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339

God of Comics: WWE #3

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

WWE #3 (Boom Studios)

Normally, I talk about the writers when I discuss comics. I love writing, am drawn to it with a certain degree of madness, and I’ve got some ideas for a comic I’ve been batting around for a while but I need an artist and it’s the artist here that I want to talk about: Dan Mora.

Dan Mora did the art for a Lovecraftian horror comic called Hexed, a spinoff from the incredible Fall of Cthulhu comic that was written by Michael Alan Nelson and also published by Boom. He also does the art for Klaus, a series that basically casts Santa Clause as Conan the Barbarian. It’s freaking brilliant and you should go and read all the things and take the time to study the gorgeous art.

Here’s the thing: that is Dan Mora’s entire body of work. He has done nothing else and this means that he is criminally under-recognized. The work he does is amazing and more people need to be aware of how amazing it is, so, kudos to you, Mr. Mora. You rock.

Case in point: the covers for this comic.

This isn’t to take away anything from the inside, either: Serg Acuña and Doug Garbank do a stellar job of capturing the insanity that is the world of professional wrestling and translate it to an entirely different medium, one that it has quite a lot in common with.

A lot of people liken professional wrestling to soap operas, but that’s not quite it. Professional wrestling is a pre-determined (not fake!) artform in which performers who are part-actor and part stunt-people pretend that they are in a wrestling show. It’s a live action comic that features larger-than-life good guys and bad guys in costume who engage in battle for a variety of complex reasons, but no fight can ever end in death and the show must go on.

Want an example of the insanity that is unique to wrestling? Recently, a swamp-dwelling cult leader had his cult infiltrated by a snake-obsessed sociopath. The sociopath ruined the cult to get to the source of the cult leader’s power, literally burning his house down to rob him of the powers granted him by the sister of Satan himself, only for the cult leader to go and baptized himself in her ashes. The two of them are one of the headlining battles at Wrestlemania this year.

And speaking of Wrestlemania, one of the big stories going into the marquee event – wrestling’s version of the SuperBowl – features Seth Rollins taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley. You can learn more about the latter by clicking here, but Seth Rollins is something else again and this comic is about him.

Seth came in with a trio called the Shield, and they spent a year and a half dominating the whole roster before Seth betrayed his companions, selling out to his enemy to eventually become the WWE Champion. He’s an uber-talented performer who, because of his prior relationship with HHH, was treated badly by him. It was interesting, because Seth was a bad guy who was treated like a good guy by the bad guys in charge, and had good guy reactions while still being hated but appreciated by the crowd.

Did you get all that?

A little more than the grunting you thought wrestling was?

This comic goes into even more detail, giving background and expanding upon the events that led to the betrayal of the Shield, Seth’s rise to power and feud with his two blood brothers from that group, his difficult relationship with HHH, and the tragedy of a real-life injury that put him out of action for more than a year and stripped him of the heavyweight title, forcing him to come back and fight to regain the championship he never lost.

Dennis Hopeless – the writer on this – totally gets the pathos, pomp, and circumstance that goes into wrestling, and it makes this comic a hell of a lot of fun to read. Boom is onto something with this comic, and with Wrestlemania just around the corner, you might want to give this a look.

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1039

Review: WWE Raw Opener 2015-12-07

Culture, Fail, Opinion, Reviews

December 9, 2015

Oh, boy.

There were reports that the WWE has been trying to get in touch with their fanbase, sending out surveys to find out what, if anything, they are doing right. I suppose it’s a smaller list than what they’re doing wrong, but the fact that they need these surveys and can’t just listen to their (very) vocal fans is troubling.

For years, the fans have told the WWE exactly what they’ve wanted to see: Zack Ryder, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, CM Punk. More recently, they’ve followed that up with more calls for the likes of Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Paige, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch. The people running the WWE behind the scenes have outright ignored these desires, mocked them, or distorted them into fitting the people they want to see accepted by the fans, whether the fans like it or not.

It’s this misunderstanding that has led to the sabotage of Roman Reigns. Reigns would have been as big as the WWE would like him to be if they hadn’t interfered with him – the fans didn’t get behind him in a big way at the Royal Rumble in 2014 because they wanted him to win, but because they wanted Batista to lose. The only person they wanted to win that year was Daniel Bryan, though they might have accepted Punk. When Punk was eliminated and Bryan wasn’t in the match, the crowd rebelled.

DB TIB

Sayeth the crowd: “This is Bullshit!”

The WWE is pushing a person who, left to their own devices, might have been able to carry the company. Reigns is talented, has the look, and puts on exciting matches. He can’t talk, really, but he shouldn’t have to – anyone capable of seeing his limitations should be able to play to his strengths, but the WWE doesn’t do that anymore.

The WWE – the largest wrestling company on the planet – doesn’t know how to tell stories involving wrestling anymore. It’s why they’ve lost twenty percent of their viewing audience since July, and this past Monday’s first segment was a perfect example as to why.

Raw opened with a new group of people called the League of Nations who, despite being composed of several individuals of various nations working together, are bad guys. We know this because they are all foreign. We also don’t care because all of them are losers. Rusev has done nothing since losing to John Cena. Barrett is another guy the crowd would love to get behind but the booking committee keeps having him lose whenever the crowd gets behind him. Does anyone care about Alberto del Rio since his return? Have we been given a reason to? Seamus lost for weeks before becoming champion, and likely won’t win anything here.

Seamus is the one with the microphone.

Seamus is the one with the microphone.

Seasmus, by the way, has no character. His whole thing is that people think he looks like an idiot, and it’s okay to make fun of him – bullying him – for looking different. That last sentence added more nuance to Seamus than the last two years of WWE storytelling, by the way, so now that you’re up to date…

The League of Nations is interrupted by a hillbilly cult leader who should be terrifying and may be the least threatening person on the roster, because he and his cult never win. Ever. They outnumber people and still get beat. It’s sad, really, because the cult leader is pretty much the best talker in the industry today – so good that he can make a feud seem interesting even when the other person isn’t there – but the people booking this take the gold he gives them and create shit with it.

It’s interesting, because the crowd wants to like this cult, called the Wyatt Family. They like Wyatt, and they like the way two of his cultists, Luke Harper and Eric Rowan, fight. Naturally, this means that the WWE is pushing the fourth late addition to the cult, a talentless lug who can’t talk, wrestle, or act and skipped through their developmental process to become the big gun. His big move is a modified bear hug. The crowd doesn’t care.

Dude looks like he wandered off the set of a really good horror movie.

Dude looks like he wandered off the set of a really good horror movie.

The hillbilly cult are more bad guys, so when they are stopped from attacking the other bad people by some good people, it’s confusing. A bunch of guys who were last relevant maybe a decade ago come out to beat a dead horse before being interrupted by the aforementioned Roman Reigns, his younger brothers, and his best buddy.

End result? A four-way tag battle, where if one person is eliminated, so is their team.

Sounds exciting, right? Why is this dumb?

For a start, why did the cult interrupt the league of bad guys? Why did the old stars stop that attack from happening? Why do Roman and friends care about any of this? Nothing makes any sense at all. This is wrestling, yes, so suspension of disbelief is a given. We’re willing to accept snake charmers, necromancers, and a secret world of leprechauns, provided they make sense internally. This doesn’t.

SD_736_Photo_145

What, you thought I was kidding about the snake charming?

Also, all of your purported main event talent is in this match. Admittedly, all your main event talent boils down to Roman Reigns, who the crowd grudgingly supports, and Seamus, who the crowd doesn’t care about. Barrett and Ambrose and Wyatt could all be main eventers, possessing the talent for it, but the booking had made all of them look like losers for the past year, so…

Sure enough, the cult gets eliminated first, the no-longer-relevant nostalgia act goes out second, and the League of Losers goes out third. Roman Reigns~! Get it? That’s a better slogan than anything WWE creative has managed to give him in the past two years of pushing because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

Lastly, the WWE has an event called the Survivor Series that was built on five-on-five elimination tag team matches. This year, the event sported two of those matches where the participants were not announced until the day of the event, and one of them was played for laughs and featured Seamus – your current heavyweight champion of the world – getting pinned cleanly in the center of the ring.

By contrast, we can look at the WWE training league, a show called NXT. Their title holder is a guy named Finn Balor, whose character is that of a cute geeky Irishman who happens to have a demon inside of him. He’s honorable and polite and, much like the Incredible Hulk, if you piss him off he will unleash the demon on you.

An actual demon, too. Not just some low rent monster.

An actual demon, too. Not just some low rent monster.

Tonight, on the WWE Network (which you can subscribe to for $9.99!), Finn Balor will team with a former number one contender, Apollo Crews, to face off against his challenger on the next NXT event, Samoa Joe, and a man who wants his title and will do anything to get it, Baron Corbin. All of them have well developed characters and reasons for being in this match, so we care about the tag match tonight and we care about the two matches that are coming up.

NXT has been building this upcoming fight between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe for most of the past year, since Joe’s debut. They presented him as an equal to then-champion Kevin Owens, established a mutual respect with Finn that turned to homicidal jealousy through thwarted ambition in the months since. We care about Joe’s fall from grace, we care about Finn and his broken heart and the demon seeping out of it.

Again, the Raw opening featured too much talking for an overly busy mess where no one looked good and nothing was left for the main event. The NXT main event has been announced ahead of time, has been built to, and makes logical sense. This Raw opener came out of nowhere, meant nothing, accomplished nothing, and wasted everyone’s time.

The main event was not supposed to be an empty arena match.

The main event was not supposed to be an empty arena match.

That was just the opening segment, but the whole show was just as bad and made just as little sense.

Wrestling can, should, and must be messy. It’s a show about a fictional athletic competition that is shot before a live paying audience every week. There is no off-season, there is no safety net, just death-defying stunts and actors that play their characters pretty much twenty-four/seven, three sixty-five and a quarter. The best moments happen from the magic that comes from these people being left alone to do their thing.

“If you smell what the Rock is cookin’?” was a one-off ad-libbed line. “Austin 3:16,” ditto. “The Four Horsemen,” “the NWO,” “the Straight Edge Society,” wrestling’s best and brightest moments come about from people who live their characters. The best promos come from those that are given the confidence to talk and speak their minds. The Pipe Bomb, arguably the greatest wrestling promo of the past decade, happened when one man was given freedom and a microphone.

The most frustrating part about this is that the WWE should know better. The Attitude Era and the era of the Smackdown Six are largely considered the strongest periods for modern wrestling, and they were places where wrestlers were encouraged to roam free. The last time a wrestler cut loose and got himself over in a major way was Zack Ryder, who used social media to make himself one of the most popular people on the roster.

Zack Ryder is a decent worker and talker with a good look, but the WWE seemed incensed that he would dare make an attachment to the crowd without their approval. They punished him by having him lose for years, finally damaging his character and presence so badly that he was relegated to the training league – where he immediately got over again, and is now part of their incredible tag division, teaming with another wrestler named Mojo Rawley to become the Hype Bros.

Was Zack a future world champion? Unlikely, but he could have been one of those secondary guys who could make a believable run for the title. All it would have taken was some half decent storytelling, but the WWE made an example of him and no one has deviated from the script in any real way since.

He could have been Hokage.

He could have been Hokage.

And that’s a big part of the problem: it’s all scripted. Everything is scripted. No one ever wins and no one ever loses – there’s a sense of stagnation and boredom, because no one ever accomplishes anything. Champions lose non-title matches every week to the point where they look pathetic and the titles lack all meaning or value, or aren’t even booked in any way that makes sense.

For example, the WWE Divas belt was being held by a woman named Nikki Bella, and we were told that she was approaching a record for longest champion ever. Her challenger at the time was Charlotte Flair, daughter of Ric Flair, and the story being told revolved around the idea of Charlotte stopping Nikki from achieving her goal of being the longest running champion: she got a bunch of matches and never quite won, not until Nikki had achieved her goal.

That could work as a story, if Nikki were the good guy trying to do something incredible and Charlotte was the bad guy trying to keep her from achieving her dream. There’s even pathos there in the aftermath – an exhausted good guy Nikki losing to Charlotte, but taking solace in achieving her goal. Both women were playing the opposite roles, however, and the story suffered as a result. With the good guy unable to keep the bad guy from getting that record, it robbed the story of its pull. Charlotte stopped Nikki after it was too late to matter.

Charlotte is also a Flair. Being bad is in her blood.

Charlotte is also a Flair. Being bad is in her blood.

Again, contrast that with the last big feud for the NXT Women’s Title. First up, it’s the Women’s Title, not the Diva’s Title. The Women’s Title looks and sounds like a championship belt, while the Diva’s Title looks and sounds like a fashion accessory. The champion was Sasha Banks, a woman who improved herself and made a character over a period of years, cultivating a cut-throat arrogance to match her incredible skill in the ring. Her character is based on being better than everyone and backing it up when called to do so.

Her opponent was Bayley, a girl-next-door type who had dreamed of being a woman wrestler her whole life, a happy-go-lucky ingenue who tries hard and works hard and makes a go of it and is so impossibly earnest that it’s impossible not to like her. She toiled and struggled and earned her shot at the title, and Sasha mocked her for it.

The two of them had one of the best wrestling matches, with one of the best storylines, this year. No one had to tell us how awesome they were, or who they were, or why we should care: we knew by watching them, and everything else was just icing. Bayley has continued to be awesome on NXT. Sasha Banks was brought up to the main roster, where she has done nothing.

In short, WWE, your fans have been vocal about who they want to see, and your stubborn insistence is driving us away in droves. Those of us that know about NXT are tuning there for our fix, but those that don’t will leave and might not come back – and even those of us that watch NXT live in fear of what you’ll do to the people we care about when they’re called up.

Neville, a former NXT champion, languishes as nothing and has nothing going for him despite being able to deliver terribly smarmy interviews while wrestling a lightning fast style that can make anyone look good. The Ascension, former angry space vikings and all around ass-kickers, were turned into hypocritical eighties rejects before losing to everyone and being forgotten about. Sasha Banks, possibly the most talented wrestler on the roster, sits unused somewhere.

We know what we want, WWE. We know you can give it to us, and we know you like to bitch and moan about how we won’t accept the shit you try to shovel down our throats week in and week out. Your challenge was “love it or leave it.”

Twenty percent of us have.

The dark blue is the amount of people that have stopped watching since July.

The dark blue is the amount of people that have stopped watching since July.

More of us are going to leave, too. Raw is three hours long, Smackdown is two hours – five hours on a non-event week is a lot of time to sit there and not be entertained, to be insulted, to be bored. Most of the fans you have left are there out of inertia instead of passion, but even that is trickling down and away. The computer-controlled AI in your video games makes more sense than you do and is more entertaining, to boot.

Hell, if you added different commentators as DLC for the video game – specifically Corey Graves, Renee Young, and William Regal – you’d probably make a lot of money. The commentary on Raw is generally terrible, excelling only at reminding us how awful the product is and insulting those that haven’t or aren’t able to get the WWE Network (only $9.99~!). Those commentators I named are from NXT, by the by, and are just further proof that there is not one thing that Raw and Smackdown do that NXT doesn’t do better.

“Love it or leave it.” That’s your challenge, and while I don’t love it, I do want to. Your roster of on-air talent is ludicrously good, moreso than at any other time in the company’s history, but whatever is happening behind the scenes is poison and it’s tainted the on-air product, driving it towards unwatchability. Please fix this. I don’t want to leave. I want to love your product. I want to give you my money and my attention.

All I’m asking is that you give me a reason to care.

Thank you, Paige.

Thank you, Paige.

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720

To Be Named Later Episode 8 – Can You Beat the Demon?

Reviews, Videos

August 17, 2015

Kevin Owens might be able to beat Finn Balor, but can even he face the endless stupidity of Michael Cole? Spoiler: No. No, he can’t. Go back to Raw, Michael, and stay there. Bre and Aaron continue to watch the glorious wrestling that is NXT.

You can follow Aaron Golden on twitter @lastswann

You can follow Bre Fultz on twitter @breinpictures

Aaron hosts and talks. Bre directs, edits, does camera work, and talks.

This is because Bre is awesome.

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772

GIMMICK MATCHES TO BE BROUGHT BACK

Showcase

April 21, 2015

Wargames

Two rings, wrapped in a cage, filled with 10 guys representing two teams beating the everloving bejeepers out of one another. What’s not to like? Well, if you’re the WWE, it has too much of the WCW/southern stink on it and thus cannot be used. Some of the individual components have been cannibalized and reused for WWE gimmick matches: the large team aspect appears in the traditional Survivor Series matches, while the timed introduction of competitors appears in both the Elimination Chamber and the Royal Rumble.

(more…)

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1438

THE BEGINNING, AGAIN

Uncategorized

April 6, 2015

Given all the trepidation that preceded Wrestlemania this year, it was tough to muster appropriate excitement for the event. Between the weak booking and the specter of Roman Reigns hanging over the show, things were looking somewhat dire for the tentpole shows of the network era – but the WWE managed to deftly silence these critics by putting on an absolute top-level pay-per-view. So now that the WWE has passed the test of Wrestlemania with flying colors, what direction will they take with their major performers in the first leg of the wrestling year? The baseless speculation starts, now!

(more…)

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896

Wrestlemania Preview

Showcase

March 26, 2015

Last week I railed against the lackluster booking that has led up to the biggest show of the year. But now all that is behind us, the hype is over, and all that is left is the show itself. And it doesn’t look too bad when seen in isolation; sure, there are lots of better ways that things could have gone, but, looking forward, we have some interesting possibilities. So here we go! It’s the Wrestlemania breakdown!

(more…)

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1656

WHERE’S THE EXCITEMENT?

Showcase

March 18, 2015

Wrestlemania this year feels flat – why is that, and is there anything the WWE can do to bring some more interest and urgency to its biggest show of the year? The last couple years have lost a fair amount of steam with regards to the Wrestlemania buildup, but this year is the first in a long while where there is genuine apathy towards the grandest stage of them all. This week, I’ll be looking at what has led us to this malaise and how other years have avoided the same fate.

(more…)

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1165

CELEBRITIES IN WRESTLING

Uncategorized

March 7, 2015

Celebrity appearances in wrestling have historically been a hit-and-miss affair, from Cyndi Lauper ushering in the “Rock ‘n Wrestling” era to Dennis Miller making an asshole of himself in the “Guest GM” era. This week’s Jon Stewart segment was one of the better ones in recent memory (I would argue it was actually one of the best of all time). This week I will take a look at celebrity appearances in the WWE and try and figure out why some work and others don’t.

(more…)

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627

BEST/WORST GIMMICKS (PT.2)

Showcase

February 25, 2015

We’re back with the second part of our look at the best and worst gimmicks currently being used in the WWE. The first part is right here, and without further ado here’s…

Worst – The Big Show

I hesitated when putting Show on this list because in many ways he doesn’t really have a gimmick beyond his genetics. He’s a big, lumbering guy with not much in the way of discernible characteristics. Every now and then his character will solidify into something either worthwhile (angry insomniac that throws Ric Flair face-first into thumbtacks) or, more commonly, worthless (sad, broke guy with an ironclad contract). My guess is that The Big Nasty will be retiring sooner rather than later so it doesn’t seem all that likely that we will see him turn around and have a fleshed out character. I just hope he doesn’t have to partake in too many more embarrassing angles between now and then.

Best – Seth Rollins

In the lead-up to the dissolution of the Shield, there was a lot of concern that Seth Rollins would be the odd man out and that he would flounder, directionless in the midcard. Turns out, we were wrong, that gig went to Dean Ambrose. By contrast, Seth Rollins has blossomed into a beautiful piece of garbage. He has massive volumes of ego that betray his (kayfabe) inexperience, he has two former champions around at all times to help him out of any match he may be losing, in addition to two massive world champions just past the curtain. Not to mention the COO has been in his corner ever since the hounds of justice split up. Add leather pants and a filthy mean streak and you have a top quality heel.

Worst – Adam Rose

Getting over is universally seen as a good thing, but I think that when it comes to getting over in NXT, it’s a double-edged sword. With the exception of the Wyatt Family, it seems that those who become favorites in NXT flounder and die on the vine when they move up to the main WWE roster: Emma, Fandango, the Ascension, Summer Rae, etc. This speaks to the theory that there are certain things that get over to a crowd numbering in the hundreds and very different things that get over to a crowd that is thousands strong. The novelty of coming to the ring with a dozen drug addicts certainly falls into the former. I don’t think he is completely dead in the water, however, there is still plenty of room to salvage this gimmick. Beating up the bunny was a good start. If his drug-fueled abuses can alienate him from the rest of his rosebuds, we can see him spiral downwards like Bob Geldof in The Wall. That would be worth watching.

Best – Rusev

The only gimmick lazier than the foreign heel is the rich heel. This makes Alberto Del Rio’s gimmick the laziest the world has ever seen. But if done right, these classic gimmicks can still work just fine. Rusev is a great example of how to make this gimmick sing. He says almost nothing, he wins through dominance and his mouthpiece is an interesting character unto herself.

The difficulty in a gimmick like this is twofold: First, you must find the right nation to lambast. Santino Marella was supposed to be a semi-serious competitor after his initial heel turn, but there is no tension between the United States and Italy. Santino didn’t stand in for anything, nor did he hold up a mirror of judgment to the US so there wasn’t much material to work with and he quickly became a comedy figure with a funny accent. The second thing one must do is take a real conflict between the gimmick nation and the US and try to play that out in a wrestling context. Muhammad Hassan, while technically not a foreign heel, was great at this. He was able to take the all too real islamophobia that was sweeping the United States at the time and addressed it in a way that made his motivations very real, without making him too sympathetic.

Rusev is knocking it out of the part on both these fronts. Firstly, while talk of a “new cold war” is certainly very premature, the saber-rattling coming from Moscow is all too real as they re-establish themselves as an international power. As the majority of the WWE fans have never known anything but the unipolar world with the USA in charge, having a wrestler embody this stress and emasculation is a work of genius.

That’s it for this week! We’ll see you again soon when we check in on the road to Wrestlemania!

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1889

Best/Worst Gimmicks (pt. 1)

Showcase

February 16, 2015

An interesting gimmick is a major part of any successful wrestler’s career. Without a quality character to fill in the blanks to the audience, even the best wrestlers can look sub-par. This week, I will be looking at the best and the worst gimmicks currently in the WWE and break down how the help or hinder the man behind the character.

(more…)

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