Saturday, December 18, 2004

#98. Nightwing, Identity Crisis, Wrestling, Survivor

There's only one icon in comics that rose from sidekick status to replace his mentor. He's Wally West, and he's the fastest man alive, The Flash. Likewise, there's only one icon in comics that will never be treated as such. His name is Dick Grayson, and he outgrew sidekick status and did what even Wally could never dream of. He became his own hero. He became Nightwing.

Nightwing the comic recently hit the 100 issue mark, and it's the first issue I've picked up in a very long time. I found out that the other Grayson in comics, Devin K., is after all a worthy successor to Chuck Dixon on the title. She's retained everything that made the title great (and even gets Scott McDaniel to do covers for her), and has kept one of the most remarkable things about the title going: focus and continuity. If you began with the very first issue, you will not be left wondering if you're reading a new version of the character, a new interpretation. Nightwing, since he remains outside the superstar bubble, is being allowed to have his story told, exactly as every character in comics should be allowed to, the proper care and pacing to reveal a real person behind the comic book gloss. Dick has issues. He's had them since before he was ever Nightwing, before he was ever the first Robin. That's something #100 makes clear, and the continuity that the ensuing Nightwing: Year One storyline will no doubt emphasize. But since he's no longer Robin, and has actually moved on, and because he's a character so well established yet allowed to remain free from static purgatory, he's also the only icon allowed to grow, and not just grow up.

The naysayers will probably tell you the Blockbuster saga that ran for nearly a hundred issues (ending with #93, with ramifications continuing from there) puts Nightwing into a wannabe mold of Marvel's Daredevil. It's not true, though. Blockbuster was no Kingpin. As far as I know, the only definition Kingpin ever received as a character was that he was, um, a kingpin, a baddy who Matt Murdock paid heavy prices to fight and eventually defeat and usurp (Daredevil currently reigns as Hell's Kitchen's new Kingpin). Blockbuster, meanwhile, ran through a gamut of personal arcs. The first occured before he ever came across Nightwing. He has his own origin, and a modified one come the Mark Waid-penned "Underworld Unleashed" crossover event from about a year before the launch of Dick's first-ever series. And on top of that, he had issues he needed to work out, from his mother to the gross aftereffects of the events that made him a giant. He might have become a genius, but even he couldn't outlive all the vices that went with becoming a criminal mastermind.

Nightwing could never hope to defeat Blockbuster himself. That much was clear, and that it took nearly a hundred issues to finally complete the deed is testement enough to the fortitude of the series. There's not much rest for Dick. He has an entire supporting cast that, outside of Gotham connections, never existed before #1. Was there ever a chance that any created from that point was going to become as famous as a Commissioner Gordon, a Lois Lane, a Joker? Maybe, but even if there were, the series was never going to rest long enough to let them stay put, static, for very long. In a way, Nightwing's own title came along at just the right time. Heck, Gordon retired, didn't he? When would that have ever happened before? Some of the villains that he's come across have found their way outside his title (Lady Vic, for example), but others, like Torque, never lasted very long. Had Torque been any other icon's nemesis, he'd still be kicking around today. Even Hush, Doomsday, and Bane can't go away. Didn't Hush turn out to be the Riddler?

And speaking of which, Identity Crisis's assassin turned out to be...Jean Loring! I picked up #7, the final issue of the groundbreaking crossover event, yesterday and was shocked to learn it wasn't Ray Palmer, the Atam, as it seemed last issue, but rather his ex-wife, who went mad and accidently killed Sue Dibney, the Elongated Man Ralph's wife, in an effort to Ray interested in her again. A lot of what fans have come to expect from these types of events was completely circumvented by Brad Melzter, writer to artist Rags Morales (whom I first discovered on the late, lamented Hourman series from a few years back), including the final issue, which was more of a crescendo than a crashing finale, subdued and introspective, leaving all traces of the villains from past issues, including Dr. Light, behind, as well as a conclusive close on the effects of a revelation concerning Batman, aside from the continuing dawning it had on the aforementioned Wally West. What the event amounted to was an awakening, on par with Mark Waid's Kingdom Come, set in continuity and affecting the entirety of the DC universe without anymore than a few instances of devastation, far less in scale than anyone would have ever imagined it would take to do so. Almost the size of an atom.

Did I buy into the hype? You bet I did. Because this one deserved it. For all the talk that the heart of the hero has always been Marvel's forte, I can only argue the contrary. It's with DC, and it always has been. Marvel might pride itself in making heroes easily identified with, but the stories that hit closest to home are found in the house Superman built...

Abruptly now, let's switch tracks back to professional wrestling. The current issue of The Wrestler/Inside Wrestling has an article on none other than Orlando Jordan, which either speaks to his rising profile or that of JBL, who incredibly walked out of Armageddon still Smackdown's heavyweight champion. Who's going to stop the Champion of all Champions? This past Thursday it looked like it might be Kurt Angle (looking awkward applying the ankle lock to someone tall for a change), until the Big Show reared his ugly bald head once again. Show has been on a roll since he returned a few months back, and now that he has seemingly put Angle and his cohorts behind him, he can perhaps offer JBL his greatest challenge yet.

To do it, Show can use the F5, which he has recently taken to using. But there's also Brock Lesnar to consider. recently had a news piece that suggested the Next Big Thing might be looking to make a comeback. What better way to do it than to outroot the poser who has been parading with his title for more than six months now? Has that been what the powers backstage have been planning all along? or do they want to to at last give Big Show his unadultered spotlight, a thing he has never had? Either way it's exciting just to think about it.

What's a little less climactic is Raw's decision to put off until another PPV who its world champion is. Instead of picking between Edge and Chris Benoit, Raw has added Randy Orton and Triple H, plus I believe Chris Jericho, into an elimination chamber match that will avoid the question as one of those vacancy developments. Maybe that was the plan all along, but this does give Hunter yet another chance to become champion, or Orton a chance to win his second in a fashion more suited for the Rock than for a champion presumably being pushed on his wrestling skills. Call me crazy, but Raw needs to develop a backbone. Doesn't Batista have a chance as well? And what are his qualifications? He's good shadow dressing? I recently picked up Taboo Tuesday and found out Christy and Carmella were not as good at that as perhaps the booking staff had planned.

I also got a chance to see how Shelton Benjamin captured the Intercontinental championship from Y2J. To my surprise, it was through a relatively uninspired match, odd for Jericho and hopefully not indicative of Shelton. I've seen him do better. Maybe I just need to pop the DVD in again and rewatch.

Daniel Puder won the Tough Enough competition. Woo! Take that, Miz! Puder is a guy with unlimited potential, most especially in the ring, but as a personality as well. I look forward to seeing him again.

What about those cruiserweights, though? I love Funaki and all. Great that he's finally received recognition for all the hard work he's put in all these years, but why are the rest of his ilk being treated so poorly? Paul London has been dropped like a sack of potatoes to Velocity while Billy Kidman has unceremoniously been paired with Akio and been allowed to stick around. I'd rather have London, thank you. And what about Chavo Guerrero? What happened to his big return, his feud with Kidman, and the push he enjoyed for much of the year? Gone, as quickly as Jamie Noble? I think I saw something about this having to do with how Paul Heyman is faring these days backstage. It's a dirty shame.

Heck, the new divas are getting more respect. I thought it was funny, though, that all Smackdown had to do to get them was give up Viscera. Darn, right? Ha!

How is Jeff Hardy doing in TNA? Well, he's still around, which is probably a good thing. Or he might end up like Raven, which would probably not be as much. Hopefully he does better than Jesus, who in addition to be fodder to put John Cena over another month as US champion also has a number of injuries he's going to have to contend with. Was he ever going anywhere anyway? At least Kenzo Suzuki has. He and Rene Dupree wrestled Eddie Guerrero and Booker T this past Thursday. Heidenreich, meanwhile, has continued his war against the Undertaker, setbacks and all. It's good to see the new blood sticking. Hopefully Carlito Caribbean Cool comes back soon in wrestling form, and Luther Reigns finally gets the one-on-one encounter with Big Show that's been teased for months. He did get one of several monstrous chokeslams dished out, though.

I was infinitely glad to see Chris win the latest Survivor, especially since he did it over Twila, the latest of a trademark line of unstable female contestants. She apparently never realized t wasn't her playing that got her to the final two, it was others playing her and canceling each other out that got her that far. Chris, on the other hand, persevered as long as Eliza, and like he said let the money start to talk in place of him. After the purported twelve season run of Survivor is over, it'll be interesting to see what kind of player had the best chance to win. The one who was willing to do anything, or the one who played a good game (Rich, Chris, Amber, Brian) but more or less won by accident, or otherwise not by personal striving (Vecepia, Sandra, Tina, Jenna, Ethan). Were female winners less likely than male ones to compromise themselves? Or did it just seem that way?

Anyhoo, that's about it for now. Enough rambling for today...

Friday, December 03, 2004

#97. The Angry Avenger, Boo, Wrestling, Identity Crisis, Green Lantern: Rebirth, Neil Gaiman, Red Sox, U2, Mister X

There are a few things to talk about this time around, but we can start with the NaNoWriMo experience. Writing "Colinaude, the Angry Avenger" was a learning process. As I've mentioned, I've never written a single story that long. I've been working on one story that will probably be at least that long, but it's taken years and I'm only halfway there. Being forced to write 50,000 words in a month (and seeing some 3000 of the 6000, which I believe was the final number, finishing well before the deadline, some even by midway) removed many of the excuses I've given myself and enabled a story to be developed as I wrote and not just thought about it (thinking about stories has never been a problem). And as I wrote, I found that the old maxim of the story taking over was true, almost by necessity at times. I always knew where things were ultimately headed, but how was a surprise, and I hope it all worked out reasonably well, even in this pitiable first draft (and yet, I hate the idea of rewrites, despite knowing some poor focusing can be fixed). I'd love to get this baby published now...

As I write this, by the way, I've got my sister's cat, purring away in my lap. We'll be moving in together soon, and the cat is a symptom of those winds of change. She's turned out to be a happy one, and recently a keyboard nuissance...

Remember Mohammed Hassan and Simon Dean, the so-called "house show heels" from my October 1 WWE Raw experience (results now being in PWI's latest issue, with Triple H and Nature Boy staring at each other on the cover)? Turns out they're real deals. I've even learned Hassan's past life, as OVW's Mark Magnus. Both have recently appeared on Raw, which is not usually the home of new talent, at least not success new talent (see the tortured history of Garrison Cade, but in contrast consider La Resistance and Rene Dupree). Maybe they'll even go somewhere, and if they do I can say I saw them in their WWE infancy with pride instead of ignonomy. OVW, meanwhile, is turning out to be a very efficient incubator, much as ECW and WCW unwittingly were for so many years. I don't know if this results in better quality long-run talent (would we really see a Chris Jericho, or Radicalz-level talent from there? remains to be seen), but it's been interesting seeing the homegrowns these past few years.

One of those is of course Orlando Jordan, currently regularly main eventing Smackdown as JBL's chief of staff and waiting for his first PPV match, any match. I'm liking Oz more and more, and last night had the realization that, physically at least, he resembles Rocky Johnson's boy uncannily (and wrestling background has nothing to do with this, or maybe it does) well. He could easily become a big star. That phrase went along with a lot of guys and gals WWE recently let go, including the poster boys for underachievement Test and Billy Gunn, and inexplicably Jamie Noble (did someone get ried of the rednecking? there could always be another gimmick, or no gimmick at all, given his talent in the ring itself, unless Creative otherwise felt he'd been tainted by the rednecking), but what they lacked was the kind of pure talent Oz exhibits almost weekly now as Smackdown's self-proclaimed greatest athlete, now sporting hair.

2005, without jinxing him, could easily be Oz's breakthrough year. The foundation was finally laid with this JBL association (members of whom now include the Bashams and a Diva Search cast-off, one of several to find their way to the blue side of the WWE divide, where ironically the very red JBL rules). The continual vote of confidence that he has enjoyed now since 2003 as the brand's unofficial road test for the big stars (Undertaker, Big Show, Brock Lesnar) is an unusual approach to breaking in a new star. Normally it would have gone down much like Lesnar, or The Rock, but it's become clear the fans don't like having their stars forced on them. They need to develop. Oz has gotten to have his cake and eat it too. We'll see how well that works.

There's also Luther Reings, who I was convinced recently would get a solo shot at Big Show for Armageddon, but instead he'll be going at him with Kurt Angle and Mark Jindrak. Angle, I had assumed, had been working at this Invitational thing so that WWE could introduce a major new player. It could still happen, next week, but I had assumed the loss of his gold medals would necessitate a PPV rematch. Maybe that'll occur later on, conclusion to the Open (Invitational, I can't remember which one he's using) and perceived follow-up. I can't help but wonder if a coup from some of WWE's competition, maybe even TNA, is in the works. How cool would it be to see someone like A.J. Styles make his appearance like that?

It would be at least as cool as Carlito, whose thug enforcer, I mean personal protector Jesus (Hey Zeus) is apparently going to be a wrestler as well. He proved this by beating on poor Charlie Haas, who hasn't met a challenge he couldn't be wailed upon from. Before Jesus it was Heidenreich, and before Heidenreich it was Luther Reigns. Speaking of Heidenreich for a moment, was his breakdown a chance to give him more development time? But getting back to Haas, he gets more airtime thanks to the Dawn Marie-Jackie feud than any feud he's had. His partner (not in that sense, thank you Jackie) Rico was among those who got the boot, apparently because of his age, much like that nutcase from Tough Enough earlier this fall (though ostensibly it was because he lied, which WWE just doesn't stand for, being full of integrity in its fake entertainment and all). Haas is another Oz. He's not getting the Shelton Benjamin experience. Then again, Smackdown is all about developing people, whereas Raw (selectively) is not. It was no surprise when Benjamin was given momentum to carry him into that move. If WWE is going to have any Jericho-Radicalz level talent on their hands in the near future, it'll be from Haas, Oz, and Benjamin, guys with talent first and charisma second, though the latter two do have their share of it. Jesus, meanwhile, gets to meet John Cena two Sundays from now in a street fight. Cena continues to slum it.

And why is Carlito injured already? Should probably check out powerwrestling again soon. Plus there's the Tough Enough guys (gals this week, actually) to consider. Am I unequivocably impressed with any of them? Maybe Daniel Puder. But not really. You're rarely going to find a major talent like this. I'm not sure TE has done that yet. Maven keeps getting work, and he's held up reasonably well in the few years since his victory in the inaugurial ball, but I remain skeptical about his ability to succeed without a simultaneous edition of the opportunity to give him a name boost. Someone please take Mike Mizanin. Pleeease. The guy's a punk. Even more egotistically self-serving than Ryan "Silverback/Vanilla Gorilla/Silverback Survey/Silverback Attack/Posing Man" Reeves, who didn't seem to realize there was more to wrestling than an identity. I think he was one of the stiffer recipients of a Big Show bodyslam, like Daniel Rodimer. Maybe we'll be seeing some of these guys again, or OVW will, but I don't really care to. Justice Smith even isn't too thrilling. Puder has been and remains the only hope here. He's sort of like Bob Backlund and Crash Holly's love child, physically, and he's the best sport of the bunch, by far. (That seems to be the only thing they've been testing, at least extensively.) Even if be doesn't win, he'll be the only thing of worth to come from this competition.

I take that back. We've gotten the Bashams back thanks to it, and the knowledge that Hardcore Holly remains intact. Woo!

Speaking of Woo! Batista nearly got out, but just when it looked that way he went back to the Evolution fold. Since Survivor Series Raw has had a revolving wrestler as GM, and last week it was Chris "I've finally gotten a new individual feud and it's with Edge" Benoit. To weasal Triple H into another week as world champion the writers left a triple threat match that resulted from Randy Orton's reign with an ambiguous ending, at least until next week. Depending on how things work out, Orton could begin wrestling again, and maybe even for the world title. Triple "Blade Trinity" H, meanwhile, might spend at least two months before reclaiming the title again, matching a personal best.

But I'm not giving him flak. This is the latest turn in WWE. It is not very popular right now. The champions, the wrestling, is turning to a lot of old approaches while the next era of excitement comes along. There's the gimmick wrestlers (Kenzo Suzuki, Hassan, Dean) and the champions who depend less on popularity and more on worth as in-ring material (even JBL, whom one of PWI's sister publications had to do a story on recently; no, he's no Sid Vicious, to get that out once again, thank you very much). No one's going to say Benoit or Eddie Guerrero would have been champion in any year before 2004. It's still a question whether they'll be champions again in 2005 or later. But the business is in hibernation. I for one have not lost one bit of interest. I'm a fan of wrestling, not of any one star within it over the rest.

NWA-TNA, meanwhile, is going really old school by bringing in the Outsiders, or so the several months behind PWI reported. How has that turned out? At any rate, TNA has got the wrestling exchange, okay wrestling spare change thing going remarkably well. Hopefully this Double J Fed eventually works out.

That's it for wrestling in this post. Back to comics related developments, I recently picked up the complete-to-date run of DC's Identity Crisis, the most recent watershed event, coming from Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales. This one, unlike events past, is about the story first and event second, and that's why it's generated such an incredible buzz in the industry. And it's all been justified. The recent death of Jack Drake, a character I followed while I was still a regular reader, in the pages of Robin, was an example of the impact not only promised but delivered, up to the sixth issue. Like any good mystery, this latest and perhaps greatest Crisis has been sprinkling in the answers and developments issues in advance. There had to be a reason why the Drakes, and the Palmers (well, ex-Palmers), were being featured so much. It's a shock for DC to be turning Atom into a villain. I've followed him for a long time, too. Maybe it's not what it seems. Maybe Dr. Light has come up with an ingenius (and found the means to be genius again) trap, a brilliant plan, despite only just having been reacquainted with the events that left him one of the more idiotic villains in comics (and that's saying a lot). Or maybe something else is going on.

This one's for fans of DC continuity, which is funny, since the last great Crisis was all about shuttering that off. Marvel, meanwhile, is continuing to push this Sentry character into its present, right out of its fictional (Wizard-assisted) past. And will anyone care enough about DC's Triumph to cry foul? I recently purchased the DC Encylopedia, which boats a listing of just about every character ever featured in a DC comic, but sadly not Chris Claremount's creator-owned Sovereign Seven. Even Power Girl's entry doesn't mention them. I haven't noticed if it mentions Triumph. And I'm not referencing the Insult Comic Dog when I say Triumph, either. This Triumph is a forgotten hero from the original Justice League line-up...

There's Green Lantern: Rebirth currently going on, which promises to bring Hal Jordan back as GL for the umpteenth time. Replacements John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and now Kyle Raynor will hopefully continue to float around, as they've done for thirty years now. Flash such a different property it's ridiculous. I read my first issues (concluding chapter to "World's End" and one from "The Kindly Ones") of Neil Gaiman's Sandman recently. His writing as I know it from American Gods in nicely intact, and I'd love to read more with the chance. I also picked up the first volume of the Mister X trade series currently being published. X is a forgotten 80's watershed moment, finally getting its due...

The Red Sox have proven they're really Yankees Jr. with me. They "forgot" to invite the unwanted Derek Lowe to a club celebration, making it clear they're willing to part with him like he was yesterday's garbage. Anyone still smarting from Nomar should have seen this coming. Sure, it took a whole team to win the World Series the way they did, but it also took bringing in Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez in with their built-in prestige and hefty paychecks. Anyone's expendible for a team just looking to win, just like any big name looks good. (Randy Johnson, I'm looking at you.) It's a shame Boston had to stoop to this to win. Maybe this is reactionary, voicing this now, this Yankees Jr. thought, but it's not a new one. I love Schilling. The guy made himself immortal in the Nation with his bloody sock. I love the utility players, the guys who stepped up their game like any good acquisition (I'm looking at you, Papi, Damon, and Larry Walker from the vanquished). I dunno. It's a weird sensation, to have followed this emotional season, gotten this incredible denouement, and be stuck feeling this way now. The list of free agents was absurd. It's not quite like the '97 Marlins, but I also have to wonder if the Red Sox can come back intact enough to compete like they did this year. The Patriots after 2002's big win lost a few players and had to skip a year, but did it again with a team mentality that wasn't lost. How much of the team mentality that got the Red Sox their win will be lost this off-season? D-Lo will tell you there's already something lost. And it hurts to follow that kind of stuff...

I think this will be one last note. I got U2's new disc, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and after two listenings am still left on the undecided side. I'm not sure an album by them, other than All That You Can't Leave Me Behind, has ever fully satisfied me (though several others have plenty of high moments) right away. They're a band you sort of have to work with. That, past "Vertigo," none of the tracks are really jumping out at me is not really telling. I didn't truly appreciate Coldplay's "The Scientist" until I heard it separately. This is a good argument for the playlist culture that's been revolutionizing the music business, taking the radio format and making everyone their own personal DJ. But it also doesn't mean that is the best way for the industry to go. The artists with depth, who don't rely on a single song to be their musical mark, are always going to creat entire albums at a time. Albums are a way of saving music for posterity (and why we don't have music libraries, or music rental stores, I don't know), giving them shelf-lives past their original point of popularity. This cannot be lost. And I don't think a playlist is the way it's going to become, despite what people like the members of U2 think. You go to a concert to hear a continuous list of music. An album is conceptually a new concert waiting to happen, the birthing ground for new music in this day and age. It captures the original artist, who will not be around forever. Tradition can keep their music alive, but so can a physical remainder. Much like oral stories gave way to books, so has this developed.

Was I ranting incoherently again? It must be because I'm way past bed-time...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

#96. Survivor Series, The Angry Avenger, Enterprise, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Survivor, The 9/11 Report

Survivor Series was this past Sunday, and weren't we in for a big surprise. JBL got the win over Booker T to retain the WWE championship. Wow. That puts his reign now as longer than Eddie Guerrero's, which is simply stunning, and beyond logic and reason. Here is a guy who has been unpopular in this push since the very beginning. He took two PPVs to capture the gold, then two more to get through the Undertaker. Conventional wisdom would have had Booker unseating him this time.

But wouldn't you know it? The ride continues. Yay for JBL! And yay for his chief of staff, Orlando "Oz" Jordan (nickname, as always, mine), who is starting to garner a little bit of his own attention, a development that began with Booker T's ascension to challenger status. While all that's really meant for Orlando is an improbably feud with Josh Matthews of all people (are they planning to push him as a wrestler, and if so, is Spanky spanking himself more so than ever now?), that still means he's gotten his first official feud. I was hoping for a rematch plugged into Sunday's card, just for shits and giggles, and maybe it was even done for Velocity, I wouldn't know. At any rate, his ship's finally sailing. And JBL, who vowed to never show his face on Smackdown again (though ironically that would have been contradicted by highlights of the match he lost to fulfill that vow), seemed primed to make good on that promise, er, threat. He just keeps going. Was Brock ever champion this long? I think so, but not much longer. One more month and Bradshaw will have matched The Rock's career best, if I'm not mistaken, which is probably the only way he could ever have been champion. He's no Rock in any other regard, except ability to create a fan reaction, which is possibly why he's still champion.

Lord knows there're plenty of reasons why he shouldn't be. One of them is the looming threat of John Cena, who has finally returned from filming of The Marine. Thank god, too. He still needs to develop his wrestling cred, and to do that he needs to make it to the top. Anything short and he'll go down as one of the greatest wasted potentials in wrestling history. But this is no big Test here. He should easily do that, within the next year. Maybe even by WrestleMania XXI. There are still three other men vying for the same honor of dethroning JBL, and those are Booker, Eddie, and Kurt Angle.

Angle's plans to become the Smackdown Triple H may have seen partial fruition with the adding of Mark Jindrak to Team Angle 2.0 (after Luther Reigns, who is fast becoming Batista 2.0), but he's still staying squarely within the pack, here. Maybe it's because of his continuing health issues that he's even gotten this quasi-stable (and I thought the minute Carlito's Jesus pal was mentioned as an "alternate" last week Angle wasn't going to be participating this Sunday). But he's still plugging away on Thursdays as one of Smackdown's most regular competitors. Whatever's going on going on...

Speaking of Triple H, the meltdown of Evolution's grasp on Raw is now complete. Wow! Who knew it would take the addition of Maven to seal this deal? I thought it would have been Shelton Benjamin, but it looks like they're fully intending to make him a fighting Intercontinental champion. And good for him, too. He's not stuck interminably like Charlie Haas as a name and as not a viable competitor (and maybe there're reason for Haas's inaction beyond storyline, too). Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But I really wish I'd had cable this summer/fall, to see Randy Orton's defection and the subsequent chinks being blasted in this armor. It still looks like Orton will be the guy to at last dethrone Triple H (for real this time), and maybe he's earning it (for real this time). As things stand in my personal life, I should have cable in time to watch that happen, or the immediate aftereffects.

Whatever happened to the tag team champions...Either brand's?...

I'm still plugging away at The Angry Avenger. Twice now I've had to post two entries on one day because the previous night saw my access to the spin-off blog controls nonexistent, while curiously I could still access the Monk. I don't know what's going on there, but it hasn't been that big an issue. Two more Mondays, two more Tuesdays, and I'll be done. Today's No. 16, which officially puts me over the hump, though since I've been keeping up with my wordcount, plus a little more, technically I'm already over. The story is surprising me. I've never written one continuous story this long, as I think I might have mentioned already. It's a heck of a challenge, but I've been doing well at it so far. I hadn't really been outlining early on, beyond knowing where I was going and what was needing to be done, but the other day I prepared the remaining chapter titles, which amounts to outlining the concluding half of the story.

If you haven't been reading, the story is about a hero going through one of those 24/Jack Bauer days, confronting his disposition as a hero, which is a fairly unique one as far as I can tell. So far he's only been living with it, but the drive home will find that confrontation as a part of the climax. That's the spoiler. In the meantime, he's been following leads on a particular case, which has mostly been purposely vague to this point, and will probably remain mostly purposely vague. The case isn't really the point. I'm writing about the character more than anything, with as many facets of this character as possibly to be explored. I'm not sure how wide of an audience there is for that. I haven't had a lot of luck finding an audience for my writing (and I'm not even talking about the continuing uncertainty of whether or not any at all has been reading the Monk all this time, including right at this instant). I'd love for that to change, but I can't foresee modifying my topics to facilitate that. It would feel like a creative cheat.

Anything else to talk about? Enterprise has been going strong this season, past the comprehensible hiccup that was the two-part season premiere. Brent Spiner's just-concluded run will go down as a classic moment for this series. But my opinions might not matter much. I'm still a big fan of Andromeda. That show's been a fascinating inversion of what we've known of it the past four seasons, which is the reverse of the case Earth: Final Conflict held in its own fifth (and final) season. If this is Andromeda's last, it's going out on a definite high note.

And Lost is still making a superb case for being television's finest hour. I've also been enjoying the current season of Survivor, and have been stuck reading The 9/11 Report for a very long time now thanks (or no thanks) to remarkable time constraints, the likes of which I never knew in college (and maybe that was a mistake...), and long passages of not-so-riveting exposition interrupting an otherwise good read. I actually slogged through all of the (oftentimes redundent) New York Times preliminary material...

Monday, November 01, 2004

Thursday, October 28, 2004

#94. Wrestling, Peter and the Starcatchers, Carlito, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Red Sox World Champions, NaNoWriMi, Roddy Bosset

Now, let's get a little Yesterday Part II action going on. Poor Dan Murphy, if he happened to have fallen through a blackhole and read our humble remarks at the Monk, was probably screaming that it was he, and not the irascible Harry Burkett, who actually sits there and writes the PWI 500. I'm not sure, but I might also have misrepresented Steve Austin as a 12 in 2002, when in fact he was a 13.

But I'd rather be wrong about trivial things like that (sorry, Dan!) than bungle a top slot in a PWI 500, as has happened at least twice very outrageously. You might recall my giving Bret Hart some smack in the past, but it's nothing compared to what the folks at PWI did to him in 1997 when they declared Dean Malenko as somehow being the pacerunner at the end of that particular grading period rather than "the best there is, the best there was, and the best there will ever be." This was when Hart made Austin, mind you. King of the Ring and Jake the Snake in 1996 might have seemed to make him, but people didn't really take Stone Cold seriously until he stood toe to toe with the Hitman, the Excellence of Execution. What's that Ric Flair always says? To be the man you have to beat the man? Well, that's what Austin did, a year before he did it against Shawn Michaels to become champion. All Hart had to do was surrender all pretenses of being a face. The guy was always a snarky little heel. C'mon. Do you remember that vengeful sharpshooter over Jerry Lawler, at Summer Slam 1993? The illusion was created out of thin air by two Yokozunamanias for Bret, plus a protracted feud with his even more dastardly brother, the late Owen Hart. (A footnote here, I recently purchased Austin's autobiography, The Stone Cold Truth, which I'll read after Dave Barry's co-written Peter Pan and the Starcatchers, and a number of other books, unless the spirit moves me to bump him up.)

And that wasn't the last time someone was robbed! But what made it even worse was that PWI couldn't even manage to put Bret in the top ten that year. He barely made the top twenty, coming in squarely at 20! The innanity! Clearly someone had lost favor in those offices, and all he'd need to win back the graces of the wrestling community was the holy trinity of horrors: his last night in the WWF, Owen's last night two years later, and the kick from Goldberg...

The second guy? None other than Chris Jericho, who in 2002 more than eclipsed Rob Van Dam, who incredulously was called the best in an "unexceptional" field. The ignomony! What does one have to do, be the first undisputed world champion in decades or something? Oh wait...And that wasn't even the first of Y2J's successes during that period. He won his very first heavyweight title not long before that, too, and after losing the championship scene went on to a stellar feud with Triple H, who somehow managed to wrestle about the same amount of time in that calender year and be graced with a top ten finish while Kurt Angle and Goldberg this year were denied as such for arguably equally successful or better all-around showings...

But let's move on to other matters. Carlito Caribbean Cool debuted on Smackdown a few weeks ago, punking John Cena not once but twice, the first of his dignity and the second of his U.S. title. This in Cena's hometown of Beantown! (And where is Cena gonna be to celebrate the Red Sox world title tonight? On the movie set of The Marine. Is it a little early for him to be pulling a Rock like this?) "I spit in the face of people who don't want to be cool." Yeah, this guy ain't too bad, as it turns out. He's a good wrestler, and he's actually got a personality (not that I'm saying oddly endearing karaoke machine Kenzo Suzuki of not having personality). He's a welcome shot in the arm. Let's see what develops.

Maven got his routine Tough Enough buzz going this past Monday, getting the win over the much put-upon animal that is Batista (Always on a Leash, should be his motto). If WWE continues these Tough Enough challenges indefinitely, Maven could even be heavyweight champion by 2009, when Conan takes over the Tonight Show!

And speaking of Batista, Gene Snitsky is succeeding where that Evolution pitbull has been consistently failing on Raw. He's a new brute possibly getting somewhere. That's another thing we'll see about.

The PWI debacle reminded me of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda this summer, running a poll to determine the top ten scenes through the first four seasons. The biggest vote-getters weren't bad (you should be able to find the list at its homepage, if you're interested), but the one I voted for, the ending to the second season's spectacular "Immaculate Perception," was nowhere to be found. Keith Hamilton Cobb, who many will still argue was the best thing that ever happened to that show, never had a finer moment than when he was called upon to have Tyr Anasazi try and fool Dylan Hunt into believing his son had died.

Part of what obviously screwed that scene's chances is that fans, current and bygone, are still delusional enough to think the show's best days ended at the end of the first season. Indeed, most of the scenes came from that season. Never mind the fact that its best period was early second season, and that post-"Ouroborus" was not half as bad as everyone automatically assumed it'd be and so thoroughly convinced themselves of sight-unseen, and that the third season was widely worth watching, and that the fourth season was even moreso...The fifth has begun, and as I understand it we're now in the final year. Ironically, we're finally having that Hercules vibe everyone was always so concerned about (star Kevin Sorbow's previous series). I'll die a fan of Andromeda.

Did I mention jubilation over the Red Sox??? The team finally got their heads screwed on properly in Game 4 of the ALCS, getting all of their considerable powers to actually work for them. If you want to know more, Stephen King is co-writing a book on this season, Faithful, to be published in December. Hopefully he'll have put Nomar Garciaparra into greater perspective than most of the knuckleheads I've haggled with since July 31, and earlier.

The comments feature should now be available. I found that if you click on the post-time by the author's name you'll be taken to a new page where you can find it. This might be useful when I insanely participate in the 50,000 word Blogger novel challenge next month. I've never written something that long, but I have to start somewhere...The story is entitled "Roddy Bosset," by the way, and I can't decide whether I'll be posting it here as I write it or at a sister blog...

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

#93. PWI 500, Last Comic Standing, Father of the Pride, Scrubs, Red Sox, World Series, Lost

It's been a while, eh? Pro Wrestling Illustrated published its annual PWI 500 recently (and my noting of this would have been even more concurrent had I gotten around to it sooner), and unfortunately, the issue was given the short shrift thanks to the recent (but not as recent) 25th anniversary celebration issue, which was marked by an issue of lists of 25 covering the 25 years PWI has been around, plus a packaged reprinting of the magazine's very first issue. The apparently long-suffering staffer Brandi Mankiewicz, self-styled heel column artist and editor of the 500 project, admitted in print that the team was forced to make due with an abbreviated yearly highlight (ironically, last year's was the biggest yet). The very worst this resulted in was making the affair seeming about 75% less comprehensive than it really should have been.

Chris Benoit snagged the top spot. If you were only focusing on the 2004 portion of the July 31, 2003-July 31, 2004 grading period, he easily made it over nos. 2 (Eddie Guerrero) and 3 (Triple H), serving a stellar five months as Raw World champion after the incredible Royal Rumble win. Problem is, and this was a recurring one throughout the feature Harry Burkett allegedly single-handedly wrote, there was a whole other half-year to consider, and it clearly was not seriously considered. If it had been, Latino Heat would have come out on top. Professional that he has always been, Benoit did not have the momentum Guerrero did coming into 2004. Where to start? The Smackdown US title tournament win, the interlapping tag team title reign with Chavo, and the resulting feud with Chavo proved that Eddie had a lot more focus and momentum leading to a successful feud with Brock Lesnar of all people (and I'll get back to Lesnar, you can be sure) and the ensuing Angle-Layfield quagmire. There's no question in my mind that Eddie was robbed. Not that Benoit is a guy I would really protest over.

That U.S. title hunt? Guerrero's main opponent there until Big Show steamrolled over him (which provides a tasty look into a possible near-future development for Smackdown) was in fact Benoit, who spent the rest of the year as Smackdown's fourth or fifth biggest star (we could argue over John Cena or Show or even Undertaker, at least until Survivor Series, if you'd really like to). He even won a mini-rumble to challenge for the WWE championship in late 2003, and was the other man left standing besides Cena in that Paul Heyman House of Towering Infernos elimination match in November (the card already being named a few lines up). But he just was not that big a force until his out of nowhere January win. And he did spend most of his time as champion living under the shadows of Shawn Michales and...

Triple H. This guy's never going to receive another break from the smart marks, is he? Much like Goldberg's precipitous fall in 1999 and Lesnar's in 2004, Hunter lost the respect of the fans because he became a dominant champion in an era where that is virtually unheard of. Champions today are more reminiscent of The Rock, who won half a dozen world titles, most of which ran in spans of weeks rather than months. Even Steve Austin was never champion for very long, but he spent long periods of time in between his reigns on the shelf. Hunter sticks around, dominates, and is hated, and not in the nod nod wink wink kind of way. An unbiased assessment of the 2003-2004 grading period, which saw him remain at the World title level the entire time, would have seen Triple H below Guerrero and just above Benoit.

But these are just quips, right? Clearly all three combined to rule the roost, and just the fact that they're acknowledged as, in some combination, standing 1,2,3 is good enough. Well, we then have to settle for the next three guys, Goldberg, Lesnar, and Angle being chopped down or left off completely because they happened to miss the last four months of the grading period. When Stone Cold missed the last few two years ago (when the grading was August to August), he had to settle for no. 13. Goldberg gets walloped to no. 48 (see just how unpopular he is?) while Kurt Angle settles for no. 36. What did both accomplish in the time they did compete in WWE? Heavyweight championships, and feuds that marked 2003 and 2004. "Da Man" waited months for his shot at Triple H's gold, and then had to wrestle two main events to do it. He then retained it on a third card, and lost it in a triple threat match on a fourth one. Maybe people really want to believe he didn't have much to offer as a wrestler, but he served as the one person to successfully handle Hunter these past five years. The Rock couldn't do it, Steve Austin couldn't do it, Shawn Michaels couldn't do it. Benoit did eventually, but needed not one but two triple threats involving HBK to get around to it. And then Goldberg left WWE after defeating Lesnar at WrestleMania XX.

Angle, meanwhile, had engaged in an epic feud with Lesnar throughout 2003, culminating in the classic Ironman match in the fall. After playing a supporting role for a while, he went on to challenge Guerrero at WM XX in another classic, and was forced to the shelf again to rehabilitate his neck (shades of Austin all around), before the dramatic reveal PWI notes when he came back for competitive grade and cost Eddie the WWE title in a steel cage match against John Bradshaw Layfield.

And then there's Lesnar, whose exclusion can be chalked up to the fact that he retired after XX to pursue professional football. But he was on perhaps the highest peak of his professional wrestling career before that, and because of some inane rules PWI set up this couldn't be acknowledged in the sports' premier accolade forum. I have other issues with PWI, such as why Japanese stars such as Kenta Kobasji (no. 4) can be assumed to place in certain slots and not really have to justify it like WWE and other North American stars when PWI fails to provide adequate coverage and explanation. At best, from his write-up, Kobashi sounds like a 200s calibur talent. But what do I know?

Randy Orton, John Cena, A.J. Styles, and Chris Jericho all seem to more than hold their top ten water weight, though Michaels is questionable (especially when trying to rationalize with the apparent standards for others already discussed). I could go through all of my thoughts, but I won't, at least not at this time. Orton is still making his case against Triple H on Raw, while Booker T has stood up to one of Smackdown's All Heel Champions, Bradshaw. And Shelton Benjamin is Intercontinental champion! Woo! Wrestling is looking just fine leading up to this year's Survivor Series.

In non-wrestling matters, Dave Mordal won Last Comic Standing, I was eventually able to find out (Father of the Pride ain't that bad, Siegfried & Roy being freakin' hilarious, but Tuesday is still Scrubs Night Special for me, though this week was Heather "I'm Always Pleasantly Smiling" Graham's last call, plus a Futurama-worthy )hearttugger for Molly Shannon). Good for him!

A year ago (the resurrection of the Monk, btw) I was cheerleading Josh Beckett, so it's only appropriate that I mention how I'm in a win-win situation this year concerning the World Series. The Red Sox can win it tonight, or the Cardinals can somehow match Boston's incredible ALCS performance. I love both teams. That Curse of the Bambino, by the way? It was reversed the day the Yankees acquired A-Rod. Nice to know, huh?

And are we watching Lost? Hell yeah! It's Boomtown's replacement as my new favorite show! And what's even better, a significan amount, a large significant amount, of other people is wacthing right alongside me. Let's hope this lasts. And maybe provides residual viewers for J.J. Abrams' other show, Alias, in January.

Lastly, we're a week away from elections. Fittingly, I'm finally letting whatever readership there is providing their own input to the blog. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

#92. Last Comic Standing, Lost, Wrestling

First things first (such logic I learned from the master, Yogi). Blogger, for some reason, placed the Sept. 22 edition on the 13th, as the second entry therein. It did for me, anyway. Those of you (if indeed there are any readers) left scratching their heads as to how I could have been commenting on the Emmy results and show before they occured, rest assured. Evererything is perfectly normal here...

How about that Ralphie May? He's voted off Last Comic Standing and the only thing he can think to respond with is how crappy he feels this show has gotten. The first season (his), he thinks, was the best, the second not too bad either. But this third one, rushed as it was (though how much so I wonder) to production, has been nothing short of a disgrace for the portly comic, left last standing 0-2 now. He doesn't feel like his fellow comics are pushing the medium's limits enough. It's clear he doesn't like John Heffron, one of four comics left standing before next Tuesday's final results. Heffron, who won this summer's season two, apparently isn't edgy enough for May, whose hallmark is his weight and his mildly angry brand of humor (black folks stole fat people's clothes!), delivered perfect with not as much finesse as it could be. No, I didn't develope this assessment after reading his parting shots. The guy is memorable for more than just his size, but I'm still not sure he's as funny as his second place finish in 2003 might indicate. He's brash. Maybe people like that.

Apparently not enough people like Dat Phan's Vietnamese jokes. It got him all the way to the end in the first edition, which I'm sorry I didn't follow (though of the two formats I have to choose from, this current one I prefer, which cuts through odorous bull). This guy has some of the best delivery I've seen. Rich Vos, angry as Ralphie but not so big, has a delivery to match, which is one reason why I'm certain he won't be the winner. Dave Mordal is always bemused, even by his own paper clip tripping. He became a favorite this week, but I still will not call him the most memorable of the LCS set. I think that's the reason season two has done so well this season in the head-to-heads. It has the more memorable comics. Heffron, though, reverses this, as much as Phan does. I love Heffron, and once I drew a bead on him I was totally on his bandwagon, but I would have still have gone for an Alonzo Bodden, Gary Gulman over him to win.

Bodden suddenly got very political this week. Perhaps to make Ralphie proud (he was singled out as comics May respected). It might even get him the victory, in this charged period before elections not a month away now. But I would have loved to to Phan move further along. During the roast of host Jay Mohr (apparently Mohr is so easy a roast target that most of his roasters could spend most of their time roasting people other than him), someone mentioned how they "get" Phan and his Vietnamese bit, just like they got Ant and his Scooby Doo bit. No one's going to say it, but Dat don't go far because he's targeting too small an audience with his routine. Who doesn't have Heffron childhoods (well, among those actually watching)? He might be the most hilarious man in the room, and still not score as much as he should. It's the same reason Alias is not the huge hit it deserves to be. Although Lost seems to be one, and it is equally deserving.

Okay, on to Smackdown's No Mercy pay-per-view from this past Sunday. Call me crazy, but I still believe that this was one of the best cards of the year, and it would have been even when Raw held its last PPV (Unforgiven in September, after having had the last brand PPV, and with Taboo Tuesday now weeks away), as I said at the time. And as I've also said, if Smackdoown's not going to get any respect, then I'm still going to enjoy the results (so long, Rodney).

The show kicked off with Eddie Guerrero taking on Luther Reigns. What a way to start things. Some might say Eddie kicking off a show is demeaning toward the things he's done over the past year, but the context has to be understood. Reigns is still establishing himself, and the feud to set up this match, was never exactly focused on. Someone needed an excuse to give Reigns a prominent perch on a card, so they turned to Guerrero. Who better? I haven't seen the match, or the rest of the card, but it's one very good reason why I should get the DVD when it's released a couple months down the road. The match does nothing to kill the buzz Eddie has built, since his best opponents are all locked up elsewhere in climactic matches that need to be played out. And it does everything to lend credibility to Reigns, even in defeat. This guy's a future heavyweight champion.

Nuznio takes on the Boss, Spike Dudley (not Springsteen, but that would probably be interesting, too, variations on axe handles and everything), as a way of saying Spike is defending his cruiserweight title when the booking folks have obviously run out of real options at the moment. Nothing but the storyline is keeping the belt around his waste, to my mind.

Then we come to Billy Kidman v. Paul London, in one of the better built feuds. These two deserve to be wrestling in a spotlight, and if they have to do it against each other to reach other ends (maybe Kidman could move on to Spike now, and we can find out which one is less deserving emotionally for that championship?), then so be it. London has already struck it up with Booker T, so his future is looking good. If this wasn't a highlight of the card, I'd be very surprised.

Tag team champions Kenzo Suzuki (hair newly thinned of late) and Rene Dupree defended their titles against Rey Mysterio and Rob Van Dam, two wrestlers who excite the fans but apparently not the booking staff. As mock-ups go, this was probably a good one.

This next one could easily have been the main event. Kurt Angle and Big Show finally met in the ring after the events of last May. Angle, who has built the stable rumor had him building months ago, interestingly lost, which may set Show up for yet another WWE title capture at Survivor Series. I'm not sure where else they could be going with this, except a drawn-out feud between these two. If Show were headed in the direction I think he's going, it might mean the first time the fans would actually be rooting for him to defeat the champion, in this case the against-all-expectations-and-possibly-reason JBL, who survived once again as the champion with the worst personal closing record in modern wrestling history, this considering even Y2J and Latino Heat.

John Cena finally reclaimed the United States championship by winning the best of five series against Booker T. I would almost have prefered Cena losing, as it would have put him in a more interesting position, but apparently not one the writers are ready for. I'm not sure this series gave us any classics (those tend to come from specialty matches, not specialty series), but the two worked well together. Hopefully this means both can move on and start agitating again. They're extremely good at that, and if there's been one thing sacrificed unexpectedly by this series it's been Cena coming out agitating just about everyone by brandishing his own form of respect, and Booker likewise by not respecting anyone else in the lockers. This will no doubt be remembered as an important moment in both their careers.

Charlie Haas and Rico got their way onto the card, plus Miss Jackie, as they wrestled the Dudleys and Dawn Marie. Rico since his return has proven more entertaining than the last we saw him, possibly because no one's asked him to speak yet. He's got wrestling ability and the power to entertain beyond that as well. It's how the tag team contenders got so popular. It's not through their vocal skills. So Haas and his fate are looking less bleak, and his future a little better as well. He's going to be a major player one day. This is the "meantime" in the equation.

Finally, there was the Last Ride Match, where Undertaker once again had to lose twice to the same champion (Brock Lesnar made most of his impact as champion by doing this). Too bad to get here we had to sacrifice (literally, at least in wrestling terms) Oz, Orlando Jordon, who could stand receiving his first PPV match already. Bradshaw continued to be the champion the fans hate to love, this time thanks to Heidenreich (who, regretfully, did not bring a poem with him). This sets up a feud Taker hopefully will not have to dodge because his opponent isn't ready yet (Mordecai), though there's been plenty of talk our Wretched Romeo isn't quite ready either. I guess we'll soon find out. It wouldn't be the first time a big man was pushed, even in what would amount to abandoned onscreen development, in an angle with the Dead Man. But at least Paul Heyman has his revenge, which means the events of this summer didn't go so absolutely to naught as they seemed to.

Compare this to earlier Smackdown cards from this year and you'll see how rapidly the brand has reestablished itself as more than a worthy rival for Raw. And that's all the eye I'm chewing off today...

Saturday, October 02, 2004

#91. Raw House Show Results!

October 1, 2004, Raw Live at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, ME. Results!

Gene Snitsky def. Steven Richards
...The main thing about this match was that Richards used to be head of a group called...Wait a minute. No, that's not right. What was it again? Oh right, "Baby Killer." Gene came out and gave a little speech about how everyone's been ripping him on the incident with Kane and Lita (neither of which were there last night). This uy's another brute. I hope I spelled his name right...

Shelton Benjamin def. Simon Dean
...I made a sign saying "All About the Benjamin," and the only problem was the show was completely in the dark, except for the ring, and the entrance ramp when it was in use. But I still cheered for the former half of the World's Greatest Tag Team. Dean was a tailor-made house show heal. I some how doubt he'll rise beyond that. Shelton picks up a foregone win, and even performed the splash, which is what I was looking for.

Coach made his way out, did his thing. Molly follows him (I should add that the Fink was there to introduce each match. Go Fink!) and then...

Molly def. Victoria
...Dang! Did I mention I love Victoria? It was a good match, too.

Maven def. Mohammed Hassad
...I hope I spelled House Show Heel No. 2's name right, too. Good match.

La Resistance def. Rosey & the Hurricane and Eugene & William Regal
...Eugene was obviously in the spotlight here. He got the first pinfall, on Rosey to eliminate that team in this title bout. When Regal finally got in, he eventually got pinned by I believe Rob Conway. From my seats I couldn't really tell Conway and Sylvan Grenier apart, and they sort of mixed around towards the end. The French win!

Chris Benoit's "4 Real" shirts are blasted into the audience. None come remotely near my party. Then follows a fifteen minute intermission.

Tajiri &; Rhyno def. Val Venis & Chuck Palumbo
...Rhyno hits the Gore! Venis sees the most action for his team! Chuck's grown his hair again! And did I mention Tajiri pulled off the Tarantula quite early? Oh, and Val misses the Money Shot! Pretty good. Hard to miss with these guys.

Chris Jericho def. Christian via submission
...This Intercontinental title bout was of course a highlight of the evening. Tomko ("Cute Little Boyfriend" by Y2J's hysterical reckoning) was thrown out and this made it possible for Chris to eventually lock in the Walls of Jericho.

Chris Benoit & Randy Orton def. Triple H & Batista
...No Ric Flair! But the crowd was obviously pulling for Orton, with numerous chants of "RKO" throughout the match. He took his time after one engagement recuperating. This allowed Benoit plenty of action, plus the three German suplexes which are his trademark, not to mention the Flying Headbutt. Earlier in the day the Crippler appeared on a local radio show, where a caller was able to win a workout with him and ringside tickets by correctly identifying him as the Pegasus Kid in his Japan and Mexico early days. It was great seeing Triple H live, too, the posing and the spitting and everything. It was amazing to see him get tossed around. This was my first live wrestling experience. It was great, a different feeling (the face-heel formula was made all the more obvious), and seeing the wrestling in its purest form, no close-ups, no commentary, was something of a revelation. All told, it was a two-and-a-half hour affair, something to remember. I didn't bring a camera, though! And the program? A glorified picture book! I had to buy it to find out...But I'm not complaining.

Now, let's get Smackdown up here...

Monday, September 13, 2004

#90. Emmys, Listen Up, Lost, CSI Miami, Wrestling

Some minor notes from Sunday's Emmy's to start things off: Since when did Bradley Whitford become Brad Whitford? And who was Sunday's Mariska Hargitay and what did she do with the usual one? Dang! She cleans up nicely! I mistook her for Jolene Blalock, in fact. The two could be sisters. Maybe one should appear on the other's show and try that. I'd like to see Blalock on SVU, though. After learning Jeri Ryan really was not that great a regular actress in her David E. Kelly incarnation (Boston Public), it was a bit of a letdown. She was a pretty good robot. And Blalock is a pretty good Vulcan, but she doesn't exactly have a grocery list of regular roles to her credit.

Anyhoo, Monday night was the series premiere of Jason Alexander's new show, Listen Up. I haven't found one critic who liked the series, and the favorite reason is that Alexander can't possibly do justice to Tony Kornheiser, the Washington Post and ESPN personality his character is based upon. And you know what? I've never seen Kornheiser in action. I have no idea what he's like. Probably never will. This is the same deal Dave's World had back in the '90's. Harry Anderson was supposed to be playing Dave Barry, the syndicated humor columnist. I doubt very much Anderson or the series captured Barry very well, as the series was more about the typical family sitcom experience than the kinds of things Barry regularly writes about. Yet I wouldn't have traded that series for the world. For one thing, it introduced us to Patrick Warburton.

Listen Up doesn't have a Patrick Warburton, at least not yet. The series focuses around Alexander as a family man whose daughter, as the pilot revolves around, is mortified by her father. Daniella Monet, as that daughter, was called upon to play second billing. She's not a comic find, but she does play the part well. Jason, meanwhile, is more in Bob Patterson mode than George Costanza, and what this means to me is that he's trying for just a bit more nuance in his performance. As my only reference into the Patterson mindset, that series' final episode placed Alexander into what amounted to a theater exchange, the very opposite of anything George would have ever done. This series seems to be taking the same approach. Most of the interaction Tony Kleinman (not to be confused with Kornheiser) has with his talk show cohost Malcolm Jamal-Warner centers around the kind of two-person, sitdown banter I remember from that Patterson exchange. They are not hamming it up. Well, they do when they get to scenes involving the actual talk show, but not to Costanza levels. But that's besides the point. You've got to imagine people would be watching that show for a reason, and most of the time these days it's because the host or hosts are bombastic spazzes.

Jason often speaks his lines almost as if he's embarrassed to be saying them. No, not in that sense. In the sense that he's aware that Kleinman's basic flaw is that he's conceited, and he realizes that. In real life, he's got to pull his punches, or be exasperated in the classic George Costanza mold. Why do I like this series so far? Because it knows what it is. A winning series always does. The question is, will there be an audience, will there ever be one, who will embrace Jason Alexander in a different role? That's this show's main roadblock, and it's already evident by the chilly reception from critics. Thankfully, it arrives on a night mostly populated by other comedic gems, Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men. (The fourth show shall not be named. It's the Show-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.) So it's got a better chance than most such attempts.

Tonight is the premiere of Lost. Woo! Speed's death Monday on CSI: Miami was moving. Best of luck to Rory in his future endeavors. Speaking of which, Time Magazine doesn't find Joey as hilarious as I do. It feels Matt LeBlanc's transplant has altered the character we remember so fondly from Friends. To which I say. Duh. Shouldn't sitcom characters have a chance to be semblances of real people? And what real people don't change in different company? Joey was usually the idiot in the pack of six because that was the easiest role to fill. He didn't need to pull off Chandler-esque lines because, well, Chandler was there to pull them off. New York Joey (or Joey: New York, for those CSI fans) had a lot less freedom than L.A. Joey, whose social sphere consists of his sister (at some point I hope someone mentions the elephant in the room, say the about dozen other sisters he has, including the one Chandler made out with, whichever one that was), and his nephew. It's a whole new dynamic. I hope he isn't the same guy. It'd be idiotic to just drag over the same characteristics. How could he carry a series? Who would take him seriously? And funny as they're supposed to be, sitcom characters also need to be taken seriously. It's what makes and breaks a series. Well, most of the time. Like the series above, this one might also depend on the transition from one series to another for its star.
And LeBlanc proves he's a star here.

...Damn comparisons...

And now to compare WWE Raw and Smackdown. :D Seriously, though, if The Rock is not currently scheduled to appear on Smackdown's fifth anniversary special this Thursday, could he at least surprise us? The show was named in his honor!

Raw, meanwhile, is going to have...yet...another...PPV, this one hitting Oct. 19, on a Tuesday, when Smackdown is usually taped. It's called Taboo Tuesday and will feature matches made by the fans. Hopefully Smackdown will get one of these at some point too, maybe when it gets some respect. Any respect will do. But Randy Orton is proving to be a scrapper, a constant hound for Evolution and Triple H, and he's got Chris Benoit and Shelton Benjamin to back him up. Besides that, Raw has wisely chosen to use Shawn Michaels in the ongoing Y2J-Christian feud. Very nice. And Kane has got his ongoing saga with Lita. The problem is Raw has nothing else going for it. Maybe that's the whole point of Taboo Tuesday, to give Raw a better sense of what the fans actually want. Hopefully what they want is for something fresh to happen, and by that I don't mean the umpteenth wrinkle in a current storyline. What Raw really needs to a shake-up, a few more stars to be relevant, even to lesser degrees. Raw has no notion of that. It's notion is to use La Resistance, or Maven, or Tajiri, or the Hurricane, randomly and to no cumulative importance, to pad out the program, much like the women's division, which constantly suffers from reiterative creative blah. How many tag team matches can these gals take?

As it looks now, Eddie Guerrero will be meeting Luthor Reigns at No Mercy. This is good news for Eddie, who's remaining far more relevant than Chris Benoit, whose an afterthought in the continuing Evolution domination (Eugene will be fighting Eric Bischoff Oct. 19; maybe this means they still remember him), and great news for Reigns. This guy might finally be starting to go somewhere, about ten times quicker than Batista. And he totally deserves it. JBL and Oz have added Viscera and Gangrel to their staff, which in effect turns the table all the way around on the Undertaker, after his Ministry years, the ones I least enjoyed him, even though it gave us Edge and Christian as well as the APA (not to mention Naked Mideon...come to think of it I probably shouldn't have mentioned it). Gangrel still has one of the best entrance themes in the business, the backword breathing and the drumbeat and all. Viscera was noticeably slow last Thursday, too. I don't expect at least him to be around that long. If this is the kind of stuff Smackdown can do in Raw's shadow, then I'm all for it.

There's a PPV and a house show coming in the weeks ahead. Those will probably be the next two entries in the Scouring Monk, and they come days apart. And as a parting word, folks, go out and watch Arrested Development, already, and while you're at it, Scrubs. These are the kind of shows that are innovating the supposedly stale sitcom model. But if nobody watches them, nobody will know. And shame on the Emmy's for overlooking the latter, yet again. Last night's episode was once again hilarious. Heather Graham is winning newfound respect from me for her guest stint.

#89. Politics, Barack Obama, Wrestling, Tickets to See Wrestling, Last Comic Standing, Boomtown, NCIS, Fall TV Preview

Because you can't be more patriotic than the Patriotic Party.

What's that? Oh, just toiling with an idea or two. Everyone's saying that the National Conventions, as recently held by both the Democrats and the Republicans, have become irrelevant. Their basis for this claim is that the purpose for the conventions has been to formally nominate each party's presidential nominee, and since that is obviously done long before the conventions nowadays, what's the point of the pomp and circumstance? Well, here's an idea on that: Yes, we no longer have to wait until the conventions to learn who the nominees will be. The primaries, the caucuses, they take care of that. But what the conventions offer is a platform for the parties, to give a State of the Party address whose natural conclusion is reached by a speech from their presidential candidates. Think about it. This year the Democrats made a big deal of bringing Barrack Obama into the national spotlight, while the Republicans gave California's obscure governor a national spotlight of his own. The speeches highlighting each party's impending agenda (by which most recognize as mostly the opposite of what the other party is planning, at least in terms of symantics), and as they try to elevate the standing of the presidential nominee they also bolster the image of their own party, the Party of Past, Present and Future (come to think of it, both conventions could easily use PoPPP as their slogan, and could carry on using the same kind of rallying music as before to boot, all the while shaking like a Polaroid picture).

Anyhoo, just a thought...Last night was WWE Raw's Unforgiven pay-per-view (Smackdown's No Mercy drops on Oct. 3, the early date of which has me wondering if Raw is going to shoehorn another HHH, I mean PPV on the market). Chris Benoit and William Regal got to start the show off by defeating Ric Flair and Batista. I can think of at least two participants in that match who could have used singles action on the card instead of a meaningless tag team match. (For that matter, why was it Benoit, and not Eugene, who was in this thing?) Tell me Raw had enough time for this PPV, and I'll tell you something else. This night could easily have been a better-planned Smackdown affair. But I digress. Maybe it was a great match and maybe that was he whole point. Benoit and Flair has to be worth the price of admission, right? In any computation? I guess...

Then continues the saga of Evolution Lite, I mean Christian, Trish Stratus, and Tyson Tomko, who like the original Team E got a few months wasted away while members served in Injury Limbo. Lite's return has me wondering if there was a point to this threesome all along, and that's why it was so important to strike the band back up once all the players were in place again. Stratus retained against Victoria in a match that was months in coming but delayed this long while Trish squatted on the sidelines with a title she should technically have been stripped of. Could Raw not come up with compelling womens division action without her? Really? Tomko also got to beat up Stevie Richards in yet another bizarro guise worthy of Harvey Wippleman, which possibly put Tomko over as at least a Mordecai-level brute! Woo! The point for now seems to be that Trish is switching her affections from Christian to Thrasher, I mean Tomko. Maybe it won't suck too much...

I got tickets for the Portland, ME (as opposed to the Or. variety, from which parts this PPV originates), and Edge was advertized as defending his Intercontinental championship against Batista. (I intend to publish results here.) I guess that's not going to happen, since he was, what? stripped of his title due to injury. That cleared the way for a ladder match between Chris Jericho and Christian, who will have worked through every gimmick match in their endless feud by the end of the year. Jericho picked up the win and the championship in no doubt what was a thrilling match come months late because of sidelined stars. Next time: midget tag team partners!

But the end of that feud may have come: a promo after it featured Edge threatening Jericho, who is apparently a record seven-time Intercontinental champion now. Like I said, from one brother to another...

Another feud-held-in-the-making (how many people like Goldsworthy will be complaining about this like they did with Angle-Guerrero?) saw Kane battle Shawn Michaels in his return. This one was as much about unwedded bliss and treacherous Litas as it was about the match itself. HBK is a trucker this year, no doubt. Is he really destined in this push to run with HB Cade? And will that really be worth it? Only time...

Next came La Resistance (now with spelling changes in their name!) defending their tag team titles against Tajiri and Rhyno. This is a match that has been so long in the making it's embarrassingly obvious Raw has no idea what to do with its tag team division (in stark contrast to the furtile grounds of Smackdown). And for all the effort put into creating the contending team...Sylvain Grenier and Robert Conway still walk out the champions...

And for the main event...Randy Orton, defending the World heavyweight title he won from Chris Benoit last month, two months removed from another effort from Triple H to recapture the title from the Rabid Wolverine, lost the Triple H. There isn't even an effort to disguise it. Triple H is the only man Raw wants to have as its champion. Sure, it's had Shawn Michaels, Goldberg, Chris Benoit, and now Randy Orton interludes, but Hunter Hurst-Helmsley's (I should say, Jean-Paul Levesque-McMahan) domination continues. I can only imagine how this is supposed to feel competitive. I hear all the time about the great, long, reigns of years past, of how great those champions were. I can't imagine anything less truly competitive. You break the fourth wall every time you create a champion like that. you say, we've found the guy we want to be champion, and there's no one out there who's good enough to defeat him, by which we mean there's no one else we really want to be champion. This guy's our man.

The fans complain all the time about how RVD never gets his due, how he's always being kept down. And maybe so. I don't think he's got even JBL-size potential to be a compelling champion. He'd be another Triple H, a guywho's champion because of the transparent reality that he was given the title for some popularity rating or another. Great champions aren't manufactured, they're born. Chris Benoit was a guy people rallied around, Eddie Guerrero was another. They brought meaning to their reigns. So has JBL, a guy nobody wants to see as champion, a sentiment shared with Triple H, though in a different, unflattering way. Hunter hasn't let anyone else flourish in all this time. He's done his best to make sure no one can size up to him, thereofr creating the false impression that no one can size up to him. I love the guy, I think he's a gift to wrestling, but he's overwhelmed the realm of credibility in his smothering tactics. Evolution is the first thing that needs to go. Thankfully this deconstruction has already begun with Orton's defection. Batista is the next that must be cut loose. He's been held back exponentially by his association with the stable. He never gets to do anything meaningful as a singles star because he's got his obligations to Evolution. To thrive, and he could probably be Triple H's next credible challenger if this happened, Batista must be set free.

Smackdown has a similar situation with Luthor Reigns, but he's only been around since April or so, and Thursdays have allowed him to peform the duel taks of serving Kurt Angle and developing his own interests slowly but surely. This past Thursday he was the last guy who stood up to the returning Big Show. The week previous to that, he attacked Eddie Guerrero, and not to Angle's pleasure. That's a character development. As far as Show is concerned, Reigns is like a surrogate Brock Lesnar (practice squad Viking, but that's still good considering the odds), the brute who can and will stand up to him, challenge his illusion of total dominance, which the arena massacre was meant to demonstrate. With Angle returning as a full-time wrestler, Reigns is needed less and less. For the talk of Angle becoming another Triple H, that would never happen in a million years. The Olympian has always been a Rock-style champion, amassing championships of short Reigns, I mean reigns that establish him as a perennial threat to the champion but never a dominating one. He's the biggest fish in Smackdown, but there are plenty other good-sized fishes in the pond. Unlike the Triple H-HBK feud that marked much of Hunter's early Raw dominance (and again this year), the Angle-Guerrero feud is more even-handed. Not to mention the pup waiting in the wings in the championship scene, John Cena, is already far more seasoned than Randy Orton, who missed valuable developing time to injury and got Evolution to do the rest for him. And there's Big Show, Undertaker, JBL, Luthor Reigns...Smackdown has competition in its ranks mostly because it's the underdog, I guess.

And that status has done nothing but allow those sticking around to appreciate JBL's reign as champion to savor it all the more. Last Thursday our champion wrestled Charlie Haas, who is fast overtaking Shelton Benjamin in the developing all-around talent race (and by that, I mean who's to become the next Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle) thanks to injuries once more. So JBL is not an especially memorable wrestler past his Close-line from Hell. But he's still a heck of a presence. It certainly doesn't hurt that he's given Orlando Jordan relevance. Good news for Bradshaw is good news for Oz (as I believe he was mistakenly called by JBL; I'll not pass the opportunity to grant him a nickname better than OJ), which is only more good news for Smackdown. They make an exceptional pair, with their chemistry. I love their bit about what town they're in. It's a small, but amusing joke. I hope they keep it up.

Speaking of tandems, Kenzo Suzuki and Rene Dupree became Smackdown tag team champions after the continuing saga of Billy Kidman's lost faith cost him and Paul London the titles (and maybe the FBI will be Suzuki and Dupree's next opponents?). This gives the new champs something meaningful, not to mention gold, to further their own immediate (and lucrative) futures with while also pushing Kidman into relevance again. Maybe he'll finally become a man. Anyhoo, it'll probably give us a really good match between himself and London. Dupree, who escaped Raw tag team hell to Smackdown singles glory (for a while, as he figured prominently in Cena's US title defenses for much of the year), doesn't come off worse for wear by having to maintain his presence in another tag team. He's proven his singles worth, and the good thing about teaming with Suzuki is that their styles are nothing alike. Each can further their own goals in this tag team combination and not lose a step in their development of singles careers.

Speaking of units, there's the Dudleys, who're starting to misfire. Give these guys direction already! This was the second week in a row Rey Mysterio was forced into a defacto six-man tag team match, and this time it was mostly do to the directionlessness of Spike, D-Von, and Bubba. This time Mysterio received the totally unexplained assistance of Hardcore Holly, as well as Rob Van Dam. This feud could just as easily be on Raw! And include Chris Benoit!

Cena-Booker T, the series of 5 folk, are gearing up to the pivotal fourth match. Booker has won the last two (one of them at an Australian house show!), meaning Cena must (and probably will) win this one, setting up, most likely, the deciding match Oct. 3 at No Mercy. Five years ago, a series like this made Booker's singles career when he battled Chris Benoit over the same title in WCW. Now, in 2004, he's got something else to prove. He's still worthy of such a high profile. Cena's on the rise, while Booker has an upper-midcard status to maintain that could always propel him to the top if he plays his cards right. He's definitely doing that right now. Considering the unnamed stakes, this is perhaps the feud of the year. And it has a lot more structure than anything on Raw beyond the Eugene saga. These feuds have as much to do with the matches as the heat between the competitors outside the ring. Y2J and CLB have plenty of heat both ways, but it's been steaming away the reasons for most of the feud. Guerrero-Angle, which will probably conclude before long, has gotten things right and have parlayed a series of false endings to magnificant effect.

Was last night a false ending to the Triple H-Orton feud? Is Orton really the downfall of Hunter, or just another step in a long march?

A less serious contest of champions is going on in NBC's Last Comic Standing, version III going on now which pits the first and second seasons against each other. I gotta say, I love Dat Phan, whom I missed last year because I never really got into that season. But this year's has a bunch of comics I love, including Gary Gulman, Alonzo Bodden, and Jay London. I'm also won of Ant's few fans ("It doesn't take Scooby Doo to solve this mystery," even repeated ad nauseum, is still amusing, and catchy). LCS and Scrubs are Tuesday appointments! Speaking of the new season, I caught most of last night's premiere of Jack and Bobby and I didn't mind what I saw. It has possibilities, is all. I also caught some of Neal McDonough's new show, Medical Investigation the other night. In related news, the first season of Boomtown is out on DVD. Savor this series! There's but a third of a season more. Entertainment Weekly called MI NBC's apology to Neal. He hopefully won't be disappointed for accepting it. The best thing I can say is that it's better than NCIS (I think the "Navy" part was finally dropped), which spoiled Michael Weatherly...

TV Guide teased its fall previews two weeks ago by releasing an edition splotlighting stars of news series who'd be failure from old ones. This week they finally print the Returning Shows edition, and next week the Fall Preview. I already have a good idea of the new season, but collecting those issues has become a tradition, and I think they do a good job with them. Shows I'm excited about include Lost, Desperate Housewives, Joey (great premiere last Thursday, btw), Boston Legal (Spader and Shatner make a terrific duo), Kevin Hill, and CSI:NY.

I think that'll do for now...

Monday, August 23, 2004

#88. Reaction to Summer Slam

Ian Goldsworthy's Fish Tank review of SummerSlam at I've got to take issues with...

The columnist provides his analysis of the backstories and matches on the card and at the PPV, relying heavily on textbook definititions of what stories, and apparently wrestling matches, are supposed to do. He's a classic example of a smark mark too big for his britches. He admits that he doesn't watch Smackdown regularly, yet feels perfectly qualified to put a value on developments from the show, which is one of the biggest warning flags I've ever seen. And that's just one example. To wit:

For the opening London-Kidman-Misterio/Dudleys match, he rightfully notes that the specific feud between the six men has been left largely undefined, yet he ignores the momentum the Dudleys themselves receive from the match. Loyal Smackdown viewers will note how Spike has accomplished what Paul Heyman failed to do, and that is fire up Bubba and D'Von into legitimate threats again, and underlying presence not unlike the APA was for years. Last Thursday we began to see some of the fruits of this development when John Cena confronted Spike, only to receive a beating from Spike's half-brothers, which led to a match between Cena and D-Von, which led to an after-match Dudley beatdown, during which Michael Cole wisely noted how Spike's new role can be interpreted a number of ways. That the angle is actually progressing means whatever steps along the way are actually significant, if not so much for what they are but for what they represent. The Dudleys are a force on Smackdown. That's the point, Goldsworthy, tag team titles or not, cruiserweight title ("minor") or not.

If I have to suffer through Paul London for most of a match to get to that point, then I'm looking to redefine "suffering."

For Kane/Matt Hardy, Goldsworthy berates the writers for missing the dramatic opportunity to reveal the paternity in a test onscreen. What difference does this make? Isn't Matt Hardy's reaction, regardless of the circumstances, the whole point? That Kane wins a mediocre match, pushes the stakes that much higher. Kane is going to marry Lita! Is Hardy just supposed to roll over and play dead now? In fct, we should find out tonight what becomes of it, at the wedding. This is the first time a Kane story arc has made any sense in years. Not since the early feuds with Undertaker, in fact, has his character been so richly exploited. What's Goldsworthy's idea of a good Kane feud? The pointless one he had with Shane-o-Mac last year, which had the "raising stakes" he favors so much in moments like the flaming dumpster bump?

Goldsworthy also misses the boat completely with Cena/Booker T. This best of five series has been building for months now, if not explicitely through a feud between these two but generally between Cena and his efforts to remain United States champion, which had been hamperered by bad blood with then-GM Kurt Angle. How long had Angle tried to strip Cena of the title? And how many mid-carders were thrown into the mix and into Cena's way? Booker was arguably the highest calibur opponent (though maybe Goldsworthy prefers RVD, and that's his real beef), and certainly the one with the highest profile. To top it off, he stole victory and title to officially set this feud up. He became Cena's main obstacle not through personal animosity but rival ambition, and not to mention ego. In fact, ego might be the key motivating factor here, something Goldsworthy didn't seem interested (or capable, depending on how little he's seen concerning the storyline and of Smackdown the past five months). How to get past ego? Diminish it by creating victory not one but five matches away. This has been a matter of endurance for Cena for months. This is just another endurance test, and Booker T's made himself the course.

Did something dramatic have to happen Sunday to enroll interest into this series? Not if those already interested were watching...

I don't have any criticisms for Goldsworthy's interpretation of Edge/Batista/Jericho. I voiced similar spirits myself.

KurtAngle/Eddie Guerrero, however, is another story, and another blatant example of how out of touch Goldsworthy is with Smackdown. No, the writers did not forget about this feud five months ago. Angle threw his chips in with the untested John Bradshaw Layfield those months ago rather than give his hated foe Guerrero any credit or slack. His used his powers as GM to antagonize those stars he didn't like, and as it happened the two main stars he didn't like were Guerrero and John Cena, the two main title holders at the time. So he directed his full energies to deposing both, in different ways. He set his full attention to Cena, or so it seemed, while allowing the unleashed JBL to take care of his own business. Bradshaw had enough sense of entitlement for that. And so as Guerrero battled the Texan, it became increasingly obvious that the advantage would not be won fairly, so Angle gave JBL the benefit of the doubt at the first opportunity, at the bullrope match. JBL became champion, and Guerrero vowed revenge. At the steel cage match, Angle phsyically re-inserted himself when he gave Bradshaw the opportunity to crawl out first. How much more dramatic does a turn have to be before Goldsworthy notices it? Guerrero now realized he'd been paying attention to the wizard while ignoring the man behind the curtain. That's your backstory. The writers were even wise enough to reshape the motivation to one of personal competition, drawing on each character to give it all definition.

And the match wasn't bad either...

Goldsworthy also misses the boat with Triple H-Eugene. He provides a very inciteful reiteration of the early developments in the feud, yet misinterprets Eugene's motivations. He never wanted to be popular. He wanted to wrestle! Acceptance from the crowd is a biproduct of this. Acceptance from Triple H, his personal favorite wrestler, represented acceptance from the wrestling community to the tallest order, and the betrayal represented a challenge to his undying trust. When his mentor William Regal (who provided a poignant undertone for the whole arc to that point when he could have cared less to have Eric retarded nephew as a charge until an emotional attachment was formed, which he did not fail to defend, and pay the price for) was then used by Triple H to send a further message, Eugene snapped. The base reaction for anyone when faced with a personal attack is to respond in kind, and that's exactly what Eugene did. In his naive way, he even thought the match might settle things.

Well, it didn't. But we were still given a top-rate match for Triple H outside of championship concerns, and the whole thing has only established Eugene as a serious presence on Raw. He not only can compete in the ring, but can help carry an extended story. Maybe whatever follows for him will never carry the same weight, but then again these feuds should always have their own character. This is the year's second biggest card, Goldsworthy loves pointing out. How fitting to have three matches of real importance to them. And that's not all...

JBL as Smackdown champion has lacked credibility since the day he became the number one contender, let alone champion. He hardly ever defends the title, and he loves to talk, about himself, and against his opponents. He loves to belittle them, and exaggerate things. So what does a feud with Undertaker accomplish. Even if the build-up to last Sunday was lackluster, the payoff as seen on Thursday was more than worth it. Bradshaw, having been chokeslammed through his own limo, comes out in an elaborate neck brace, and still feels in an instigating mood. Out comes Undertaker, and out scrambles JBL and Orlando Jordan. Maybe nobody cares about this feud. Maybe nobody cares to see more of it. But maybe some do, and can appreciate the continued story's worth. It's not establishing JBL as a dominant champion. He's about as vulnerable a one as they come. He's all bluster, and he's constantly needing to hide from this fact. That's the whole point. And that's entertainment.

Goldsworthy gives more credit to Randy Orton than I do, and less to Chris Benoit than I do, which makes his review of the main event one last unsatisfying note. The point of the match was always to make Orton the youngest champion ever. And I'm beginning to think to also make it obvious subsequently that he was not as ready for the burden as he'd thought. He didn't give a thought to the consequences at all, in fact, and that's what last Monday signified. If Goldsworthy can't sit through a Chris Benoit match to reach that point, then perhaps it's time to re-evaluate what kind of mark ends his smart mark sentence.

And that, as they say, is that. I was able to pick up 2001's No Mercy yesterday, which should make for interesting viewing. It's still weird to think Triple H and Benoit both missed most of the Invasion arc. It makes you wonder how that would have gone done if one or both hadn't...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

#87. Marvel Comics, Geoff Johns, Wrestling

Gave some equal time to Marvel Comics recently (not entirely for unselfish reasons), picking up two Bendis books (the big Avengers #500 and Daredevil), and Iron Man (a title I swear I have a good story that's just waitin' to be pitched to the House of Ideas, possibly after an initial Multiple Man attempt). This rebirth of interest for me in DC's chief rival comes off the heels of some digital comics I purchased earlier this year which didn't turn out to suck too much (Joe Straczynski's got a Spider-Man storyline I've got to track down), followed by taking the bait for a Wizard Magazine-packaged Best of X-Men set, which conveniently enough brings together a bunch of 80's stories (Wizard thinks Marvel's best years were the 80's; if you care to despite give me a reply). There was "The Powers of Proteus," "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of the Future Past," among other stories, included. The first one I don't understand the hype for, but the other two hold up quite well. Chris Claremont as a writer did more for me in the undervaluded DC effort Sovereign Seven, however. John Byrne is always neat, though my favorite from him is another DC work, Jack Kirby's Fourth World. David Cokrum I don't find all that exciting, but I'm sure I didn't catch him at his best.

I haven't really been into comics in five years, when I was forced to break the addiction (I had been spending more than I probably could afford on them for the few years I was a regular collector, spanning most of the 90's, and mostly DC at that), but I've been attempting to keep up on things. Geoff Johns has been working wonders, or so I've been told, as Mark Waid's permanent replacement on The Flash, which at the beginning of 2004 saw the first instance of my collecting a complete storyline in five years. Wally West has been granted by Spectre Hal Jordan (soon to be the object of his cult's fulfillment in the next great chapter of the Green Lantern saga) anonymity once again, something he'd given up years ago as the Scarlet Speedster. It had cost him and bouncing bride Linda Park their baby at te hands of the new Zoom, Hunter Zolomon, and he couldn't handle the pain. But as it turned out, not only did the world forget Wally was Flash, so did Wally! As the story goes, Wally is a low-key mechanic scraping by, and Captain Cold is apparently back to his old antics. Wally's emerging awareness about his true identity and revelations about who is really running amok converge into a fairly satisfying noirish tale. My first Johns was #200, my copy of which had some publishing issues (one whole sheet was left out of the binding and tucked in elsewhere, creating a disjointed flow, funny for a man known for his swiftness), which capped "Blitz," the story recently collected into trade paperback form chronicling the Zoom crisis. Among other recent DC books I've read is JLA #100, a Joe Kelley yarn about the Elite which did not impress me, being as convolutely written as it was.

But this isn't really a comics blog, is it? As you might have noticed, SummerSlam was this past Sunday, an event I going to work and missing it while a friend got it for some other friends. But he taped it, and so I watched it last night, all except for the Heat match between RVD and Rene Dupree. Paul London got the lion's share of action in the Dudley massacre of the tag team champions and Rey Mysterio. Yay for London! And hopefully this Dudley story is actually going somewhere...Matt Hardy and Kane's Till Death Do Us Part match over the hand of Lita in marriage is mostly significant because of the chokeslam from the ropes (was it top or middle rope? oh who cares...). I've said before and I'll say it again, Hardy should never have left Smackdown. And did I hear right or is he being billed as Version 1 still?...John Cena and Booker T gave a good showing in the first of five series. I'll get back to my feelings on where this should be going a little later...The Intercontinental triple threat title match seemed to have been booked just so champion Edge and Chris Jericho could build some heat (and so Y2J's separate feuds with the members of the bygone...Edge & Christian...could continue). Why was Batista neeeded, just to build the feud more slowly?...Diva Dodgeball was poorly filmed, and my friend rightly commented that it was probably done just so the end result could put some heat between Trish and Victoria, which might kickstart the women's division again. The Diva hopefuls, meanwhile, continued to prove they look good is skimpy ensembles...

New paragraph so I can make a point not to be overlooked. Eddie Guerrero-Kurt Angle: the Rematch was an instant classic. Not since Bret Hart-Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13) has WWE seen such a display of submission prowess. No matter the real reasons for keeping Eddie grounded for so long, the two superstars were easily able to pull off a dramatic and momentous match that should be remembered as one of the best encounters of the year, topping the XX bout. Angle could not have had a better PPV return (and his television return against Charlie Haas was the same). Welcome back, Kurt. You're WWE's MVP...Triple H, meanwhile, defeated Eugene in another fine match. Nick Dinsmore should not be confined to this character forever. He clearly has the mat skills to make a fine showing in WWE, Raw or Smackdown (as the exchange between Bischoff and Long indicated). I keep waiting for the moment Eugene is exposed as a ruse by Dinsmore to gain an advantage for himself, his way of becoming the new Cerebral Assassin, which would be perfect in an ongoing feud with Hunter. But that probably will never happen...JBL-Undertaker was actually a fine match. We hardly see Bradshaw wrestle anymore, and when he did wrestle more often it was in the APA. More on Bradshaw later...The closing match of the night saw Randy Orton defeat Chris Benoit for the World heavywweight championship. Whatsupwitdat? Orton is clearly still developing, still green, still learning the ropes, if you will. No, he's not such a pup as your basic OVW fodder, but he's got no business being handed the World title so soon, setting a mark as youngest champion or not. Benoit carried him all the way. What's Randy got besides the RKO and a few nondescript submission maneuvers? Not much to mark him as his own wrestler, that's what. It's not that I don't like him; he just hasn't come into his own yet. He's been operating on a very generic vibe, and he hasn't been very convincing about it. He isn't an undeniable monster, like his former (see later, again) ally Batista, or Brock Lesnar, and he doesn't electrify like The Rock (who someone seems to want him to be the second coming of), and he doesn't command like Triple H, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, or Kurt Angle. He's got absolutely no aura. Even JBL has some kind of aura (some would call that "stink"). Too much too soon. He's the anti-John Cena (though Cena has taken his time, developed himself, and maybe has exactly what he needs right now).

So the next night Triple H and the rest of Evolution turned on him. Does this mark yet another PPV main event challenge for Hunter? Perhaps so. And this brings up the point of recent disappointing returns in the ratings for both Raw and Smackdown. Raw has been stagnant for months. It's been one Evolution conquest after another. Benoit has been champion, and has been a wrestling machine, but he hasn't been able to escape from the shadow of the man who has run the brand since its inception, Triple H. Raw's biggest problem is that there is't anyone big enough to challenge Hunter on a long-term basis. He's a big dog surrounded by smaller ones yelping up at him. Chris Jericho could be his rival, but Jericho has been condemned (a happy sentence though it is for fans of wrestling) to the prop of the midcard. He keeps it nice and shiny. Benoit would be the savior of the upper tier, but as Sunday proved the head writers have other ideas. They want to elevate Orton, at the expense of Benoit, and so we continue the Triple H cycle. We've just spent five months trying to establish the Rabid Wolverine as the new champion, giving him the credentials he'd need to overcome the shadow of Triple H. Unless the Orton Saga is going to do something to help this along somehow, we've just seen the undoing of this effort, because now Raw has to start the process all over again. Orton needs to be established, and he needs a whole lot more work than Benoit ever did. Is Hunter game for this? Or is he thinking only of waiting to add more championship belts to his collection? Yes, he's a tremendous character, but he's only as interesting a character as he allows himself to be. Eugene has brought out the best in him. He can't ignore or forget that.

Is there anyone Raw could add to reenergize itself with in liea of Triple H getting his head straight? Yes, and he's right in WWE's coffers lready. His name is Rey Mysterio. He's living powderkeg, and right now he seems to have run his course in Smackdown's cruiserweight ranks, depending on how essential he is to Spike and his brothers' continuing rampage. Mysterio could do what Matt Hardy and Tajiri couldn't, bring small man credibility to Raw (if you aren't counting the small heavyweights that are Benoit and Jericho, who is dwarfed by the human beanpole that is Edge), and in return giving Smackdown's other cruiserweights some more opportunities. What was Chavo doing the other week? And what has he been doing since his lost the title to Rey-Rey anyway? There's always Jamie Noble, and Paul London can't remain a tag team champion forever. Who wouldn't love to see him strap on the cruiserweight title? In exchange for Mysterio, Smackdown could reclaim A-Train, whose profile has exponentially lowered on Raw. Maybe there're plans ahead for Baldo, maybe not. But Mysterio is a surefire solution for Raw's rustiness, not even to mention Shelton Benjamin, who hopefully will not have lost much in terms of build-up during the time he's been forced on the shelf.

Then on Smackdown there's JBL, who endures as champin, with new chief of staff Orlando Jordan. Undertaker, who alternately looked like Kevin Nash-as-Diesel and Brian Lee Sunday, needs to bring something more to the table if this feud is to carry over to another PPV (didn't Raw get the last brand PPV, anyway? so why's it getting the next one again?). I don't care to see Taker win the title, but Bradshaw can lose it soon and not lose face. If ever being world champion has improved a wrestler's post-title prospects in the aftermath of losing it, JBL stands to benefit the most. He's gained a singles profile from the deal. What more can you ask for? And he's a powerhouse, meaning that even if Smackdown doesn't reacquire A-Train and none of its other big man prospects work out, Bradshaw is a lock to thrive in this capacity for years. And he hasn't been that bad as champion, either. Heck, if Sid could be given multiple world championships, in WWE and WCW, then I think we can lay off JBL already. He has in-ring goods and one of the best gimmicks going today. Which if either ever applied to Sid?

The three men who deserve lengthy runs in Smackdown's future are these: Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, and John Cena. You can plug in others, but these are the essentials. Angle is priceless. He can carry all of Smackdown if he needs to. Guerrero's first reign was probably cut short due to injuries limiting his in-ring time, but his momentum has dulled. If Benoit on Raw was hampered as champion by the shadow of Triple H, then Eddie was overshadowed by uncertain acceptance of his primary foe, JBL, and by a number of other things, not the least of which being Kurt Angle's in-ring absence for five months and the aforementioned health issues. Then there's Cena, the Doctor of Thuganomics, or as I like to call him the first new sensation, wholly embraced by the fans, since The Rock. He's only biding his time now. This Franchise will be WWE champion before long, make no mistake, and this could elevate popularity of the product, if he builds memorably enough. He can win or lose this best of five series with Booker T, it doesn't matter. The hunt for the US title has only proven the depth of the Smackdown roster, which inarguably surpasses that of Raw. Five months ago even I was saying the sky is falling, but here we are in August as Smackdown has not only survived but thrived. Now all it needs is for the audience to catch up. It has the tools to reel 'em in.

But is Theodore R. Long the general manager to oversee it? I don't know. That's what makes the Eric Bischoff spot so troubling. How deep is the backstage faith in Long? He does have a catchphrase, though. Holla, holla, holla! Is that enough? He still needs to time to establish that. And heck, if he doesn't work out, bring in Ernest "The Cat" Miller, refrain him from wrestling and too much dancing, and he's got the personality to pull it off. I don't know why Smackdown tried to make him a wrestler who hardly wrestles at the beginning of the year. He's highly obnoxious. And as a result, the perfect successor to Paul Heyman...

The last item on the agenda involves the covers of two recent video-DVD releases. The first belongs to the Viggo Mortenson flick Hidalgo, which consciously apes the packaging of Viggo's biggest hit to date, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. For shame! Such a shameless ploy? Whatever happened to the film's namesake, the horse? Then there's WWE's own blunder, the mischaracterization of Chris Benoit on his Hard Knocks release. When has he ever looked like that??? It was nice, however, in finding the Own Hart tribute match between Benoit and Bret Hart included in the set. That was a heck of a match. Unfortunately, both of the WWE era matches included I already own, this year's WrestleMania XX wonder and the 2003 Royal Rumble classic with Kurt Angle. The XX DVD itself referenced one other Angle match-up from X-8 from a ranking of the ten best Mania matches. There was a match against Steve Austin and a TLC match (involving the standard Hardyz-Dudleyz-E&C, plus Benoit's one-time partner Chris Jericho) included in Smackdown's fifth anniverary magazine commemorative listing what the editors considered the show's best matches. The magazine I highly recommend, unlike the Mania one put out earlier this year involing 3-D images, 3-D glasses...and nothing else. I was glad it was so comprehensive, which in this case includes a section chronicling memorable incidents and a full listing of results for the past five years! If you don't have it already, there're collectible posters included, and one of them features Torrie Wilson.

...Back so soon?


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