The WWE’s Smiling Superheroes by Matt Corton

I only had two fights at school. One I won easily because I made sure I picked on the smaller guy, and the other I lost miserably.

Fifty-fifty booking, you might say.

To look at it another way, I won as a heel, fighting the smaller guy deliberately, then lost as the face in peril. My comeback wasn’t strong enough you see – consisting as it did of me hiding for the rest of the day.

And do you know what I did after that humiliating defeat? I walked into school the next day and laughed about it. I didn’t scowl and go looking for my ‘W’ back, I thought myself lucky I wasn’t more injured and got on with my life.

But I was a kid. Not a wrestler.

Roman Reigns did pretty much the exact same thing as me after the Royal Rumble – he walked in with a smirk on his face, deadpanning the humiliation of defeat and making out like it wasn’t that much of a big deal.

But Roman Reigns is a wrestler. Not a kid.

The current Roman Reigns character reminds me of pretty much everything that bothers me about how WWE books its wrestlers. Larger than life characters is fine – great even, it’s what a lot of the greatest fiction is made up of. A leaning toward behaving like a superhero for the ‘top guys’ is fine too, as long as the WWE remembers there’s a lot of different types of superhero and not just Superman (who is lame).

There’s a glaring problem with trying to cast Roman Reigns as the next WWE superhero though, because even the most simplistic superhero cares about whether he actually beats the bad guy or not.

Even John Cena cares about whether he wins or not, when he really doesn’t need to worry.

If Roman Reigns is going to behave like a superhero then he really shouldn’t be a cocky little…whatever, like he is being at the moment. Roman shows no signs of portraying a man in peril, or a man dissatisfied with being pulled from pillar to post, because, as he said on Raw, he knows he’s walking out with the title again after Wrestlemania. There’s no doubt in his mind, and by turn ours, that the Triple H reign is a stop-gap until Roman has his Wrestlemania moment when the kryptonite of Vince McMahon gets put away somewhere and Roman can superman punch his way back to the title.

Like a superhero.

If I could change one thing about superhero movies, it would be to make them all a little more like the Watchmen rather than Avengers Assemble. I wish they were like The Dark Knight trilogy rather than Superman. I even wish they were more like Superhero Movie than Spiderman.

I’m not saying the WWE are actively trying to mirror superheroes because I’m sure they’re not, but the thing is, if I could change one thing about the WWE it would be exactly the same thing – I’d rather the faces were more like the ones from the Watchmen or the Dark Knight trilogy rather than Avengers Assemble or Superman.

There’s not so much that’s different about the two sets of films – the bad guys get defeated like they do in every film. The day is well and truly saved against all the odds by an individual who has that little bit more than the rest of us. But none of those are the reason I like them so much. What WWE could learn a thing or two from is that the good guys in Watchmen and Batman ends up victorious, but each victory costs them.

What we get with WWE far too often is a Superman lamely saving the day and ending with a lovely little quick quip. Or when they do lose as Roman did at Royal Rumble, they are so cocky they are going to win the title back that a small hiatus of not having won doesn’t really bother them that much. You saw the same cocky manner when KO beat John Cena – there was no doubt in Cena’s manner at all that he was getting his win back in the next match.

There’s no real peril.

If you drew the character of Stone Cold Steve Austin in a comic book fashion, he’d likely as not be more Miller-esque than Stan Lee. He’d be scarred, damaged. Hard-drinking, hard-living and mean as hell in a fight. He’d fight you, your mum and your dog in one go, but he’d fight that fight fairly.

If you drew the character of Triple H in a comic book fashion you’d get much of the same – only Trips is the bad guy. He’ll fight when the odds are in his favour and he’ll do whatever he can to make sure those odds are never evened-out. In his current guise, the COO has the organisation and the power behind him. It’s sad, because while Stone Cold has remained the cool Miller-esque anti-hero, Triple H has become the next generation of Vince McMahon’s Lex Luthor.

The thing is…there’s always a place for both and the best in the business have been both. Take Chris Jericho – he’s the catchphrase maniac face and the slow, deliberate heel making sure every situation plays out to his plan. You could draw Jericho as Miller or you could draw him as Lee.

So why don’t we have a go at redrawing Roman Reigns?

I’d draw him as a man condemned to being the good guy. It’s not a choice, it’s just the only way he knows how to be. This is a guy who gets it done, but getting it done eats a little more of him each time it’s finished. More importantly this is a man nursing his way through his scars while he tries to fight the next fight. Can you imagine if each time Roman Reigns won, he had to spend a little of himself to get the win? If in order to beat Bray Wyatt, he’d had to do something distasteful to him that bothered him in the weeks to come? What if his second loss of the title had led Roman to brood, become twitchy and see threats around every corner where there was none until he battles his internal demons as well as the next guy and comes out victorious against both?

If the looking glass you see wrestling through tells you that the good guy should win most of the time, then that’s fine. It’s not how I see it, but there’s nothing wrong with faces winning the big feuds. What’s wrong too often is how they do it.

The Dark Knight trilogy brought the superhero genre right into the looking glass of the 21st century. They were modern films with a modern hero. They proved you don’t have to have the good guy be an out-and-out anti-hero or an out-and-out smiling set of simpletons like the Usos. They showed us you can be seen to be doing the right thing but sometimes do it with a snarl and frankly, look cool.

Roman Reigns has the cool look. He says one or two cool things, when he’s allowed to keep it brief. Some of his moves are cool, at least to the kids in the audience and if they’re not then they’re big moves – and big moves make you look like a threat in a wrestling ring, but more on that next week.

There’s a lot about Reigns that could be that cool, snarling face who gets the job done but is interesting while he does it, but it’s a change I really don’t see them making. The only way they could do it now is for Dean to win the match at Fastlane or for Dean to screw him out of the match at Fastlane giving the win to Brock. If he wins that match, then wins at ‘Mania (whoever he faces there, there’s no way he’s not winning at ‘Mania) then he’s been right to smirk all along, because beating people up is just a formality.

There’s a chance of course that I’m completely alone in this, so here’s your chance – those of you who want to see smirking, smiling, carefree faces with little to no depth just coming out and believing in themselves every week, win or lose, let me know. Because you must be out there. Or why would WWE keep doing it?