life characters, heroes and villains that belong inside the pages of the comic book. At the same time, Then Now Forever takes advantage that most of the book's readers already know who these characters are and what sort of history they have with each other.
Ultimately, Then Now Forever feels not dissimilar to the first issue of a Marvel or DC comic book. The WWE is an established universe with characters known to millions of people. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Then Now Forever lovingly translates the WWE Universe to comics and finally succeeds where past attempts at a WWE series has failed. If WWE #1, BOOM's planned ongoing series out in January, continues off of Then Now Forever's strong start, wrestling fans will finally have a comic series worth talking about.