Look! Up In The Sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a wrestler attempting to climb their way out of the mid-card with a new masked gimmick!
I’m not sure if any of you guys have noticed, but superheroes have been popular for the last couple of decades.
Ever since special effect technology became prominent enough to give us faithful adaptations, movies Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man set the course for superhero films to dominate the box office.
It looks like the trend will continue for a long time, with a wealth of characters and stories to draw inspiration from for the best part of a century, ever since Superman graced the cover of Action Comics issue 1 way back in 1936.
With their coloured costumes, heroes and villain’s engaged in epic battles and over the top storylines, it’s no wonder the lycra-clad world of wrestling has taken inspiration from the funny books even before this golden era of lycra-clad cinema engulfed us all.
Today we will be looking at ten wrestlers who owe a debt of gratitude to the funny books. As such there will be a fair few omissions otherwise we will be here until Spider-Man has had his 14th reboot.
So be sure to give a nod and salute to the likes of Super Nova, Stardust, Rey Mysterio’s Wrestlemania entrances from the ’00s, Mr America(whoever he may be) and all the other heroic warriors who have entered the squared circle over the years who didn’t make this particular list.
In the beginning, there was The Battman.
Actually, no, in the beginning, there was El Murciélago Enmascarado “The Masked Bat”, one of the first masked Lucha libre’s who wore a black hood and was surrounded in mystery.
He made his debut in 1938, a full year before Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics no. 27, so any connections to the caped crusader are purely coincidental.
The Battman however, is a full-on rip off.
Due to the popularity of the ‘60s TV show, Tony Marino put on the cowl to capitalise on its success.
He even had his own Robin. Kind of. At least someone dressed as Robin appeared in a couple of promotional photos and possibly a couple of reported matches. Like any good crime fighter, Robin’s true identity remains a mystery to this day.
This Battman’s real sidekick, believe it or not, was none other than the legendary Bruno Sammartino, as the two tagged together for a short time in the early ‘70s.
If DC rip-offs aren’t your thing then perhaps a Marvel one will tickle your fancy.
Brad Armstrong, part of the famous Armstrong wrestling family, had quite an illustrious career wrestling for the likes of NJPW, WCW, WWF and many more.
But one career-low point has to be Arachnaman. You may expect this kind of rip of malarkey in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but this took place in the early 90s during the Jim Herd era of WCW.
Arachnaman would wear the same costume as his inspiration, swapping the blue and red for purple and yellow, and replacing Spidey’s eye covers with silly-looking cut-out eye and nose holes, spurting silly string from his wrists during his entrance.
No stranger to taking legal action against pro wrestlers like Hulk Hogan (wait, has anyone noticed Mr America and Hulk Hogan have the same moustache?) a potential Marvel lawsuit quickly saw the end of your friendly neighbourhood Arachnaman.
Marvel X Lucha Libre
Probably getting sick of the never-ending battle against sports entertainment, Marvel finally realised that they could probably profit from licensing their characters to pro wrestling. After all, Spider-Man began his career as a pro-wrestler, so makes sense for life to imitate art.
The official debut of Marvel’s Luchas took place in AAA’s Triplemania XVIII in 2020, and consisted of:
El Arcano, a spin on Spider-Man with the “real name” of Alejandro Arana.
El Leyenda Americana, with the secret identity Andrews-Gonzalas, was inspired by Captain America (not to be confused with Mr America).
El Venenoide, A Venom style creation that inhabits Adriano Sanchez.
At Triplemania 28 the team of El Arcano and El Leyenda Americana took on El Leyenda and El Venenoide. In the style of 2018’s Infinity War, spoiler alert, the bad guys actually won!
But all hope wasn’t lost when, after the match, the lights cut to black and Estrella Cósmica, a take on Captain Marvel, appeared, warning the villains that this was just the beginning.
Estrella Cósmica’s true identity is still unknown, but the beauty of having kayfabe secret identities (or not so secret as their backstories seem to be heavily promoted) is that anyone can potentially play these roles.
This is just as well seeing as they already have a plethora of merchandise, including Funko Pops, to sell.
Officially licenced superheroes in wrestling aren’t a new thing by any means. Take Tiger Mask for example.
Based on the anime created by Ikki Kajiwara’s and Naoki Tsuji in 1968, NJPW brought the license for the character in the early ’80s.
Originally portrayed by Satoru Sayama, the mantle of Tiger Mask would pass down from wrestler to wrestler, with six official portrayals of the character to date.
That’s NOT including spin-offs Tiger Mask W played by Kota Ibushi, or Shinsetsu Tiger mask played by Masakatsu Funaki, or any of the sidekicks, mirror versions or villains that have spawned from the gimmick along the way.
And you thought the Spider-Verse timeline was confusing…
Jushin Thunder Liger
Keiichi Yamada started his path to pro wrestling legendary status way back in 1984, but it wasn’t until 1989 did he adopt the guise we all know and love him for.
Following the success of Tiger Mask, New Japan decided to take on another anime superhero character.
Jushin Liger was a show created by Go Nagai in 1989, and Yamada would debut the pro wrestling version of the character that very same year.
Jushin Thunder Liger would surpass the fame of the TV show, at least for western audiences, and become one of the most fabled wrestlers of all time.
Despite there being many spin-off characters (including a masked Chris Jericho as Super Liger) unlike Tiger Mask, Yamada would remain the sole portrayer of the character.
This is insane considering his prolific career lasted up until 2018 when he finally decided to hang up the costume for good.
Captain New Japan
After losing a series of matches and acting out erratically, the NJPW faction known as Chaos kicked out Hideo Saito from the group back in the early 2010s.
This was Saito’s origin story. He would return to NJPW with a new gimmick, Captain New Japan, based on Captain America (not to be confused with El Leyenda Americana or Mr America…hey, has anyone noticed Mr America and Hulk Hogan have the same theme tune?) complete with mask and shield.
Like Sting taking on the nWo, Captain New Japan would rage war against the newly formed heel faction Bullet Club.
Unlike Sting, Captain New Japan would repeatedly take a kicking.
Even a tag team partnership with New Japan legend Hiroshi Tanahashi didn’t help his losing ways. Going under the moniker “Captain Ace” the team would lose pretty much every tournament they were a part of, with Captain New Japan lying on the mat for most of those losses.
Eventually, Saito would join the Bullet Club as Bone Soldier, and his jobbing ways would continue, with Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega labelling him as an “intergalactic disaster.”
Super Eric And The Prince Justice Brotherhood
Eric Young has had a long, strange and varied career filled with many different gimmicks, hairstyles and beard lengths.
At Destination X 2008, Young debuted his latest character Super Eric.
Like any good superhero, Super Eric would keep his true self unknown even though his name would be a bit of a giveaway. Imagine if the Justice League consisted of Wonder Diana, Super Clark and Bat Bruce.
Teaming with Frankie Kazarian, the two would win the TNA tag titles but were to be stripped of the belts due to Eric refusing to give up his secret identity.
So Eric dropped the gimmick and went searching for Elvis in Vegas (a strange and varied career) before returning to the Super Eric persona that summer.
This time Super Eric would not be alone! He would form his own Justice League, teaming with Curry Man (Christopher Daniels) and Shark Boy.
The group would be known as The Prince Justice Brotherhood, a rib on the monster Abyss and his former ring name.
Of course, Young would go on to become a main eventer and multi-time champion for the company.
For over eight years Scottish-born Nikki Storm worked her way up the UK wrestling scene before getting a contract with WWE in 2016.
With the name change to Nikki Cross, she paved her way through NXT for the next two years before finally reaching the main roster joining Smackdown! in 2018, the UK wrestling community rejoiced.
She was then given the superhero gimmick Nikki A.S.H and the UK wrestling community recoiled in terror, angry at this character WWE had bestowed upon our beloved Storm.
Turns out A.S.H (which stands for almost a superhero) was Nikki’s idea. She could see her character was getting stale and as a final “hail mary” pitched the idea inspired by the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons she used to enjoy as a kid.
With a new cape and masked look, Nikki A.S.H would go on to achieve great success, winning Money In The Bank and then onwards to grab the Women’s Title off of Charlotte Flair.
At the time of writing A.S.H has recently turned on her buddy Rhea Ripley, creating an opportunity for an interesting heel dynamic. A baddie superhero who thinks their ends justify their means, like Ozymandias or Peacemaker? Yes, please.
The Blue Blazer
When Owen Hart originally debuted in the WWF in 1988 it was under the name Blue Blazer.
Blue Blazer wasn’t someone who took pride wearing azure jackets, but rather a high-flying masked hero who would backflip off the corner turnbuckle during his entrances.
Quite an impressive sight during an era where “athleticism” was considered to be Hogan shaking his head and pointing his fingers at people (Wait, has anyone noticed Mr America used to do this too?)
He would spend this first run jobbing to heels before leaving the fed following a loss to Mr Perfect at Wrestlemania V.
Returning a couple of years later, Hart would go about forging his legacy in the company for the entirety of the ’90s, leaving behind the Hulkamania era tagging with Koko B Ware, surviving the New Gen era which include an epic feud with his brother Bret and helping establish the Attitude era with his role in the new Hart Foundation and the Nation of Domination.
Then, in 1998, Owen would quit the company and be replaced with the Blue Blazer!
To prove they weren’t the same person, Owen would appear with the Blue Blazer, who definitely wasn’t Jeff Jarrett in the mask!
Then, to prove it wasn’t Jarrett joining in with the ruse, the two would appear with the Blue Blazer, who definitely wasn’t Koko B Ware in a mask!
Jarrett and Blazer, who definitely wasn’t Owen, Jeff or Koko in a mask, would win the tag titles on an episode of Raw in 1999.
The Blue Blazer character was the last one Owen would use to entertain fans before the shocking and tragic events of Over The Edge 1999.
The Hurricane And Friends
The most over superhero gimmick of all time has to be The Hurricane.
Gregory Shane Helms had always been a great wrestler, starting at the young age of 17 Helms would have almost a decade of experience before joining WCW in 1999.
It was his talent that helped him survive WWE’s acquisition of the company in 2001. He just needed a gimmick to help him stand out, and that gimmick was The Hurricane.
Proving the age-old wrestling fable that anything can get over as long as you put your heart into it, The Hurricane did exactly that. Where others would see the corny superhero set up as a death knell in their career, Shane’s love of comic books would help make the gimmick his own.
Helms was a big Green Lantern fan, as evident by the character’s logo tattooed on his arm, and The Hurricane’s green attire and half mask were inspired by the emerald warrior.
He also didn’t mind looking silly. Having the time of his life, the fans would pick up on the fun, and The Hurricane would be used as a vehicle to help other floundering wrestlers by donning a cape and joining the heroics.
Mighty Molly, Rosie and Stacy Keibler would all join in Hurricane’s never-ending battle against evil at one point or another.
The high point of the Hurricane’s run was a pinfall victory over The Rock on a 2003 episode of Raw.
Of course, The Rock’s loss would come at the hands of some outside interference by Stone Cold, as the two were building up to their upcoming match at WrestleMania 19, but it still shows the company had some stake in Helms in allowing him to pin one of their all-time biggest stars.
The muscle-bound theatrical heroics would not only inspire the wrestling world, but pro wrestling would also help inspire comic book cinema.
Something to keep in mind when you next see John Cena as the titular Peacemaker, The Rock as the titular Black Adam, Batista as Drax in Guardians Of The Galaxy, or Hulk Hogan as Dave Dragon in Three Ninjas High Noon At Mega Mountain. But that is another list for another day…
Hang on, guys, I think I just worked out who Mr America is!
It’s Dave Bautista!