Panels From Beyond the Grave #9

UNDERTAKER (#1, April 1999)

Horror AND wrestling? Sign me up! I don't know how many of you remember this series, but during the zenith of the booming Attitude Era, a handful of WWF superstars landed their own comic book. Out of all of the characters that populated the roster, The Undertaker was the most fitting icon to become a two-dimensional superhero. Hell, his backstory sounds like something that was accouched from a Chaos! Comics brainstorming session. It makes sense that the McMahon family wound up partnering with Chaos! to distribute these comics. An ill-advised decision, that.

Chaos! went bankrupt three years later. One can't help but wonder if Marvel or Dark Horse would have been a safer bet. Then again, an American Badass Phenom would have made for a lousy comic book, so maybe this series ended at the right time. Even though Undertaker debuted in 1999, the storyline picks up a year earlier. The Ministry of Darkness didn't exist yet. Our principal players are 'Taker, Kane, Paul Bearer and The Embalmer (a.k.a. Augustus Slayer). Obviously, The Embalmer was created specifically for the comic book. He is the top heel, if I may be so bold as to use wrestling jargon. For the uninitiated, a heel is a villain.

'Taker oversees Stygian, Hell's Prison. He wants Hell all to himself, but in order to lay claim to multiple planes of existence (including Earth), he must possess the three Books of the Dead. Naturally, he only has one. The Embalmer owns a book, as does Paul Bearer. You can see where this is going. The plot is a tad convoluted (not to mention generic), but writer Beau Smith does a laudable job of adding sortilege and supernatural twaddle to a basic concept that boils down to nothing more than kayfabe. If you think about it too much, you'll realize how ridiculous the script is. Why would ancient demons look to the World Wrestling Federation to settle a score?

This particular issue finds 'Taker chokeslamming and piledriving various foes in the fiery depths of Hell. We are introduced to The Embalmer (who bears an eerie resemblance to The Sultan, Fatu's last pre-Rikishi gimmick), and we catch glimpses of Kane squashing a random jobber. The artwork is fantastic. Honestly, I would buy it for the artwork alone. I don't see this title appealing to comic readers who don't watch wrestling, though. That's a major flaw, and it explains why no one knows that this series exists (outside of die-hard 'Taker fans, of course). I dig it. It's easy for me to enjoy it since I'm part of the target audience.

Here is a cool factoid that you can impress your geek friends with...in later issues, we meet Jezebelle, Kane's half-sister.

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