Thursday, June 16, 2016

Comic Blog Rebirth: DC Rebirth #1

Those who know me know that this blog has fallen into a state of inconsistency since I started training to become a teacher. Well, my first year is over and I have summer now to get myself back into a groove!

It's actually great timing that this last week of summer tutoring has happened because I am still in a position to tackle DC Comics' biggest alteration since the 2011 Flashpoint book - DC Rebirth.

If you followed my early blogs on here, you would know that I began reviewing comics (and returning to the medium as a whole) because of the DC universe-wide reboot that Flashpoint caused. The "New 52," as it was called, has been in effect for the entire four (almost five) years that I've been following DC's books, and while I absolutely loved the books I purchased over the years, there is no question that returning to comics and exploring that which came before has affected my view of the New 52.

Reading the Ted Kord era of the Blue Beetle solo series made me lament the fact that a character so focused on his legacy and using his power to help those less fortunate was not around for me to enjoy new stories of him. The New Teen Titans books of the 1980s, easily my favorite running series that has been retired, have left me unable to enjoy the melodrama that the modern incarnations of the Titans have attempted to pass of as nuanced character arcs.

And while I may have been an infrequent comic reader as a kid, whenever I think of the Flash in print or broadcast media, I think of the personality reflected in the Wally West Flash, the only Flash I knew until I started looking at the New 52. The fact that he was gone threw me for a loop, and his initial return as a moody whiner left me unable to get into Flash comics when he returned.

So I've stuck with books where I could trust the creative teams - Greg Pak's Action Comics, the Lemire-Sorrentino run on Green Arrow, Scott Snyder's Batman, and so forth. I became less willing to branch out because I knew a creative change could kill the momentum of a book dead in its tracks.

DC Rebirth, though not a proper reboot, is a chance to give the books a fresh start creatively and tie back to the main narrative when unsure where to go next. Think how Infinite Crisis didn't reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths; it just added stuff back in that had been lost.

I am getting all the "Rebirth" books to get a feel for how each hero/heroine/team will be handled, and I will be auditioning new books to follow now that Rebirth is running. And I can already see a major problem - everyone is on their A-game.

I can't buy all these books consistently, so I feel like I'll be cutting muscle when I narrow my purchases down. Fact is, though, that DC is now doing a lot of books with twice-monthly schedules. Even with the uniform cut down to $3 a book (which I LOVE. PLEASE KEEP THIS, DC!), that's two books per title in some cases, which will eat up two slots I can afford.

Anyway, enjoy over the next few weeks my binge-reading of many books at once. Admittedly, my summer reviews will be like rapid-fire thoughts until I narrow my field of titles (and summarize my thoughts on the final New 52 books I bought and have yet to read), but I think it will be a fun journey.

My first rapid-fire will end this blog, and it will be on the DC Universe Rebirth one-shot that started this whole thing.

This book was, in all likelihood, the final Geoff Johns-penned title for quite some time. Johns, who has been a major force in DC creative for some time, is now being asked to oversee creative for both the TV and film universes, which means his time writing books will be very limited in the coming years. My guess is that his main writings from here on in will be his Batman: Earth One graphic novels. (Don't give those up, Geoff!)

Anyway, this story is told from the perspective of Wally West. Not New 52 Wally, mind you, but the original, humorous, optimism-in-the-face-of-the-darkness Wally West. This story reminded me on a few occasions of Terminal Velocity, which is my favorite Flash story, and that's absolutely not a bad thing.

What tied it to Terminal Velocity was Wally's conflict of trying to stay around despite the speed force seemingly seeking his doom. Wally is fighting through three-quarters of this book trying to find someone who remembers him so he can anchor himself back into the world. His relentless attitude to keep pushing in the face of an increasingly hopeless situation is admirable and certainly one that many Flash fans will recognize as being so distinctly Wally.

His attempts to reach Batman first lead to a unique encounter where Bruce does not recognize Wally but can tell the speedster is aware of something worth noting. There was a weird Batman v. Superman vibe to this sequence, as it reminded me way too much of the Barry Allen dream sequence in Bruce's mind, but it was handled much better here because there was an actual reason for the scene to exist and pre-existing characterization that made the motivations work.

What was less brilliant was the idea that three Jokers are around and have just never run into each other. This has to have been a recent development following the events of Multiversity or something. (As I said, I can't read every book and I do tend to avoid books that feel like event comics.) One cool thing to note, though, is that the story seemed to reference all three Joker incarnations (pre-Crisis, post-Crisis, post-Flashpoint), which is cool.

I also liked the check-ins with the Justice Society and the post-Crisis Superman, who it seems will be taking over as the main DC Earth's Superman. The scene-stealing section, though, was the third part, where Aquaman finally proposes to Mera (in defiance of DC's 'no happy couples' edict) and it inspires Wally to talk to Linda Park who... does not remember him.

I will admit - that was a good spirit-breaker for the story. It also led to a great sequence where Wally oversees his Earth one more time. He explains how two Wally Wests can exist, which is great for those who have grown to care for the new Wally.

His final conversation is a heart-to-heart with Barry Allen, which I thought was handled beautifully. Of course, this review is weeks old so you know all the big moves that happened.


Barry finally remembers and anchors Wally, so now Wally is back in the DCU. He says someone has affected the memories of the Earth and that the heroes need to be ready to take the force on, and it's revealed that Batman discovered the bloody smiley face from Watchmen in his cave, which makes no sense why it's there, but it does reveal Dr. Manhattan to be the antagonistic force behind the New 52.

Honestly, I'm taking a wait and see approach with the Dr. Manhattan thing. It's a great idea from a meta-standpoint. Watchmen did help take superhero comics in a grittier, more 'realistic' direction, and DC Comics at its best has always embraced the over-the-top and crazy as much as it has the dark and grim.

On the other hand, it's disrespectful to Alan Moore to keep milking a franchise that has effectively been held hostage by the company, and this crossover could easily go catastrophically wrong. I'll withhold my judgment for now.

As for Wally being back and the older continuity elements being worked back in... I am all in favor of it. While I've enjoyed the New 52 book I follow, there are plenty of elements that have left me ambivalent. Giving the legacies back to the books puts some new emotional spectra at play, and with any luck this will give the creative teams plenty with which to work.

Overall, I gave this story a 9/10. Good start to the new era.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

NFL Conference Finalists and their WWE Counterparts (Year 6: 2015-16)

Oh, how I've missed this.

For those who didn't read my on-and-off wrestling blog when it was getting occasional updates, one constant was the annual article where I took the four teams who qualified for the AFC and NFC conference championship games and selected current WWE Superstars whose persona and performance best emulated those teams.

If you'd like more of a picture of what it looked like, you can check out my articles for 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Those who elected to follow these links will notice last year's was a bit of a chore because of WWE's lackluster booking making it so that I couldn't create anything resembling hype for the wrestling part of this wrestling-football equation.

I have solved the problem this year.

Don't get me wrong: The current WWE product is still an absolute nightmare. Awesome characters are being shoved down the card. The Authority is putting itself on the screen far too often. The "Divas Revolution" is the same nonsensical booking with a face-heel alignment that makes no sense (though at least the matches are better, I guess). And almost every notable Superstar is shelved with an injury.

So what have I done to fix it? Suck it up and just enjoy the product? Of course not!

Throw up a bunch of RKO Vine videos? Please, I was going to do that anyway.

Maybe some "And his name is JOHN CENA" videos? Heck no! I've got that page bookmarked. Here's a sample:

In all seriousness, though, I do have a solution: Use NXT's Superstars instead!

I thoroughly enjoy NXT and have tremendous respect for the product. It's still owned by WWE, so I don't feel like I'm cheating by going outside the company. And who knows? Some of these guys may end up in the Royal Rumble match.

The only rule I set for myself is that the competitor must have been an active member of the NXT roster for a period of time this past year. No one-shot deals or guest spots. NXT had to be their home base.

(For the record, if I'd gone with WWE guys, I'd have used Cena for the Patriots, Roman Reigns for the Panthers, Seth Rollins for the Broncos and Dean Ambrose for the Cardinals. I've used Cena far too often and while it would be cool to mention all three Shield members, I don't feel like all three are as fitting as the NXT competitors are.)

So let us move on to the main event!

New England Patriots - Kevin Owens

So when it came to finding an NXT force to take the Patriots' run, I asked myself a few questions:

Who won the title and proceeded to continue being a dominant force?
Who can win clean and yet insists on playing the cowardly heel role and putting themselves in obvious cheating positions?
Who loves to win, whether by technicality or brutality?
Who is identified by many fans as part of a unit (Belichick and Brady; Steen and Generico)?

The answer to all those questions is New England.

Though it continues to irritate me that this team is still showing up in major spots, and though I still stick to my guns that the Pats would not be the current defending champions had ball deflation never been an issue, I have no gripes with giving the former NXT Champion and easily the most successful NXT-to-WWE transfer in the last year to the champs.

And heck, Owens got famous in WWE by beating Cena, so this is just perfect in many ways.

Now for the opponent. And speaking of names joined at the hip:

Denver Broncos - Sami Zayn

If one thing on Twitter irritated me in 2015 more than anything it was those stupid Zayn hashtags. The reason being that it annoyed me that the most enjoyable male wrestler on the NXT roster gets zero hashtags in favor of a dude no longer in the now-defunct boy band who made him famous.

Denver, too, gets overlooked, though it's mostly been due to Peyton Manning being absent from the team for the middle of the season. His injuries were a plague on a Bronco unit seemingly destined for success early in the season.

Likewise, Sami Zayn's star, which had been rising into the main roster this past spring, hurled itself back to earth after his injuries forced him out of a roster call-up and NXT title reign.

Nonetheless, don't assume that Zayn and the Broncos both belong in the scrap heap. Zayn is back and making noise in NXT once again, and the newly-restored Broncos surged at the end of the season to take the No. 1 seed.

Zayn and Owens could have been the feud of 2015 had Zayn been healthy, and it's only fitting that their NFL analogues feature Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as quarterbacks.

One heck of a match-up awaits fans on Sunday.

Now for the NFC Championship Game:

Arizona Cardinals - Baron Corbin

I almost feel like I'm cheating here. Who should be the Cardinals' representative? How about the guy who actually played for them?

Kind of weird, right?
But let's be clear here: That is not the only reason I picked Corbin. It's the main one, but he works here in other ways.

Corbin is an absolute force and appears like he could be a real player at the main roster level. His offense packs an awesome punch and the man is deceptively nimble despite being known for power.

Likewise, the Cardinals' unit, built by head coach Bruce Arians, is a major threat. The team owns a suffocating defense (until they lost a linebacker, anyway) and an offense that can rack up the points.

The drawbacks for both is the inability to show success in major tests. I will grant that in Corbin's case it's because 90 percent of his 2015 matches were squashes and in Arizona's case it's because Carson Palmer simply hasn't had many playoff opportunities. Regardless, the comparison is fitting.

I would not be shocked to see Corbin or Arizona hold titles in 2016.

On now to the final team, whose counterpart is a trailblazer for this blog:

Carolina Panthers - Sasha Banks

Yes, everybody, after years of waiting, there is finally a female wrestler deserving of a spot on this blog!

In spite of WWE's attempts to kill any momentum NXT's ladies had when joining the main roster, there is no changing what we all saw during the NXT Takeover specials. What we saw was the dawn of a competitor worthy of being the next big draw in this company.

Though I don't consider Sasha's to be the top of the Four Horsewomen in terms of actual wrestling (Becky holds that mark), intimidation (Charlotte) or authentic likability (Bayley), Sasha is a master at getting the exact crowd reactions she desires and possesses the "X" factor that so few can claim to have. When her music hits and she walks in, there's no doubt who owns the room.

Over the last year, Sasha has produced five matches that topped anything the WWE Diva roster produced in the previous eight years. And it comes from her ability to push the pace, beat opponents in a variety of ways, and taunt in just the right way.

And geez, if any NFL star is getting under people's skin for taunting, it's Cam Newton. His touchdown celebrations are a thing of brilliance, getting on people's nerve in that 'right' way that makes him a must-see player.

The team can win through the air (though it's harder because of the receiving core), on the ground or through the defense. They are the total package and my pick to take the title this year.

I hope everyone enjoyed this year's entry in the NFL-WWE saga, and to close out I give you my picks for WWE's ill-timed Royal Rumble card! (Seriously, nothing is happening next week. Who the heck decided to run this during the NFC title game?)

WWE World Tag Team Championship - New Day defends successfully vs. The Usos
United States Championship - Alberto Del Rio defends successfully vs. Kalisto
Intercontinental Championship - Dean Ambrose defends successfully vs. Kevin Owens
WWE World Women's Championship (I refuse to call it Divas title) - Becky Lynch beats Charlotte by DQ, leaving Charlotte as champion
WWE World Heavyweight Championship/Royal Rumble Match - Brock Lesnar wins championship

Sunday, January 17, 2016

UFC Fight Night: Dillashaw vs. Cruz preview

Dominick Cruz came onto the UFC scene a few years ago when the company absorbed the WEC bantamweight division. He lost the title, not because he was bested by an opponent, but because he suffered an unfortunate injury. And then another. And then another.

Cruz has been a tad injury-prone since it was announced that he was a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. To date, fans everywhere still must wonder how the fight would have gone between Urijah Faber and him.

Nonetheless, the man who has fought one time in five years is finally getting a shot at regaining his title when he faces TJ Dillashaw for the UFC World Men's Bantamweight Championship.

Cruz's most recent fight was two years ago and it barely lasted a minute. He's going to be dealing with ring rust. The question will be whether Cruz's incredible ability to frustrate and out-strike his opponents has carried over after all these years.

In many ways, Dillashaw is the replacement for Cruz in terms of style. The two each have an unorthodox style and can frustrate their opponents. Cruz certainly has done it longer, but Dillashaw has earned his stripes since dominating Renan Barao twice in his last three fights.

Most of the time, my pick would be Cruz, but the gap in time is so great that I can't say he's the same fighter I remember. I'll take Dillashaw by decision, but take it with a grain of salt.

Also on the card is a clash between Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez. The winner will most likely be in position for a title shot once fight is over between Rafael dos Anjos and...

Oh hi, Conor.

This should be a clash of strikers for certain, but Pettis is far from a slouch on the ground, so be ready for that. My pick is Pettis by KO 2 to earn his return match for the lightweight crown.

Rest of the Main Card

Heavyweight Bout: Travis Browne vs. Matt Mitrione - Taking Browne on this one by KO 1.

Lightweight Bout: Ross Pearson vs. Francisco Trinaldo - Pearson wins in a secure decision.