An in-depth telling of the not-so-true story of the man they call The Phenom.
Inarguably, The Undertaker has been one of the most popular characters in the history of professional wrestling. Appearing first as the secretive teammate of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase at Survivor Series 1990, The Undertaker is still a force to be reckoned with by his in-ring opponents 28 years later. BOOM! Studios, in the first long form graphic novel of the WWE comics brand, brings us the completely kayfabe story of the emergence of The Phenom, from his youth working in his family’s funeral home, to his relationship with the infamous Paul Bearer, how he began wrestling, his brother Kane, and the many, many battles in his long career. In the pretend world of professional wrestling, The Undertaker is the only true carny character to have lasted through the multiple eras of WWE. This book is a fitting tribute to his longevity and life as The Deadman.
Beginning with his time as a young man, working in his family’s funeral home, we see a part of The Undertaker’s story that wasn’t told on television until years after his initial debut. His brother, Kane, burned down the home, killing their parents and, apparently, himself. Young Taker, no name actually given, ends up working for and being cared for by the greasy Paul Bearer, a mortician who owes money to the mob. Taker’s size and fighting prowess leads Bearer to insist on him wrestling, fighting to earn extra money. A meeting with DiBiase leads directly to the aforementioned debut in Hartford, Connecticut.
As his career unfolds, we see the betrayal by Paul Bearer and the debut of Kane, masked to hide the psychological scars from the fire he once caused. At this point in the story, time speeds up, we flip between Taker’s in-ring career and his time away from the ring where he seems to always be building, tinkering, or digging holes (presumably for souls). For WWE fans, especially the old-school ones from the halcyon days of the Attitude Era, the book covers every incarnation of the Undertaker up through his WrestleMania match with John Cena in 2018.
Writer Chad Dundas has done an excellent job of interpreting years of twisted back stories and characters into a cohesive story probably never imagined or planned by WWE itself. Part of that is from necessity, as wrestling changes constantly based on the needs of the company and the shifts in audience. Creating reasons why the evil Undertaker transformed for a time into the motorcycle-riding American Badass and later back to the Deadman takes some doing. Dundas has done yeoman’s work making nearly 30 years of these stories a single, functional tale. Artist Rodrigo Lorenzo, who drew most of the book, has captured the characters in their elements, replicating the idea of the WWE without doing many direct portraits. A few of Taker’s most famous moments are reproduced in the book extraordinarily well. Chapter four of the book, however, really takes the reader out of the story with art by five different artists that does not even come close to the earlier chapters by Lorenzo and chapter three, by Edu Menna and Serg Acuña. I have seen this as a consistency problem with BOOM!’s WWE comics for some time. Some artists capture the reality of the characters, others provide working caricatures, but each book seems to have at least one section that just does not fit with the rest of the book or the stories being told.
Overall, WWE Original Graphic Novel: Undertaker is an in-depth telling of the not-so-true story of the man they call The Phenom. His life in the squared circle is legendary, matched by few. His full kayfabe story deserves to be told. This feels like it would be a wonderful cap to the end of a great career, but, as of this upcoming Friday at WWE Crown Jewel, Undertaker will have two more notches on his belt. Is there another WrestleMania in his future? Will the Undertaker make it to his 30th year in WWE? Only time, and the Deadman, will tell. Until then, his opponents will continue to Rest…In…Peace.