A new bio comic from Inverse Press tells the real life story of one of the biggest villains in professional wrestling from the 1970s and 1980s, so please rise as Nikolai Volkoff learns how to sing the Russian National Anthem.

Nikolai 1
Written by John E. Crowther 
Art by Dell Barras 
Colors by Andrew Pate 

I’m a child of the 1980s, and I grew up a fan of the World Wrestling Federation. By the mid-1980s, Nikolai Volkoff’s career was winding down, though he still managed to win the tag team titles with the Iron Sheik at 1985’s WrestleMania. Even though he may not have been in the main event fighting for the World Title, his demand that fans in the audience stand while he sang the Russian National Anthem ensured he would stay one of the most hated men in professional wrestling.

But the man who would eventually become Nikolai Volkoff apparently had an interesting enough history for Inverse Press to tell his tale in this miniseries. The story starts in Yugoslavia, as the parents of young Josip Nikolai Peruzović encourage him to get an education and excel in sports to escape Yugoslavia and make something of himself and escape the Communists.

The book tells of Nikolai’s rise in competitive weightlifting and shows how he used that as an opportunity to defect, when a fellow competitor tells him of a professional wrestling trainer in Canada who would take Nikolai in. It’s a pretty compelling story for anyone who remembers Volkoff from his time as a pro wrestler, where he almost exclusively represented Soviet Russia for many years. The first issue ends with Nikolai’s plans to defect, setting us up to see his training for professional wrestling in Calgary, under the tutelage of the famous Hart wrestling family.

While I definitely enjoyed the first issue – and I look forward to more – a couple of small things stuck in my craw about the book. The most glaring was the dates in the captions. The story starts in 1961, as you can see in the image above, but there’s no real consistency with the advancement of time and the book ends in Vienna, also in 1961, after three years of Nikolai winning weightlifting championships and going to school. It’s a really small thing, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.

Regardless, NIKOLAI is a fascinating look into what was an eventful life for the future wrestling champion.