Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven by Brandon Easton and Denis Medri

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When I was little, Andre the Giant was not my favorite wrestler. He was the wrestler that was going to destroy my favorite wrestler, Hulk Hogan. I was only seven or eight when WrestleMania III happened but I was convinced that Andre would crush Hulk, literally and figuratively, and I remember when Hogan won, it was awesome, as if this giant monster had been slain. As I got older, and the internet made it easier to watch and learn about more of the history of professional wrestling, I was able to learn more about Andre’s career; how he had been insanely popular as a hero for most of his career, he would come into a territory, side with the local hero, and help him vanquish the villains. Andre was a legitimate superstar who was so unique that he was easily the biggest star in professional wrestling. While other wresters could go to different territories and create new characters (for example Barry Darsow’s career involved playing “Crusher” Khrushchev, Demolition Smash, Repo Man, “Hole in One” Barry Darsow and more), Andre was always Andre the Giant. He would show up with his thick accent, his amazing afro and lay in a beat down to the bad guys. Unfortunately, by the time I had learned all of this and had immersed myself in Andre’s career, he was dead. He suffered from a disease called acromegaly, where his body kept producing growth hormones. He never stopped growing in some fashion and after 47 years, his body gave out. It also didn’t help that he is one of the most legendary drinkers in the history of the universe. Allegedly bottles of wine and cases of beer at a sitting were consumed by the giant. So why should you read this particular graphic novel?

Reason #1: It combines two of my favorite things, comic books and professional wrestling. End of story.

 

Reason #2: It made me identify with Andre in a way I never had before. Despite the fact that my last name is Biggs, you might have no way of knowing that I’m 6 ft. 6. While that isn’t as tall as Andre, it can still be a hassle. I special order most of my shoes and clothes off the internet and I don’t fit in sports cars (to be fair, as a teacher, the odds of me affording a sports car are negligible). So as the tale of Andre’s life was being told, I found myself feeling his pain. Just like Andre, I should lose weight so that my back and knees don’t hurt and just like Andre I would do that if I didn’t enjoy eating so much. One story in the book talks about how Andre had to sit in the aisle of the plane on a flight home because they didn’t have two seats to put him in. Though I’ve never had to do that, I can still feel his pain. When my wife and I were leaving on our honeymoon, we boarded a flight and discovered that even though we were sitting in the same row, they had given us both window seats. We asked both gentlemen between us if one would switch with us, since, you know, we were on our honeymoon. They both said no. When the flight was over (thankfully it’s a short one), and I had exhausted my limit of longing glances at my new wife (again, honeymoon) I glanced down at the phone of the gentleman next to me and he was texting to his wife about how crummy his flight had been because of the “fat-(expletive deleted)” next to him. I’m sorry guy; it’s too bad you didn’t have a chance to get out of sitting next to me. Andre had to deal with stuff like that all the time. Vehicles didn’t fit him, people stared at him all the time, and there were always other younger wrestlers that wanted to test and see if he was for real. Every one of them found out, he was for real.

Of all the things I’ve reviewed, this is the one that struck the most personal chord with me. Of course it ends with Andre’s death and a eulogy for him. It’s all told in first person by Andre so you can truly feel the loneliness and pain of his nomadic warrior existence. It’s beautifully written and beautifully drawn and I couldn’t believe I would identify so much with the Giant. Then again, what do you expect? In real life I’m taller than like 95% of the planet

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