I first met Ryan Penagos, executive editorial director of Marvel Digital Media Group, in April at the C2E2 comic convention at McCormick Place. We got together because of a mutual love of taco joints (though not exclusively about food, his blog is called “Agent M Loves Tacos”). But our conversations picked up when I found out he was a fellow wrestling geek.
“The first hour of the workday on Tuesday, we’re usually talking about what happened on ‘Monday Night Raw,’” Penagos said. “Even on our podcast, ‘This Week in Marvel,’ listeners are always asking us wrestling questions, and we’ll just go off on these long tangents. It happens almost every podcast. The crossover is definitely at its apex now.”
Penagos confirms WWE recently invested in a project called “The Marvel Experience.” Details are vague, but it’ll be a traveling show feautring Marvel superheroes (though likely not wrestlers), with “motion ride(s) and original 3-D animated features, allowing fans to be part of the action.” The tour is slated for 2014. In addition, WWE has an open agreement with Wizard World, which operates a branded series of conventions across the country, to have its wrestlers make appearances.
One former WWE wrestler parlayed his comic book obsession – 18,000 in his collection – to the greatest run of his career. Before WWE, Shane Helms had previously been cast in gimmicks that didn’t gain much traction, most famously a villainous boy band trio called 3 Count in WCW. After he joined the WWE in 2001, Helms was struggling to find a new persona when he started giving improvised, in-character interviews on live television. Off the cuff, he brought up a subject he knew intimately: The Green Lantern, and soon he dressed in a cape and mask and dubbed himself “The Hurricane.”
“That character was supposed to last a couple months at most, and that was 12 years ago,” said Helms, who left WWE in 2010 but still wrestles as The Hurricane on the indie circuit. “As popular as mixed martial arts is, [it’ll] never have the larger-than-life characters that pro wrestling does.”
Like Helms, WWE diva AJ Lee toiled in lower-level storylines and struggled to get TV time before her current run as Divas champion.
“For three to four years, I was begging to get on any Comic Con or [Electronic Entertainment Expo] panel, but I never got to go,” Lee said, implying that before her breakthrough this past year she wasn’t a big enough name to represent WWE.
The 26-year-old looks unlike any female wrestler before her – a 5-foot-2, 110-pound tomboy who drew inspiration for her character from the DC Comics villainess Harley Quinn. Lee grew up writing her own comics and playing video games. When it came to pro wrestling, she rooted against the popular female wrestlers because they were too “blond and perfect, and I didn’t want to cheer for them.” Lee thought she didn’t have the bombshell look expected of a ladies pro wrestler but could perhaps enter the business as a writer.
Eventually, Lee was signed by WWE and in 2010 made its minor league farm team, a reality competition show called “NXT,” where one wrestler is voted off the show each week by viewers.
Before her first episode, Lee dressed the way she felt comfortable – wallet chains, sneakers, loose dress. But one of the producers suggested Lee change her look to be more diva-like, and maybe stand a better chance at winning.
“They told me to change, so I had to go through the luggage of all the other divas to find ring gear,” she said.
The next week, Lee ignored the producer and dressed as herself again, in sneakers and chains, and the audience responded favorably. She would make it through to “NXT’s” next-to-final episode.
“Sometimes it’s hard. You have every single voice telling you you were wrong, so this makes me excited for our future,” Lee said. “I’m happy to get to be me.”
• Kevin Pang writes for the Chiacgo Tribune.
Story distributed by MCT Information Services.
• Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton battle for the WWE title in the main event of the WWE Battleground pay-per-view on Sunday, Oct. 6 from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
AJ Lee defends the WWE divas title against Brie Bella.
Rob Van Dam with Ricardo Rodriguez challenges Alberto Del Rio for the World title in a hardcore match and more.
Bell time is 8 p.m. EST.