Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: Batwoman Elegy

I wanted to like Batwoman: Elegy. I really did. I loved 52 and thought, conceptually, that the new Kate Kane Batwoman could be a star in her own title. Years later, it finally happened, and I am left feeling less than impressed.

Don’t get me wrong. J.H. Williams III’s art is every bit as spectacular as the hype its given. He received Eisners for both interior and cover work for this book and it’s plain to see why. He pours his heart and soul in to every page, jumping from style to style, page design to page design, all with a fluid ease that never leaves the reader feeling lost. Dave Stewart’s colors ooze off the page and help to bring it all together in a near perfect package.

It’s the story and the characterization of Kate Kane and the people around her that really irk me. Her relationship with her father is fine, her initial arc with the villain Alice successfully sets up the character as her own woman apart from the rest of Bat-continuity. But when we go in to the flashback issues, I feel all believability and credibility of the story is lost.

First, her father is an army colonel, but one whose daughter was kidnapped and never found years before. Yet we are still supposed to believe that the United States Army would trust a military base responsible for holding destructive chemicals to a man whose security clearance could be so easily compromised. The Army is many things, but it isn’t blatantly stupid.

But the insanity of the book’s storytelling gets worse as we move forward to Kate’s time at West Point. He’s name checked both in the issue and the introduction by Rachel Maddow, so the story of Lt. Daniel Choi clearly has a play in this story. His coming out was a calculated move to challenge the wisdom of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Kate’s coming out is either an act of sheer idiocy or self-destructiveness.

Here’s the setup: while studying at West Point, Kate has a liaison with another female student. A report is filed to the school’s commander and she admits to him she’s gay (and apparently gets immediately discharged). It might come off as a powerful piece of story-telling to some, but in reality it makes very little sense. She repeats in the issue more than once that her only dream is to graduate from West Point and serve the country like her father does. It’s her only desire in life (to the point that she becomes reckless and verifiably self-destructive in the aftermath). Now anyone familiar with the military and the terms of joining the service will be very aware of how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell works. It’s been in place for well over a decade and is explained to any potential recruit multiple times. It’s made quite clear that the military has no problem with you being gay as long as you keep it away from the base and don’t talk about it. How are we supposed to believe that a lesbian woman, daughter of an army colonel, could enlist in the military without knowing straight up that she would have to lie should she ever be brought up on disciplinary action for such behavior? She clearly made that compromise with herself just to be at West Point, so why when confronted with the situation would she do anything but continue the fiction? The only viable explanation in my mind (and a rather preposterous one) is that she didn’t realize she was gay until West Point, despite her homosexuality being hinted at in just the previous chapter.

I know the immediate argument could be, “but how could she live with the lie?” And in response, I will again reiterate that if her repeated professions that being a soldier were her life’s only ambitions, she would have already placed that need to lie in her mind. And a few years later, she certainly doesn’t seem to have a problem lying to friends and family. Or does she just tell anyone that she meets that she’s Batwoman?

I am by no means a perfect writer. I wouldn’t even count myself as anyone near the league of Greg Rucka’s eraser shavings. But how can any writer let such an obvious gap in story logic make it on to the page? How can any editor just ignore the fatal flaw? How can so many readers just ignore it?

As it stands, I think this initial run has inadvertently set up one defining characteristic of the new Batwoman: her own need for self-destruction. Any writer really honest about this character (I’m looking at you, Haden Blackman and J.H.) will embrace that feature in upcoming story arcs. If not, you have successfully created a rather broken character, DC.

Still, for J.H. Williams’ art at its absolute finest, I will give the book a Mildly Recommended. I suggest everyone check it out and share their feelings with me in the comments section.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Super-Powered Pulp Prose: Resurrecting Midnight by Eric Jerome Dickey

This is the fourth in a series of novels by Dickey featuring his character Gideon, an international assassin whose mind has been utterly messed up by years of killing, sex, and living on the wrong side of the law. I have long considered reviewing the previous books in this series as I read the, but never did. I think its time to remedy that.

Eric Jerome Dickey has been writing fiction for fifteen years now, but perhaps more people in superhero circles would know him as the writer of the 2006 retcon miniseries Storm that established a larger back story between Storm and Black Panther leading up to their soon to be totally perfect marriage. I was by no means a fan of that storyline, though I am unsure how much of the mess that was the Black Panther plot can really be put on Dickey. He did what he could with the project he was given, and did an all right job with it.

I bring up Storm simply as a way of pointing out the clear comic book inspiration that Gideon clearly originates from. Though still human, Gideon has become almost a superman over the four books he has appeared. Though beaten, he always perseveres, does what it takes to survive and win the day. Dickey actually acknowledges his comic book influences in the bakc of Resurrecting Midnight, mention crime and superhero writers like Ed Brubaker, Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller, and Garth Ennis. He also shows it in the casual mentions of characters and locations from many of his other novels. The Gideon novels actually extends out of a previous set of character’s from his novel Thieves Paradise so I guess you can say this brings it altogether.

I could also argue Resurrecting Midnight’s pulp influences. Gideon is clearly a descendant of morally ambiguous characters from Arsene Lupin to The Avenger. He seems to want to do the right thing, even when his profession constantly forces him in to a path of murder and destruction. There essentially lies the conflict deep in Gideon’s soul that Dickey has played out over four novels.

This novel takes the character and his extended supporting cast farther down the path tread by the previous three books, even as Gideon is drawn by his old friend and lover Arizona in to a bloodbath in Argentina. In the process, he meets Medianoche, the resurrected Midnight of the title, and learns that the enemy assassin has far closer ties to him than Gideon could ever believe. Gideon ends up once again embroiled in a world of sex and violence, two things Dickey can write better than many other authors.

My praise heaped on already, I will get at the flaws of the novel. I have to limit the plot synopsis to one paragraph for a very important reason: without reading Sleeping With Strangers, Waking With Enemies, and Dying For Revenge any reader would be utterly lost by Resurrecting Midnight. Any details of the plot are just building on previous established character interactions but for the added new enemies in Medianoche and the Four Horsemen. While Dickey created a great character with Gideon, his continuing adventures are anything but new reader friendly. Much like Sleeping With Strangers (a novel designed as a beginning of a duology), Resurrecting Midnight also ends on a far two open ended note, especially when its been a year without a sequel (and his newest book Tempted By Trouble a new standalone). It would be one thing if we were left with a solid place to stop, but instead the reader is pretty much hanging along with all of Gideon’s life.

Still none of that takes away from how good Eric Jerome Dickey is at what he brings to the page here. Very few modern authors can combine sex, violence, action, and dialogue as beautifully as Dickey puts it on the page. Much like Stephen King, I find a lot to study in just the formation of the words he puts on the page.

In case you don’t know it yet, Resurrecting Midnight (and the three novels that come before it) comes Highly Recommended,. Whether a fan of the pulps or the supers, you will find something to love in these pages.

Buy Pulp Empire Volume Two!

It’s been available for a few weeks now and I just wanted to throw out a reminder that you can now buy Pulp Empire Volume Two through our Lulu store! We have thirteen all new stories, and you can preview several of them over at the Pulp Empire website! Go read a couple and be sure to pick up your copy!

Support independent publishing: Buy Pulp Empire Volume Two on Lulu.

Thor's Day 7: If I Should Die Before I Wake

Mighty Thor 343 opens with Fafnir once again attacking the city of New York. He quickly calls out Thor, unaware that the god of thunder is nowhere near the city.
Apparently dragons can talk with their mouth full.
Still with the last viking Eilif, Thor promises the old man that he will help him reach Valhalla. His chariot and Valkyrie’s flying steed come to take the two warriors forward on their quest. In an interesting bit of style change, we follow the mind of Eilif as he follows Thor on their quest.

Some amusement comes when after all these issues the mighty forged blade is finally finished and given a cool name at the time that now carries a bit more baggage:

And look how it sparkles!
The battle Thor leads Eilif in to, is quite conveniently the fight with the dragon Fafnir. The fight is not unlike something that could be found in Marvel’s Godzilla series of the previous decade as the heroes try to fight off the seemingly unstoppable monster.

Eilif uses the last of his strength to pierce Fafnir’s back with his spear, the first wound the great dragon has suffered in the battle. With his hammer, Thor drives the spear deep in to Fafnir’s body. He eliminates the threat of the dragon with a few more mighty blows.

Eilif is dead, and Thor summons the lightning to light the remains left by Fafnir’s rampage. A true viking funeral for the last viking, even as the image of the fully healthy Eilif appears briefly to fly over the battlefield.

As Sigurd Jarlson, Thor contemplates Eilif’s death. But his ponderings are interrupted by a visit by the young woman he saved a few issues before, Melodi. Of course, Melody is secretly Lorelei. Where this new relationship leads will be a question for future issues.

This is easily Walt Simonson’s best issue so far. All his plot points come together perfectly while still setting up future conflicts. This may be his best issue artwise as well. For the first time, we have went from just a good solid comic to something that feels like it could be big and wondrous.

Next: “What Happened to Balder the Brave?”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wrestling Wednesday: Kaval

Wrestling Wednesdays is going to be a little brief today as I am still working on some more looks in to the dichotomy of the hero/villain relationship as it pertains to wrestling and super-powered fiction.

Today, I just wanted to briefly mention a member of the current WWE NXT roster, Kaval.

I have been a huge fan of the wrestler formerly known as Low-Ki and Senshi for almost a decade now, ever since I first discovered him working many a Jakked and Metal match in around 2000. I really realized how awesome his in ring prowess could be when I started ordering Ring of Honor tapes in 2002.This guy could go like no one else in the business. he presented an amazing, no nonsense face in a way that I never quite saw in wrestling up until that point. (At the time, I had to yet to discover Taz’s somewhat similar persona as a face in ECW.)

My point is that Kaval is one of the best wrestlers in the world today. While I understand everyone’s love for Bryan Danielson (he’s great, don’t get me wrong), I will always be more of a fan of the awesome martial arts style of Kaval. His talent shines through in every match I have seen.

But what’s most amazing to me is that as a result of a rather terrible segment on last night’s NXT, Kaval is now the face of WWE.com, at least for a day. A decade ago, he was jobbing to Crash Holly on Jakked. Now he’s the face of WWE.com. That, my friends, is pretty cool.

Click for full size
Youtube is filled with highlights and videos featuring him in all three of his personas, so be sure to do a search for him sometime. I am sure his past will come up at some point in future columns.

Until then, go search for some Best of disks and see just how great this man can be.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: More on DC's THUNDER Agents

I mentioned my excitement about DC’s upcoming THUNDER Agents a few weeks back. I think the creative team of Nick Spencer and CAFU are potentially a very, very good combination. I do fear for an early death for the untested product, but I am hoping that continued coverage can maybe help the title grow a decent fanbase before it hits its debut in November. I am a huge fan of the Agents as a concept and a comic. I believe they have sat for far too long. I can think of few characters from the sixties that could play as well as they could in modern comics.

Despite only being a few weeks away, DC has remained surprisingly quiet about the project, but this week they gave us a first look at CAFU’s full design for the new THUNDER Agents. I personally think they come off great. Take a look (click on them to see larger versions):
The scruffy Dynamo is a little removed from the original clean cut Len Brown version, but with the one last chance premise that accompanies the new version of the characters I think he could work out very well. I think the more modern pants design with the classic top and slightly modified belt really do a great job of updating the classic Wally Wood design.

Lightning and Menthor both get more serious updates in the new version.

Menthor drops a rather generic red and blue costume. Instead he now sports a very simple man in a suit look, but with the addition of a helmet. Though metal instead of cloth, it looks very similar to the original Menthor mask, though it now covers the user’s full head. It actually reminds me more of the Justice Machine member Talisman who ironically met the THUNDER Agents in their first annual. Still I think it is a solid remake of the classic character costume that really seems to fit a telepath character.

Lightning is easily the most radical redesign as he went from a very simple yellow and orange design (heavily influenced if not out-and-out created by the character’s regular artist Steve Ditko) to a more modern running suit look. The orange is gone completely, replaced by black molded elements. I refuse to comment on the fact that the team’s African American member comes from a heavy sports background. I will just say of all the new characters he seems to be the weakest overall and the poorest of the four redesigns. I will withhold judgment for now as we see how Guy Gilbert’s replacement grows over the first several issues. Lightning was the most tragic character of the original team without a shadow of a doubt. The new book seems to expand the whole “my powers are killing me” back story of Lightning, so we will see how much the new Lightning plays to that bit with this new incarnation.

Finally we come to NoMan. DC played his redesign off best of all, by simply not redesigning him. Well, his cloak is a little heavier now as is the soiled clothing. Otherwise his costume and look are almost perfect clones of the original designs. The human scientist living in an android body will apparently continue to struggle with his lost humanity, a fate made worse by the decades past since his original transformation. The original NoMan seemed to be a clear inspiration for Marvel’s Vision, a character I always very much liked. When I learned of the existence of NoMan a few years later, I realized how much cooler Vision could really be. If Spencer and CAFU can play NoMan right, he will come off as the enigmatic, almost ninja-like figure Wally Wood and company originally created.

So there you have it, DC’s new THUNDER Agents. For more on these designs, check out the original DC Source blog post. And I hope you will join me in ordering the first issue of THUNDER Agents coming this November!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Super-Powered Prose: Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

I am wholly unfamiliar with the works of James Maxey. Apparently, he’s the official Dragon Age novelist, but I would never know he existed if it wasn’t for the recommended reading page on Amazon. It’s from there that I discovered his first novel Nobody Gets the Girl. Behind a lackluster cover penciled by famed inker Bob Wiacek, we get a decidedly super-powered novel.

Jim Shooter, strangely called James here for one of the few times I remember, provides a highly unnecessary introduction to talk about Maxey’s work here before we get to the meat of the story.

The alliteratively named Richard Rogers is just a normal guy albeit one with dreams of being a stand up comic. He’s in an unhappy marriage, doesn’t like where his life is going, and seems to be sinking in to a wave of depression.

And that’s before everyone in the world suddenly stops being able to see him.

That basic premise pulls him in to a world altered by a handful of superheroes and supervillains, all with their own plans for making the world a better place. Doctor Knowbokov, super genius, explains the nature of Richard’s new powers. He is superhuman in his own right, as are his two daughters Amelia (Rail Blade) and Sarah (The Thrill). They are on a quest to fufill Knowbokov’s vision of a better future. Their ability to see Richard is enough to quickly draw him in to their super-powered world.

Richard’s own actions bring the mess of violence between Knowbokov and his archrival Rex Monday to a head, and ultimately lead to plenty of death. More than that would drop far too many spoilers along the way.

At points, the author seems far too obsessed with explaining the nature of super powers in his world as if thsi work needs to be taken seriously as a work of hard science fiction. It doesn’t always work, but he does use his own ideas to bring the story full circle. Still the most important part of a novel is basic character interactions and in this Maxey both excels and fails. He does an excellent job of giving us a normal man’s view of a super-powered world. He sets up exactly how uncomfortable it would be for a normal jabroni to suddenly fall in to a world of heroes. He also gets in to the head of the heroes quite well and looks hard at a mixed up world of justice and fame.

When the action comes though, Maxey sometimes falls apart. I can detect that he visualizes action scenes quite well, but often it feels like he is so focused on getting the action on the page that he forgets to lay it out in a way that remains gripping for the reader. His superhero battles come off like sex scenes written by Tom WOlfe. They don’t keep you engaged and just make you feel uncomfortable by scenes end. Okay, they aren’t as bad as Wolfe’s sex scenes, because very little in fiction can be that painful.

Despite its rough patches, Nobody Gets the Girl remains a rather engaging novel though at times just feels like it has been overly trimmed at only 242 pages. Still it shows his love of the superhero genre, if not quite the ability required to translate it perfectly to the printed page. I know from experience it isn’t always an easy translation. Superheroes often scream for a visual medium. Sometimes you can’t express your super-story quite the right way with just words. (My own Mean Streets, which died an early death, comes to mind.) Even with its few flaws, Nobody Gets the Girl remains an entertaining read for any lover of superheroes. And that’s why it comes Recommended.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thor's Day 6: Mighty Thor 342

As this title-less issue begins, Odin fears for the future of Asgard, as Thor questions the viking’s voice he heard last month.

The blacksmith finally lays down his last DOOM! and he is ready to lay waste to Asgard.

Thor goes to investigate the strange viking voice. He finds a valley of grass amongst the ice flows of Antarctica. He finds homes and viking graves, but no sign of life. He continues his investigation only to be attacked by flying spears!

Karnilla pays a visit to Balder, but seems only to deepen his depression.

Thor battles a series of traps inside the strange structure. His safety is short lived as he runs in to a massive, heavily armored viking warrior. The battle is quick and Thor is the winner, but when he unmasks his foe he is shocked.

Fafnir rises again in New York, even as Lorelei’s own plans grow.

Thor learns that the warrior actually is an ancient viking. He sought a death in battle and chose Thor to be his killer. The chapter ends with Thor swearing to help the viking achieve his final greatness.

The art takes a different complexion with this issue, as Simonson is joined for the first time by an inker: the legendary Terry Austin. His line work gives the title a cleaner look than Simonson’s sketchier lines. This issue very much comes off as filler, a clear stumble as Simonson worked to build a bigger story over the next several issues. Still with art this amazing it is easy to overlook some of the shortcomings as the tale continues to build to something clearly very big.

Next: “If I Should Die Before I Wake...”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wrestling Wednesday: The Nexus and Kane: Summer Slam Follow Up

So, Summer Slam has came and went, RAW has came and went, and WWE still clearly doesn’t quite seem to know what they are doing with the Nexus. The big surprise of the night at Summer Slam came with the return of the (still horribly named) Daniel Bryan. As the seventh member of Team WWE, he finally got to shine on WWE television as a capable wrestler and helped beat multiple members of the Nexus. But the surprise came in the end when the final two members of Nexus (Justin Gabriel and Wade Barrett) fell to John Cena, only moments after Cena’s head was spiked on the concrete. It seems fitting that the regular focus of this blog is on superheroes, as John Cena clearly came off as one last night.

The follow-up made even more of a mess of the storyline as the Nexus’ membership dropped to six. Darren Young left the group after a defeat by John Cena in a match that amused me mostly for the fact that the two men look disturbingly similar (albeit with different skin tones). This did little to revive the Nexus from their loss the night before. It remains to be seen if the story can rise from this debacle in to something solid leading in to the next couple pay-per-views. I still expect this storyline to come to its end in November at Survivor Series and we will continue to monitor it going forward.

Kane’s big storyline comes with the not unexpected return of Undertaker at the pay-per-view. Surprisngly, Kane proved to be the winner out of the storyline so far. Even after his match with Rey Mysterio, he was able to stop his brother with little problem.

While I pretty much knew this entire storyline was a set up for Kane turning heel and feuding with his brother, I hoped that WWE would have waited to pull the trigger on this for awhile. We have all seen Kane vs Undertaker before as detailed in my first post about the superhero style feud between the two. I hoped that WWE would provide us with a few more twists in this plot line before the inevitable confrontation. Instead it seems Kane and Taker are on a one-way collission course sooner, not later.

All in all, despite the great feeling of seeing Daniel Bryan both back and allowed to shine, Summer Slam came off as rather weak to me. I think a lot more could have been done to make both these storylines fresh. Instead it seems WWE wants to shovel more of the same.

That’s okay. We have far more than WWE to check out in this column. We will take a look in that direction next week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thor's Day 5: The Past Is a Bucket of Ashes

We return to Midgard (Earth to mere mortals) as we kick off the second story arc with Mighty Thor 341. He is happy to be back to his second home, but laments the loss of the magic that transforms him in to Donald Blake (now passed on to Beta Ray Bill). Without it, he feels out of place in the modern world of man.

At the same time as Thor’s return, Lorelei has also made her way to New York. She quickly sets up a meeting with the dragon Fafnir.

Thor takes his troubles to Nick Fury, who helps set up the mighty one with a new secret identity, but someone of Thor’s build tends to be a little conspicous:

Thankfully, Nick has the perfect disguise:

And just in case you didn’t get the joke:

Meanwhile, Odin suspects the secrets fo the demon hordes from our previous story, contain a greater threat. He sends his ravens to discover the demon world’s hidden secrets.

The bespectacled Sigurd Jarlson visits a local construction site in search of a day job. His interview is cut short by a woman hanging high over the construction site. He quickly rescues her, only to be threatened by the dread presence of Fafnir, a beast he thought vanquished ages ago.

The DOOM continues, growing ever closer to a reveal of some kind (or so I suspect).

The battle rages between the now costumed Thor and Fafnir. Fafnir beats Thor around a bit before the son of Odin fights his way back.

On Asgard, Balder continues to lament his very existence, while the villianous Karnilla makes plans around the hero once known as The Brave.

In the aftermath of their battle, Fafnir escapes in to the ocean. Thor returns to his identity as Sigurd and rescues the young lady (Lorelei). He comforts her and receives a job offer from the construction foreman. But as the issue closes, he hears a whispered voice from a bygone era, speaking the language of the vikings. What it means, Thor doesn’t know, but he plans to soon find out.

Another good solid done in one story here that continues to build plot structures for future issues on the side. After destroying Thor’s status quo over the last several issues, Walt works hard to put together a new life in this issue and couples it with a few bits of humor. All that and we get an epic battle with a dragon-like beast (whose Kirby-designed origins are very clear in Simonson’s art). The mixture of several great elements in to one cohesive whole is an example of just how much energy Walt Simonson put in to each issue of Thor. This issue stands as a great example of how to do a really good comic with a compelling storyline without driving the reader to the point of depression like so many modern tales.

Next: “The Last Viking”.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wrestling Wednesdays: A Few Words on Hardcore Justice

TNA put on “The Last Stand” last Sunday, a pay-per-view designed to be the final ECW-oriented pay-per-view ever. And unlike all the ECW inspired events of a few years back, I personally feel like they succeeded.

Both WWE and Shane Douglas tried their own versions of these events in past years with One Night Stand and Hardcore Homecoming respectively. While both had a step up in location, neither captured the feel of the previous era in the way TNA’s Hardcore Justice did. I attribute the show’s success to two factors the previous shows just could not match: the availability of many of ECW’s biggest names and the booking of former ECW co-booker Tommy Dreamer.

Both of the previous shows seriously suffered from a lack of available talent. Hardcore Homecoming missed out on any talent contracted to WWE (which included tons of stars, but most notably Tommy Dreamer and Rob Van Dam) while One Night Stand missed out on talents signed to TNA, most specifically Raven. An ECW show without Raven misses out on one of the key players that helped really innovate the promotion, while Tommy Dreamer was the heart and soul of the promotion with Rob Van Dam probably being its biggest star ever. The first time in a decade, Hardcore Justice gives us a match between Raven and Tommy Dreamer, a match that is key to any show truly interested in bringing back the old ECW. With almost everyone involved with the original ECW now gone from WWE (only Joey Styles and Joey Mercury are left), the roster pool was far stronger for this show than it was for any previous attempts at recreating the old school feel of ECW. Dreamer clearly knew this, and embraced it wholeheartedly in his booking decisions.

At the same time, booker Tommy Dreamer made every effort to channel old storylines straight through to the pay-per-view over nine years after ECW’s collapse. The opening bout ties in to Simon Diamond & Johnny Swinger’s hatred of the FBI for a lost tag shot a decade before. Stevie Richards came in with the goal of proving he could stand on his own away from Raven and did so against PJ “Justin Creible” Polaco. The Sandman made an appearance just to make sure Polaco knew he wasn’t a fan of his gimmick being stolen. Al Snow, Rhino, and Brother Runt were thrown together, but they did it in a traditional ECW elimination three way dance. Team 3D (with classic pitchman Joel Gertner) battled Axl Rotten and Balls Mahoney (renamed Kahoneys because of the loss of his name to WWE) in a street fight, followed by an attack by the reteamed Gangstas, all of which celebrated the crazy over-weaponed matches that all three teams were known for. Tommy Dreamer and Raven reignited a classic feud and put on the match of the night in a brutal bloody battle. And even without Jerry Lynn’s presence, Sabu and Rob Van Dam put on an epic encounter in the main event.

The stars were definitely older (and balder, at least in the case of Sabu), and some were definitely worse for wear. Arguably, it seemed only Too Cold Scorpio (who faced C.W. Anderson early on the card) hadn’t lost a step. If anything he seemed faster and more innovative then in his classic days. He really surprised me in his match, reminding me of classic battles with the likes of Chris Jericho and Taz. Just to digress, his performance at Hardcore Justice just made me question his quick hiring and firing from WWE a few years back.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t classic ECW, and it never could hope to be. Too many classic ECW stars have passed on (way too many some might argue), and a few still alive were noticeably absent, most notably Shane Douglas and Terry Funk. (I know a few people might also include Lance Storm and Mikey Whipwreck in that list, but I do not see them as essential figures the way Douglas and Funk were.) And “The Blue Tilly” and fake “Lupus” were a just plain bad idea. (Thankfully, the fans made sure that TNA knew how bad an idea it reallyw as.) Overall, these proved to be minor problems, as unlike previous attempts, Tommy Dreamer put together a card that was entertaining from top to bottom. It succeeded in one key feature: it made me want more from the likes of the FBI, Richards, Scorpio, Raven, and even PJ Polaco. Now it is a waiting game to see how TNA plays out any continued presence of EV2.0 in upcoming program.

If this truly was “The Last Stand”, then TNA succeeded at giving the world one last great farewell to ECW. And can any ECW fan ask for any more than that?

Next week, we will have an update on my first two wrestling Wednesdays, and look how the events of WWE’s second biggest pay-per-view Summer Slam affect Kane and the Nexus.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thor's Day 4: Though Hel Should Block the Way

This is coming on Saturday instead of Thursday and for that you can blame my current writing project Long Hot Summer. I am still working on finishing the saga ASAP, and my other writing is falling by the wayside, such as last week’s edition of this column. I will try to get back on track over the next few weeks.

We open where we left off last issue, with Thor, Bill, and Sif flying through space on Thor’s magic chariot. The demons they seek to stop have already ravaged the fleet. Sif stays to defend the fleet as Bill and Thor move onward to find the demons’ source, only to nearly be sucked in to that portal.

Meanwhile, the DOOM! hammering continues for the fourth month running. That’s a lot of DOOM! Volstagg finishes his tale and leaves the young would-be assassin in the care of Hogun the Grim.

Sif teams with Bill’s semi-sentient ship Skuttlebutt to try to lead the demons away from theh fleet. The two hammer-wielders eventually destroy the portal and banish the demons.

They return to Asgard and a celebration, but Bill is there with a heavy heart. Sif tells Odin about Bill’s secrets. Odin creates a solution to Bill’s loss of his own identity. He leaves the land alongside Lady Sif, ready to continue the search for a new home for his people.

In the end, Thor has leaned a lesson in humility, and has started on a new path he has never traveled before. And the first story-arc of Walter Simonson’s run comes to an end.

But the action has not, as a familiar dragon-like creature rises from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean...

This was probably the weakest of Walt’s run so far with the development limited to a few bits at the end of the story. Sif’s characterization seems the most rushed, as though Walt (still early in his writing career here) didn’t quite know how to get her to the point he wanted her at the end of the story. The art remained solid throughout, even through epic battle scenes. The synergy of his work is growing even here and will surely strengthen as the saga continues.

Next: “The Past is a Bucket of Ashes!”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wrestling Wednesdays: The Nexus

Before I digress from WWE television for awhile (something I do quite frequently as the company often fails to hold my attention for long periods of time), I thought I would share a few thoughts on what will almost certainly be the storyline of 2010: the rise of the Nexus.

Made up of seven of the eight original rookies from the WWE show NXT, the Nexus consists of leader Wade Barrett, high-flyer Justin Gabriel, celebrity-turned-wrestler David Otunga, boxing-oriented Michael Tarver, “Cornfed Meathead” Skip Sheffield, party boy Darren Young, and West Virginia-born Heath Slater. An eighth member, Daniel Bryan, made only one appearance with the group, but more on that later.

None of the stars have much in common except for their shared origins on NXT. A few of them seem like natural babyfaces (Gabriel and Young in particular) despite their role as Nexus members. Several still have had little or no time to display much personality at all. The storyline seems to be framed around the advent of Wade Barrett winning the first NXT competition, and where that should force both him and the other characters from the show going forward.

That being said, they debuted in explosive fashion. On the end of a special three hour “Viewer’s Choice” episode of Raw, the group interrupted a match between John Cena and CM Punk. They surrounded the ring and brutally beat down Cena, the face of Raw. In the process, they went from those guys on the third show to being major players in WWE, and in the case of Wade Barrett, a potential main eventer.

The problem is that WWE clearly didn’t really know what direction to take the storyline in. The Nexus reappeared over the next several weeks and brutalized several WWE stars, though John Cena remained their constant focus, even after he dropped the WWE title to Sheamus. The reason for their attacks: well, your guess is as good as anyone’s. The Nexus want to make a name for themselves, but beyond that they seem to possess no reason for their constant attacks.

The attacks have flooded Raw, pay-per-view, and even house shows for weeks. It is a rare main event that isn’t interrupted by an attack by the Nexus. It has reached almost NWO levels of insanity, except for the fact that we knew why the NWO did what they did. Not so much with the Nexus.

Which seems to be the Nexus’ major problem. What could be a major heel group seems mired in pointless attacks and predicatable storytelling. They rarely have wrestled matches so far and they rarely do anything beyound brutalizing John Cena, his allies, and his enemies.

This leads of course to the upcoming Summerslam where the first PPV match to come out of the storyline finally comes after months of build-up. John Cena will lead a 7 on 7 team of WWE superstars against the Nexus in a tag match. The predictions are already well underway. Everyone suspects one of Cena’s team to turn on the WWE stars, with most suspecting it will be Cena himself.

If that’s the case, it shows the narrow vision of WWE storytelling. Why would Cena be the center of all these attacks, even lose the WWE title because of them, if he is the secret mastermind behind the Nexus. It makes no sense, but WWE in recent times has fallen away from common sense quite frequently. No matter what the outcome of the Summerslam story however, it does little to salvage an invasion angle that WWE has let fester past the point of sense.

Strangely the wrestler that might come out looking best from this story is the aforementioned Daniel Bryan. After choking out ring announcer Justin Roberts, Bryan Danielson found his WWE career cut short do to “excessive violence” on television. He has made a massive splash upon his return to the indys even going so far as to mock the reason for his release with a new t-shirt:

He has kept his dignity while escaping a storyline that would do him no good in his career. He is in a good place to return to one of the two big companies with more focus behind his push and more drive than the Nexus would ever give him.

Even TNA has gotten a lot of mileage out of the firing. Multiple chokeholds in TNA have been coupled with Taz commenting: “You can get fired in some companies for that move.&8221;.

Strangely, Bryan Danielson has found his way in to another promotion that has its own invasion storyline going, but more on CHIKARA in a future installment.