Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

A Wrestlemania XXX Preview – The Hogan Factor, The Streak, and Daniel Bryan’s Journey

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestlemania XXX. That’s a hell of an anniversary, and with luck, WWE will give us a hell of a show. There’s plenty of drama to be found in the upper card. The undercard looks okay at face value, but there’s still plenty of potential there.

One of the things that really interests me coming into this show is the Hulk Hogan factor. Much like The Rock did a few years ago, Hogan is “hosting” this year’s event. But what does that mean exactly? In The Rock’s case, it meant a big speech at the top of the show, some backstage vignettes, and interfering in the main event. For Hogan it could mean any number of things. I suspect we’ll get some backstage stuff from him as well, and hopefully he’ll be out there to introduce the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. But personally, I’m hoping we see Hogan come face-to-face with a man who was just announced for the show a few days ago: Stone Cold Steve Austin. We never did get to see Hogan vs. Austin at a Wrestlemania, but hopefully we’ll get a nice little moment between the two of them.

Hopefully we’ll get a lot of nice moments this year.

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Usos (c) vs. The Real Americans vs. Ryback & Curtis Axel vs. Los Matadores

Swagger and Ryback took a pretty rough tumble down the card this year, didn’t they? Yes, it’s a title match. But it’s a pre-show match, which happens as fans are filing in, and Wrestlemania really isn’t in full swing yet. Cesaro especially deserves better than this, given the great year he’s had. Not much to say about this one. With the New Age Outlaws out of the title picture, this is basically just a throw-together match. I don’t see any reason why The Usos wouldn’t retain here, as they just got the belts, and have made themselves into a fairly hot tag team. Given the tension we’ve seen between Swagger and Cesaro, I can only assume the finish will involve them in some way. Swagger costs Cesaro the fall, or something of that nature. This would likely lead to them finally splitting up the next night on Raw. Either way, The Usos take it home.

Rob’s Prediction: The Usos
WINNER: The Usos

VICKIE GUERRERO INVITATIONAL FOR WWE DIVAS TITLE:
AJ Lee (c) and pretty much everybody else. 

So…how is this going to work exactly? It’s one fall to a finish, right? So are we going to have two girls in the ring while everybody else is on the apron, and different girls just tag in and out? Either way, I expect this match to come off somewhat messily. I’ll shakily predict AJ comes out on top, perhaps with a quick roll-up on Tamina, resulting in a feud between the two of them.

Rob’s Prediction: AJ Lee
WINNER: AJ Lee

The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws

For my money Wrestlemania XXX will mark the end of The Shield. Ambrose and Rollins will either blatantly cost Roman Reigns the fall, or they’ll simply leave him on his own against Kane and the Outlaws. The latter could potentially provide a compelling underdog scenario for Reigns, allowing the fans to cheer him on in a three-on-one situation. But ultimately, Reigns would go down, and Rollins and Ambrose would wind up taking the Outlaws’ place as Kane’s resident enforcers. Hell, put ‘em in some suits to change their look, and they’d fit in nicely. I imagine their first assignment from Kane will to take care of Reigns in a two-on-one handicap match at Extreme Rules.

Rob’s Prediction: Kane & The New Age Outlaws
WINNERS: The Shield

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

There isn’t necessarily an obvious winner here, which is a good thing. Those three open spots are pretty conspicuous, and I’d be fairly surprised if one of them didn’t go to Rob Van Dam. He’s been rumored to come back the following night on Raw. But c’mon, it’s Wrestlemania XXX. Put him on the card. As for the others, your guess is as good as mine. But at the end of the day, this feels like a Big Show victory to me. Show has often been looked at as Andre’s successor. And while I don’t feel that’s the case, this would definitely be a nice medal for the big man. Would a victory be better suited for an up and comer, like say, Big E? Possibly. But a feel-good win for The Big Show would be cool. He’s certainly earned a Wrestlemania moment of this caliber.

Rob’s Prediction: The Big Show
WINNER: Antonio Cesaro

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt

Mick Foley once called Bray Wyatt a “modern day master of the mic.” As a long time fan, I don’t necessarily agree with that. However Bray is definitely a compelling talker, and he’s stepped up his game immensely since he started this program with John Cena. They obviously have a great traditional good guy/bad guy chemistry. Bray’s promos, along with the stuff we’ve seen with the mask these past few weeks, have made for a really compelling build. In terms of predicting a winner, this is certainly the toughest one-on-one match of the entire night. But a victory for Bray would likely catapult him into the WWE Title picture in the next few months. And if there’s one thing that goes with a red hot babyface champion, it’s a red hot heel challenger. And if we’ve learned anything about John Cena, it’s that he can sustain a major loss and still be okay. So I say give the win to Bray.

Rob’s Prediction: Bray Wyatt
WINNER: John Cena

The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

Ah, The Undertaker. Wrestlemania‘s version of Old Faithful. We can definitely count on the Dead Man pulling out another win here. But I’m more interested in the kind of match these two are going to put together. Lesnar’s such a brute and a powerhouse, I’m wondering how the 49-year-old Undertaker is going to hang in there with him, and convincingly pull out a win. I’m curious to see if ‘Taker pulls the Hell’s Gate submission hold out of his repertoire against the former UFC Champion, and how Brock reacts if such a thing happens. Given the classics ‘Taker has helped steal the show at the past five Wrestlemanias. Here’s hoping he can make it six.

Rob’s Prediction: The Undertaker
WINNER: Brock Lesnar

STIPULATION MATCH:
Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan
Winner gets inserted into WWE Heavyweight Title Match. 

I love this match. Who would’ve thought that Bryan Danielson would be wrestling Triple H at Wrestlemania friggin’ XXX, and going over, no less. And indeed, he will be going over, because that’s where the drama in the main event is going to come from. Can our hero, Daniel Bryan, somehow defeat Randy Orton and Batista after going through a hellacious match with Triple H? If Brock and The Undertaker don’t steal the show, then I imagine this match will. The crowd alone could make it the highlight of the night. It’s the wrestling world’s favorite indy darling against the man who married Vince McMahon’s daughter, with the main event of Wrestlemania hanging in the balance. Hot damn, what a match.

Rob’s Prediction: Daniel Bryan
WINNER: Daniel Bryan

TRIPLE THREAT MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Randy Orton (c) vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan/Triple H 

Considering how everything turned out, it’s amazing they ever considered Randy Orton and Batista going it alone at Wrestlemania XXX. Thankfully, the Royal Rumble is just a painful memory at this point. This scenario is 10 times more compelling. Orton has mostly been booked as a paper champion. Batista, on the other hand, looks like a sleazy douchebag, but one who’s more than capable of winning the Heavyweight Title on any given night. This, of course, leaves Daniel Bryan, WWE’s new ultimate underdog hero. There’s still a chance that WWE could swerve us and put the title on Batista, which I assume was their original plan. But if they want to give us the kind of magical moment that’s synonymous with Wrestlemania, they’ll give it to Bryan. And for the incredible journey he’s had this year, he deserves it.

YES! YES! YES!

Rob’s Prediction: Daniel Bryan
WINNER: Daniel Bryan

Front page image from postandcourier.com.

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A WWE Elimination Chamber Preview – A Game of Chicken (UPDATED W/RESULTS)

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

That’s right, the title said “A Game of Chicken.” As in, you’ve got two cars driving toward one another, and unless somebody yields and swerves off the road, you’re going to have a car wreck on your hands. WWE seems to be playing chicken with the main event of Wrestemania XXX. Or at least, that’s what they were doing when the Royal Rumble aired.

When Daniel Bryan did not enter the Royal Rumble match, we saw what many considered to be a full fledged revolt by the Pittsburgh crowd. To an extent, it was actually really cool to see the fans be that passionate about the WWE, and wrestling in general. Not only that, but Hall of Famers like Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin were calling WWE out for bad booking decisions. Heck, the response to the Royal Rumble match might have been a big factor in why CM Punk walked out on WWE.

So the Royal Rumble got a hugely negative response from the fans. They’re giving us Batista as the big babyface at Wrestlemania, when clearly the fans want Daniel Bryan in that spot. Elimination Chamber is the final pay per view before Wrestlemania, and the following night, the WWE Network launches. If WWE is going to make a change, now is the time…

The eyes of the wrestling world are on Minneapolis, Minnesota this weekend.

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Cody Rhodes & Goldust vs. Ryback & Curtis Axel

I was heartbroken to read Goldust’s tweet earlier this month that he won’t be facing his brother Cody at Wrestlemania XXX. That seems like a waste of a perfectly good Wrestlemania match spot. Although I suppose he did have a point when he said it wouldn’t get the attention it deserves. If there’s ever a pay per view where good matches could potentially get lost in the shuffle, it’s Wrestlemania XXX. But the sad thing is, the Rhodes brothers might very well be lost in the shuffle already. Look who they’re working with, for cryin’ out loud. This month’s pre-show might as well be called Lost in Space, because everybody in this match is just sort of floating out in orbit, hoping to catch a tether that’ll lead them to someplace good. I see the Rhodes brothers picking up a win here. As lost as they are, they’re not quite as lost as the former Paul Heyman guys…

Rob’s Prediction: Cody Rhodes & Goldust
WINNERS: Cody Rhodes & Goldust

Darren Young vs. Titus O’Neil

As I’ve said, it’s a pleasant surprise to see this match on a pay per view card. It’s a hell of an opportunity for both guys. For the record, the Prime Time Players never did get their due. Titus O’Neil in particular, has such great charisma. That’s why, the more I think about it, the more I see this match as a platform to launch Titus to that next level. Darren has a great look, and he had an awesome moment last year when he became the first openly gay wrestler to be on the active WWE roster. But it’s always been pretty clear that Titus was going to be the breakout star of the team. Thus, Titus will go over here, and Darren will probably end up in another tag team eventually.

Rob’s Prediction: Titus O’Neil
WINNER: Titus O’Neil

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Big E. (c) vs. Jack Swagger  

This match seems to serve two purposes. Firstly, it gives Big E. (What does the E stand for, anyway?) another high profile victory. Secondly, it continues to take us toward yet another feud between former tag partners, i.e. Jack Swagger and Cesaro. WWE has been sending Jack in that “jealous tag partner” direction for weeks now. And I imagine a loss here, combined with what I can only assume will be a great performance by Cesaro in the main event, will be enough to finally break the Real Americans up. Yet another tag team that never really got its due. But then again, I’d say Cesaro is more suited for singles competition. As for Swagger, how he’ll fare from here largely depends on how well he can behave himself. He screwed himself out of what might have been the beginning of a World Heavyweight Title run at Wrestlemania XXIX. At this rate, he might not even make the show this year…

Rob’s Prediction: Big E.
WINNER: Big E.

WWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Age Outlaws (c) vs. The Usos

The time is coming for the Usos. They’ve definitely earned it. They’ve been working at it since 2010, and as such their journey to the tag belts has an old school feel to it. They’ve honed their craft, and become the best tag team WWE has right now. But they’ll have to wait just a bit longer for their big payoff. The Usos should get their reward at Wrestlemania, in what I expect will be a nice passing of the torch moment with the Outlaws. WWE might wants to throw a couple of other teams in there and make it a fourway tag match to spice things up a bit. But as far as the tag team division goes over the next month or so, Elimination Chamber belongs to the New Age Outlaws, but Wrestlemania belongs to The Usos.

Rob’s Prediction: The New Age Outlaws
WINNERS: The New Age Outlaws

Batista vs. Alberto Del Rio

Boy, THIS is a hell of a match. Boring vs. Bland. It’s tough to remember a pay per view match I’ve wanted to see less. Or for that matter, was easier to predict. Batista beats Del Rio and goes on to do whatever he ends up doing at Wrestlemania. You’ve got to believe plans have changed in the wake of the Royal Rumble. Either way, I can almost guarantee you those plans don’t involve Alberto Del Rio. So let’s get this one overwith and move on with our lives.

Rob’s Prediction: Batista
WINNER: Batista

The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family

Like a lot of fans, I’m thrilled we’re getting to see this match before the Shield breaks up, which could presumably happen any day now. As both these factions have been built up as unstoppable forces, this really feels like an epic collision. I’m hoping the fans will cheer this good booking decision as loudly as they booed last month’s bad ones. The only downside is that the winner is somewhat obvious. The Wyatts beat the Shield, leading to a blow up between Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, leading to a United States Title Match at Wrestlemania. The only question is where Seth Rollins lands. He certainly doesn’t deserve to sit on the sidelines. He’s been too good at his job. In any event, the Wyatts will rightfully emerge from Elimination Chamber as WWE’s most dominant faction. And frankly, I’d be surprised if they didn’t have a say in what happens with John Cena in the main event. That is, unless plans have changed since the Royal Rumble. They may very well have, considering the Wyatts and Cena haven’t interacted very much on screen since that night.

Rob’s Prediction: The Wyatt Family
WINNERS: The Wyatt Family

ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Randy Orton (c) vs. John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus vs. Christian vs. Cesaro

It’s interesting to me that Christian is still in this match. Nothing against him, of course. But considering what happened on Raw this past Monday, and how they played up the fact that he was the only one who hadn’t pinned Randy Orton recently, it wouldn’t surprise me to see somebody beat him up and take his spot in the Chamber. I’m not necessarily expecting it, mind you. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Brock Lesnar, Kane, or (dare I even mention him…) CM Punk worked their way into the match.

The obvious winner here is Randy Orton. The original plan was obviously to send he and Batista to the main event of Wrestlemania XXX. The question is, has WWE decided to end this game of chicken with the fans, and actually put Daniel Bryan in that spot. But Daniel Bryan is in a similar position the Usos are in. The idea of giving him the belt at Elimination Chamber kind of sucks. He deserves to get it at the biggest show of the year. So I think what they need to do is have Orton win here, and then have something big happen the following night on Raw (the night the WWE Network launches) where someone comes out and changes the main event. At this point, they really don’t have a choice, do they? I don’t care how badly they want that cross promotion thing with Marvel, Batista, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Having the fans crap on what’s supposed to be the biggest match of the year, at supposedly the biggest event in 10 years, would be a terrible black eye on the brand.

Rob’s Prediction: Randy Orton
WINNER: Randy Orton

 Front page from sbnation.com. All interior images from WWE.com. 

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A Preview of WWE Royal Rumble 2014 – Keep “The Animal” on His Leash… (UPDATED W/ RESULTS)

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

More than any yearly event WWE puts on, the Royal Rumble can sell itself on its premise alone. The Royal Rumble match itself is exciting enough to keep even the most passive of fans glued to their screens. Fresh faces coming in every two minutes, never knowing who’s coming next, the countdown, the buzzer, the music. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch the Royal Rumble match. But based on how things look now, and who it looks like the winner will be, I get the sense we won’t be having quite as much fun this year…

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE TAG TEAM TITLES:
Cody Rhodes & Goldust (c) vs. The New Age Outlaws

As a long time fan, this match is really surreal. It’s 2014, and yet we’ve got Goldust, Road Dogg, and Billy Gunn competing in a title match. And what’s even more surreal? I expect the Outlaws, who haven’t held the titles together since 2000, to take the belts home. Why not? They’re Triple H’s old DX buddies, so now he’s giving them the rub by thrusting them into the center of the tag team division, and allowing them to screw Cody Rhodes and Goldust out of the titles. This, of course, could not only open the door for a rift between the Rhodes brothers, but allow for the Outlaws to drop the belts to an up and coming team at Wrestlemania XXX (the Usos come to mind immediately). So why not? In the interest of furthering a storyline, and putting an new team over at the biggest show of the year, let’s let the Outlaws have one more run. It’s kind of fitting, what with the 30th anniversary of Wrestlemania coming up, that one of the company’s greatest teams of all time gets the torch again.

Rob’s Prediction: The New Age Outlaws
WINNERS: The New Age Outlaws

Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt

I’m pretty much ready for Bryan to take Bray down and be done with this whole Wyatt Family thing. It hasn’t been a waste, obviously. Seeing the crowd go nuts when he turned on Bray was a thing of absolute beauty, and it set him up beautifully to win the Royal Rumble…if only he was in the damn thing (more on that in a bit). I can only assume Bryan will be part of the Elimination Chamber match at next month’s pay per view. But if he’s not going to be in the main event at Wrestlemania, then who do they put him with at the show of shows? Kane? Maybe put him with CM Punk and let them paint a masterpiece? Either way, Bryan and the Wyatts should part ways here.

Rob’s Prediction: Daniel Bryan
WINNER: Bray Wyatt

Brock Lesnar vs. The Big Show

It’s interesting to see how compelling this program between Brock and the Big Show has become, at least in my eyes, simply based off of last week’s Raw. Seeing Show gut wrench Brock over the top rope like that was the shot in the arm that was needed to make this feud, which really isn’t based on much from a personality standpoint, something interesting. WWE has painted Big Show as the one person capable of manhandling Brock Lesnar, and perhaps taming the “beast incarnate.” In terms of the actual match, I expect Big Show to toss Brock around a little more, before Lesnar finally goes the submission route and makes the giant tap out. But much like Bryan, Brock’s role going into Wrestlemania seems to be a toss up at this point. It’s been made clear, in no uncertain terms, that Brock wants the WWE Championship. So is he headed to the main event at Wrestlemania? Or are we possibly looking at a Brock vs. Undertaker match? So many questions…

Rob’s Prediction: Brock Lesnar
WINNER: Brock Lesnar

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Randy Orton (c) vs. John Cena

This match sucks. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Randy Orton or John Cena. It’s the fact that they’ve gone in reverse on the hype scale. They’ve lowered the stakes, rather than upping them. This program may have shot its wad too early, so to speak, but putting these two in a TLC match last month. Obviously, that’s one a match that’s widely celebrated for being such a violent car wreck of a show. So where do you go from there? How do make the next match one of equal, or increased anticipation. Well, if you’re WWE creative, apparently the answer is to put them in a regular one-on-one match. As I’ve said numerous times, I’m not a wrestling booker. But as a fan, that baffles me. In any event, I expect Orton to come out of this one with the championship. I have no issues with Randy going into Wrestlemania as champion. Cena said something during the build up to TLC about Orton about Orton having a certain arrogance during their Ohio Valley Wrestling days, which he’s never really lost. Whether that’s true or not, Orton has always had a naturally smug vibe about him, which makes for a great wrestling villain. But if Orton is indeed going to the main event of Wrestlemania, then he needs to work with a great hero. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen…

Rob’s Prediction: Randy Orton
WINNER: Randy Orton

2014 Royal Rumble Match

Some years the Royal Rumble simply isn’t as compelling because there’s an obvious winner. Sadly, 2014 seems to be one of those years. Barring WWE doing the sensible thing, and allowing Daniel Bryan to compete in and win the Royal Rumble, Batista is the obvious winner. WWE seems bound and determined to thrust him back into the spotlight so they can pull in some new viewers off the hype for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which Batista is in, and will be released this August. My question is, why does it have to be the MAIN EVENT of Wrestlemania XXX? Can’t they put him with somebody in the semi-main? That way WWE gets their publicity, and wrestling fans get a main event worthy of Wrestlemania. Either way, hopefully we’ll at least get a fun Rumble match. There’s been some buzz about Sheamus showing up as a surprise entrant, which might be cool to see. Chris Jericho’s name has also come up, but given we saw him make a surprise return at last year’s Rumble, I wouldn’t bet on him doing it again this year. Of course, it would be a shame for them to come back just to lose to friggin’ Batista…

Rob’s Prediction: Batista
WINNER: Batista

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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A WWE TLC 2013 Preview – When Two Become One (UPDATED w/ Results)

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This show puzzles me. We’ve got a main event worthy of Wrestlemania XXX, which is taking place at a December PPV. And we’ve also got two semi-main events that essentially the same match, not to mention matches we could likely see on any given episode of Raw. Two 3-on-1 handicap matches on the same pay per view. As I’ve said, I’m no wrestling booker, but that seems like lazy storytelling to me.

Either way, the show isn’t totally devoid of intrigue. Let’s take a look…

KICK OFF MATCH: 
Dolph Ziggler vs. Fandango

Let’s all take a moment to be grateful that at least Ziggler made it on to the pre-show this month. As such, we’ll be getting a match that’ll probably end up being better than a lot of what we see on TLC. This match is pretty much a no-brainer in terms of the outcome. Ziggler jobbed to Damien Sandow to send him into the IC Title match (more on that later), and he’s been jobbing to anybody with a heartbeat lately. So why should this match be any different? We’ll be kicking things off with a Fandango win. Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanzaa, Ziggler.

Rob’s Prediction: Fandango
WINNER: Fandango

WWE DIVAS TITLE MATCH:
AJ Lee (c) vs. Natalya

FINALLY! After all those AJ vs. Brie Bella matches, I can’t even tell you how happy I am to see Natalya in a title match. Because by god, there’s not a woman on the roster who deserves it more. Frankly, I’d be perfectly happy to see Nattie take the title from AJ. But I’m going to give this one to AJ. I see Nattie possibly getting AJ in the sharpshooter, and then Tamina somehow interfering. This would hopefully get us to a rematch at the Royal Rumble. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been this invested in a Divas Title Match. Let’s hope these ladies don’t let me down.

Rob’s Prediction: AJ Lee
WINNER: AJ Lee

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Big E. Langston (c) vs. Damien Sandow 

WWE’s Big E. Langston experiment has gone strictly okay thus far. He’s good in the ring, and obviously has a great look. But his mic skills leave much to be desired at this point. He’s been at the announce table on Raw these past two weeks, and he’s been such a white-meat babyface it’s almost sickening. But still, he hasn’t flopped by any means. So I see him retaining over Sandow. It’ll be interesting to see who WWE puts him with over the next few months. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind him staying with Sandow for the foreseeable future. Working with someone who’s developed such a great villainous persona might be good to draw some much-needed personality out of Big E.

Rob’s Prediction: Big E. Langston
WINNER: Big E. Langston

FATAL FOURWAY MATCH FOR WWE TAG TEAM TITLES:
Cody Rhodes & Goldust (c) vs. The Real Americans vs. Ryback & Curtis Axel vs. The Big Show & Rey Mysterio

I typically enjoy these fatal fourway tag matches. But my initial reaction when this one was booked was of disappointment. The Usos and the Prime Time Players were both shut out in favor of the Big Show & Rey Mysterio, a throw-together team put on the show because of their star power. I get it. We need Show and Mysterio on the show, especially considering how underwhelming the pay per views have been lately. But to an extent, it’s a real shame. Either way, I see Cody and Goldust. retaining here, leading to what had better be a Cody vs. Goldust match at Wrestlemania XXX.

Rob’s Prediction: Cody Rhodes & Goldust
WINNERS: Cody Rhodes & Goldust

3-ON-1 HANDICAP MATCH:
Daniel Bryan vs. The Wyatt Family

Based on the seeds that have been planted in recent weeks in terms of tension between Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, I’m guessing the Wyatts are going to become WWE’s premiere three-man faction in the near future (if they aren’t already). So it makes sense for the Wyatts to somehow come out on top here. One of the few good things about having these three-on-one handicap matches is that the babyface can lose without making him look terribly bad. Either way, a loss here won’t hurt Bryan very much, considering he’s arguably the most over guy in the roster these days. I still can’t believe how that “ascension ceremony” played out on Raw with all those chants for him.

Rob’s Prediction: The Wyatt Family
WINNERS: The Wyatt Family

3-ON-1 HANDICAP MATCH:
CM Punk vs. The Shield

If the Wyatt Family is sticking around, and tension is developing between the Shield, then naturally, the Shield should lose here. I’m guessing we’ll see the classic scenario where Ambrose somehow causes Reigns to get pinned, or vice versa. This would also fall in line what appears to be WWE lining up a feud between CM Punk and the Authority. Naturally, Punk squeaking out a victory over the Authority’s henchmen won’t sit well with Triple H or Stephanie.

Rob’s Prediction: CM Punk
WINNER: CM Punk

TLC MATCH TO UNIFY WWE AND WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPS:
John Cena vs. Randy Orton

As I’ve said before, this match is worthy of being the main event for Wrestlemania XXX, both in terms of the participants, and what’s at stake. It’s a match more than a decade in the making, yet it was put together with minimal build up just a few months before what should be one of WWE’s biggest shows of all time. Is this match a response to WWE’s poor PPV reception in recent months? Either way, this show may mark the first time I’m actually hoping for a non-finish. Some kind of BS ending where Cena and Orton grab pull other’s championships down, or where they both “injure” themselves so they can’t continue, etc. The actual unification of the championships should really be saved for Wrestlemania XXX. But considering that we just came off a program where the WWE Title stayed vacant for a prolonged period of time, that doesn’t seem likely. I’m going to go ahead and say Randy Orton takes this one. A victory for him would give the Authority control of the Unified WWE Championship (or whatever they decide to call it), and further set the stage for a power struggle, culminating in some kind of big match at Wrestlemania XXX. We’re getting to the point where almost everything WWE does should be about building to Wrestlemania. So whatever the outcome of this match turns out to be, hopefully it helps in that regard.

Rob’s Prediction: Randy Orton
WINNER: Randy Orton

 Images from WWE.com.

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Behind the Black Mask – A Look at the Lead Villain in Batman: Arkham Origins

By Levi Sweeney,
Staff Writer, Grand X

Batman: Arkham Origins, the much anticipated prequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, has a lot of sweet villains. You’ve got Deathstroke, Firefly, the new Copperhead, Deadshot, the Mad Hatter, the Riddler, Lady Shiva, and of course, the Joker. But there’s one baddy at the heart of the game, the one responsible for the million dollar bounty on Batman’s head which is attracting all of these villains to Gotham City. That evil and illustrious villain is none other than…Black Mask?

For those of you who read my review on Batman: Scare Tactics, Black Mask has sunk down to a decidedly low point these days. He’s running with a criminal circus, for Pete’s sake. But he wasn’t always like that. In the past, the Black Mask was a major adversary of the Batman, existing in two incarnations, both of whom were dangerous villains who, at different points, became the premier crime lords of Gotham City.

The first Black Mask, Roman Sionis, became best known as Catwoman’s archenemy, the fearless feline eventually facilitating his untimely demise. The second Black Mask, revealed to be Dr. Jeremiah Arkham in Batman #697, was decidedly more deranged than Roman Sionis, but had the same the-one-you-love-to-hate vibe going for him. Sionis’ Black Mask was involved in major storylines like Knightfall, No Man’s Land, War Games, Under the Hood, War Crimes, and he most recently appeared in the New 52 in Scare Tactics, and the Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight series. Jeremiah Arkham’s Black Mask was either the main antagonist or a major player during Battle for the Cowl, Batman Reborn, Life After Death, and Arkham Reborn. Understandably, Roman Sionis’ Black Mask has a lot more history to him, having been Black Mask for 20-plus years, whereas Jeremiah Arkham was active as Black Mask for only one year, from March 2009 to March 2010.

And now, a history lesson…

The first Black Mask, Roman Sionis, first appeared in Batman #386, in August of 1985. Sionis had been raised by ludicrously neglectful parents (they barely cared about his well being when he was dropped on his head as a newborn), and his forced friendship with a young Bruce Wayne, whose parents were secretly despised by father and mother Sionis, led young Roman to develop a hatred for Bruce. After graduating from High School, Roman met and fell in love with a secretary named Circe while working at his father’s company, Janus Cosmetics. However, his parents did not approve of the relationship, resulting in an infuriated Sionis burning down his parents’ mansion, killing them both. As the heir to their assets, Sionis tried to run Janus Cosmetics, but was a poor businessman compared to his father. What followed was a torrid attempt to save his failing company by marketing a line of waterproof face paint, which turned out to be toxic. This resulted in the disfigurement of several hundred women.

Finally, Sionis reached his breaking point when Circe, now his fiancée, broke up with him in front of their entire staff. This was followed by Bruce Wayne buying out the company and reducing Sionis to a figurehead leader. Utterly humiliated, and driven to the brink of madness, Roman Sionis broke into his father’s crypt, Lord knows what he was planning to do. But then, a lightning bolt struck near him, sending him flying. Convinced that this was an “omen” directing him to be “reborn,” Sionis snapped completely, carving a shattered fragment of his father’s coffin into a mask, which he donned as crime boss and cult leader Black Mask. He led the False Face Society, a crime ring and cult who wore masks. To cut a long story short, his first conflict against Batman ended with his mask being melted onto his face. This is all pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, mind you.

Following Crisis, a massive comic book crossover which totally changed fictional comic book history as we know it, Black Mask’s origins and backstory remained unchanged. He was committed to Arkham Asylum, as that’s where most of Batman’s rogues go. I’m not going to go into this very much, but I’m pretty sure Black Mask, like many of Batman’s foes, isn’t really mentally ill. He may be psychopathic, in that he’s totally devoid of empathy, but he’s not psychotic, in that he knows that stealing is stealing and murder is murder, and can indeed comprehend the criminality of his actions.

Black Mask kept himself busy over the years, running the False Face Society through Knightfall, Zero Hour, and No Man’s Land. During No Man’s Land, he briefly ditched his mask, believing that the new status quo of the city required him to begin anew as well. He was a major player during No Man’s Land, allying with the Penguin and dropping his beef with Bruce Wayne. But eventually, the mask came back.

Roman Sionis’ Black Mask as we know him in the decade predating Flashpoint arrived in the pages of Ed Brubaker’s run on Catwoman in December 2002. With the help of white collar stooge Xavier Dylan, Black Mask took over organized crime in Gotham City’s East End, Catwoman’s turf. He was once again resplendent in his mask and a nice suit. After Catwoman destroyed his drug operation and exposed his crooked police officers, Black Mask vowed to destroy Catwoman, armed with his new hobby of torturing people. Specifically, he manipulated an old friend of Catowoman’s into telling him Catwoman’s secret identity, before kidnapping Catwoman’s sister Maggie and Maggie’s husband. After torturing the husband to death, Black Mask did a very terribly disgusting thing which I think best remains unspoken here. If you really want to know what happened, check out Catwoman: Relentless. If you’re particularly adventurous, Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns. Black Mask seemingly fell to his death at the end of Relentless after a confrontation with Catwoman. But as we all know, the only comic book characters who stay dead are Jean-Paul Valley, Gwen Stacy, and Ultimate Peter Parker…right?

Black Mask returned during War Games, pulling strings and moving people around like pawns on a chessboard. He became a sort of hero killer, becoming notable as one of the few supervillains to have actually killed a superhero. He killed Orpheus, an agent of Batman. Note, however, that simply killing a hero does not a good villain make. Following his penchant for masks and disguises, Sionis disguised himself as Orpheus, fooling even Batman and Bat-family third-stringer Onyx. He emerged from the frenetic chaos of War Games as the supreme criminal power in Gotham City, allying with Hush and other villains such as the Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, and Firefly. He also seemingly tortured Spoiler to death (though her death was later revealed to be a ruse).

Sionis’ grip on the criminal underworld proved tenuous following War Games. In War Crimes, the immediate aftermath of War Games, he resorted to dressing up as Batman and attacking people such as Crystal Brown, Stephanie Brown/Spoiler’s mother. He eventually learned to quit while he was ahead when he was shot by the Joker. During Under the Hood, he attempted to stay top dog in Gotham City’s criminal underworld, but was soon put in a bad position by the new Red Hood, who was really a resurrected Jason Todd.

In due course, after Batman ended the masked mobster’s efforts to join the Secret Society of Supervillains, Black Mask was killed by a gunshot to the jaw by Catwoman in Catwoman #52. He had attempted to bring himself upward by once again trying to destroy Catwoman’s life. Needless to say, he died. Again. He did later show up during Blackest Night, where he was defeated by an extremely willful Catwoman, who drove him into Slaughter Swamp.

I’m not exactly sure where Sionis picked up his fascination with masks, as he heavily resented the “masks” that his parents wore to maintain their social status, but he’s nevertheless a pretty cool villain. He’s apparently a good organizer, but a terrible businessman, and is also a charismatic leader. He’s a villain you love to hate. He’s definitely a B-Lister at best, but he’s still a notch over other villains in that he’s a schemer, a planner, a mastermind. He’s got drive and ambition, and he knows how to satisfy both. I’d say that he’s a little higher than Zsasz, but a notch below the Penguin, being a combination of the two. He lacks Penguin’s classic roots, but he’s got the relatively young publication history and vigor of Zsasz.

It is plainly evident that the first Black Mask, Roman Sionis, has a lot of history, chiefly because he’s had a longer tenure as a villain than his “successor,” Dr. Jeremiah Arkham. Driven mad by the machinations of the Joker and Professor Hugo Strange, and proving himself to be the world’s worst psychiatrist, Dr. Arkham became the second Black Mask shortly after being expelled from Arkham Asylum by the Black Glove during Batman R.I.P. Donning a long black coat and recruiting the inmates of Arkham Asylum, Black Mask II (First appearing in Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1) blew up that accursed asylum and led the villains in a new gang war which nearly brought Gotham to its knees. He drove out Two-Face, he reduced the Penguin to a subordinate, and he funded the activities of various other villains, including Firefly, Zsasz, and the Scarecrow.

However, Black Mask II’s reign of terror during Battle for the Cowl, Batman Reborn, and Life After Death was not to last. Rallying the extended Bat-family in the wake of Battle for the Cowl and Batman R.I.P., Dick Grayson assumed the mantle of the Batman and led them (now christened as “the Network”) to defeat Black Mask in a decidedly average story, where he was in a gang war with the resurgent Falcone crime family. Black Mask II’s attempts to start his own False Face Society failed miserably, to say the least. When finally committed to Arkham Asylum himself, he quickly showed himself to be just as much a merciless psychopath as some of the other villains housed there. It didn’t help that the newly rebuilt Arkham Asylum was co-directed by a mass murderer named Alyce Sinner.

Jeremiah Arkham’s Black Mask was less interested in money and power than he was in causing as much death and destruction as possible. He once went so far as to steal invisibility technology and give it to an underling who would then pretend to be God in an effort to cause a priest with a shotgun to murder Huntress and Man-Bat. He also gave funds to Zsasz to help the B-List serial killer systematically force young boys to murder each other in gladiatorial matches. Prior to his secret identity being exposed, he did not cease to act as Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, running Arkham Asylum as a new improved institution. Though he was still the world’s worst psychiatrist.

In the New 52, Roman Sionis is still alive, committed to Arkham Asylum again, and Dr. Arkham is again running Arkham Asylum. It is implied that Arkham’s short career as Black Mask II actually still happened, but I’m not sure how all of that could have been crammed into five years without deleting Knightfall, and No Man’s Land altogether. Roman Sionis is now back to his cult leader beginnings. He’s little more than a glorified bank robber with mind control powers. He’s no longer the savvy, sadistic, sarcastic crime boss that once graced the pages of the 1990’s and early 2000s Bat-books. No, that version of Sionis is sadly no longer with us, unless they can get a decent writer on Detective Comics.

Which Black Mask was the better one, you may ask? It’s not really a fair question. Roman Sionis’ Black Mask had 20-odd years to make an impact, and he made a huge impact as a veteran Bat-villain, especially in his later years, significantly altering the Batman status quo for quite a while. Dr. Jeremiah Arkham’s hot minute as the Black Mask, on the other hand, managed to make a big impression in just one year. He established himself as a cool, creepy, despicably evil villain that you love to hate, all thanks to the devilishly disturbed writing of David Hine. I like them both, but Sionis’ track record and seniority win out every time. He is the Black Mask. Arkham is merely a caricature of a naïve doctor who seems to simply not understand that insanity is a legal term, not a medical one. I would guess that Dr. Arkham is a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, not being trained to practice psychiatric medicine. We’ve also seen a bit of the new Roman Sionis Black Mask in the non-canon Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. He was also a primary antagonist in the animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Bottom line, Black Mask isn’t the greatest Batman villain out there, but look what they did with the Penguin in Batman: Arkham City. If they could do something like that with Roman Sionis’ Black Mask, then we could have a real gem in Arkham Origins.

Front page image from gameinformer.com. Image 1 from gametrailers.com. Image 3 from hcof.blogspot.com. Image 4 from plus4chan.com. Image 5 from comicbookrealm.com. Image 6 from comicvine.com. 

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A WWE Hell in a Cell Preview – The Autumn Slump (UPDATED w/ Results)

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Fall is an awkward time for WWE. The wave of momentum from Wrestlemania has long faded, we’re done building for Summerslam, and the build for the following year’s Wrestlemania isn’t necessarily in full swing yet. So we find ourselves something of an awkward middle place, where we’re essentially just filling time until Survivor Series in November. This year’s autumn slump hasn’t been the worst we’ve ever seen, but it’s still a slump for certain. Both the Orton/Bryan program and the Punk/Heyman program have gotten old, despite the immense talents of all parties involved. Shawn Michaels was injected into the main event picture to freshen things up a bit, and that has worked to an extent. But it’s still not the clean slate that we need. Luckily, the Hell in a Cell pay per view provides the perfect platform for blow-off matches, and that’s what I’m hoping it provides.

Still, there’ve been some bright spots to see. The Cody Rhodes/Goldust team is intriguing, and they’ll be in action at Hell in a Cell. Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger will be in action as well, and Big E. Langston and Curtis Axel will have the spotlight all to themselves. And, much to the chagrin of his detractors, John Cena will be back. To say the least, that’ll stir up some emotion. So let’s take a look at what we’ve got here…

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Curtis Axel (c) vs. Big E. Langston

I still think a bit more time as a heel bodyguard would have done Big E. Langston well before they turned him babyface. They’ve done the heel bodyguard-turned good guy thing so many times over the years, and for every Diesel or Batista there are about 10 Bam Neeleys. Granted, Langston does have a certain understated charisma about him. But that alone won’t keep him afloat. What I like about this match is what it does for Curtis Axel. It’ll allow him to shine, and in all likelihood prevail, on his own. Since WWE “relaunched” him, he’s been stuck in the shadow of Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman, and Ryback. He hasn’t had to carry anything on his own yet. So to see him get a moment like this on his own is nice.

Rob’s Prediction: Curtis Axel
Match Cancelled Due to Curtis Axel Sustaining an Injury

Los Matadores vs. The Real Americans

I’m still not a Los Matadores fan. But I’m sure we’ll see some great athleticism on display here. And hey, Primo & Epico got a pay per view match. There’s something to say for that. This is also an ideal opportunity to let Cesaro do the big swing on El Torito, which I’m sure will make the highlight reel on the next night’s Raw. Obviously, WWE is pushing Los Matadores, so they’ll get the win here. I suppose it’s possible we could see this feud extend another few weeks, which is fine. It doesn’t elevate or drag down a show for me either way.

Rob’s Prediction: Los Matadores
WINNERS: Los Matadores

WWE DIVAS TITLE MATCH:
AJ Lee (c) vs. Brie Bella

Ugh. Alright, let’s get this over with. They’re still filming Total Divas, right? So of course, what’s a better season finale than having one of their stars, Brie Bella, win the Divas Championship? I hate it, I truly do. Neither of the Bella Twins can act or emote worth a damn, and they’re strictly okay in the ring. And frankly, AJ is the best thing to hit the women’s division in years. But what can you do? Plus, AJ obviously can’t hold the belt forever. So let’s rip the band-aid off, and have our hands on the DVR remote for the diva segments in the coming weeks.

Rob’s Prediction: Brie Bella
WINNER: AJ Lee

WWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Cody Rhodes & Goldust (c) vs. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns vs. The Usos

I’m glad they worked the Usos in here. It didn’t make sense to just cast them aside, and having them in this match makes the tag team division look hotter. I don’t see any reason why the Rhodes family shouldn’t retain here. Ideally, we’re working towards a Cody vs. Goldust match. So it would behoove all parties involved to build up the brotherly bond between the two, only to yank it away when the swerve comes. The question is, how long do you wait? Do we want to have this match at Wrestlemania? The Royal Rumble, maybe? Survivor Series seems too soon. Either way, it’s a Rhodes victory.

Rob’s Prediction: Cody Rhodes and Goldust
WINNERS: Cody Rhodes & Goldust

HELL IN A CELL MATCH: 
CM Punk vs. Ryback & Paul Heyman

As ready as I am for this program to be over, the prospect of seeing Paul Heyman squirm inside the cell has me mildly amped up for this one. I can only assume the story they’re going to tell here will revolve around Punk trying to get to Heyman the entire match, with the “Paulrus” continuously putting the boots to him when Ryback has the advantage. It’ll probably be one of the most unusual cell matches we’ve ever seen, which is cool. Here’s hoping Punk doesn’t get too beat up, though, as supposedly he’s been nursing various injuries. In the end, I say Heyman screws up somehow, allowing Punk to score the GTS and the victory. In terms of physicality between Punk and Heyman, your guess is as good as mine.

Rob’s Prediction: CM Punk
WINNER: CM Punk

WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. John Cena

There’s not necessarily a reason for WWE to put the World Heavyweight Title on John Cena right now. But they don’t necessarily need a reason to put a title on Cena at any given time, do they? He’s been the company’s poster boy for 10 years. I can’t say I’m opposed to it, because I’ve never been a big Del Rio fan, or at least heel Del Rio. After all this time, he still feels bland and one-dimensional. So if Cena can take the belt, and then possibly help elevate another bad guy, that’s great. I just hope this doesn’t turn into a long-term Cena/Del Rio program. The one they had in 2011 still makes me cringe.

Rob’s Prediction: John Cena
WINNER: John Cena

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR VACANT WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan
Guest Referee: Shawn Michaels

As good as both Bryan and Orton are, I’m done here. This definitely needs to be the blow off match. They’ve got the cell, they’ve got Shawn Michaels, this is a good note to end on. And I can only assume this is going to end with an Orton victory, which will allow Triple H’s reign of terror to continue. Hunter himself could very well come in and do something to screw with Bryan, ultimately forcing Shawn to count three. This, of course, opens the door for Shawn and Hunter to be at odds in the future, which is always intriguing. What we also have to wonder about here is the Big Show, and how they’re going to incorporate him into the process here. He could easily come down, rip the door off the cell, and cost someone the match. There are obviously a lot of possibilities here, which makes for a lot of intrigue. That being said, let’s hope this is Orton and Bryan’s final encounter for now.

Rob’s Prediction: Randy Orton
WINNER: Randy Orton

Image 1 from wikipedia.org. All other images, and front page image from WWE.com.

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A WWE Battleground Preview: Filler, Fluff, and Throw-Togethers (Updated w/Results)

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So apparently when they took the WWE Championship off of Daniel Bryan after Night of Champions last month, a decent amount of fans actually called their cable companies and requested refunds. While it was a subpar pay per view, I think most of us would agree that’s BS. Buyer beware. But, with that in mind, WWE isn’t exactly upping their game with Battleground this month. At one point, there was some speculation that this was going to be some kind of new gimmick pay per view. But as it turns out it’s just another show, which happens to have a fairly generic name. And a good portion of these matches either aren’t interesting, or were seemingly thrown together at the last minute to fill space. Buyer beware? Okay, that’s fair enough. But if we keep getting pay per views like this, fans may stop buying altogether.

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Damien Sandow

Two PPV-quality performers relegated to the pre-show. *sigh* But hey, the good news is Ziggler will probably get the win here. Right now he seems to be going through what both Ziggler and Daniel Bryan went through when they had a briefcase. For some odd reason, WWE tends to have their Money in the Bank winners job like hell before they cash in. And heck, this match is pretty inconsequential anyway, right? This match was essentially thrown together to fill space. Still, at least it’s a good space filler. And it’ll be nice to see Ziggler get his had raised.

Rob’s Prediction: Dolph Ziggler
WINNER: Dolph Ziggler

Kofi Kingston vs. Bray Wyatt

Again, a throw-together match to fill space on a card they didn’t have enough time to develop effectively. But again, it’s a pretty good one, though pretty obvious in terms of the ending. Kofi Kingston takes yet another beating, this time at the hands of the Wyatt Family, and we’ve killed a little more time until Kane comes back. When is he coming back, anyway? Survivor Series? The Royal Rumble? Until then, are we just going to see the Wyatts plowing through everybody? That’s not the worst thing in the world, I suppose. Bray is a great character, though Windham Rotunda does tend to overact a bit. Best case scenario here? We get a program between Kofi and the Wyatts that makes Kofi look like the brave hero for standing up to them. Worst case scenario? It’s a consequence-free filler match.

Rob’s Prediction: Bray Wyatt
WINNER: Bray Wyatt

WWE DIVAS TITLE MATCH:
AJ Lee (c) vs. Brie Bella

The match sucks, simply because it has a Bella in it. I know that makes me sound like a terrible, unreasonably fickle wrestling fan, but it’s how I feel. However, unlike some of the other matches we’ll be seeing, at least there is some significant history here, and it’s not just a throw-together match. AJ cut that amazing promo on the babyface divas a few weeks ago, and much of it was obviously directed at the Bella Twins. So to an extent, it’s interesting to see that culminate in physicality between Brie and AJ. Thankfully, I don’t see Brie walking out with the belt, given AJ has a new bodyguard in Tamina Snuka. Sadly, come Hell in a Cell or Survivor Series, there’s a chance Brie may become our new Divas Champion so they can tie it into Total Divas. Ugh…couldn’t we just give it to Natalya?

Rob’s Prediction: AJ Lee
WINNER: AJ Lee

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Curtis Axel (c) vs. R-Truth

Is WWE trying to re-establish R-Truth again? Eh, doubtful. But I maintain that making him be this smiling babyface is a complete waste of his talent. He’s really charismatic, and if they let him inject a little bit of his offbeat humor back into his presentation, he could be much, much more interesting to watch As for Curtis Axel, it’s been quite awhile since he made his big re-debut, and while he did indeed win the Intercontinental Championship, what else has he done that’s memorable, outside of being a henchman for Paul Heyman? Does he have great mic skills? No, not really. But he does have some star power, and is worthy of more than an Intercontinental Title match thrown together six days before a pay per view. So who wins? Axel, probably. There’s no real reason to move the IC title at this point, even though not much is being done with it.

Rob’s Prediction: Curtis Axel
WINNER: Curtis Axel

HARDCORE MATCH FOR WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Rob Van Dam

As this will likely be one of Rob Van Dam’s last shows for awhile, a Del Rio win here is a given. The real question here is what to do with Ricardo Rodriguez. Do you put him back with Del Rio, or do you team him up with another babyface (possibly Rey Mysterio) for the next World Heavyweight Title program? While I’ve enjoyed the RVD/Ricardo team, as it’s somewhat reminiscent of the old RVD/Bill Alfonso dynamic, at this point you might as well put him back with Del Rio. Have him turn go heel in this match, and then Van Dam’s got a built in grudge match when he comes back. Also, while I haven’t necessarily been in love with this feud, I do appreciate the fact that they’ve upped the ante by making it a hardcore match. They certainly didn’t do that with our main event…

Rob’s Prediction: Alberto Del Rio
WINNER: Alberto Del Rio

STIPULATION MATCH:
Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns (c) vs. Cody Rhodes & Goldust
If Rhodes and Goldust win, they both get jobs with WWE.

I’ve enjoyed the whole Rhodes vs. McMahon family storyline. It seems to have gotten the audience a little more invested in Cody, and it’s always great to see Goldust. And what’s more, I like that this rivalry has been built up over several weeks. Unlike almost everything else on this card, this feels like a must-see match. The fact that the tag team titles aren’t on the line here leads me to believe the Rhodes family is going to get the win here, and this program will continue. My guess is we’ll see Dusty Rhodes, who’s scheduled to be at ringside, hit somebody with a good ol’ fashioned Bionic Elbow, leading to a quick roll up.

Rob’s Prediction: Cody Rhodes & Goldust
WINNER: Cody Rhodes & Goldust

CM Punk vs. Ryback

I’ve grown rather fond of the Paul Heyman/Ryback duo very quickly. Whoever had the idea to have Heyman take the weird man-crush approach might be a little disturbed. But you know what? It’s effective. And the whole “Paul, you never have to worry about Punk again” thing gives Ryback a chance to flex a few creative muscles he wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to. Ryback isn’t really a bad mic guy, particularly when he’s working heel. He just needs some practice. And allowing Heyman to do some of his talking for him gives him a chance find himself in that respect. Unfortunately, he won’t be finding himself a win at Battleground. Punk lost last month at Night of Champions, and he lost to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. It’s time to give him a win. I’d certainly be open to seeing these two work again next month at Hell in a Cell.

Rob’s Prediction: CM Punk
WINNER: CM Punk

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton

Ugh…I’m bored. I talked about this a bit already, but the stakes haven’t been sufficiently raised from their match at Night of Champions. Yes it’s for the title, and yes it’ll likely be very well performed. But this just feels like they threw their hands up and said: “Uhhhh…let’s just do it again!” There’s no must-see element, no added attraction that wasn’t there at Night of Champions. I can only assume these two will go at it inside the cage at Hell in a Cell, so this likely won’t end here. We might as well just have it end in some kind of non-finish, where we end up holding off on the crowning of a new champion until Hell in a Cell, where they can have some kind of “there must be a winner” stipulation. But if they go with that ending, they might want to put Punk and Ryback on last, for the sake of sending the fans home happy. If people cried foul and demanded refunds after Night of Champions, when Bryan actually won, then a non-finish could start a friggin’ riot.

Rob’s Prediction: No Contest
WINNER: No Contest

Images from WWE.com.

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A Look Back: Azrael #1

TITLE: Azrael #1
AUTHOR:
Denny O’Neil
ARTIST: Barry Kitson
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $1.95
RELEASE DATE: February 1995

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

No, not that Azrael. Michael Lane has nothing on my guy. Who’s my guy, you ask? That would be Jean Paul Valley. The tall, fresh-faced, bespectacled college student who became the Batman (“AzBats,” to quote Nightwing) during the Knightfall saga.

For the uninitiated, Jean Paul Valley was the first Azrael, a fierce warrior and deadly assassin subconsciously trained from birth via subliminal messages and hypnosis to become the enforcer of the Order of St. Dumas. Or rather, a splinter group of it headed by a Brother Rollo. Jean Paul was abruptly forced into a life of violence when his father, the previous Azrael, came bleeding on his doorstep. Before dying, his father gave him instructions to use funds he left for him to go to Switzerland in order to receive training as the next Azrael. Jean Paul would later his father intended for him to use the funds to escape from a life as an assassin, but then we wouldn’t have gotten Azrael, now would we?

Jean Paul received his training, fell in with Batman after a brief fight, helped take down the man who had killed his father along with several members of the Order, saving Bruce Wayne/Batman’s life in the process, and then became an ally of Batman. When Bats was critically injured by Bane during Knightfall, Bruce had Jean Paul take up the mantle of the Bat. It was less than a good idea, to say the least. The mentally fragile Jean Paul was driven into a state of mania and malice, leading him to deliberately allow the death of the serial killer Abattoir. Once Bruce Wayne recovered, he was forced to take the mantle back from Jean Paul after a climactic battle. But what happened to him after that? His story was not yet over. We were thus given the next chapter in the life of Jean Paul Valley, via his own ongoing series, which began in Azrael #1.

This story sees Jean Paul wandering the streets of Gotham City, hallucinating and beating people up. He eventually meets up with ex-psychiatrist Brian Bryan, who offers him a friendly ear. Of course, those people that Jean Paul beat up while hallucinating himself as Azrael fighting a twisted, demonic version of Batman are not happy with our hero. Meanwhile, Batman isn’t yet done with Jean Paul. And neither is the Order of St. Dumas.

I’ll be honest. Denny O’Neil’s original, series-long run on Azrael was not the best stuff in comics at the time. Many plotlines and scenarios were reused again and again, such as Jean Paul being framed for murder, or him going on a crazed rampage, or both at the same time. As much as I like O’Neil’s work, and as much as I respect him for how he helped revolutionize comics, he dropped the ball with his handling of Azrael in his last years on the title. All that said, the first issue of the series is pretty darn awesome.

In one issue, we’re reintroduced to Jean Paul as a hapless, sympathetic youth who suffers from a severe mental illness. This is a pet topic of mine, actually, because I just love heroes with emotional baggage who also aren’t super-gruff jerkholes. Jean Paul is likeable, lovable even. Despite being a surrounded by Batman’s shadow, he’s a genuinely nice guy. He’s kind of a blank slate, since we don’t get to get into his head by way of inner monologue very often. O’Neil, for some reason, feels the need to describe what’s going on with caption boxes full of third person narration. But it’s that very same blank slate that allows us to sympathize with Jean Paul, to judge him by his actions and dialogue alone, and not by what he tells us. It is a good idea from a comic book standpoint? Maybe not. Azrael, like Batman, needs a Watson. Otherwise he just talks to himself, as brilliantly lampshaded in Azrael #32. But Azrael’s Watson comes right along.

In this issue, we’re also introduced to Brian Bryan, the aforementioned ex-psychiatrist and current alcoholic, who would go on to become a strong recurring character in the Azrael series. Brian Bryan is an excellent foil for Jean Paul. Jean Paul is simple and childlike, while Bryan is a cynical adult. Jean Paul is all but oblivious, but wishes to be aware; Bryan is painfully aware, and turns to alcohol to become oblivious to his inherent problems as a homeless person.

Speaking of the homeless, I’d like to give O’Neil credit for making Azrael the only title I’ve ever read which manages to almost perfectly encapsulate the human side of Gotham City from the standpoint of a superhero. Who are all these people that Batman spends his nights trying to protect? What do they want, and why do they want it? In this case, some mean homeless guy wants Jean Paul’s shoes. This focus on the people of Gotham continues on through the No Man’s Land saga and beyond, showcasing just who the people of Gotham City are. It’s probably the one thing that O’Neil’s run on Azrael has in common with the newer title: It’s very, very street level. And a street level story set in Batman’s city with very little Batman in it can be either very scary, or as it is here, very touching. The feel of the street level setting is bolstered by the terrific’90s art, which captures the mood perfectly.

My final commendation for this first issue is that the pacing is just perfect. We’ve got the clever set up, the gradual unveiling of our players, the seeding of the Order of St. Dumas arc which will drive the series for the first quarter or so of its run, and a cliff hanger ending which will have us picking up issue number 2. It’s a terrific beginning of a terrific run, or at least a partly terrific run.

I’m glad to own the first issue of the original Azrael series, and I hope to one day own the last issue. One of the reasons Jean Paul Valley’s Azrael is one of my favorite characters is because there’s relatively little written on him. The character’s formative years were largely written by O’Neil, and given the way he writes, there’s only so much we can know about poor Jean Paul. I’d like to see how a more modern writer, like Scott Snyder, Ed Brubaker, or even Grant Morrison would handle him. Never mind Michael Lane. I say go Jean Paul Valley any day.

Front page image from Rob Siebert’s collection. Images 2 and 3 courtesy from dc.wikia.com.

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A Look Back: The First Great Spider-Man Story?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been on an early Spider-Man kick lately. For the past few weeks I’ve had my nose in the first eight volumes of thMarvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man series. We’re talking the definitive, golden age of Spider-Man, a la Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita. While it’s fairly obvious these guys had no idea they were creating what many now deem to be “modern day mythology,” it’s also clear how much fun they were having putting these issues together. And it’s thrilling to know how groundbreaking those early issues were in terms of the superhero genre. As he was developing Spider-Man and his world, Stan Lee was told…

1. Teenagers couldn’t be superheroes, only sidekicks.
2. People would be turned off by a spider-themed hero.
3. A hero with an “average” build wouldn’t be appealing.
4. Peter Parker’s doting Aunt May would make him look weak.
5. A hero with everyday problems wouldn’t seem heroic enough.

But of course, Spider-Man changed everything, and nothing moreso than the way we look at superheroes, and the tremendous weights they carry. Peter Parker had supervillains to face, of course. But he also had bills to pay (it’s tough to cash a check in a superhero costume), a doting aunt to keep happy (“You know how easily you catch cold!”), a boss who loathed superheroes (“It’s the work of that miserable Spider-Man!”), and a relentless school bully (“Why don’tcha watch and see what a real man is like, bookworm?”). Spider-Man had everyday problems just like his readers. As such, when those problems started to add up, and his world began to crumble around him, we could sympathize and relate to him that much more.

Most of these elements were present when Spidey made his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, circa August 1962. In retrospect, it’s amazing how quickly Lee and Ditko were able to establish the now classic Spider-Man formula. But for my money, the first time they really hit one out of the park wasn’t until more than a year later, when The Amazing Spider-Man #4 was published in September 1963.

This was the first issue that, to me, really had it all. The ol’ Parker luck was really in full swing here, and what results is an issue that, almost 50 years later, still holds up.

In terms of the Spider-Man timeline, this issue is already tremendously significant, because it marks the debut of one of Spidey’s most notorious villains, Sandman. Like a great many Marvel villains, Flint Marko was part of a freak accident which granted him superpowers. After escaping from a maximum security prison, Marko was chased into an “atomic devices testing center.” He found his way to a “lonely, forbidden-area beach,” where he fell victim to a nuclear test explosion. As a result, he discovered his body could taken on the qualities of sand. He could quickly transform his body into sand, be it soft and weightless or rock hard in consistency. In addition, he can also mold his hands into different shapes, i.e. weapons. As the cover clearly indicates, this issue we see our friend Mr. Parker bamboozled by his new opponent’s powers, as his punches either go right through the Sandman, or are met with a jaw that’s been hardened to the consistency of a brick wall.

In the end, Spidey wins his first battle with Sandman with the help of a vacuum cleaner, of all things. He tricks Sandy into going…er, sandy, and then sucks him up in the machine. Not exactly a dignified way for a villain to end his first appearance, but I suppose it does make Spidey look resourceful. In retrospect, it’s a wonder the vacuum bit didn’t make it to theaters with Sandman in Spider-Man 3, considering some of the other goofy stuff that happened in that movie. Also, if I’m not mistaken the vacuum cleaner moment marked the first time our hero called himself “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!”

As if Sandman weren’t enough, Peter was also having costume problems in this issue. And this is where the real genius of The Amazing Spider-Man #4 occurs. During their first fight, Marko tears Spider-Man’s mask. As he only uses one costume, Peter needs to sew the mask back together so he can return to action. But, as is the case with many teenage boys, Peter isn’t exactly an expert at sewing. So the task doesn’t come easy. On top of all that, Peter’s Aunt May is convinced he’s sick with a fever, and forced him to stay in bed while Sandman terrorizes the city! What’s so brilliant about this is that it makes the story more relatable to children in particular. What kid HASN’T tried to sneakily do something behind an adults back, and feared getting caught? Peter wants to go out and have a rip-roaring adventure, but his aunt is making him stay inside! It’s classic Stan Lee, and certainly one of the best early Spider-Man moments.

Speaking of relatable, Peter’s issues with Flash Thompson also come to a head in this issue. From the very first page of Amazing Fantasy #15 (shown above), Flash had been established not as a brutish bully per se, but the jerk in school who picks on “Puny Parker.” In this issue, Peter finally gets fed up and nearly decks Flash. But he stops and realizes that if he loses his temper he could seriously hurt someone, given his added super-powered strength. So with the patience of Job, Peter backs down, only to swallow even more abuse from Flash.

I love this moment because it beautifully illustrates how Peter’s great strength extends to the mental and emotional, as well as the physical. Once again, Peter is forced to put his own feelings asisde, and sacrifice in the mark of his great responsibility. And again, this is a moment almost every reader can relate to. We obviously don’t all have superpowers. But we’ve all known people like Flash, and we’d all love the power to put them in their place once and for all. Here Peter has that power, but he refuses to allow himself to use it. We feel for him and we admire him at the same time.

But Peter does get to have a little fun at the expense of Spider-Man’s harshest critic, J. Jonah Jameson. Since his first appearance four months earlier in The Amazing Spider-Man #1, JJJ had been wreaking havoc on Spidey’s public image. That doesn’t stop here, but Spidey gets to wreak a little havoc of his own by putting some webbing on his Daily Bugle boss’ chair. Naturally, when Jonah sits he gets stuck, and his pants eventually tear. This leads to a rather comically awkward moment where Peter has to bring him a new pair. And to boot, they’re purple. In the end, however, Jonah gets the last laugh. Peter spends the last page of the issue down in the dumps, as people on the street are reading Jameson’s latest smear piece.

So now, take a step back and look at all the elements here. As always, we have our dashing (but not too dashing), colorful, and ever lovable hero. But we also have…

- A fresh supervillain with abilities that at first seem impossible to overcome.
- An embarassing torn costume scenario, which our hero has to fix himself while simultaneously appeasing his doting aunt.
- The harmless, yet grating, tauntings of Flash Thompson, who Peter is forced to show restraint around.
- The not-so-harmless writings of J. Jonah Jameson, whose words have turned much of the public against our hero, despite all the good he’s done.
- An ending which leaves our hero torn. He is triumphant, yet dejected. He’s won a battle, but is he losing a war?

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko wove all these plot threads together into a single issue. And of course, these are all scenarios and themes that continue to be present in the Spider-Man mythology to this day. Power and responsibility, overcoming great odds, showing restraint for the greater good, doing the right thing even when it isn’t popular. These are some of the things that make Spider-Man who and what he is, and are part of the reason he’s endured for 50 years.

Did Lee and Ditko have the word “masterpiece” running through their minds when they crafted The Amazing Spider-Man #4? Probably not. Heck, in 1963 I’d wager most people didn’t think “comic book” and “masterpiece” belonged in the same sentence. For that matter, maybe they still don’t. But considering the era it was created in, and what it helped cement in terms of the character’s mythology, this issue IS a masterpiece. For my money, it’s the first great Spider-Man story.

‘Nuff said.

Front page image, image 3 and image 5 from supermegamonkey.net. Image 1 from ditkocultist.com. Image 4 from author’s collection. 

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Rob’s Predictions/Results: WWE Summerslam 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the first time in several years where the Summerslam card really feels worthy of the event’s legacy. certain special attraction matches (i.e. Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar) notwithstanding. I think that’s because the upper card has a lot of meat to it this year, with John Cena facing Daniel Bryan, and CM Punk facing off against Brock Lesnar. There’s a lot of great drama to be had in both matches, and they both feature performers who’ve been part of some solid storytelling this year. So the odds for a good payoff are pretty strong. If we’re really lucky, one of those matches will give us something worthy of Bret Hart vs. Davey Both Smith at Wembley Stadium, or Bret vs. Mr. Perfect in ’91, or Bret vs. Owen Hart in the cage…noticing a pattern, here?

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Rob Van Dam

How the hell did RVD and Dean Ambrose wind up on the pre-show, whilea one-on-one divas match we could have seen on any given episode of Superstars is on the pay per view? Eh, maybe it’s a bonus for us, as we get to see this one for free. I see The Shield getting involved here and costing Van Dam the match. RVD doesn’t need the United States title. He doesn’t need ANY title, really. Though a run with a Heavyweight title would indeed be appreciated. And after that promo Ambrose cut on Raw this past week, he deserves a win. It can definitely be argued that Ambrose hasn’t been able to do as much with the US Title because they’ve had to use him with The Shield. Hopefully, as time goes on we’ll get to see him use his many talents to make that title a little more important.

Rob’s Prediction: Dean Ambrose
WINNER: Rob Van Dam (by disqualification)

Natalya vs. Brie Bella

That Superstars match I mentioned? This is it. *sigh* Okay, bright side: Natalya is getting a pay per view match for the first time in quite awhile. What’s more, she might even win! The fact that Nattie made AJ tap out on Raw leads me to believe she’s got a pay per view title match in her future. And as it would likely behoove WWE to have the Divas Champion be a part of Total Divas, her winning the belt isn’t entirely out of the question, is it? I can only assume Maria Menounos’ schedule conflicted with Summerslam, as at the Fan Axxess event this weekend they have her tagging with Natalya against Brie and Eva Marie. That certainly would have made for a better pay per view match.

Rob’s Prediction: Natalya
WINNER: Natalya

MIXED TAG TEAM MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler & Kaitlyn vs. Big E. Langston & AJ Lee

As an on-screen personality, I’d say Big E. Langston is coming along quite nicely. Slowly but surely, he seems to be developing a quiet sort of charisma, not unlike Batista did in the early 2000s. That’s a pretty lofty comparison, though. At the very least, we can be grateful he’s not just another soulless bodyguard type. I see AJ and Langston weaseling their way into a win here, most likely with AJ getting one over on Kaitlyn. Depending on how Night of Champions shakes out, this might lead us to a Ziggler vs. Langston pay per view match. This could also segway into Ziggler somehow costing AJ the championship, if that is indeed the direction they want to go.

Rob’s Prediction: Big E. Langston & AJ Lee
WINNER: Dolph Ziggler & Kaitlyn

Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow

I’m ecstatic that this match made it on pay per view. Rhodes is a great foil for Sandow. The “Rhodes Scholars” tag team was always a bit frustrating to me, as it was always clear that both those guys were capable of breaking out as singles stars. Heck, I give Cody partial credit for making the Intercontinental Championship mean something again during his run with it. So in that sense, this match feels like vindication. I see Cody getting the victory here, so that we can hopefully keep these two working together a little while longer. As he has a Money in the Bank briefcase, obviously Sandow is being groomed for bigger things. With luck, Cody can use this program to gather a little bit of that magic for himself. He certainly deserves it.

Rob’s Prediction: Cody Rhodes
WINNER: Cody Rhodes

RING OF FIRE MATCH:
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt

Ugh…I just want everybody to come out of this match okay. These fire matches are the only ones that make me nervous when I watch. At least the object isn’t to actually set anyone ablaze. So I presume the story here will be about how Luke Harper and Erick Rowan somehow help Bray Wyatt, despite the fire being in their way. So obviously, our victor here is Wyatt. Though in truth, I think he could lose this one and still be okay. The creepy and eerie vibe the Wyatt Family brings to the table likely wouldn’t be effected one way or another. Though I do think Bray needs to cut down on the laughing while he’s out there. We get it, he’s evil. Move along…

Rob’s Prediction: Bray Wyatt
WINNER: Bray Wyatt

WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Christian

So are we heading toward a Christian retirement angle, here? They’re doing the whole one more match/one more shot at glory type thing, and we’re showing career retrospectives. If they’re looking for a way to put some extra heat on Del Rio, retiring Christian would certainly do it. But even then, I still don’t imagine I’d be a fan of heel Alberto. For my money, he was doing just fine as a babyface. Now that he’s back to his old one-dimensional bad guy character, I’ve lost interest quickly. As such, I’m not exactly invested here. So let’s let Del Rio win, and move on to the next chapter…

Rob’s Prediction: Alberto Del Rio
WINNER: Alberto Del Rio

CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar

As expected, the mic work in this program has been stellar. Though I certainly didn’t expect the best of it to come from Lesnar. That video package where he talks about how it’s person between he and Punk was amazing. All the stuff between Punk and Heyman was good too, but Lesnar’s ice cold delivery was positively frightening. He’s not an actor by any means, but with the WWE production elements helping him, he made me believe. So mad props to him for that. I’m expecting something pretty physical here, with Punk coming out on top in the end. It pains me to say that, as I think Brock has lost too many times since his return. But I see Punk just barely scraping by with a win, and then missing his chance to get his hands on Heyman. Or if he does, just having a brief physical interaction with him. I’m hoping we get another match out of these two, the hopefully not as lengthy a program as Brock worked with Triple H. I’d love to see the ante upped to a no-DQ match, or possibly even a submission match.

Rob’s Predicton: CM Punk
WINNER: CM Punk

WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
John Cena (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
Guest Referee: Triple H

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a WWE Championship match with so many explosive elements in it. On paper, this might actually be the most emotional pay per view match since Cena faced CM Punk at Money in the Bank in 2011. Fittingly, in this match he’s up against yet another indy darling in Daniel Bryan, and the WWE Title is once again on the line.

I maintain that there’s no pressing need for Triple H to be in this match. We had enough drama happening between Cena and Bryan to carry a Summerslam main event. I suspect he’s in there so Vince McMahon has a good reason to come down and argue with him about something, leading to a screwjob of some kind. As Daniel Bryan will likely be picking up a win here, I’m hoping he at least gets a moment to shine as the fairly unlikely WWE Champion that he is, before things go south…

Randy Orton isn’t booked on this card, and they’ve been teasing a Money in the Bank cash-in for weeks now. So it’s a virtual certainty something is going to go down with him. I can only assume that something is a post-match cash-in, where he finally turns heel and takes Bryan’s triumph away from him. Mind you, that’s something we’re all expecting, so maybe WWE will pull the rug out from under us and take it in a different direction. But for better or worse, I’d say it’s a solid bet Randy Orton walks out with the WWE Championship.

Rob’s Prediction: Daniel Bryan, followed by Randy Orton
WINNER: Daniel Bryan, followed by Randy Orton

All images courtesy of WWE.com.

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