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...


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