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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