Anyone who has been a fan of superhero comics and professional wrestling for any length of time doesn’t have to look too hard to find a connection between the two. Larger than life, colorful characters bursting with muscles (and most often clad in form fitting spandex) performing superhuman feats. Obsessive fans who know the ins and outs of their favorite characters and history, including rivalries, love interests and the occasional change of heart turning one from good to evil. A serialized, often soap opera-esque battle between those who would do harm to the innocent and those who champion justice.
Perhaps no one understands it better than the fans and grapplers who are a part of CHIKARA. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, CHIKARA takes it’s name and logo from the Japanese kanji for “strength” and is billed as “American lucha libre”. Incorporating the flair and dramatics of Mexican wrestling with the hard-hitting impact of Japanese puroreso, the promotion has made a name for itself both in the states and abroad… but by now you’re probably wondering “What does any of this have to do with comic books? Isn’t Comicscape supposed to be a weekly column dedicated to four-color heroes and sequential art?”
Never fear, true believers! We haven’t forsaken our dedication to the medium for our love of the squared circle; we’ve finally managed to find a way to combine the two.
That paragraph at the top of the column… the one where we talk about people who’ve been fans of both pro wrestling and comic books? Well that’s us. So you can imagine our surprise when we, after years of hearing the name of CHIKARA lauded on many a website, finally attended our first show in nearby Taylor, Michigan and discovered that for every t-shirt we saw depicting John Cena, CM Punk or another wrestling superstar, we saw an equal number of t-shirts featuring Spider-Man, Batman or Dark Phoenix. This was our kind of crowd!
Visiting the merchandise table, we were further astounded by what we saw. DVDs and posters mimicking a variety of classic comic book covers including Days of Future Past, the Infinity Gauntlet and even Tales From The Crypt, with the stars of CHIKARA in the place of the heroes! A t-shirt bearing the CHIKARA logo bore a strong resemblance to those worn by the Fantastic Four and there was even a dude dressed up as a Ninja Turtle egging the crowd on during the matches.
While it goes without saying that the vast majority of wrestlers wear spandex tights, it seemed that well over half of the evenings matches featured at least one outlandish character in a mask and more often than not, a cape as well. We saw a colony of ants, a time-traveling snake and pharoah, a couple of fellows who appeared to be straight out of a video game and even a viking or three.
To top it all off, the in-ring technique displayed by these gentlemen was beyond compare. If you are unfamiliar with the Mexican or Japanese styles of wrestling, we’ll sum it up as briefly as possible: it’s a lot faster paced, a lot more acrobatic and in general, a lot more fun than the “kick, punch, kick” stuff you see on a Monday night wrestling program. It’s the type of stuff that makes even the most jaded fan (or non-fan) sit up and take notice. There wasn’t a single match on the card that evening that we’d grade as anything less than an A.
Amazing athletic ability? A company-wide superhero mentality? The first time we encountered CHIKARA was not unlike the day that the chocolate met the peanut butter and an alliance of awesomeness and great taste was formed. We knew we had to talk to them and spread the word through Comicscape. Our opportunity came in the form of a brief chat with Mike Quackenbush, the co-founder of the Chikara Wrestle Factory, a school which teaches the fine art of professional wrestling and led to the CHIKARA promotion. Boasting a love of costumed heroes and a work ethic not unlike many independent comic creators, Mike put his money where his mouth was and combined two of his loves to create something wholly unique.
“My partner and traveling mate Reckless Youth and I were really quite bored with the independent scene in 2000 and 2001. We were going all over the country, and things seemed really monotonous. Even if we wanted to infuse elements from new or different styles into matches, that can only be accomplished when you have people to work with that share your skill set. It was really frustrating because everywhere we went it seemed like we kept encountering the same crappy style, run in more or less in the same fashion by cookie-cutter companies… and really, I think we had a reputation for becoming complainers. So, time came to put up or shut up. If we could do things better than what was out there, better get to it. Thus, Chikara Wrestle Factory opened in January of 2002 and five months later, that launched CHIKARA.”
But it isn’t just a strong work ethic and athletic talent that makes a CHIKARA show so much fun. It’s the infusion of comic book sensibilities that really sets it apart and appeals to this fan. Quackenbush explained where this came from. It’s a story that should be familiar to most of you…
“My grandparents gave me my first comic book when I was 2 years old. I don’t know that I did a lot of reading at that age, but I’ve been collecting for quite a while. Reading books like Marvel Team Up and Avengers really got me hooked.
I don’t have a comic store near me any more. I was current on about 40 books until 2 years back. I especially liked JLA, Daredevil, most of the Avengers books, X-Factor, Astonishing X-Men and the Green Lantern book(s) since they revived Hal Jordan.”
If you’re a comic book fan who loves wrestling, or a pro wrestling fan who loves comics, putting the two together seems quite natural. This connection wasn’t lost on Mike Quackenbush either…
“I’m sure you see the parallels much like I do. There are good guys and bad guys. They wear crazy outfits and perform superhuman feats in an unending struggle to overcome one another. Maybe that is more obvious to people that grew up with the comic book medium factored into their lives, but regardless, pro wrestling is about as close to a real-life manifestation of comics as you’ll find.”
Truer words have never been spoken and as fans of both, we at Comicscape strongly urge fans of in-ring antics to check out CHIKARA as well as recommending it to those who might not have previously given pro wrestling a chance. CHIKARA is ½ comic book, ½ grappling action and 100% fun. If you’re reading this, we know you love comic books, so you’re already halfway there. Do yourself a favor and check ‘em out.
More information on CHIKARA can be found at Chikarapro.com and if you’re a gamer, be sure to check out the trailer for their upcoming video game on Youtube. The storyline bears a striking resemblance to a popular story featuring resurrected zombie superheroes from the recent past.
Chad Derdowski, in addition to writing Comicscape and weekly comic reviews for Mania.com, can also be found with fellow Mania reviewer Chris Smits on the Zod Complex Podcast, dropping geek knowledge like Galileo dropped the orange.