In 2014, the WWE experienced something genuinely new, a rarity in a business built on echoes of the past and contemporary culture. A third brand, billed as a developmental training ground, debuted on the WWE Network, showcasing talents who are now major stars. The brainchild of former WWE champion and COO, Triple H, and Hall of Famer and the late, great wrestling impresario Dusty Rhodes, NXT became the launching pad for stars like Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, The Wyatt Family, and multi-time champions Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns, also known as The Shield. With the success of both NXT and BOOM! Studios’ WWE comics, a semi-kayfabe telling of the origins of NXT was never going to be far behind.
In WWE NXT: The Blueprint, Dusty himself takes us through a completely kayfabe telling of the first days of NXT at Full Sail University. From the first page, writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Jake Elphick capture the essence of The American Dream, from his promos back in his WCW/NWA days to the in-ring swagger he showed against foes like Ric Flair. Having Dusty pause the “interview” to show former tag champs The Usos how to up their charisma game in the ring is a perfect vision of who Rhodes had become in his later days. The line is blurry here between the WWE Performance Center being a training ground and sort of a boarding school for psychotic wrestlers. Is Dusty a headmaster working to keep his charges from killing each other or simply running the real-world training camp? Honestly, I don’t care which one is the answer. From what I know about Dream, he would have taken either on with vigor.
While I am a big fan of showing how NXT alums have made it on the big stage, there are a few moments where I think the art fails to show the talent in the best light. Dusty at this point already was a caricature of himself, but Roman Reigns and the now-retired Paige are real people. The art just doesn’t do them the justice they deserve. The focus on Dusty as the primary character is smart, for now, keeping a single perspective while introducing a number of known elements to the WWE Universe without making any of them the main character.
In the comic, the kayfabery continues with Xavier Woods and Big E meeting in the ring for the first time, setting the stage for their becoming part of the current SmackDown Live tag champs, the New Day, but we also get to head into the literal swamps of Florida where Bray Wyatt and his strange partners apparently live. Wrestling is weird and amazing. Throw in the impossible things comics can do and the magic world that Vince McMahon has been peddling since the 1970s becomes realer than ever before.