Friday, December 23, 2011

Art Attack: March 2012's Coolest Covers

-I was not at all familiar with the Extreme characters in the 90's (only one X-Treme character), but the covers for Avengelyne and Glory are so far askew from what I remember that I'm instantly intrigued. Absolutely what covers are supposed to do. Kudos to Owen Gieni and Ross Campbell, if I pick up these books it will be because of you.

-It feels sometimes like a lot of homage covers are drawing from the same pool of a dozen or so source images, but Avengers #150 certainly isn't one of them, yet there it is on Art Adams' variant for Avengers Assemble #1. Cool.

-Echoing what has already been said elsewhere, but Frank Cho's wood-etching-esque background for Avengers VS X-Men #0 is breathtaking.

-I haven't read Blue Estate, but Viktor Kalvachev's covers draw my interest just about every month. I love what he does with design, with message and visual metaphors.

-Daredevil #10 by Paolo Rivera. GUH. It's like he gets bored with being merely amazing and has to look around and see what isn't already being done so he can do it. I remember being blown away by his paintings and then being shocked when he did that Amazing Spider-Man issue with Punisher and I was like, "Holy crap, he can DRAW too!" Now I don't even know what he's doing with the surroundings of DD here, but it's incredible. I'm not sure if his dad inked this, but if he did, even more astounding; they both get better by the second (and are swell guys too).

-Few have knocked more covers out of the park in the last few years than J.G. Jones, but it's always nice to see him pull out his toolbox, whether it's doing Frankenstein like a movie poster or the layering on Mister Terrific. His old tricks still work and he's always trying new ones as well.

-Love the claustrophobic portrait of Wolverine, Spider-Man and Captain America by Alex Maleev for Moon Knight; a touch of Travis Charest almost, but distinctly Maleev.

-The Punisher is so casual pulling his gun out while driving a cab in that Bryan Hitch cover. It's an absurd set-up that Hitch manages to make deadly serious.

-Jock's Scalped cover creeps me out. I mean that as a compliment.

-Kalman Andrasofsky saved the best for last on X-23. I'd buy a poster of that.

AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1 by Humberto Ramos
AVENGELYNE #9 by Owen Gieni
AVENGERS VS X-MEN #0 by Frank Cho
AVENGERS: X-SANCTION #4 by Steve Skroce
BATMAN #7 by Greg Capullo
BLUE ESTATE #10 by Viktor Kalvachev
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #2 by Massimo Carevale
DAREDEVIL #10 by Paolo Rivera
DARK HORSE PRESENTS #10 by Thomas Yeates
FAIREST #1 by Adam Hughes
THE FLASH #7 by Francis Manapul
GLORY #24 by Ross Campbell
HOAX HUNTERS #0 by Steve Seeley
MOON KNIGHT #11 by Alex Maleev
THE PUNISHER #9 by Bryan Hitch
REBEL BLOOD #1 by Riley Rossmo
SCALPED #57 by Jock
SUICIDE SQUAD #7 by Ivan Reis
SUPERNATURAL #7 by Dustin Nguyen
SWAMP THING #7 by Yanick Paquette
TINY TITANS #50 by Art Baltazar
ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN #9 by Kaare Andrews
UNCANNY X-FORCE #23 by Leinil Francis Yu
VENOM #14 by Stefano Caselli
X-23 #21 by Kalman Andrasofsky

Sunday, December 18, 2011

RIP Joe Simon

Captain America co-creator and comics industry legend Joe Simon passed away this week at the age of 98.

In 2007, I had the honor and pleasure of conducting an interview with Mr. Simon that I recapped in pretty thorough detail here. It's high up there as one of the most special memories for me of my time in comics over the past seven years getting to have a frank and pleasant conversation with a man who brought one of our most enduring icons to life and helped build this medium. I spoke in my previous post about the way Joe came up with Cap and how I got to be the one to tell him that his old protege Stan Lee eventually killed off Bucky, two stories that still make me smile. I also mentioned the nice note Joe sent me upon my getting hired by Marvel, something I will forever treasure.

Even though I probably only spoke to Joe for 15 minutes, it was more than enough time for him to make a very positive impression on me. Firstly, here was a guy who was already in his mid-90's at the time, but still sharp as a tack, responding to every question I asked him, be it about events that took place nearly seven decades earlier or stuff he was hearing about for the first time, with wit and eloquence. More than that, I thought to myself as the interview went on that this was the kind of ambassador the comics industry needed; a kind, polite gentleman whose words still crackled with the youthful enthusiasm of the guy who came up with the idea for Captain America on a New York City bus because he needed somebody to punch Hitler in the face. Even 70 years later, with a vast expanse of history between, Joe was still excited to talk about Cap and about comics; he maintained his joy for what he had done and the contributions he had made.

Comics lost a pioneer this week, but we also lost a representative of the creativity that should be inspiring us all in its purest form. Hopefully while Joe has passed, his example will not be lost on those who had the privilege to know or speak with him, and he will endure forever through his creations.

Rest in peace, Joe, I will certainly never forget you.

My condolences to Joe Simon's friends and family

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why I Left Comics

Despite the bold and emotional proclamations we may make when our favorite character is killed or a book we loves get cancelled, I don’t believe comic fans on the whole tend to leave their passion for the medium behind in one grand sweeping gesture. Rather, I think multiple factors tend to contribute to gradual erosion in enthusiasm that dulls the flame to the point where it’s not worth nurturing for the time being rather than stomping it out entirely.

For me, it’s tempting to simply say high school was the cut off point for my first life as a comic book fan and college brought about my second chapter (well, not that tempting, I do want this blog post to be more than two paragraphs), but certainly there was more to it.

Make no mistake though, high school played a role. For one thing, I suddenly had a lot of other interests to occupy my time, be it sports (I played soccer my freshman year and wrestled all four), the school newspaper, plays, and so on; my time to sit around reading about super heroes became more and more limited as I had other things to do. There was also the transference of funds and energy to parties and other distractions that weren’t on my radar in prior years. I saw my social outcast status fade a bit once I turned 14 or so; I don’t think I ever quite reached big man on campus level, but people seemed to generally like me enough to let me know what was going on over the weekend.

More than anything though, the friends I bonded with over comics drifted from the hobby, and certainly if there was any high school stereotype that proved true for me it was the follow the pack mentality, at least in some cases like this. With my buddies no longer making the pilgrimage to New England Comics or wanting to talk X-Men at lunch, those things held less interest for me as well (although in a story I can now chuckle at, I did continue “covertly” trekking to the comics shop every couple weeks for awhile, acting like I had stopped reading comics when I was still buying a few, and ran into a friend of mine who was doing the same; we both were mortified and didn’t acknowledge the encounter for some time, actually until I ran into him at New York Comic Con last year and said “Remember when…”).

It wasn’t just social contributors though. Comics lost me in the mid to late 90’s because a lot of the stuff that had fueled my fandom seemed to coincidentally wind down around the same time. There was good stuff like Grant Morrison’s JLA, Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s Avengers and more I wouldn’t experience for a bit after they came out because a lot of the stuff I was reading conspired to provide me with a convenient jumping off point. Here’s where I abandoned ship on the books that had been my childhood/young adolescent favorites…

What would be roughly a year-long process of me slowly going from a healthy number of monthly comic book purchases to none began in July of 1995 with the conclusion of the Age of Apocalypse. Whereas today I’m able to appreciate that event as the fun alternate reality epic it was, at the time, it was one of the first proclamations to a na├»ve 13-year old that comics changed. To that point, while I had been aware on some level of creators coming and going, directions changing and so forth, for the most part I still saw my most cherished books and characters as remaining in a state I could recognize them, typified by the 90’s X-Men titles, driven by a never-ending soap opera about people in colorful costumes drawn by guys with a splashy style that matched at least in part the Saturday morning cartoon show.

I remember reading in Wizard how the plug was going to be pulled on the X-Men books with no real explanation beyond that and not learning about the concept behind Age of Apocalypse until a couple weeks later via the Marvel Hotline (as a former Wizard employee now, I have to wonder to myself how much of the story they knew at the time and held back to help Marvel build an air of history; need to ask Brian Cunningham or Pat McCallum next time I see them). Comics were still vitally important to me at the time and in a childlike way that the idea I would “lose” so many of my favorites really shook me up (if 13-year-old me had been around for the New 52, he may have had a stroke).

When the X-Men books resumed their normal runs post-AoA (and without the Internet we did not know at the time when that would be if ever at the time), I regarded them with caution, feeling they had burned me once and I didn’t want to experience it again (I’m aware of how melodramatic that sounds, but I was 13 and hadn’t had a girlfriend yet, so work with me). In particular, I was unwilling to give the new incarnation of X-Force, once among my top titles, a chance. Fabian Nicieza, my favorite writer at the time, jumped off and was replaced by Jeph Loeb, whom I knew nothing about at the time. Tony Daniel, whose art I was really getting into, was replaced by Adam Pollina, whose style was not just radically different than the “X-Men house style” of the time, but just about anything I’d ever seen beyond those Vertigo books I never bought; he also almost immediately ditched the varied costumes for a uniform purple and yellow look.

But more than anything, the mission statement of the book was changing entirely, with the team going from a group of teenagers living on their own (with their gruff cyborg mentor) to moving back into the X-Mansion. As I have come to know Jeph to be a talented writer and a swell dude to boot, I apologize for not giving his run more of a chance, but there are few things less cool to a 13-year old than his heroes essentially moving back in with their parents. As the capper, Cannonball, my favorite character in the book, was “graduating” to the X-Men, so it felt like it was time for me to do the same.

I started picking up Justice League America around the time Superman died to get a better sense of the DC Universe. Truth be told, I was never that into it and didn’t feel like it was fulfilling that goal by letting me know what The Ray, Fire and Bloodwynd were up to on a monthly basis. It became more of a reflex buy for me the same way Silver Surfer or Iron Man was; a book I didn’t love, but I did like having a lot of new comics to read every month. After Zero Hour, when Gerard Jones took over as writer and centered the book a lot around the weird love square between Nuklon, Fire, Obsidian and Icemaiden with The Flash maybe getting something to do every three issues, I lost interest quickly. I stuck around because they dangled the carrot of Guy Gardner coming back to the team, but once it became evident he wasn’t sticking around, I dumped the book in August of 1995.

I began reading Captain America in 1993 or so admittedly because of the stunt “Fighting Chance” storyline where Cap’s Super Soldier Serum was going bad and he only had a year to live. Yes, it was goofy with the pouch-filled vest, the armor and Jack Flag, but I ate up every chapter of Mark Gruenwald and Dave Hoover’s year-long story. When they jumped off the book (and Cap disappeared mysteriously) in September of 1995, I did the same, figuring I’d come in for this story only and didn’t have any interest in a long term commitment (I did the same thing more or less with the Death and Return of Superman). Ironically, the next run was the to-this-day highly regarded Mark Waid/Ron Garney collaboration cut short but Heroes Reborn and I would not get to read it until years later.

I had tried to give the main X-Men books a chance even after I dropped X-Force, but that didn’t last long. I was kind of intrigued by the Onslaught mystery and loved Joe Madureira’s art, but weirdly Age of Apocalypse really botched it for me as I just couldn’t get into the characters as I had before. Having gone back and caught up on what I missed during the years I was gone since, I kind of wish I had stuck with it, because stuff like Operation: Zero Tolerance and the later Joe Kelly/Stephen Seagle run was right in my wheelhouse, but I said goodbye to the comics that had really been my childhood lynchpin during the fall of 1995, though I would continue following their animated adventures for another two years.

I bounced in and out of the Spider-Man books for a lot of the Clone Saga, Amazing Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man being my primary titles of choice. Because that era was my entry point, I knew no other Spider-Man, and just assumed it had always been full of mysterious strangers, shocking reveals and omnipotent villains just like X-Men. As I began to cotton to the fact that this was not really the case and the creative teams waxed and waned between restoring the status quo to “the good old days” but then lurched back into another clone showing up to keep that thing running, I strained a bit from feeling like I was caught in the middle of a tug of war. When Ben Reilly took over as Spider-Man would have seemed the ideal jumping off point, but I was still somewhat under the impression the saga was finally winding to a close; around the time Spider-Carnage debuted in April of 1996, I gave up.

I’m sure it won’t surprise any regular readers of this blog to learn that New Warriors was the toughest comic for me to give up—in fact, I never did. I stuck with the book all the way to its cancellation with issue #75 in September of 1996, the same month I started high school interestingly and poetically enough (childhood’s end and all that). The stuff that had driven me off other books didn’t faze me when it came to the Warriors. Fabian Nicieza left with issue #50, but I found Evan Skolnick to be a very capable successor. Nova, Namorita and Night Thrasher were written out, but I stuck around for Justice, Firestar, Speedball and the new recruits. Even the altering of the seminal logo wasn’t enough to get rid of me (and that was a big deal, I assure you). I may have missed an issue here and there, but that was only because I was going to the shop less and less, so sometimes I’d forget the shipping schedule and they’d sell out, as New Warriors was not a book my retailer was getting in bulk.

As I’ve said before, I felt New Warriors ended on an appropriate note, with Skolnick bringing the full team back together and I do feel like those 75 issues constitute a complete story for me that subsequent revamps have left untouched. Still, it was a seismic shift for me as a fan, with my favorite comic being cancelled (despite my letter writing campaign of one letter to Marvel Vision) and me re-evaluating how into all this I still was.

Superboy was my favorite DC character as a kid (I liked the concept of The Flash, but didn’t know the person behind the mask that well yet). It was oddly serendipitous that at almost the exact same time New Warriors was coming to an end, Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett, the creative team that introduced Superboy and crafted the first two-plus years of his book, were moving on. If I had still been buying a lot of comics, I likely would have kept up with Superboy, but as I was pretty much done by the fall of 1996, their exit seemed an appropriate sign. In fairness, I did give the new creative team a few issues and really wanted to like it given how much I enjoyed Ron Marz on both Silver Surfer and Green Lantern, but even though they kept the same supporting cast and setting, the book felt different enough that it wasn’t too hard to move on (little did I know that 15 years later Superboy would be completely unrecognizable to a kid who grew up reading about him).

Strangely, as best I can tell, the final comic I was reading on a reading on a regular basis was Legion of Super-Heroes. This was odd because I’d come into the book late (I didn’t start until after Zero Hour in 1994), the characters had no recognition outside of comics (I never watched a cartoon with them or anything) and…well, Legion was just an odd book for me to end on. Don’t get me wrong, I thought that era was great, but it’s wild to me that I hung on with Legion of Super-Heroes longer than I did X-Men, Superboy and New Warriors. The split of the team and marooning half of them in the past where they suddenly weren’t as unique likely contributed to my severing ties.

(I should note the fact that I dropped my final two DC titles during Final Night speaks not to a disdain for that story, which I like, it was just coincidental timing)

And so as 1996 drew to a close, I was out of comics. I would check in now and again if I happened to spy a rack in a CVS or something over the next couple years and always checked what they had when I went to a bookstore, but for the most part, I was comics-free from 1997 to nearly 2001.

That, of course, is another story…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reader Request: Cable vs. Dracula

In the comments section of my Avengers vs X-Men classic post, Shatterstar88 (great name) asked, “Can you do a post about who would win in a fight between Dracula (marvel version) and Cable?”

Indeed I can, Shatterstar88, indeed I can.

I like this matchup, because while there’s a case to be made on the surface that it would be a blowout either way if you look only at each individual combatant (“He’s the Lord of all Vampires!” “He’s an uber-powerful mutant messiah!”), once you line them up next to one another you see they’ve got more than a little bit in common and would counter each other quite nicely.

Both Cable and Dracula usually draw heavily upon their respective battlefield knowledge and fighting experience, given that one is a time traveler who has been fighting in wars since he was a boy and the other is an immortal despot who has led countless campaigns for power and land. Neither guy is a rookie by any means and thus both would be deprived of the chief edge they typically hold in other fights.

Nathan was trained from childhood by Blaquesmith, the Askani and others in forms of fighting that don’t even exist as of the 21st century, where this fight would presumably take place (as an aside, young Cable vs Karate Kid would also be badass). Vlad has been around multiple life spans and over the course of such has traveled around the world and become versed in all forms of armed and unarmed fighting. You could argue Cable knows disciplines that Dracula couldn’t possibly have learned yet, but you could also contend that Dracula has had more opportunities to hone his skills; I think in terms of pure repertoire, they cancel one another out.

Moving over to powers, both guys have impressive sets of abilities, but also the potential means to counter one another. Dracula has been known to mesmerize his foes, but Cable is a telepath (or possibly a former telepath, but he’s still got the mental discipline instilled), so he can probably forget that trick; likewise, Nathan may not be able to use his telepathy (provided he has it in this scenario) since Vlad has had years to build up his mental defenses and generally isn’t susceptible to that sort of thing (he got snookered by illusion when he battled MI: 13, but it was mystically generated, and Cable knows jack about magic). It will come down to telepathy and guns against the vampire cocktail of enhanced strength, senses, etc. plus perhaps a sword or two.

What I think it comes down to is that Dracula is primarily a schemer, while Cable is definitively a man of action. Don’t get me wrong, Drac is still a force to be reckoned with if you piss him off, but he’s much rather remain in the shadows and move chess pieces around than actually engage in fisticuffs. He concocted an elaborate campaign in Vampire State but that fell apart when the variables shifted on him; in the recent Hulk Vs. Dracula, he had to rely on sending others to battle The Hulk for him while he sat back in his castle preparing for the worst. Even in Curse of the Mutants, his temporary undoing—and death—at his son Xarus’ hands came about primarily because he was locked into the business of sitting around a big table and doing business rather than getting his hands dirty.

Cable, on the other hand, is all about jumping into the fray when circumstances demand and adapting to the circumstances. He kept himself and Hope alive for years jumping all over the time stream because he remained at least one step ahead of Bishop, but he was also able to engage his enemies when need be and generally has the tools, ruthlessness and cunning to come out on top in a scrap. When he led X-Force, Cable was always front and center, jumping right into the action with his team rather than just directing traffic and letting them wear down the enemy. Nathan knows how to flee and make the circumstances ideal for the battle he wants—see not just his entire last ongoing series but also Messiah Complex as well as Second Coming—but when he’s backed into corner, he’s often at his best.

So my answer would be that Cable has the slight edge if only because the loose definition of “a fight” implies both guys get tossed into a situation and go at it, meaning Dracula doesn’t have time to prepare and create a multi-layered plan. Also, if Drac bites into Nate’s neck, there’s a decent chance he’s getting oil or a techno-organic virus rather than blood, so that’s also a disadvantage.

I’d go with Cable by a plasma grenade. I would like to see Victor Gischler write this clash ASAP.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grocery Store Comics: "General Mills Presents: Justice League" #1: "Unstoppable Forces"

[You may not always realize it, but there are a number of random print comics on sale at general retail outlets across America on any given week. A lot of them are for kids. Whenever Kiel comes across such a comic at a grocery store, a stop n' gulp, a newsstand or anywhere else they sell Doritos, he buys it. This column is the place where he rambles about those purchases.

As always, reviews on The CKT should NOT be considered any of the following things: The opinion of anyone who works at DC or Marvel. Brief. Smart. Entertaining. Insightful. Spoiler-free. Or vaguely resembling something resembling actual comics criticism. We cool? - KP]

General Mills Presents: Justice League #1: Unstoppable Forces
DC Comics
Written By Scott Beatty
Art By Christian Duce
Free With box of Trix cost $3.99
Website Here

Hey! An actual comic from an actual grocery store!

When I was a kid, I LOVED it any time DC or Marvel would offer some throwaway comic as a publicity stunt whether it be mailaway offerings on the back of pizza boxes or random Toys R' Us handouts. So when I heard that DC was working up a handful of Justice League one-shots to stuff in cereal boxes as the latest in DC Entertainment's attempts to brand build with little kids (never forget attempt #1), I was all for it. I know a lot of people would write this kind of thing off as the most crass of marketing ploys, but I know from experience that little things like this can be both entertaining for certain kids and foster a deeper love of comics in the chase to nab the books up if not the execution of the story on the page.

But to my mind, for the actual comics of one of these promotions to actually work they need to accomplish two basic goals: some solid action comic entertainment value (not just basic competency but some honest-to-goodness storytelling thrills) and that indefinable quality that makes these characters seem radical in the eyes of America's eight-year-olds. And this installment of the digest-size giveaways doesn't really succeed on either account.

While I've always found Scott Beatty's work perfectly serviceable in general and have honestly dug a lot of his more YA-ish work (Batgirl: Year One and Son of Vulcan both come to mind), his script here doesn't ever cohere in a way that overcomes its structural flaws. Setting aside the broad plotholes you'd be willing to write off for this kind of thing (the story opens with the League burying the Shaggy Man under a mountain and then forgetting about the comatose villain for two years while an entire city is built atop his resting place), the arc of the whole comic falls flat. The Shaggy Man is put down, he breaks out, and then the League finds a slightly better way to put him down. It's basic stuff, made even more undramatic by some awkward storytelling moments both in dialogue and the art.

Speaking of which, I have never seen Duce's name or work around before, but from the look of it, the artist is on his first full gig here. Not only does his cartooning embody the sameness of most licensing art, his storytelling has some major hiccups in the fight scenes in particular. There's got to be room for growth with someone this new, but woof...not an auspicious start.

But hey, there are a few better points on the "make these characters seem rad" front. Starting with the inarguable fun of cut-out Batman masks on the back of the cereal box:

Sure, this isn't part of the comic in question, but I think this cheap but fun part of the promotion points to something about how DC has approached this kind of thing. As I'm sure you can tell, the image above isn't from the actual box of cereal I bought. But as far as I can tell, EVERY box that contained a Justice League mini had a Batman mask on the back – nothing for the Flash of GL even.

If nothing else, DC as a corporate entity gets that Batman is a bad ass to everyone. They won that battle sometime around 1989, and the sentiment is as powerful now amongst general audiences as it's ever been probably. So the challenge here becomes making the the rest of their properties (God, I hate referring to characters like that, but in a product like this what the hell else can you call them?) seem as cool as the Dark Knight. If DC Comics is really going to compete as DC Entertainment the way Warner Bros. wants them to, their recently rebranded "Big Four" of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Flash need to be able to hold their own in t-shirt sales against Captain America, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man at least if not Spider-Man and Wolverine to boot.

So it seems to reason that if this giveaway is going to justify its cost in the eyes of DCE, the characters should all get their due on the page in one way or another. And this comic almost pulls some of that off. Batman is uber-prepared and flies a jet. Superman can punch out anything. Green Lantern makes some fun, goofy stuff with his ring (and some inexplicable kids think big metal spikes are cool?). Flash even finds a few decent moments in creating whirlwinds, though I'm not sure how awesome it is to declare yourself "faster than a text."

But Aquaman and Wonder Woman? Holy shit do they get the shaft here. The King of the Seas spends most of his page time running himself down for having lame superpowers. Honest to God, there's a whole page where he stands there and just complains about not being useful on dry land to which Batman replies "You're a last line of defense." And poor Wonder Woman's plane seems cooler than here in this thing. She's only in about five panels and has two lines of dialogue. I guess little girls don't eat cereal anymore?

Overall, I'm probably being too harsh on something that was put together under a handful of content restraints and on a tight budget/deadline, but I'd like to think that a comic with hundreds of thousands of copies in print which will doubtlessly land in the hands of thousands of kids would put a better foot forward.

I'd still like to read Paul Tobin and Derec Donovan's attempt at one of these as they were the creative team on this I thought would do the best job at the outset, but I'm not due for more cereal pickups for a while. Let me know if you find one, huh?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Avengers VS X-Men Classic

It's time for another lame apology post about not posting more frequently lately, but if you saw the news today, you now know I was busy prepping for the announcement of Avengers VS X-Men, the major Marvel event of 2012. Further, I was getting ready for our very cool Livestream event tomorrow, during which we'll have all the creative big guns on to interact with fans in a neat new kind of format.

So while this week will still be packed with a lot of work that may keep me away from the Table, let me leave you with a very special CLASSIC look at Avengers vs X-Men...

...from issue #3 of the 1996 volume of Captain Marvel where Avengers Forever cast member Genis-Vell threw down with yours and my favorite not-really-an-X-Man-but-tried-to-help-during-Fear-Itself-and-he's-really-awesome...X-TREME! I've never read it, but dang, given my love for Adam-X, the former Legacy and all things Fabian Nicieza, why the heck haven't I?

Enjoy AvX!

Oh, and for those who are tired of seeing only the women of comics do the "brokeback" pose...

For the ladies! And fellas who like fellas! And weird Legacy fetish people!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rasslin' Ramblings: WrestleMania XXVIII, Take Two

It’s been a few months now since I first tried my hand at booking next year’s WrestleMania and already, as they tend to do in wrestling, things have changed pretty drastically. Here are just a few factors that have altered the card I proposed just back in August:

-Triple H and C.M. Punk already had their one-on-one match and it seems unlikely that feud will be revisited at the moment

-John Morrison has left WWE

-Mark Henry came out of nowhere to become the monster heel we never knew we needed

-Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara both look to be out with injuries that will extend past WrestleMania

That said, while the dream lineup I imagined four months ago may no longer be probable or in some cases possible, I do not mind going back to the drawing board and giving it one more college try…

Again, this is the set main event of WrestleMania XXVIII and that’s not going to change between now and March. Last time out, I talked about how this match does not need the WWE title involved, and I maintain that. I also said that I didn’t think John Cena needed to turn heel, and that’s where things have gotten a bit interesting. WWE is not shying away from addressing the issue of many fans booing Cena, swapping out their “most controversial superstar in history” rap at least a bit by having everybody from Miz to Roddy Piper put it right out there. I do think from a creative perspective, a Cena heel turn has a lot of potential to enrich the character. The guy who did everything right but still gets no respect and is bitter about it has possibilities, and the idea of Cena is the unstoppable juggernaut bad guy ala Brock Lesnar is intriguing. On the other hand, I get why from a business standpoint a Cena heel turn is not the best thing; beyond the merchandise issue, he is an incredible ambassador and it would suck for him no longer to be available for Make-a-Wish, etc. Normally I hate when corporate trumps creative, but maybe I’m just growing up—or getting boring—because I get it here. I do like that it’s all on the table, not being ignored, and I’m interested to see where it goes.

First off, early reports have Randy Orton winning the Royal Rumble. Second, if WWE is serious about C.M. Punk—and at this point there’s no reason they shouldn’t be—it would be nice for him to hold onto the title through WrestleMania and give it some much needed stability. Third, there’s a dearth of big time heels to challenge Punk on the grand stage, as Alberto Del Rio seems to have crashed and burned out the main event and Miz doesn’t have that big time feel in this scenario. So how about Orton wins the Rumble then chooses to face Punk because “he’s the future” and/or because he’s beaten him before. Both guys have enough juice with the fans that I don’t think WWE risks turning either heel, but each are also edgy enough that they can go beyond the played out mutual respect angle. Punk can do what everybody loved seeing him do over the summer, blurring the lines between fiction and reality, getting on Orton about being “born into the business” and about his undisciplined early days; Orton can fire back by being his bad old self. We know they have good in-ring chemistry, so it’s a fairly guaranteed solid match between two legit stars worthy of the WrestleMania spotlight.

They’ve done a great job booking Mark Henry as a dominant heel the likes of which WWE hasn’t seen in quite some time, and again, I think it’s imperative he doesn’t get dethroned until WrestleMania (and it would be nice if he could get a decisive win over Big Show at some point). He can busy himself with a returning Kane beginning later this month into 2012 to set the stage for a showdown with Money in the Bank winner Daniel Bryan in March, a match that has foreshadowed nicely with the underdog taking his lumps thus far but getting shots in too. I would spice things up by having Wade Barrett—who is also on a monster roll right now and shouldn’t be an afterthought—win at Elimination Chamber, maybe getting the final fall on Bryan, and earning a spot in the World title match at Mania. This opens up the booking options to Bryan getting the emotional win (my pick), Barrett stealing the title, or even Henry retaining; you could have Bryan pick up a submission on Barrett and thus still needing to prove himself against Henry, providing another month or two of solid feuding.

I would have preferred to see Triple H putting Punk over here, but barring that, they may as well go the distance with this Nash feud and pull out all the stops. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to bring Shawn Michaels in and to have Sean Waltman back as well (in a perfect world you could involve Scott Hall as well, but likely he’s not up for it and his continuing health is more important). The promos between all parties involved leading up would be dynamite and then you hedge your bets for the match itself by making it a street fight, letting everybody go to town and HHH get the win after an HBK superkick for the big pop.

This one comes courtesy of Jason Knize, who suggested it after my last post. The scuttlebutt is that while he’s been playing coy on Twitter and whatnot, Jericho could be on his way back to WWE, and he’s said in the past that if he does return, he wants to reinvent himself as much as he did going from Y2J to his serious heel persona in 2008. In interviews, Jericho has taken Miz (and others) to task on occasion for ripping him off as far as wearing suits, talking slow, etc. An angry return for vengeance on those who have taken his revolutionary actions and made them bland and assembly line could work nicely for Jericho, and Miz would certainly be a game opponent to kick off that new direction.

It’s not WrestleMania without token celebrity involvement, and personally I thought Hugh Jackman was fantastic during his Raw appearance and it would be awesome if WWE could get him back for an extended program. If he’d be up for it, Jackman actually working a match would be great, but barring that, seconding the wacky duo of Zack Ryder and a once again babyface R-Truth would be gold. I somewhat regret “wasting” Ziggler in another stunt tag match given how money he’s been lately, but you can also count on him to deliver the goods and he and Ryder would be excellent for promotional appearances in the mainstream.

Beyond those, I’d keep Undertaker vs Sheamus from my original card, and then things get a bit murky. It would have been nice to have Mysterio or Sin Cara available for a title vs mask match with Cody Rhodes, but maybe you slot Kane in there. With nothing better for either, perhaps Big Show and Christian wrestle one another? As for Alberto Del Rio, if Rey makes a miracle recovery they could face off, or otherwise maybe team him with Brodus Clay to go after the Tag titles, held by Air Boom or whoever.

What do you guys think?