Monday, December 29, 2014

Who should take down Brock Lesnar?

As we head into 2015 and the Royal Rumble upon us, the big question is who will end up facing and ultimately defeating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31 to become the new champion?  Will it be old faithful (you know who), the anointed one (Roman Reigns), one of the new favorites (Dean Ambrose or Seth Rollins), or one of the people's champions (Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler)?  There are reasons for each one to get the shot and for each one to be denied.  Let's run through them, shall we?

Roman Reigns

Reigns got on the fast track as soon as the crowd openly wished for him to win last year's Rumble instead of Batista when they were the final two, and his performance in that match was an obvious indicator that he is the future.  You put him in the match and give him the victory because you want him to be the man.  He looks the part and his limitations in the ring are more along the lines of the Rock than someone like Sid Vicious.  He can work a good match with the right dance partner, but you can't ask him to carry someone like Ryback for 15 minutes.  So why shouldn't they go with him?  The backlash potential is huge here.  In the second half of the year, when it became obvious what kind of push he was getting, some dissatisfaction began to surface among the fanbase because of the old 'don't force this guy down our throats' philosophy.  And even though those people are the same types who will demand someone be made champ and then not support them after they get the title, they are vocal and will show up at RAW or a pay per view event just to rain boos down on management's choice and will write troll commentary on their own blogs or in the comment sections of other people's work.  These are the same people who hate John Cena but when you ask them for a good reason why, they got nothing other than 'feelings'.  But if the performer they're trashing doesn't have a strong enough base of support they infect the rest of the fans.  Having Reigns win the Rumble and beat Lesnar will incur the wrath of these fans more than any other decision the company could make right now so it might be a wise move to hold off that for  little while longer.

Dean Ambrose

Ambrose is on a roll with the fans over the last few months, positioning himself as a 2014 Steve Austin-style rebel.  An Ambrose title shot and victory would not piss anyone off, and he can absolutely work well enough with anyone to carry the championship mantle in the ring.  There are two problems. One, he doesn't exactly look like he could take an imposing figure like Lesnar straight up.  And two, will he be able to generate the kind of post-WrestleMania support needed to be the face of the company even for a short time?  I just can't picture a world where kids and their parents go to see Ambrose headline a house show like they do with John.  And what happens when you have that May pay per view where the champ has a foregone conclusion title defense against someone like Mark Henry or the Big Show?  Can he sell that kind of show?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Daniel Bryan

Bryan already proved he can headline a WrestleMania, and a chance to do it again and get the post-event period right would be a big hit with the fans I'm guessing.  But given that he's been out for several months his ongoing health is a real issue that can't be ignored going forward.  Another title win followed by another serious injury would be a major setback for the company and you just don't want to risk that again. 

Seth Rollins

Rollins is as hot as a heel as Ambrose is on the face side, but him getting the shot would require a face turn that makes zero sense given his current position.  A Money in the Bank cash-in right after a victory by someone else is a remote possibility, but to end the big show of the year with a heel winning the title and in that kid of way is a departure from conventional wisdom that we're not likely to see.

Dolph Ziggler

Dolph is another people's champ like Bryan, and I do think he could deliver in the post-event period.  The only thing holding him back is management, really.  You just get the feeling that they don't see him as main event material despite all the great work he's put in over the last three years. 

John Cena

We know why not, but why would you?  Because he's reliable. Period.  If you want a sure thing who can carry the load until Summerslam he's your man. 


Now this is my bit of longshot fantasy booking.  Having him come back to avenge his only WrestleMania loss then retire as champ would be a great storyline in my opinion.  You can play up the over the hill angle the whole way up to the match for added drama, too.  The only reason not to do it would be that the match itself would not be very good.  Take out the shocking finish and last year's match was nothing to write home about.  You would have to book a killer show underneath it or else you could be looking at a checked out crowd for real.  

Randy Orton

This would only happen if you're going to do the Rollins cash-in.  It seems like Rollins and Orton should have some kind of feud going on once Orton gets back based on what last happened between the two on RAW.  So an Orton win followed by a Rollins cash-in to add some heat to it would be interesting.  Without the cash-in, forget it.  Orton has been tried as champion and did not draw.

So those are my ideas.  If I was in charge I'd go with the Undertaker.  And when he surrenders the title and calls it a career you can move forward with the future in some kind of tournament.  But that's just me.

End of the Year Stuff (Comics)

What was big in the comic book world this year?  Lots of stuff went down, some of which I actually stayed on top of.  I'm mainly a DC reader, although I do check out some Marvel stuff here and there.  Both major companies put out a lot of game changing (or attention grabbing, at least) material that generated a lot of commentary.  Here are the ones that stood out the most with me.

Best Event Series: Forever Evil.

Marvel had Original Sin, Death of Wolverine, and Axis going on this year and while I heard good things about both I chose Forever Evil for one reason: a good resolution.  The Original Sin conclusion left a lot of people saying 'is that it?' and the Death of Wolverine ended in a way that a lot of people I talked to thought was pretty lackluster.  Forever Evil, in my opinion, did not do so.  One thing that I look for in an event series is an extraordinary resolution.  After all, these series usually center around an antagonist that has overcome all the usual methods of opposition or a problem that is beyond the conventional methods of solution.  (Spoiler Alert) Forever Evil put Batman in a position of having to work with Lex Luthor and having Luthor, Sinestro, and Black Adam help save the day.  The Crime Syndicate didn't just get brushed aside in two panels on the last page the way Thanos got dealt with in Marvel's Infinity.  The event also shook up the Justice League and "killed off" Dick Grayson.  It made changes that are not going to be undone in time for the next movie or that will be bypassed in 2015 like Marvel is going to do with it's re-imagining of older storylines. 

Best Stunt - Sam Wilson as Captain America

Marvel closed out the year by starting up story arcs with major changes to Captain America and Thor.  Thor was replaced by a yet-unnamed woman after Odin's son lost his worthiness to wield Moljnor while Cap was replaced by longtime compadre Sam Wilson (the Falcon) when he was drained of his super soldier serum during a fight with the Iron Nail.  Both were seen by many as stunt re-castings that were designed to drum up interest and would be undone just in time for Avengers: Age of Ultron to hit the theaters with Rogers and Odin's son in their traditional roles.  Having read both series during these runs, I have to pick the Cap as the better of the two.  It moves a lot faster for my tastes and has been almost nonstop action, and has played up the differences between Sam and Steve in action as Cap without hitting us over the head with it.  I also looks like, given that we've only gotten two issues of Sam as Cap and three with Lady Thor that these will actually continue past May when Age of Ultron drops. Stunt casting always earns a collective groan from longtime readers/viewers, for good reason but so far this one has been done well. 

Quietest Demise - Ultimate Marvel

I wrote about this earlier this year, and it looks to be coming true.  Within a month or so, the only remaining Ultimate Marvel series will be the Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man book.  All-New Ultimates is ending in January and Ultimate Fantastic Four is ending soon as well.  Ultimate X-Men ended during the Cataclysm event and never returned once that was wrapped up.  The Ultimate Universe has become known for killing off characters in droves; by the time Cataclysm was over such stalwarts as Captain America and Thor and another well known character in the Vision were dead or presumed so.  A previous Ultimate Event series, Ultimatum, killed off damn near half the Ultimate Universes' X-Men including Wolverine and Magneto.  In the last five years it's been open season on Ultimate Marvel characters and the end result is slim pickings for any current books.  There have been stories on all the rumor sites about the Ultimate Universe ending next year, along with a cryptic poster from Marvel with all the living Ultimate Marvel characters with the words 'The End" emblazoned on it.  As far as I know the company hasn't made any official announcements so we'll see.  The Ultimate Universe was supposed to serve as an alternate, more modern version of the 616 Marvel Universe (from the standpoint of character origins at least) but as the 616 universe has come to look more like the film universe that's becoming less important, not to mention the difficulty of maintaining an entire alternate comic universe alongside the regular one without writing the same stories twice or going too far out in an effort to be different.  A lot of the things you see in the Marvel films from both Marvel and Sony are inspired by Ultimate Marvel stories, so if it does cease to exist the Ultimate world will live on for a little while at least in spirit. I'm guessing that Miles Morales will be brought permanently to the 616 world through some kind of space-time continuum chicanery soon and that will be the end of it all.

Best Twist: Lex Luthor, Justice League Member

The resolution and aftermath of Forever Evil saw none other than Lex Luthor cheered across the world as a hero.  Now this isn't the first time Luthor was held in high esteem by the world (he did get elected President in pre-New 52 world, after all) and it isn't the first time he worked alongside the usual good guys of the DC Universe but what's different I that now he's doing it as a full fledged member of the Justice League.  Now he's still the conniving snake that he's always been and the other league members don't believe he's had a real change of heart but it's been refreshing to see him around to poke jabs at the often self righteous and sanctimonious members of the league like Superman and to even top Batman I calling out the hypocrisy of the others.  Him telling Bruce Wayne that they're basically the same guy (which is true in a way) and Bruce's defiant reaction has been priceless.  The current story arc involving a virus that Luthor created when he was more villainous getting accidentally unleashed now that's on the good side has been a good illustration of the complex relationship that he has with Batman, Superman and the others and when the falling out inevitably happens and Luthor is back amongst the permanent rogues gallery it should be epic.

So those are the things that stood out for me the most.  Lots of other great stuff was offered from both companies from the conclusion of the Zero Year arc, Superman: Doomed, Red Daughter of Krypton, the Green Arrow Outsiders War, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy series, the aforementioned Ultimate Spider Man series, and New Avengers, just to name a few.  Hopefully 2015 will bring as much good stuff as 2014 did.  Speaking of which....

Big Story for 2015: Comic world, meets film world

There were a few seeds planted in 2014, but one thing to really watch out for in 2015 and beyond is the convergence between the comic and film universes among the two major companies.  In the past we got movie/TV characters being later introduced in the print world, like Harley Quinn.  But now the print series are undergoing some changes to make them fit more with the TV/movie world.  Marvel is changing the origin of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch so they are no longer Magneto's children; obviously this is because the Marvel Movie Universe does not include Magneto so their origin in Ultron will have to be explained some other way.  On the DC side, John Diggle and Felicity Smoak have been added to the Green Arrow series; the writers of Arrow have taken over as the creative team behind the book so what they're doing here is bringing some synergy between the two mediums.  The Marvel re-imaginings of several of their classic tory arcs will likely include some tweaks to line up more with the Cinematic Universe and as the DC Film Universe moves forward we'll probably see film versions of the classic characters that look a lot like their New 52 print counterparts.  This will likely be a polarizing move, especially on the Marvel side where classic stories and characters could be changed to fit the existing but still developing film world.  DC will have it a little different since their film world hasn't really unfolded yet, but the New 52-ish version of Superman and Wonder Woman that we are and may be getting will definitely have their detractors.  As with everything, we'll see how it goes. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

End the Year Stuff (Movie Version)

OK, year's almost over are my 2014 superlatives.

Best Movie: Captain America: the Winter Soldier

This is out of the movies I've seen, of course.  Winter Soldier excelled in every way possible.  It exceeded expectations, which were pretty damn high to start with.  It cemented Marvel's place in the Superhero Studio Olympics.  Non stop action from start to finish, an excellent story, you name it.  The first Cap film was good in my book but it felt like a required building block to the upcoming Avengers film whereas this was a great standalone film on its own. 

Best Cleanup Job: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past was a good movie and the second good step in Fox's rebuild of the X-Men movie franchise.  But the best part of it may have been the great retcon at the end.  Everyone agrees that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were messy, disappointing movies so (SPOILER ALERT) Fox and Bryan Singer used the time travel/space time continuum aspects of Days of Future Past to effectively wipe those movies away from the X-Men film canon.  Some people hate retconning but I'm all for it if it means we can forget some bad storylines or poorly crafted events.  If you want to keep that abomination of the Phoenix Saga that we got in Last Stand for the sake of 'no retconning!' then do you, but that's not we roll here.

Best Movie News: DC announces its full movie slate and Marvel announces phase three (tie)

We get the plans for a fleshing out of the DC film universe and the release schedule for Marvel's phase three.  In all we got five years worth of movie plans from both companies.  After decades of waiting we will finally get a big screen treatment for Wonder Woman and on the Marvel side we finally got the answer to if and when a Black Panther film was coming, and to how the eventual Thanos confrontation is going to play out.  Good times everyone!

Worst Movie News: The Fantastic Four

No upcoming movie has been met with more disdain than the Fantastic Four film slated to drop in 2015.  Fox pissed off damn near everyone by casting Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, then they officially killed everyone's hopes when it leaked out that Doctor Doom is going to be some kind of computer hacker instead of the ruler of Latveria or even the evil tycoon from the first two Fantastic Four films.  I'm not a big Fantastic Four fan, so I'm not invested in what race Johnny Storm is or Doctor Doom's profession.  But given that the first two FF movies were considered ok at best and slammed by many (I found them watchable but nothing special), and that the Fantastic Four is at a low point in casual fan recognition and reader popularity, this isn't the time to get all creative with basic elements of the story.  At this point they've pissed off the hardcore FF fans and got the rest of us scratching our heads in confusion.  I have no idea what to make of it all and I could really see myself skipping this one.

Worst Movie: Godzilla

Why did I pick this one?  Real simple - 10 minutes of Godzilla.  Yes, in an over 90 minute film we got 10 minutes or so of actual Godzilla on the screen.  It's a movie about Godzilla for crying out loud.  I know you can't have a two hour movie with two hours of Godzilla, but ten minutes? we don't want some hackneyed story about the humans around the monster.  OK, you need some devotion to people trying to escape or figure out where Godzilla came from.  You might even need to spend half the movie on it.  But please......please........ it's not hard really.  But if you're going to make another one, you can forget me being interested.

Left Turn Award: Lucy

Lucy was an interesting movie.  When I saw it I gave it an immediate 3.5/5 rating.  Given a few months of hindsight I'd probably drop it down to 3.  It wasn't bad, but the ending really will leave you feeling some kinda way.  What started out as a thriller based on quasi/pseudo science turned into the Matrix in the last third of the movie.  Well......if you went into the movie knowing that's how it would turn then you were probably fine with it but if you didn't know, like me, then you might have been a little miffed by it.  At the same time if you like Scarlett Johansson and like seeing her in movies then you'll probably be able to watch it without getting to pissed off.

The Tap Out Award: Transformers

I gave up on Transformers this year.  After the third one it was obvious that Michael Bay was going to put together an incoherent mess every time out that would never reach it's full potential.  But even with that, seeing the Dinobots in the trailer had me ready to go back in.  Until I saw the running time, almost three hours.  So I stuck to my decision to pass.  And I'm glad I did, because from what I heard it was exactly what I was expecting.  I'm no longer willing to go sit through an almost three hour movie, and I'm not willing to go see something that I know is gonna be mediocre just because it involves something I grew up on and love.  Sorry guys

OK, that's it for the movies this year.  Next year should be awesome with Age of Ultron and that little Star Wars movie.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The CM Punk Interview

So.....the CM Punk podcast interview is all the rage this week.  If you missed it, Punk basically crapped all over Vince McMahon, Triple H, and the company in general.  He gave a terrible story about how lousy the WWE attending physician was with one of his injuries, complained about how he got paid for WrestleMania 29, what they wanted him to do for WrestleMania 30, dumped all over Ryback, and called his own career a disappointment because he never main evented WrestleMania.   How you received this depends a lot on what you thought of Punk to start with.  If you're a "CM Punk is awesome in everything he does!" guy then this interview was a major dose of well earned righteous indignation from a man who was repeatedly done wrong by WWE management.  If you're a Punk hater then this was 100 sour grapes that may not even be all that believable.  If you're somewhere in the middle like me, you saw some of it as spot on and some of it as sour grapes.  What do I think about the big points:

The Doctor Issue

Now this is one area, maybe the only area, where I will totally side with Punk no matter what anyone else has to say on the matter.  In short, Punk was misdiagnosed by the in-house doctor with what turned out to be MRSA.  The doctor was only giving him basic antibiotics and those weren't helping so he went to another doctor who told him he had MRSA and "should be dead".  There is no excuse for this kind of thing to happen.  This is obviously just another case where you should know that the team/company doctor is not your friend.  He works for the team or company and not for you; his or her job is not to get you healthy so much as to get you working again.  Punk was right to do what he did, and would have had every right to sue had he chose.

WrestleMania 30

One of the things that pissed him off was that at WrestleMania 30 he was supposed to work with Triple H, which he absolutely did not want to do.  From Buzzfeed, here's how it supposedly went:   

Punk reportedly told Triple H, “With all due respect, I do not need to wrestle you. You need to wrestle me. I do not want to wrestle you. I seriously resent you for not putting me over three years ago when you should have. That would’ve been best for business. But you had to come in and squash it… I’m in a position now where I can tell you that I don’t have to, nor do I want to wrestle you.”
He told Cabana in the interview, “I don’t care if I was supposed to win (which I was). I didn’t care. I didn’t want to give him the fucking privilege.”
Now we all know Triple H was once notorious for not putting people over, except for when it suited him.  For Punk to still be pissed off over a match result from three years ago is a bit much, though.  Before the famed Summer of Punk in 2011, Punk was very much running into a glass ceiling at every turn.  His World Title reigns ended due to injury angles and the company wanting the title on someone else to put a storyline over.  There was the loss to Triple H that he spoke of.  He lost to Randy Orton at a WrestleMania.  His Straight Edge Society angle came to a more abrupt end than he wanted as well.  He was Daniel Bryan before Daniel Bryan, basically.  And he still carried that around like a grudge years later, even after he'd made it, which that quote shows.  But it's kind of hard to keep pushing that line after you've had a 400-plus day title reign (the longest since Hulk Hogan's first run with the title) and numerous clean wins over the top star in the company.  Punk openly taking that kind of stance is like going up to a girl who wouldn't go out with you years later after you've gotten married and have a family.

Working with Part-Timers

Punk also expressed some real resistance to working with, and putting over part-timers.  Everyone knows who he's talking about here - The Rock, The Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar.  Triple H would have been the fourth part-timer that Punk would have had to work with in a little over a year, and that can be read one of two ways.  On the one hand the company keeps putting you in these spots to help get some guy over who doesn't show up very often, but on the other hand you're the one they trust to get a great match out of somebody who likely can't deliver one on their own anymore.  Punk's match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania 29 was easily the match of the night, and his Summerslam match against Lesnar was arguably the same.  He got better matches out of a beyond rusty Rock than anyone else would have.  The downside to these performances is that the other guy went over every time.  And while I do see his point, there is another guy who took on two of those same three part-timers (Rock and Lesnar) and put them over.......John Cena.  Cena jobbed clean to Lesnar at Summerslam this year in a more decisive fashion than he's ever lost to anyone.  And while we're at it the Undertaker opted to end his fabled, legendary WrestleMania undefeated streak by losing to Lesnar this year.  Punk was not the only big name guy putting over part-timers so he needs to just get over that.  This reeks of Bret Hart-ism, aka taking the results of the matches too seriously.

Main Eventing WrestleMania

Punk considers his career a disappointment because he never main evented WrestleMania.  Man, I guess.....  He is the only performer that reached his level with the company to never do it at least once.  Meanwhile, these guys have been in at least one:  Paul Orndorff, Bob Orton, King Kong Bundy, Sid Vicious (twice), Yokozuna (twice), Bam Bam Bigelow, The Big Show, Batista (twice) and The Miz.  In addition others who are more on Punk's level like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Randy Orton, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels have all topped the card at least once.  At the same time his 400-plus day title reign was longer than anyone not named Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Bob Backlund, or Hulk Hogan.  I can see why he feels bad about that, but there was always the option of staying with the company until he did it.    Given the way the roster has been decimated by the injury bug he very well may have a shot at it this coming year.  And when exactly when she he have topped the card?  He was a main event level guy (I'm talking status not ability) since 2011; there were three WrestleMania's that followed his ascent.  In 2012 Rock vs Cena was the big event, and there's no way that was going last.   And in 2013 they did the Rock-Cena rematch.  Given how that was a planned two year arc for Rock and Cena there was no way to fit him in. Yes he wanted a three way dance with Rock and Cena at WM 29, and he was deserving, but that would have Undertaker without a worthy opponent.  And this year he was slated to take on and beat Triple H.  If they'd gone with the Batista-Orton without inserting Daniel Bryan I could see his gripe, but they went with what the fans wanted so all was well.  Again, man....I guess.

He'll be Back

Contrary to his final claim, he will be back.  Why?  Because they always come back.  Bret Hart had a much bigger set of gripes against Vince McMahon, and he came back.  Hulk Hogan testified against Vince in a criminal case that could have sent Vince to jail, and he came back.  Next to those two, Punk is just a frustrated employee. He'll find out soon enough that those 'CM Punk!' chants will fade over time, and he'll want those back if nothing else.  He will find no better place to work than the WWE.  Going to TNA or back to Ring of Honor are out of the question.  That leaves the inevitable day when he'll be relegated to doing signings at local house shows for low level promotions or at Comic-Cons.  Punk has a huge ego, despite anything he says, and that will prevent him from staying away forever.  Main eventing WrestleMania is a hell of a white whale and I do no think that if the chance came he would turn it down out of spite.  He is human, after all.  The other things I thought was a little iffy was when he talked about money.  Whenever someone starts a riff with 'it's not about the money' you better believe that it absolutely is about the money.  And of course, after saying he didn't want to talk about money he complained about not being paid as much for WrestleMania as Cena, Undertaker, etc.  So yeah, not buying it.  All in all, it was a great interview and how you take it will largely depend on how much you like Punk to start with like I said.