Monday, February 23, 2015

Fastlane to WrestleMania 31!

WWE Fastlane 2015 results

That's the image that closed the show at WWE Fastlane on Sunday night, Daniel Bryan congratulating Roman Reigns on his victory in the main event and his looming title match with Brock Lesnar.  That match is taking place much to the chagrin of many fans, as they wanted Bryan to prevail and move on the face Lesnar.  There are legit reasons beyond just being a fan of Bryan to want him in there instead of Reigns, but at this point barring some switchup in the next few weeks it looks like that's going to be the title match.  Now I will be the first one to say that a Bryan-Lesnar match or a three-way with Bryan joining Reigns and Lesnar will be much better than what it appears we're going to get.  I totally agree that Reigns is not ready to carry the load in the ring like Bryan, John Cena, Seth Rollins, or Dolph Ziggler can.  The match between Reigns and Bryan was very good, and that was all Bryan's doing.  Anyone who's been watching for a long time can tell when a real pro like Bryan is leading the way in a good match.  Reigns and Lesnar are two guys who need to be led through a good match, so having them together in an one on one match probably won't result in a Match of the Year candidate.  Do I think they can put together something decent?  Yes.  Neither man is Sid Vicious or Goldberg; you haven't seen bad until you've been subjected to a series of matches involving either of them.  Vicious may have wrestled two very good matches in his entire career, both against Shawn Michaels, and Goldberg never had one, not even against Bret Hart.  However this match turns out it won't be as that bad.

The real reason it seems that people are anti-Reigns is not any personal dislike towards him but because he's not ready.  I get that, but Vince McMahon doesn't think that way.  If you want to see what things look like with great workers who don't look like Supermen at the top of the company there's an era for you - the New Generation Era.  That's when Hart and Michaels ruled the roost and worked against each other a lot when they weren't carrying Vicious, Kevin Nash, and others to good matches.  It's also a time when the company didn't make as much money and became ripe for the beating they would get from rival WCW that necessitated the Attitude Era.  If you're Vince McMahon you don't want to go back there, and Daniel Bryan probably reminds you more of that era than he does of the Hulkamania Era, the Attitude Era, or even the John Cena era.  When it comes to picking someone as the face or co-face of the company Vince has always wanted someone who could transcend the wrestling business and cross over into movies, television, etc and while Roman Reigns may not be that guy he has a better chance of doing it than Bryan does.  Nobody's casting Daniel Bryan in a movie or TV show. 

Now you might think that's a bad way to do business, but Vince would likely point you to the evidence of history.  The New Generation Era has more than it's share of good ring work, but it's the one period Vince would gladly give back if he could.  The realty is that the ring work matters but it's only one aspect of things.  On the same show where people bemoaned the Reigns victory there was a lot of Twitter anticipation of the Bray Wyatt-Undertaker match that's going to happen at WrestleMania 30.  Now if you're complaining about workrate re: Reigns and Lesnar but are drooling over the prospect of Bray Wyatt getting in the ring with the Undertaker.....just stop already.  Really, just stop.  I hope Vince puts Bryan in the main event so we an have a better match, but even if that happens then what?  You gonna have Bryan win again in the same fashion as last year?  Doubt it.  Bryan wins, and then Seth Rollins cashes in Money in the Bank the same night?  Possible.  Reigns goes over?  Won't stop the booing from Bryan fans and then you sill have to do he Rollins cash-in by July.  If I was writing it I would have kept Bryan out until after WrestleMania and then you could have had Reigns go over without someone around that a vocal group of fans prefer to poo poo it.  But that ship has sailed.  Bryan is back, and lots of people want him to win it again but I just don't see that happening. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The DC Strategy (or at least what I think it is)

In case you missed it earlier, that picture is the recently released photo of Jason Mamoa as Aquaman.  The reaction has been mostly good but as always there are some folks who were hoping for something more like this:


Uhh yeah.....that wasn't going to happen. Thanks to the Suuperfriends cartoons, which is where most of us got our first exposure to the character, Aquaman has been largely considered a joke and has been the least appreciated member of the Justice League.  The comic series has long been an afterthought and gone through numerous re-boots, restarts, etc.  The current series has been a godsend due to a 25 issue run by Geoff Johns, one of the best in the game right now, and a real triumph of the New 52 continuity.  The cinematic version will likely have a storyline in the same vein as the comic series, reportedly with a change in his human heritage from the New England upbringing of comic lore to a Polynesian one to match the actor's, which is a good thing.  This is undoubtedly going to be a serious, take no prisoners depiction of the character and not the one that has been the butt of jokes, Entourage plotlines, and Robot Chicken sketches. 

The decision to make a big deal out of this costume reveal looks like what I'm guessing is a alrager strategy for the DC film universe, and that is to devote serious time and energy to characters that have real marketing growth potential.  It wouldn't surprise me if there is a Cyborg costume reveal later on this year to coincide with the launch of his solo comic series, and he has a solo film of his own scheduled for a 2020 release.  And of course Wonder Woman will be getting a solo flick of her own that has only been decades in the making.  The goals here, if I'm correct, are to create two new viable movie characters (Cyborg and Aquaman) that speak to the changing demographics in the country, and to create in Wonder Woman a third stalwart movie superhero to go along with Batman and Superman, one that can be re-cast every 10 years or so if need be or dusted off after long breaks and get people excited by her return.  If the DC film universe succeeds those will be the real triumphs.  At this point in time Batman and Superman are what they are, business-wise: a good casting and a good enough movie are a license to print money but they've pretty much hit their ceilings box-office wise.  The new money to be made is with new characters or old ones that haven't been used to their potential. What they're doing is an entirely different venture from what Marvel Studios had to do when they got started.

                                                 gadot-wonder-woman-expendables-3-star-calls-out-gal-gadot-over-wonder ...

What do I mean?  Marvel was starting off minus their most well known and most popular characters in Spider-Man and the X-Men (particularly Wolverine), and had to create a product that could resonate despite relying on B-listers like Iron Man and Captain America.  And yes, in 2008-09 Cap and Iron Man were B-listers; even today their books don't sell like Spidey's or Batman's.  As a result, it was crucial to land a top notch actor the likes of Robert Downey Jr who also happened to be a perfect fit for the role of Tony Stark.  Once Iron Man succeeded they could go to lesser known (at the time) actors like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans to fill the roles of Thor and Cap, respectively.  DC is starting with Batman and Superman already established as icons and is using them to set up the rest of the universe, and is not relying on big names to get any of their superheroes over.  (By big name I mean people who can be recognized by those who aren't movie connoisseurs.  There are people who know Henry Cavill well but the average casual moviegoer has no idea who he is.  Ben Affleck is the only player the average moviegoer knows well.)  Now before you Marvel fans start firing up your 'DC Sucks!' remarks, let me be clear that I am not praising or trashing either approach.  I am simply laying out two different approaches that are being used because of two different sets of circumstances.  Let me explain a little more.

Marvel is building an NFL team, DC is building an NBA team.  NFL teams need several good to very good players across throughout the different areas of the roster in order to succeed.  You have three units (offense, defense, special teams) and you need several good to very good people in all three.  One superstar does not make much of a difference if you're lacking everywhere else.  (For proof of that see Sony, who could not ride Spider-Man past fanboy complaints, disingenuous web stories, and a hacking scandal).  And NBA team is different in that you need superstars if you want to win big.  A collection of good to very good players can get you in the playoffs, but not very far afterward so the strategy in building a team is to get a few superstars then fill in with good role players.  Marvel is very much like New England Patriots in that you have your Tom Brady, your Rob Gronkowski and a bunch of guys who are very good but aren't as famous.  DC is like the old Celtics with the Bill Russell-esque linchpin in Batman, Superman as Bob Cousy, and Wonder Woman as Havlicek, the sixth man who eventually became the star of his own championship teams.  Both of them worked, they just work differently.  Ultimately we won't know until we see finished products just how well the DC method is going to play out, but there's no reason to think it's a bad strategy.  The players just have to execute.  Marvel of course has already won a few Super Bowls and is trying to keep the dynasty going.  My advice to you all is to just sit back and enjoy the next few years because as fans of this stuff, we're winning by getting a chance to see it all on the big screen.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The next Black world champion is.......


With it being Black History Month there are sure to be some tributes out there and lists of the best black wrestlers in pro wrestling history.  The WWE does tributes every year during this month on their broadcasts and their website, and there are other sites and blogs that will do the same.  So I'm posing a different topic here: who is likely to be the next black wrestler to become the WWE Champion?  OK, the answer's pretty simple right now: no one.  To be honest, there's no one on the current roster who has any real chance of rising to that level.  Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, R-Truth?  Nope.  Titus O'Neal?  Heck no.  Big E Langston?  I won't say never but it sure doesn't look like it right now.  This shouldn't come as a surprise; there are usually no more than a handful of black wrestlers on the WWE roster at any given time and when you factor in how hard it is to climb that ladder in general the odds of there consistently being a black wrestler who has the chops to ascend to champion aren't very good.  The last one was The Rock and he was almost finished before he got started thanks to the horrendous booking he got after his debut.  Only after he and the booking committee course corrected and he became the biggest star in the business.

Ron Simmons    WWE Superstar Koko B. Ware : Wallpapers, Videos, Theme song, Biography ...

That's been the case for most of wrestling history; even when there were multiple top shelf companies the number of black world champions was pretty scant.  The NWA/WCW had Ron Simmons and Booker T, the WWF/WWE had The Rock, and.......that's it.  Of the WWE's present day competitors TNA has Bobby Lashley, and none before him.  Is it racism?  Yes and no.  Wrestling history is littered with stereotypical roles for most of it's nonwhite performers (and plenty of it's white ones, too, to be fair) so it's been extremely difficult for any black wrestler to progress beyond any comedic or middle of the card roles.  And until not too long ago, that was almost entirely by design. In the 80s we had to endure the likes of Koko B. Ware and the Junkyard Dog, jive talking cartoon characters who had zero chance of ever being taken seriously enough to become champion.  And even more solemn, serious characters like Simmons ran into a glass ceiling for most of their careers.  Today we still have clownish characters like R-Truth and guys intentionally stuck in the midcard like Kingston, whose yearly highlight is a miraculous escape from elimination in the Royal Rumble (which is soon followed by his actual elimination).  And in between we had Booker T, who straddled the fence between the jive talkers of the 80s and more serious characters like Simmons during his WCW run.

kofi kingston wallpaper  The Truth Hurts

So for right now things look pretty bleak on the championship front.  Looking at recent history the biggest opportunities came when there was a void of sorts at the top.  Simmons won the WCW title almost on a whim when champion Vader needed an opponent because Sting was occupied with short-timer Jake Roberts.  The Rock got in as the corporate champion to set up Steve Austin's reclamation of the title at WrestleMania XV, and got over so much that they kept him at the top.  Booker T became champion of WCW in it's dying days when they were trying whatever they could to get attention and their biggest names were choosing not to work much.  The likelihood that the one remaining major company in the business will be in such dire straits that such a window will open is very small, at least for the current members of the roster.  Maybe if Lashley comes back over to the WWE fold, but other than that forget about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spider Man Returns!

              Spider-Man and The Avengers

About the months ago I said very loudly that Spider-Man would not be coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Welp......looks like I was wrong.  OK, not 100 percent wrong but definitely wrong.  Hey, it happens.  Directly from Marvel itself, we have the news that a deal was reached between Marvel and Sony to bring Spider-Man into the MCU.  Well, sort of.  There's a lot of speculation that's going way too far as to what it all means, and a lot of you guys are going to be disappointed next year if you believe it.  So before you start dreaming up all the awesome ways Spider Man will be showing up on the big screen, you need to get one thing straight:


Yes, that is correct.  Sony still owns the movie rights to Spider-Man.  Marvel will get to use him in their movies, and can lend some of their characters to Sony for use in future Spider-Man movies.  Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige will co-produce the next Spider-Man film with Sony, but Sony maintains creative control.  The next Spider-Man film will be a Sony project and not a Marvel Studios film.  That is important to remember because the decisions that are made are not necessarily those that would come from a Marvel-only production.  The best case scenario is that Sony follows Marvel's lead on how to present the character, and that Marvel feels good enough about what comes from it that they'll let Sony use Daredevil, Kingpin, and other New York-based characters in future Spidey films.  Now I'm one who liked Amazing Spider Man 2 and was ready for more from that universe, but for all intents and purposes that seems to be over.  So the best thing for Sony to do is Marvel-ize things when they start over and please, no more Peter Parker origin stories!  We've gotten two of those way too close together already so the last thing we need is one more.  Either pick things up in progress or......go with Miles Morales.

A second thing to calm down about is the Spider-Man cameo that is slated to happen in the next Captain America movie, Civil War. In the print version of the story Spidey played a huge role and some people are already salivating at the thought he will do the same in the MCU.  Forget it, folks.  Civil War hits the theaters next May.  Assuming that a new Peter Parker will be chosen that's not enough time to recast the role and do major script rewrites to give him a major role (without marginalizing Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., and Chadwick Boseman's  parts in the film) in time to meet the filming and editing schedule in time for theatrical release.  And on top of that, the issue from the storyline that Spidey was a part of, masked superheroes acting as vigilantes, has not been introduced into the MCU yet.  Yes, it is getting brought in via the Daredevil series, but it's still not a big enough part of the MCU to change an entire film that's already in production around it.  My bet is that we get a few scenes added in post production with him in costume; that way Sony can take its time casting the new Spidey.

Lastly, there is the matter of the revised Marvel film schedule.  Because they are partners now, the Sony Spider-Man films are now being given a position amongst the Marvel studios-helmed films as if they are part of the slate.  Which means that the July 2017 release date for the next Spidey film will move some previously scheduled Marvel films down the calendar. The third Thor movie along with the movies for Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and the Inhumans are being moved to later dates. And that has some people feeling some kinda way.  There was much rejoicing when the Black Panther and Captain Marvel films were first announced, so it kinda sucks for them to get pushed back.  But, that's the price of doing business if you want Marvel involved with Spidey.  Spider-Man is Marvel; you will move things out of the way for a chance to showcase him.  The truth of the matter is that the only reason there are movies for Black Panther, Captain Marvel, etc are that Marvel can't make any movies for it's most popular characters - Spider-Man, Wolverine, and (by association) the X-Men. If Marvel had those movie rights we would have gotten a plethora of films featuring those characters, and maybe eventually some Avengers-related films.  The miracle of Marvel studios is that they've created a great film universe using B and C-list characters, and in doing so raised their profiles.  But were they to be given the full movie rights to their biggest name characters today they would wrap things up as quickly as possible to get to the business of making Spider-Man and X-Men movies.  So as a fan you have to ask yourself whether that's something you'd really want to happen. 

So while there's a lot to chew on, and some big reasons to curb your enthusiasm it's a day to rejoice for all comic book movie fans. Excelsior!

DC Changes

So Marvel isn't the only company that's going to be shuffling the deck this summer.  DC is going to cancel some books and start up some new ones.  Check out the full list here.  There are a few things to take note of:

  • It's not a reboot! - There were some clickbait headlines like 'DC says goodbye to New 52' on a lot of rumor sites.  As always, those sites are trash.  The New 52 continuity is still the existing timeline that the current books are existing in; the only thing changing is that the label 'New 52' won't be on the cover anymore. Which makes sense because after four years it's kinda dumb to call it new anymore.  But of course there are the New 52 haters who are hanging on to hope that DC will ditch the whole thing and go back to the way things were before Flashpoint.  Sorry guys, not happening.  And the further out we get from the Flashpoint changeover the less utility there is in going back, especially as the DC Film Universe begins to kick in and cement at least some of the changes on film. 
  • New solo series on deck - For the first time in DC Comics publication history, Cyborg and Starfire will be getting their own solo series.  Cyborg's series is going to be written by an African-American writer, David Walker, so that's a double whammy on the diversity front.  No doubt they're getting the character more exposure leading into his big screen debut as part of the Justice League and his own future solo film.  But all signs point toward this series being a keeper.  As for Starfire, this is also some new territory for the character.  Given that people are rightfully asking for new material and new opportunities for existing characters, this is another good step.  Starfire has slowly been promoted from a member of an ensemble to part of a trio to a solo act.  Of course, both series success will come down to the writing and whether or not people buy it.  Hopefully they will.
  • Missing in action - One name that didn't make it to either the returning or cancelled series lists is Supergirl.  I haven't heard anything about the series being cancelled, but not seeing it on the continued list a cause for concern.  It's a good series, and the character has been given her own personality and purpose separate from just being Superman's cousin.  Seeing as how there's a TV series for her in the works, it's highly unlikely that her solo series is gone for good.  My guess is that it will be back, maybe starting over with a new number one issue.
We have until June for all of this to start, but from the looks of things it will be interesting.

    Wednesday, February 4, 2015

    Some stuff I noticed watching WWE Network

    The other day I was home alone for a few hours so I took the opportunity to do some targeted WWE Network viewing.  For the millionth time, you can't get a better deal so if you're into wrestling I can't recommend it too much.  Even if you don't watch it now it's worth it for the archives, they have major matches from every organization that mattered, save TNA.  So I decided to take a look at a few matches featuring one Stone Cold Steve Austin, and live tweeted the experience (You can check out my storified tweets here.)  The matches hat made up Austin's rise to top dog in the WWE (then WWF) serve as a good point of reference for the decisions that are being made today.  No, I'm not trying to say that Roman Reigns is the next Austin.  Of course not.  But here are a few things to remember:

    • Austin's run almost ended before it began - The Austin character really began to take off in 1997, but he still didn't mature into the Monday Night War winning force that he eventually became until a year later.  And he almost didn't get the chance.  In August of 1997 at Summerslam Austin took a bad bump from an Owen Hart piledriver and suffered a severe neck injury.  Watching that match, you can see that it's fortunate his career survived as long as it did afterward.  The finish had to be performed almost entirely by Hart as Austin could barely move enough to do to very weak rollup that got him the win in the match.  It was one of those endings that anyone who'd been watching wrestling for a while knew was due to a legit injury.  The other thing that's important is to watch how Austin worked before the piledriver; his moveset was significantly more varied (he did a powerbomb during this match, something you never saw from him after) and the level of bumps he could take diminished every bit as much.  For context go back and watch his match against Bret Hart from Survivor Series 1996; you'll see the same level of variance between what he did then vs after he came back.
    ... -bret-the-hitman-hart-vs-stone-cold-steve-austin.jpg?resize=480%2C360  Thread: 50 Most Important Matches in WWE History
    • He almost couldn't go after he came back - His first match was another match against Owen Hart; almost a do-over of sorts from the Summerslam match.  It was not a good match, and it looked like something you'd run for a guy who was retiring immediately afterward.  It was over in under 10 minutes, absurdly short for somebody with the athletic ability and stamina of Owen Hart.  Austin's offense consisted of punches, kicks, and a Stone Cold Stunner.  It was a foreshadowing of what was to come; Austin's greatest career feat was being able to take that punch-kick repertoire and turn it into something that could give us entertaining 20 minute main event matches a year later.    Watching this match explains everything that went once Austin was champion.  His title defenses in 1998 were against Mick Foley, the Undertaker, and Kane - brawlers whose offense mostly could be done against a opponent who was standing up or laying prone.  Austin's style also made it easier for one Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to rise to prominence.  Austin's first matches after finishing with Owen Hart were with the Rock, and they would hook up again a year later leading up to and in WrestleMania 15.   Rock had a style that meshed well with Austin and the extra flair he added to his pretty basic movset and selling of Austin's offense made for a ideal dance partner. 

    • WrestleMania 14 was a nail-biter - And not in the way you'd think.  It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the main event was Austin's coronation, minus an urban legend that Shawn Michaels notorious penchant for not jobbing when the mood hit put things in jeopardy and the Undertaker was ready backstage to pound him if he acted up.  But given that Austin was only a few months away from not being to work more than a brief match and that Michaels had suffered a severe back injury himself at the Royal Rumble (one that would keep him out of action for the next five years) there was a real chance that a bad bump could have left the company without it's best performer and it's new star.  That didn't happen of course, but that had to leave Vince McMahon scarred in a way that leaves rally apprehensive about putting his eggs in the Daniel Bryan basket. Bryan is almost 35 (not old but an age where an injury history can start catching up to you), just missed over half a year due to injury, and employs a pretty dangerous style in the ring.  Entrusting him as the guy to share top billing with John Cena and maybe  even move ahead of him in the short run isn't a sure a thing as some folks would have you think.

    • Running off Bret Hart was the right move - The Montreal Screwjob is a day that lives in wrestling infamy, but the decision to move Hart out of the burgeoning Attitude Era was the right choice.  Not only was he lacking the personality to captivate an audience during the direction that the company was about to embark on - he was never exciting on the mic as a face and wasn't willing or able to engage in the sophomoric act that Degeneration X made famous - his in-ring style wouldn't have been a good fit for Austin post-injury.  Taking the barrage of suplexes and submission holds that Bret utilized would have been hell for someone with Austin's fragile neck and spine at that point.  Bret was indeed the odd man out so it made sense to let him go.  That doesn't excuse how it happened, but hindsight is 20/20 of course.
    So that's what I figured out in one afternoon of WWE Network viewing.