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Comic book writer Mike Kingston retells the story of AJ Styles’ phenomenal WWE debut
If you’ve been to a major comic convention in recent years and are a fan of comic books, sports-entertainment or both, chances are you’ve crossed paths with Mike Kingston. Creator of the comic book series “Headlocked’ — which frequently features covers by Jerry “The King” Lawler and stories written by WWE Superstars — Kingston’s love for comics and his passion for sports-entertainment have culminated in his biggest comic book credit to date, BOOM! Studios’ “Royal Rumble 2018 Special.”
Available online and in comic stores now, the special issue, featuring a collaboration between Kingston and WWE Champion AJ Styles, recounts the long-awaited and shocking debut of The Phenomenal One during the 2016 Royal Rumble Match.
WWE.com spoke with Kingston about teaming with Styles to retell the story of his unforgettable debut.
WWE.COM: You’re well-known in comics and sports-entertainment circles for your successful comic book, “Headlocked.” What’s it like to see your name on a WWE comic from a major publisher?
MIKE KINGSTON: It's been pretty cool. I've been watching WWE since I was 8 years old, so I've been making up WWE stories in my head for most of my life. It's cool to get to put that down on paper and have it be considered part of the comic book canon.
WWE.COM: How did the opportunity to write BOOM! Studios’ “Royal Rumble 2018 Special” come about? How did AJ Styles get involved?
KINGSTON: I've known AJ for a bit, and we collaborated on a fun “Headlocked” story before he debuted in WWE. We were thinking it would be cool to do something again — we have similar mindsets and work well together — so I approached BOOM!, and they wanted to make it happen.
WWE.COM: The story recounts AJ Styles’ memorable Royal Rumble debut in 2016. What was it like for AJ to relive that moment?
KINGSTON: It was a big day for him; I'm sure a little nerve-racking. He had been the best competitor in every company he'd ever worked for, and this was the one last great conquest for him.
WWE.COM: Did you see any challenges in recreating such an iconic moment?
KINGSTON: AJ and I had a clear idea of what we wanted to do right out of the gate. Plus, with such strong characters involved and reliving such a big moment, the story practically wrote itself.
WWE.COM: The story also shows a confrontation between John Cena and Styles, months before their real-life meeting on Raw. How did this aspect of the story come about?
KINGSTON: As a fan, I always wondered if there was deeper motivation when AJ, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson attacked Cena before their first match after Styles was such a good guy. Thinking about it, AJ and I created a backstory where he and Cena have this Robert DeNiro/Al Pacino in the film “Heat” kind of confrontation in the locker room that sort of ties everything all together.
WWE.COM: In the story, AJ is called “rookie” and “kid.” Given the confrontation with Cena in the story, did you and AJ want to convey the idea that, despite his accolades, he still had to prove his ability in WWE?
KINGSTON: We wanted the story to tie everything together — his introduction, the rivalry with Cena, his relationship with Gallows and Anderson — and really put a bow on the whole thing. As a fan, there was very much a "you haven't done it here" kind of vibe to his first few appearances, so we wanted to establish that as the seed of his bitterness that would ultimately lead to his attacking Cena a few months later.
WWE.COM: What do you hope the WWE Universe takes away from this account of The Phenomenal One’s debut?
KINGSTON: That John Cena brought some of those beatings on himself!
WWE.COM: There are some parallels between AJ’s story featured in the comic and your debut as a writer on a WWE comic. Do you feel that all your hard work and dedication with “Headlocked” has brought you to this point?
KINGSTON: I think there are definitely parallels, and maybe that's why we work so well together. Much like AJ, we've made a pretty good name for ourselves off the beaten path, so it’s nice to be recognized by the major publishers and “mainstream.”
WWE.COM: In addition to Styles, you’ve also worked with many WWE Superstars in the past, and are collaborating with Samoa Joe on “WWE #13.” Is there anyone you want to work with again to expand on their journey in WWE?
KINGSTON: I've been a fan for so long, I honestly think I could help add something to just about any Superstar’s story. Creatively, that's the fun of it. But if you're holding me to names — John Cena, Luke Harper and Finn Bálor, for sure. Oh, and definitely Heath Slater!
WWE.COM: If you could recreate any moment in WWE history in comic book form, what would it be?
KINGSTON: I have an elaborate backstory in my head for the intense animosity between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton that occurred last year, and I would love to add some hidden chapters to the rivalry between The Rock and The Hurricane!
BOOM! Studios’ “Royal Rumble 2018 Special” is available now. Visit comicshoplocator.com to find your nearest comic book shop!