Bizarro Back Issues: Who Will Save Us From Wrestle Demons Now That The Undertaker Has Been Defeated? (1999)
If you were watching WrestleMania XXX this weekend, then you saw one of the most shocking moments in the history of the King of Sports when Brock Lesnar defeated the Undertaker, bringing a 23-year winning streak at WrestleMania to an end and leaving so many fans with burning questions. Questions like "is it really a winning streak if it's only in effect one night of the year and other losses don't count" and, far more importantly, "how does a loss at WrestleMania affect the Undertaker's ability to protect us from demons who escape from prison and try to infiltrate the mortal world through the medium of professional wrestling?"
Wait, you guys knew that was the Undertaker's deal, right? I mean, we all know about the 1999 Chaos! Comics series about the Undertaker and how he was actually wrestling demons all the time, right? Oh, you haven't? Then by all means, let me explain.
I'll be honest with you, folks: I didn't read the Undertaker comic while it was coming out. Even at the age of 17, and even as a fan of wrestling when it was at the absolute height of popularity that allowed it to have multiple monthly comic book series about pro wrestlers, I was fully aware that Chaos! Comics were universally terrible. I mean, that company existed for eight years and never managed to put out a good comic, to the point where the comic about the Insane Clown Posse was not the worst thing they ever did. Seriously, Chaos! Comics makes DC in 2011 look like Marvel in 1965.
How bad are they, you ask? Well, you know how most wrestling rings are squares? Like, to the point that they are often referred to as "the squared circle?" And how squares usually have four sides of the same length, a fact you may remember from learning it in kindergarten or having it told to you by a muppet? Well, nobody told Chaos! Comics about that.
And somehow, coasting off the success of Lady Death and her breasts, they managed to secure the license to make comics about the World Wrestling Federation and its assorted superstars. Now, I've written before about how it's a lot harder than it might seem to mix comics and wrestling, and how trying to find the right way to blend those two distinct worlds into a single story requires an innovative approach that doesn't always work. Fortunately for late '90s comics readers everywhere, the fine folks at Chaos! decided to sidestep that whole set of problems by just making their version of the Undertaker's story completely insane.
Like, more insane than the actual Undertaker, who was once shoved into a coffin and then appeared on a giant television in a video that was meant to have been broadcast live from inside a coffin to give a speech about how his body could be killed but his soul would simply find a new host and then come back to win the Royal Rumble, I mean.
The series launched with writer Beau "The Last Real Man In Comics™" Smith and artists Manny Clark and Sandu Floria (collectively credited as the "Brutality Crew"), and to be perfectly fair, the concept behind it is kind of neat, until you think about it for more than, say, 20 seconds, which is is about 14 seconds longer than anyone who read Chaos! Comics ever thought about them. See, while you and I watch pro wrestling and see a bunch of large, mostly human people grappling with each other, what's actually going on, what you can see with the true sight of Hell, is that some of the wrestlers are actually demons battling for control of Hell. Or, more specifically, Stygian, which is a prison in Hell. For when you go to Hell and then commit Hell Crimes, I guess.
Look, this is already getting really complicated.
So there's this prison, right? In Hell? For Hell Crimes? And it used to be run by the Undertaker who, I guess, is therefore a fallen angel who took the side of Lucifer and rebelled against God, but in the middle ages, this druid called the Embalmer (THE EMBALMER, I MEAN REALLY) cast a spell and killed the Undertaker, whose soul was sent into the body of a kid whose parents ran a funeral home. This, incidentally, is where the story of the comic dovetails with the Undertaker's canonical WWF backstory, complete with Paul Bearer setting the funeral home on fire, killing the Undertaker's parents and absconding with his brother.
That's right, everybody: IT'S YOUR BROTHER UNDERTAKER! KATNE!
Wait. Katne? That's not right. That dude is Kane. Either they made a ridiculous and improbable spelling error, or somebody thought that a burning cross was a super sweet design choice. Maybe they could've thought that one through a little better.
Anyway, the Undertaker, the Embalmer and Paul Bearer -- sadly, Gravedigger the Monster Truck remains absent -- are all battling for control of Stygian, which also involves these three Books of Death, because about halfway through the first issue, everything suddenly starts to operate on Nintendo Logic. But like I said, it's kind of neat for a premise. If nothing else, it's better than when Image did the book about Kevin Nash having sex in a post-apocalyptic future, and it sort of blends the Undertaker's original purple-gloved zombie gimmick in with what would've been his contemporary, more demonic Lord of Darkness stuff.
The problem is that if you apply even the lightest level of scrutiny to it, the whole thing just raises way more questions than it answers. Like, so the other wrestlers are demons, right? But not all of them. Presumably most wrestlers are just, you know, wrestlers, which makes me wonder why the Undertaker would be bothering to fight Steve Austin if he was not, in fact, a rebellious demon lizard from Hell.
The obvious question here is where are all these demons coming from and how are they getting jobs at WWF? Do they have to claw their way out of the pits of hell and then spend a couple of years down in a developmental territory before they can be sent out to be brutally thrashed by the Undertaker as part of this demonic war? Are the indies just stocked with bright-eyed young Satans putting on shows in armories and high school gyms, watching tapes from New Japan and honing their skills in hopes that one day they get the call from WWE and then try to murder the Undertaker with a blast of hellfire? And does Vince McMahon know that he's constantly hiring demons? Is that really the best way to go about your war for control of Helljail? It is a complicated plan.
The second and slightly more pressing question isn't really a question it all, it's just holy s**t the Undertaker is straight up murdering people in the ring:
Since the audience can't see that he's actually fighting demons, I would assume that even the most jaded Attitude Era crowd would probably be a little shocked if the Undertaker just started Tombstone Piledriving everyone to death and then casting their souls down to Hell while shooting purple Kirby dots out of his eyes. I mean, it would definitely get me to watch Smackdown, but still.
And believe it or not, it actually got more complicated from there. There was an issue where the Embalmer, the Undertaker and Kane all had a fight that involved beating each other up until they could rescue a woman from a cage suspended above the ring who could give them control of Hell, only to have the Undertaker end the match by pretty much murdering her on live television (actually pretty plausible for late '90s WWF, now that I think of it), Mick Foley showed up to fight demons by beating them to death with a steel chair (implausible but way more awesome in theory than it actually was), and halfway through the series, it turned out that Undertaker and Ka(t)ne had another sibling named Jezebelle:
This character was never used on actual WWF television, which seems astonishing.
The series came to a grinding halt after ten issues, which was definitely for the best since Chaos! folded in 2002, right around the time that the Undertaker was reinvented as a biker in leather pants who entered to Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, and even though that's right in line with the standard Chaos! aesthetic -- there is no way Fred Durst has not at least considered a concept album based on Evil Ernie -- it would've required retooling the entire book.
Long story short, it was not very good. And if you need any more compelling argument than what you've just read, consider this: It had not one, but two mail-away special issues from Wizard magazine, a #0 and a #1/2. Truly, there can be no better mark of anti-quality.