By Ben Morse
Every comic book fan fantasizes about being a real life super hero, but Gregory Helms actually got to live the dream.
A 14 year veteran of professional wrestling, Helms spent four of those years as the Hurricane, World Wrestling Entertainment's resident masked crimefighter. With his signature green cape and over the top physical mannerisms, the Hurricane reigned consistently as one of WWE's most entertaining and popular superstars, connecting with fans-particularly children and of course comic book fans-and then backing it up with serious skills in the ring.
In 2006, ditching the Hurricane gimmick, Helms claimed his third Cruiserweight title and went on to have the longest reign of any champion in the history of that belt, holding onto the strap for a record-shattering 385 days. But in May of 2007, Helms got the bad news that he had two broken vertebrae in his neck and would need to miss a year of action.
Helms has never made any secret of his passion for comics, proclaiming himself the "biggest comic book geek in wrestling." Marvel.com caught up with the rehabbing wrestler to talk rasslin', funnybooks and his irrational love for the Beyonder.
Marvel.com: Since you're out for a year with a neck injury, have you been using any of the time to catch up on comics?
I have so many years of letting this title and that title get backed up. I still read between 30-40 titles a month. All my Marvel titles, I pretty much stay up to date with.
Marvel.com: How do you keep up with 30-40 books a month while you're out on the road?
There's a store in Raleigh [North Carolina] called Capital Comics and it works great with my Smackdown schedule because I come home every Wednesday, which is comic day and [the store is] right on the way home. It's an awesome store for anybody out there in Raleigh. They really take care of me. I've known the guy [who runs it] so long that anything he even thinks [I'll like] he'll pull for me-and he's usually right.
Marvel.com: Do you get a lot of attention when you go into the store or do you just try to go in and get out quick?
I kinda just want to get out. Sometimes there'll be people in there that just kind of freak out and don't understand why I live in a small town. "Well what are you doing here?" "Well I live here." "Why?" "It's my home, this is where I live." [Laughter
Marvel.com: What Marvel books are you really into at the moment?
Right now the whole Annihilation [event] is really my favorite thing. I love the cosmic stuff and I always have. My first favorite comic character of all time was Marvel's Captain Marvel. Not that Shazam guy-I hate him. But Marvel's Captain Marvel was my very first favorite title. So I'm really stoked to see him back. [His new
Helms wants more
mini-series is] only one issue deep as of this interview and it's pretty good. [Brian Michael Bendis'] Avengers [books] are great. I would love for [J. Michael Straczynski] to tackle SUPREME POWER again. I really just wish he would give up all his other books and do that one. I think it would be great. He just did such great stuff with that [book]. The thing about getting so many books, you kind of just forget which ones were your favorite.
Marvel.com: Did you follow Civil War?
Yeah, I thought Civil War was great.
Marvel.com: What kind of team do you think North Carolina would field in the 50 State Initiative?
It better be a good team or I'm just going to have to be upset. [Laughter
] I guess there ain't a lot I'll be able to do about it, but I will be upset about it. If this is going to be really state based, I think it'd be really cool if it was characters that had some kind of history or lineage to the history of the state. [Something to do with] the Wolfpack [mascot] of [North Carolina] State is my personal preference.
I'd want the Beyonder on my team. I want the Beyonder and the Molecule Man. If there's one character everyone's forgotten about in the Marvel Universe it's the Molecule Man. I wanna know where he's at. [He's] one of the most powerful guys
there. I want him and I want Gladiator from the Shi'ar [Imperial Guard]. They just came out with a new statue of him that I gotta get. He's a great character, just a visually awesome looking character.
Marvel.com: Even with the mohawk?
] I'm not a big fan of Mohawks but I've still always liked him.
Marvel.com: That's a lot of power to throw in North Carolina...
Hey man, that's how it should be. We put out one of the greatest basketball players of all time and some of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Greatest NASCAR drivers of all time. North Carolina just puts out talent.
Marvel.com: How did you first get into comics?
I met my stepmom's father when I was five or six, probably six, and he had comics. The guy was 60-70 years old, but he had this huge collection of comics. And when I would go over there, he would let me read them and that's all I would do. And the perk, the very huge positive, was that I learned [to read] at an incredibly early age. At every grade, I was at a reading level above everybody else. And it all started with vintage comic books.
I came from a family where [they] didn't have the opportunity to give me money for comics, to put it politely. The first thing I did when I got a job was find a comic book store and really start my own collection instead of mooching off other people.
Marvel.com: Would you say you were more into wrestling as a kid or more into comics?
It was close. I would [probably] say wrestling. It was something I always wanted to do and had a natural talent for. Maybe if my natural talent was drawing I would have gone the other way and probably would have been very happy doing that.
Marvel.com: A lot of people got picked on at the comic stands when they were younger, but I imagine you didn't have that problem, did you?
No, I never had that problem. I was a small kid, but I was a fighter.
Marvel.com: You mentioned Captain Marvel-what were some of your other favorite books and characters growing up?
As a kid, [I liked] POWER MAN AND IRON FIST. I don't know if it was necessarily kung fu or what it was, but there was something about the team of Power Man and Iron Fist. And it may have something to do with [that I grew up] in a
lot of ethnic areas and some of my best friends were black, [so] maybe I identified with it for some reason. I never really figured out why but I always loved Power Man and Iron Fist. And I just love the stuff [Ed] Brubaker [and Matt Fraction are] doing [on IMMORTAL IRON FIST]. And now Power Man's a main Avenger-it's such a cool thing for me.
Marvel.com: How did you get into wrestling?
An independent [wrestling] company came to my town when I was 13 and I just went up and told them, "I'll help you guys clean up the ring, put up the ring, I'll do whatever, just let me go in the ring whenever I can." And that's basically how it started. And the first time I got in the ring, one of the [most] fun things to do is run into the ropes and a lot of people think it would be easy. But going in the ring and hitting those ropes back and forth is pretty difficult. [The] first time I stepped in the ring I could lock up right away. I had a knowledge of moves just from watching wrestling all my life. And when I see something, I learn. I see things and I can do [them]. I never practiced [doing a moonsault], I just climbed up on the top rope and did a back flip on somebody. [That] impressed a couple of guys so [they] kicked me around and stuff.
And then when I was 16, my career started because I was at a show and some guy showed up and people spoke up for me. I had all this wrestling gear-or at least as
much as I could afford at the time, which looking back on it I looked like a total goofball. They gave me a chance to go out there, and I went out there and did really well, and I've been on the tour ever since.
Marvel.com: So you had no formal training, you kind of just trained yourself?
Yeah pretty much. I'm [the] only guy I know of in [my] generation that has made it to the level that I have, which is the top level of wrestling, with no formal training. I just did it myself.
Marvel.com: Did you ever use any super hero gimmicks on the independent circuit early on?
No not really. I never had planned on being a super hero. The closest I ever came [in the early days] was that my very first wrestling name was going to be Christian Walker and my middle name was going to be Sky. So it would be Christian Sky Walker.
Marvel.com: Before you hit the national level, you were in the OMEGA promotion out of North Carolina with the Hardys...
And me and Matt [Hardy] became best friends right away. We had very similar backgrounds. He'd buy comics, not to the extent that I did, but I've never met anybody who likes them as much as I do. But as far as wrestling goes, we were very similar and we became very close friends immediately. And from the beginning of OMEGA, I was there. Jeff [Hardy] definitely had [a character] he called Will O' the Wisp. He spelled it slightly different, but he got the name from the [Spider-Man] character. I was even Will O' the Wisp one night. We all did crazy stuff. That OMEGA group was so fun and ahead of its time. It was crazy.
Marvel.com: Now around 2000 you finally made it to the national level with World Championship Wrestling. What did you think of making your debut as one third of 3 Count, a trio of bad guys with a boy band gimmick?
It didn't bother me, man. Boy bands were really hot at the time. There [were] so many guys that came and [went] and you don't even remember their names. I have yet to meet a wrestling fan [who] doesn't remember 3 Count. At a time in the business where WCW especially was losing a lot of focus on a lot of
stuff, we were more hated than even the top guys. There were times where people would throw so much stuff at us. They threw so much trash at us that they had to do a second intermission on the show to clean it up.
If WCW [had] the vision of Vince McMahon [at the time] then they could have made a ton of money. Girls loved it and guys [wanted to] fight us. When you can instill that kind of reaction out of a crowd you make money with that. Unfortunately, WCW had [bad] timing with the people in charge. I [wanted] to do a lot more than what was done. But once I got it figured out that wasn't going to happen, I decided I need to go on my own and that's when "Sugar" Shane Helms was born.
Marvel.com: Yeah, I remember towards the end of WCW, as a fan the cruiserweight matches you and some of the other guys were putting on were the main reason I tuned in.
The style I brought to the WCW is the style that everybody in the industry tries to do now. At the time you had guys who could only fly or guys who could only wrestle and I was one of the only guys who could actually do it all. And if you put a microphone in [front of] me I could talk too. I studied a lot of stuff from Japan and Mexico and stuff like that to integrate into this one mixed wrestling style.
Marvel.com: So once you made the jump from WCW to the then-WWF, how did the transformation from Shane Helms to The Hurricane come about?
I remember I was Gregory Helms for only one night. One of the writers knew [I] was a comic book fan and of course we get into this little discussion. There [were] so [many wrestlers] between the WCW guys and all of the WWF guys and there were so many people fighting [for] TV time. You can't have 1,000 guys on TV. And the one thing I realized into the early days of me being this Hurricane character was, "This will be different." We got a lot of guys out here who are exactly the same. But I was going to be different.
Once it was decided that I was going to go with the Hurricane thing, it was only supposed to be three or four months. I was supposed to do that and be done with it. But my personality was just so outrageous. If I'm going to do it I'm going to go all the way. The same thing with 3 Count. There are a lot of guys who couldn't have done 3 Count and people have tried to be a super hero before and nobody did it-not to pat myself on the back too much, it's starting to get sore back here.
Marvel.com: Yeah be careful with that neck
] Yeah but no one did the super hero gimmick anywhere as [well] as I did or with anywhere near as much dedication as I did.
Marvel.com: Where did the name come from?
One of the names I was going to use early on in my career was Shane "Hurricane" Helms-it has a good flow to it. [Another one] of my first
wrestling names was going to be the Hurricane Kid and my partner was Hail. [Later when I got to the WWF] I was on a plane with Matt Hardy, I was like man, I can't just be Gregory Helms, it's just so vanilla.
And it was a point in my career where I needed people to know who I was. So I sat on the plane and I was writing all kinds of silly names down. And then I just put down Hurricane Helms. I was like, why don't I just be Hurricane Helms, I don't need a first name. And I took it and I gave to Stephanie [McMahon] the next week at TV and she ran it through legal and legal cleared it. And the next time I saw Vince [McMahon] he just looked and me and he goes, "Hurricane Helms, I like it." Just like that and I was Hurricane Helms, and I think [it] sounded like [I was] a superhero.
Marvel.com: As a comic book fan, what was it like to be a real life super hero as your day job?
The second I was approached with the idea, I was on board. The initial costume [was] what you'd call Silver Age or [even] Golden Age from back in the day. A black suit with a big H on the front. As the character grew the costume changed, the cape got more exciting and I went from face paint to a mask. I can't say I haven't had a lot of fun.
Marvel.com: At first you were supposed to be a bad guy, but you got over with the fans real quick-why do you think that was?
Once I put on that costume, the second night the crowd started chanting my name and I was actually in a match [against] the Hardy Boyz, a very popular tag team. It was in Toronto which is a heel town anyway [EDITOR'S NOTE: "Heel" is a wrestling slang term meaning "bad guy"]
, and I've always remembered Toronto for that. They were the first town to chant my name and I think creative saw early on, no matter what we do, the crowd might like this guy. And that's what it was. The crowd wanted to cheer me on pretty much from the get go. [With] some of the crazy antics I would do, especially in my interviews, you couldn't boo me, it came to a point where I had to be a good guy.
On Friday, Fightin' Fanboys continues as Gregory Helms talks about his favorite Marvel books on the stands, his most memorable fan encounters, and how he almost played Gambit in "X-Men 3." In the meantime, for more WWE action check out Smackdown this Friday night at 8 p.m. eastern on the CW and No Way Out, coming to pay-per-view this Sunday! For more info visit WWE.com.