A Review of The Flash, Season 1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Smile

flash_ver2TITLE: The Flash, Season 1
STARRING: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh
CREATORS: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
RATING: TV-PG
NETWORK: The CW
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: October 7, 2014

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I was never drawn to Arrow. It was mostly the ho-hum reviews that I read online, but also because I’m not a huge Green Arrrow fan. Any character done right is worth attention (see Marvel’s Daredevil), but I remained highly skeptical of Arrow, and still do. I watched a couple of episodes on Netflix, and decided it wasn’t worth my time to endure the agony of a crappy first season until it got “really, really good.”

That said, I actually adore The Flash. I looked forward to watching it each week, and I came away from the season finale wanting more. How is it that two shows, both on the CW, both created by similar creative teams, and even occupying a shared universe, managed to make me look at them in wildly different ways?

2060_oriThe Flash stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, a nerdy young CSI for the Central City Police Department. He’s obsessed with proving the innocence of his jailed father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen in the 1990s The Flash TV series). Henry was convicted years ago of murdering Barry’s mother in a strangely fantastical incident that Barry witnessed as a child. There was a big, yellow streak involved. Then one day, at the activation of the new S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator, things go horribly wrong. There’s an explosion in conjunction with a lightning storm. Barry is struck by lightning while working in his strangely grungy-looking CSI lab.

Barry wakes up from a coma nine months later, being tended by S.T.A.R. Labs personnel Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), and Dr. Caitlyn Snow (Danielle Panabaker), to find that he has super speed, a healing factor, and a need to eat lots and lots of food. His surrogate father, police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) warns him not to tell his daughter, and Barry’s longtime crush, Iris West (Candice Patton), about what’s going on. Barry soon dons a scarlet costume and works with the S.T.A.R. Labs team to take down delinquent “meta-humans” who also gained powers through the particle accelerator explosion. Meanwhile, Dr. Wells is hiding a deep, dark secret…

Also, Joe’s partner, Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), shows up and begins dating Iris.

The Flash, Arrow, crossoverFrom what I saw of Arrow, the two shows do have a few things in common: They’re both drenched in bathos and melodrama and almost none of the characters look above 30. But aside from that, they couldn’t be any more different. Where Arrow is dominated by soulless and crushing despair, The Flash is the most upbeat TV drama I’ve seen since White Collar. It’s not just the abundance of humor. It’s stories are made to be as fun as possible, with no pretentions of being realistic or serious. After all, how serious can a show about a guy who runs really fast punching criminals be?

Early episodes of the show went with a straightforward police-procedural feel. But as the show got more confident, it eventually transformed into full-blown comic-booky science fiction craziness.

Arguably the two best things about this show are the Joe West and Harrison Wells characters. Joe is just a fun character to watch. He’s so blithely incredulous about the craziness going on around him that it’s impossible not to find him endearing. I love that he’s really the only one who has a problem with Barry and his friends locking up all the meta-humans they capture in a completely illegal private prison. There’s also an actual Tumblr devoted to his unique facial expressions. Joe West reminds me of a more laidback version of Crispus Allen from Gotham Central.

Tom Cavanagh, Harrison WellsThen there’s Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Cavanagh spends most of the season in a wheelchair, but it’s incredible how subtly he gets his character across. I enjoyed how they played up Wells’ similarities to Joe, in that they’re both father figures to Barry. It all leads up to a great payoff in the end that gives us an excellent performance by Cavanagh as a maniacally evil mad scientist. He’s interesting to watch at all times.

As for other villains, The Flash suffers from a tired “freak of the week” format, but it’s redeemed by a particularly fun group of recurring villains. There are the Rogues, led by Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who deserves special mention. He sounds like he’s channeling Clint Eastwood half the time, but he’s obviously having a lot of fun in the role. Some of the best and craziest episodes of the series involve both he and his fellow Rogues, Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) and Golden Glider (Peyton List). Purcell is probably the hammiest actor on the show next to Mark Hamill’s much-ballyhooed guest star as the Trickster. And who can forget the Reverse Flash the Man in the Yellow Suit?

Granted, The Flash won’t win any writing awards. For instance, the love triangle between Barry, Iris, and Eddie seems contrived at best and creepy at worst. On one hand, there’s no real conflict between Eddie and Barry because they’re both really nice guys. Barry doesn’t want to hurt Iris or Eddie, and those two are completely oblivious to Barry’s feelings. On the other hand, Iris herself said in the first episode that she and Barry were like “brother and sister.” Ick. It didn’t help much when they decided to pair Iris with Eddie. It was a pathetically obvious effort to inject some cheap drama into the plot. Incidentally, Eddie and Iris actually make a pretty good couple.

The Flash, Harrison Wells, Eddie ThawneEddie’s mere presence here is a possible sign that this show was only half-baked when it first went on the air. First we have the Totally-Not-Evil Dr. Wells doing his thing. Then we have some guy whose name is Eddie Thawne, which fans of the comics will know sounds a lot like Eobard Thawne, the alter ego of the Reverse Flash. You’d think that the writers would use this as a gold mine for an intriguing subplot, especially since in the promotional materials Eddie was touted as having a “dark secret.”

But that intrigue of peters out, and Eddie fades into the background as the series goes on, particularly when Team Flash begins dealing with Firestorm. But the finale actually addresses this problem, after much else has been revealed. Believe it or not, it actually works! When the series ends, Eddie is seen in an entirely different light.

For all its faults, The Flash won me over because of one simple truth: It’s fun. The crazy plots, the spectacular, super-powered battles, the silly melodrama, the obligatory DCU references, the self-aware humor. Even the mediocre CGI and other special effects were endearing. Bottom line, if you like superheroes with no pretentions of seriousness (think Thor, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, with a bit of Batman ’66 thrown in), then you’ll absolutely love The Flash.

Something tells me that DC is beginning to understand that their heroes can afford to smile now and then.

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 2 from theinsightfulpanda.wordpress.com. Image 3 from theflash.wikia.com. Image 4 from etonline.com.

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Samoa Joe’s Debut, TNA’s Troubles, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few things to get to before we talk about Raw

Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, NXT TakeoverSamoa Joe appears at NXT Takeover. Samoa Joe in a WWE ring. I honestly never thought I’d see the day. Not because Joe doesn’t have the talent, but because he clearly doesn’t fit the traditional WWE musclehead mold. The fact that he was signed speaks volumes about the way WWE recruits talent now as opposed to, say, five years ago. He even got to keep his name! He wasn’t renamed or repackaged, which probably has something to do with the nature of the deal he signed. Joe still has some indy dates booked, so perhaps he’ll be repackaged if/when he becomes exclusive to WWE.

If Joe does indeed have a run with NXT, I don’t doubt he’ll be successful. Judging by how quickly Kevin Owens became NXT Champion, it’s not at all unreasonable to imagine similar success for Joe. My question is, how successful would Joe be on the main roster, with Vince McMahon micromanaging his every move? His matches would be good, of course. But would Vince brush him off because of his body type? Actually, I imagine the same question could be posed about Kevin Owens.

Either way, Joe’s arrival in NXT was a huge moment. So many fans, myself included, thought it simply wasn’t in the cards. Congratulations, Joe. You deserve it.

TNA, Destination AmericaDave Meltzer reports that Destination America is planning to cancel all TNA programming affective this September. Lots of controversy over this one, and rightfully so. Supposedly, TNA hasn’t delivered ratings high enough to justify the production costs, and most of Destination America’s advertisers want nothing to do with TNA.

Neither TNA President Dixie Carter, nor Destination America have made any sort of statements regarding potential cancellations, most likely because things haven’t been finalized. Thus, theoretically, TNA could stay on the network if plans change.

This story is just sad. After all that drama last year about TNA finding a new network, this happens. One might even argue that being on Destination America was a detriment to TNA from the start. So many fans simply don’t have access to it. I’m one of those fans, and as such I haven’t seen a new episode of Impact since they left Spike. And just when they’d finally cut ties with Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, and the show was becoming watchable again.

Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, TNAIncidentally, Eric Bischoff, Jason Hervey, and Garrett Bischoff suing TNA for unpaid wages certainly isn’t going to help matters.

I want to have hope for TNA. I really do. But things just keep piling on…

Hulk Hogan says he may play a villain in The Expendables 4. I don’t buy it. Not as the main villain, anyway. His contributions to wrestling notwithstanding, Hogan is a notorious liar and BS’er. I’ll believe it when I hear it from someone other than him.

Thoughts From Raw:

Zack Ryder accepts John Cena’s open challenge in his hometown of Long Island. This almost felt like justice for Zack Ryder. This poor guy got buried by the system simply because he got himself over. But at least he got to have a career moment tonight with John Cena. Not that it will matter in the long run, of course. Much like Stardust did, he’ll go right back to jobbing next week. But kudos to Ryder, Cena, and WWE for giving Long Island something special.

As for the cast of  Entourage…meh, whatever. I find it funny that they made a tron video that specifically said “The Cast of Entourage.” I’m just happy we didn’t have to see Jeremy Piven on Raw again. I admired his enthusiasm when he was a guest host. But I still cringe when I think of that “Summerfest” flub.

Dean Ambrose, Raw, May 26, 2015The Authority, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns open and close the show. I fast-forwarded through the first 13 minutes of Raw, simply because I’ve seen this promo time after time, week after week. I pressed play when Dean Ambrose came out, but fast-forwarded again when he didn’t say anything interesting. Ditto for the lead-in to the tag match. I’m begging them to change up the format here.

Ambrose being arrested, taken to jail, and then returning in a police van (I’m not calling it a paddy wagon…) was pretty Stone Cold-esque. But oddly enough, having Ambrose actually wear the police hat and jacket put a pretty cool spin on it. It made it amusing in a way that’s very synonymous with the “Lunatic Fringe” character.

Roman Reigns was a decent supporting player here, but it’s curious that he isn’t involved in Elimination Chamber at all. Isn’t he supposed to be one of their big stars on the rise? I don’t get it.

Lana, Rusev, Raw, May 25, 2015Rusev calls Lana to the ring for an attempt at reconciliation. Jeez, this was a long segment. Rusev’s acting skills have improved immensely since we first saw him, and I suppose he did alright here. But it was ill advised to have him carry an entire talking segment based on things like love, emotional manipulation, etc. I’m wondering if they’ll wind up putting them back together at Elimination Chamber, pulling the ol’ swerve on Dolph Ziggler. Lana and Rusev’s involvement in Ziggler’s match with Sheamus did nothing to dissuade that.

Neville def. Stardust, will face Bo Dallas at Elimination Chamber. This match with Neville is a huge opportunity for Dallas to prove he can be a relevant commodity on the WWE roster. Because let’s be honest: Right now he’s not.

On the subject of relevance, I’m happy he got to interact with Stephen Amell at ringside, as that at least gave him something to do. But he’s worth so much more. The crowds still chant “Cody!” at him, so clearly he’s still over. This seems like another case of WWE not knowing what to do with a character, so a talent goes to waste.

The New Day, Raw, May 25, 2015The New Day compete in a 10-on-3 handicap match. So the idea of a match like this is to make the audience happy that The New Day are getting beat up. I understand that. I just don’t think it’s a good idea. As a fan, it makes me feel sympathy for the guys I’m supposed to dislike. Yes, they walked away with the win. But at least they walked away! They were essentially booked in a mugging! I expect they’ll walk out of Elimination Chamber with the belts as well.

Tamina Snuka def. Paige. It would have been nice to have heard the commentary for this match. But as always, the Bellas at the announce table means instant mute button.

Images 1, 4, 5, and 6 from WWE.com. Image 2 from impactwrestling.com. Image 3 from prowrestling24.com.

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Winnie the Pooh and Me: The T-Shirt Conundrum

Winnie the Pooh, PigletBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve found myself in an awkward situation last week. I was walking into work, and through the back window of a parked car, I spotted a little plush doll of the Olaf character from Frozen. For whatever reason, this planted an idea in the back of my mind. Over the next eight hours, my subconscious mulled and debated over it. Is it necessary? Is it appropriate? Does it even make sense?

In the end, the answer turned out to be yes. At about 10:30 that night, I drove to my local supermarket and found something I knew would be there.

Moments later, I was the proud owner of a $5 Winnie the Pooh plush doll. (The one shown left isn’t it, but you get the idea.) I proceeded to stick it in my back window, in the exact same spot the Olaf doll was housed in the other car. It’s been there ever since. I haven’t told anyone this story, and no one has asked me about it. Not even my wife.

Winnie the Pooh plush dollSo here I am, a 30-something guy with a Winnie the Pooh doll in his car. In truth, I also googled Pooh t-shirts earlier this week. I’m actually considering buying one…

But it seems like that’s the kind of thing you’ve got to be careful with. A grown man wearing a Winnie the Pooh shirt certainly has the potential to be creepy and weird. That perception is fair enough, I suppose. But I’m wondering if it’s worth the risk.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with Pooh, of course. He and I go back to when I was a baby. In old pictures, there’s a plush Winnie the Pooh next to a much, much smaller version of yours truly. In later years, Welcome to Pooh Corner (Remember that show? It’s the one with people in costumes. YouTube it.) would be on before grammar school. As recently as a few years ago, I’d be flipping channels and catch myself stuck on My Friends Tigger & Pooh, which was about a little girl who went around the Hundred Acre Wood with the gang and…solved mysteries, for some reason. Maybe it should have been CSI: Pooh Corner.

Pooh even popped up at my wedding reception. Each table was named after a literary character, and featured an accompanying quote. Pooh had a table, which had a quote most people have seen. It’s something to the effect of: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”

Winnie the Pooh, Christopher RobinI think the reason I’ve gravitated back to Pooh as an adult is because of what I see as his simplicity and his knack for kindness. He’s not the smartest guy out there, he’s got his share of flaws and weaknesses (such as a knack for “hunny”), and even gets himself in trouble at times. But at his core Pooh has a warm heart, deeply cares for his friends, and doesn’t intentionally put any negativity out into the world. He’s soft spoken, and he’s never mean or cruel. There’s a charming naivety and innocence about him that is synonymous with everything that’s good about being a child. When we reach adulthood, so many of us lose touch with our inner child. And what better embodiment of that inner child will you ever find than Winnie the Pooh?

Also, now that I’m a little older, am married, and likely have kids in my future, I’ve grown rather tired of the idea of being “cool.” I don’t have much use for it anymore. At the risk of sounding sappy or preachy, once you gain a little perspective, you learn that being cool really isn’t important. Being a kind and caring person is. I suppose being in the vicinity of a Winnie the Pooh image is my way of conveying that.

Winnie the Pooh, cutesyBut the world is such a cynical, quick-to-judge place. It always has been, but it seems like that’s the case now more than ever. The last thing I’d want to do is take something so pure, and turn it into something awkward, creepy, or somehow distasteful to people. Normally I don’t necessarily care about this sort of thing, but it seems appropriate here.

Somehow it seems like the key to being a man with a Winnie the Pooh shirt is the proper ratio of cuteness. For instance, the image above is immediately ruled out. If you go around  wearing something that looks like wallpaper in a baby’s room, you’re a creeper no matter how pure your intentions may be.

On the other hand, you really can’t try and take the cool approach with Pooh, because it corrupts his image. I mentioned this to a friend, and they told me about “Gangsta Pooh.” Apparently that’s a thing. It’s rather nauseating, but it’s a thing.

Winnie the Pooh t-shirtSimple and understated is my usual t-shirt M.O., so it seems like Pooh should be no different. At the moment, the shirt shown at right is my leading candidate. It doesn’t beat you over the head with anything. It doesn’t say anything stupid like “100 Acre Wood Gym” or “Pooh’s Wrestling Team,” or whatever. It’s merely the iconic image of the Disney Winnie the Pooh. You see it, you recognize it, and hopefully you get it.

I don’t doubt some people will see my little Pooh project as childish, juvenile, etc. But in a way, that’s the point. There are obviously a lot of things you can’t take with you from childhood to adulthood. But what so many people don’t think about are all the things you can take with you. Things like playfulness, a sense of wonder, and unconditional love. That’s really what this whole Pooh debate is all about. It’s merely a question of the proper conveyance. Sadly, when you’re an adult, that conveyance becomes more complicated than is perhaps necessary.

Image 1 from pooh.wikia.com. Image 2 from disneystore.com. Image 3 from disney.com. Image 4 from wallpapers111.com. Image 5 from zazzle.com.

A Star Wars #5 Review – The Jedi Bounty

Star Wars #5 (2015)TITLE: Star Wars #5
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: John Cassaday
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: May 20, 2015

Need to catch up? Check out Star Wars #4.

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“I’m never coming back to this planet again.”

Luke said that about Tatooine in the original Star Wars movie, of course. But it turns out you can go home again, and not just to rescue your buddy from Jabba the Hutt. Sometimes you’re looking for answers.

Star Wars #5 brings Luke Skywalker back to Tatooine, hoping to find clues on which path to take next. But our hero is gravely unaware that Darth Vader has sent one of the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunters after the young pilot that destroyed the Death Star. Boba Fett is on Tatooine, and he’s coming for Luke.

Star Wars #5, Boba FettI’ve been pretty critical of Jason Aaron’s work on this series. But in this issue he writes an absolutely bad ass Boba Fett. We find him in the iconic Mos Eisley Cantina looking for leads. When he finds a teen with answers, we see something that rings very true to the Boba Fett character: A capture and interrogation sequence. This man is a ruthless, stone cold killer, and Aaron and Cassaday are able to illustrate that to great satisfaction. They give the sequence more of an edge than we usually see in a Star Wars story. Yet it still feels like the universe we know and love, especially when Fett finishes with him…

This issue is actually a reminder of how sucky it was when they redid Fett’s voice for the Empire Strikes Back DVD. Jason Wingreen had a gravelly, malice-filled, Clint Eastwood-type voice that was perfect for the character. Temuera Morrison had an accent. That’s about it.

I’ve also come to respect the way Aaron writes Luke Skywalker. In this issue, as well as the previous one, Aaron has captured the spirit of that young man who met Yoda in Empire. He’s impatient, impulsive, reckless, and as we saw last issue, immensely frustrated at times. But we still see traces of a great hero and a brave leader. As such, Luke is pretty easy to root for here.

Star Wars #5, 2015, Han Solo, John CassadayThat’s not to say we’ve seen a 180 in Aaron’s writing. This issue also sees Han Solo and Princess Leia scout locations for a new Rebel base using a stolen Imperial shuttle, much like the way they used one in Return of the Jedi. We even get some familiar talk about clearance codes and what not. But that’s not the problem. Aaron gives us some of the angry flirting between Han and Leia that, again, serves as a precursor to Empire. A Han and Leia get into some deep doo doo, as they’re prone to doing, we get the following dialogue…

Leia: “I can’t believe I’m going to die here with you. You are without a doubt the worst smuggler I’ve ever met.”

Han: “Frankly lady, you aren’t much of a Princess.”

Leia: “I hate you.”

Han then kicks over Leia’s sandcastle, prompting her to plop down and cry.

Star Wars #4, Jesus ChristI’m a fan of Han and Leia being next to each other in this series, but the dynamic in their whole love/hate relationship shouldn’t be this stripped down. That’s part of the fun of the whole thing! They dance around it, and then when they finally get close to it, something happens to spoil the moment. C’mon, Jason. Let’s not turn science fantasy’s greatest romance into an episode of Rugrats.

This is the penultimate issue of John Cassaday’s run on Star Wars, which is a shame. This hasn’t been his best work, but he’s given us some memorable stuff. Not the least of which was the awesome pin up from last issue (shown left). Naturally, as the issues have gone on he seems to have found his groove in the Star Wars universe. He’s able to tap into the classic Star Wars characterizations strictly with his art. Case in point, the way he plays with Han Solo’s acting here (shown above). Boba Fett’s body language is also perfectly on point. There are also some little things, like the texture he gives to the robes Luke and the sand people are wearing, and the cracks on the outside of Obi-Wan’s hut. It all lends itself well to the “used universe” concept George Lucas was going for in that first movie.

I’ll be sticking with Star Wars through issue #7 at least, just to see what new penciller Stuart Immonen brings to the table. This series started off on a sour note, but it’s gradually been picking up in quality. I maintain what I’ve said previously, however. If you’re looking for great Star Wars comics, Darth Vader is the place to be.

Images 1 and 2 from author’s collection. Image 3 from comicvine.com.

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That Game of Thrones Scene, Rape as a Plot Device, and Presentation

Game of Thrones, Sansa, RamsayBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, so a girl got raped on Game of Thrones this week.

Oh, you’ve heard?

In Sunday’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Sansa Stark is forced to marry the cruel and sadistic Ramsay Bolton. Subsequently, in an extremely uncomfortable and to many offensive scene, he rapes the virginal Sansa as his servant “Reek” looks on weeping. (It’s worth noting that Reek was castrated by Ramsay last season, in yet another intense, cringeworthy scene.)

This rape scene has resulted in an outcry from viewers disgusted with its graphic nature. Perhaps the outrage was best put into words by Missourri Senator and GoT fan Claire McCaskill, who tweeted that she was done with the series, calling the scene gratuitous, disgusting, and unacceptable. Naturally, there’s been a lot of talk about rape culture in America, and the show’s depiction of over-the-top sex and violence against women.

Sophie Turner, Sansa Stark, Game of ThronesThere’s also the other extreme to consider. Whenever something like this happens to a female character in a popular TV show or movie, a lot of fans get extremely defensive. If you’ve never perused the comments section on a website or a blog, I wouldn’t suggest starting now…

The scene has been defended by episode writer and show producer Bryan Cogman, as well as Sophie Turner, the actress who plays Sansa. Cogman noted Sansa made a brave choice in marrying Ramsay in an effort to return to her homeland, and the character will ultimately have to deal with this terrible incident in future episodes. Turner, oddly enough, told Entertainment Weekly that when she first read the scene, “I kinda loved it.”

For the record, while I do watch Game of Thrones regularly and am caught up on everything, I don’t consider myself an avid fan. I respect the show for the depth that certain characters have, and the pure magnificence of the world it’s brought to life on screen. But at times the violence, especially that of a sexual nature, is a turn off. You can argue that’s the tone George R.R. Martin set in his books, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with staying true to your source material (Though the show has deviated from Martin’s books somewhat.). But when you’re doing a television show, it all becomes much more real. So there’s a delicate balance to be struck in terms of just how much sex and violence you actually show, at the risk of grossing out your audience.

Ramsay Bolton, Game of ThronesAt the risk of angering many an avid GoT fan, I agree that from a presentation standpoint, this rape scene was too far. I’ve never been a victim of sexual abuse. But it definitely comes off as insensitive to viewers who may have been victims, let alone viewers who simply don’t find that kind of thing entertaining. And don’t call me the P.C. Police, because I’m not that guy. But sometimes there is a line you don’t cross, and they crossed it here.

Perhaps things wouldn’t look so bad if GoT doesn’t have such a spotty track record with its treatment of female characters. Female nudity is often a component of the show, as are sex scenes. And of course, we’ve seen female characters killed. But sexual violence against women is the driving issue here.

Over the course of the series, we’ve seen three major instances of rape or sexual assault against major female characters…

– The aforementioned scene with Ramsay and Sansa.
– The season 1 scene with Daenerys and Khal Drogo, where he strips her, and he forces himself on her as she’s in tears.
– The season 4 scene between Jaime and Cersei Lannister, where he forces himself on her next to the corpse of their son born through incest. (Ick.)

Jaime Lannister, Cersei, rapeThere’s also the infamous “Red Wedding” sequence from season 3, in which a pregnant woman is stabbed in the belly. That’s an image I’ve never been able to remove from my mind…

You can argue that there’s no shortage of violence against men on this show, and that we have indeed seen a man castrated. But it’s not the same, is it? I’d argue this stuff falls under the Women in Refrigerators category, i.e. women being raped or sexually attacked, as a frequent plot device.

Should rape be off limits in the world of entertainment? No. I’d argue nothing should. After all, this is just pretend. But if you’re going to show something tragic that has happened to real people, then when it comes to the presentation you need to have a certain respect for the people that might be in your audience. You certainly don’t want to go back to that same well time and time again, as Game of Thrones has.

I’ve seen certain arguments that the sexual component to this show is very much reflective of what things were like in the middle ages, and that it’s important for the show to represent that.

Game of Thrones, dragonI can only assume they also felt it was important to represent the dragons, white walkers, and magic. Because, you know, they were all the rage during the middle ages…

No matter how much people want to play up the more realistic aspects of Game of Thrones, the bottom line is that it’s a fantasy show. What we saw on television Sunday night came from the minds of various writers, producers, a director, etc. They created this fantasy, and they have the power to change it. So with that in mind, I ask these two simple questions…

1. How necessary was it in the context of the story for Sansa Stark to be raped?

2. If the rape was necessary, did it have to be portrayed in the gratuitous manner that it was? The ripping of the clothes, her crying, Reek watching and crying, etc.

Regardless, it seems the people have spoken. If Game of Thrones wants to stay in the public’s good graces, the showrunners will likely have to keep things less…rapey.

Images 1 and 2 from zap2it.com. Image 3 from vcpost.com. Image 4 from thewrap.com. Image 5 from movieviral.com.

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Kevin Owens, Lana, and Other Ponderings From WWE Payback and Raw

Kevin Owens, John Cena 2, Raw, 05182015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Kevin Owens makes his first WWE TV appearance, accepting John Cena’s open challenge. Owens will face Cena at Elimination Chamber. Yet again, the John Cena open challenge segment steals the show. That’s an emphatic statement, not only about the talent Cena’s in the ring with, but Cena himself.

Obviously this segment served two purposes. It was a great promo for NXT Takeover this Wednesday, and it introduced mainstream audiences to Kevin Owens. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen as much of the real-life Kevin Steen’s work as I’d like. But his prize-fighter presentation is great, and he’s obviously got the brash attitude thing down pat. He’s also got a hell of a wit on him. Was he supposed to say he’s been wrestling longer than Cena? If that was off the cuff, then I commend him for his guts.

Kevin Owens, John Cena, Raw, 05182015The really cool thing about that final image of Owens standing on the US Title, and hoisting the NXT Title in the air, is that it meant something. Symbolically, they got what they were looking for. Had that been, say, Kofi Kingston in there during one of his runs with the belt, the image would have fallen flat, and actually hurt the credibility of the US Title. But now that Cena has been having these great matches with it week after week, what Owens did had actual heat to it. It was great build up to what is apparently going to be a match at Elimination Chamber.

It’s surreal that these two are having a match so quickly. But I can’t deny that it’s a must-see, and a great draw for those on the fence about the WWE Network. I’m hoping for a fight, and I’m guissing I won’t be disappointed.

Rusev banishes Lana from his side after she surrenders for him at Payback, later aligns herself with Dolph Ziggler. Rusev has now lost to John Cena on three straight pay per views. But creative seemed to be trying to protect him. They had him render Cena unconscious, which would have given him a win in a traditional submission match.

Lana, Rusev, WWE Raw, 05182015But nevertheless, Rusev is no longer the unstoppable brute he was when 2015 began. And now, they’ve taken away his mouthpiece. I’m still not convinced breaking them up is the right move. In the long run, WWE may have hurt Rusev.

As for what happened between Lana and Dolph Ziggler, I’m curious about what their intentions are. Are they trying to push Ziggler to greater heights by pairing him with the very popular Lana? Or was he put with her because they know he can have great matches with Rusev, and perhaps re-establish him as a monster?

There is, of course, the chance that Lana could end up heeling on Ziggler, and going back to Rusev. I’d be okay with that, but what does that do for Doph? Out of the three parties involved here, I’m most concerned about Dolph, and what this means for his immediate future.

Dean Ambrose granted a WWE Championship match against Seth Rollins at Elimination Chamber. Awesome. Any time these guys get in the ring, it’s magic. Let them main event another pay per view, and let Ambrose continue to prove his worth as a main event-level star.

Tyson Kidd, Raw, 05182015Participants announced for Intercontinental Title and Tag Team Title Elimination Chamber matches. I’m thinking Cesaro & Tyson Kidd will take the tag straps back here. However, I’d love to see the Prime Time Players win it. You’d think from a sheer marketing standpoint, having Titus O’Neil wear gold after winning his Celebrity Dad of the Year award would be a good move. But when you boil it all down, I just find O’Neil and Darren Young really entertaining, and would love to see them get larger roles on television.

As for the Intercontinental Title, Sheamus is the smart bet, whether he looks stupid or not.

Ryback impresses against Bray Wyatt and Sheamus. I was pleasantly surprised with the Ryback/Bray Wyatt match at Payback. Wyatt using his weight against the midsection of the much larger, more muscled Ryback was a good story to tell, and was ultimately a convincing way for him to go over. Ryback also sold it really well, which makes me think he’s been listening to The Steve Austin Show and The Ross Report. Austin and JR have stressed the importance of selling time and time again recent weeks.

Ryback, Sheamus, Raw, 05/18/2015“The Big Guy” also had a strong outing on Raw. I was surprised he cut Stephanie McMahon off on the mic. I’d be curious to know whether that was scripted or not. He then got to show off his strength against Sheamus, catching him with a powerbomb, and gorilla pressing him on to the announce table. Despite losing in both outings, he definitely came out looking like a winner. I don’t expect him to come out of Elimination Chamber with the IC Title. But for my money, his stock is rising.

Neville does an in-ring interview with Renee Young, and gets interrupted and attacked by Bo Dallas. Not bad. Pretty standard babyface stuff. Incidentally, was Renee Young still supposed to be in the ring when Neville asked her about his NXT Championship reign? That was the only problem I had with that portion of the show.

 I like that they’re actually doing something with Bo Dallas. In all honesty, the only things I can remember about his WWE run thus far are his first loss to R-Truth, and when he got beat up by Sting. He’s got a decent character. It just seems like they can’t come up with anything solid for him to do. Putting him with Neville, an opponent he’s fairly familiar with from NXT, is a good way to at least get him some screen time.

Roman Reigns is kept off Raw, advertised for Smackdown. I liked this. Reigns wasn’t shoehorned into anything, and it gave them something worthwhile to put on Smackdown. I’m still wondering when we’re going to get a one-on-one match between Reigns and Seth Rollins on pay per view.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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A WWE Payback Preview – Make Me Care!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is WWE’s third annual Payback event. At the risk of sounding overly pessimistic, it’s one of the company’s least important pay per views of the year. It’s probably right behind Battleground in that sense. You’ve got to think pretty hard to remember any noteworthy stuff that has happened at Payback. There are, however, at least two…

– The match between Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler from 2013, which ended in a double-turn.

– Last year’s six-man match between The Shield and Evolution.

I’m not expecting much in terms of long-term memories from this show. But who knows? That tag team match does look promising. And we’ll probably see the end of Rusev’s run as an upper card heel.

Make me care, guys and gals. Make me care.

WWE Payback 2015, pre-showPRE-SHOW MATCH:
Damien Sandow & Curtis Axel vs. The Ascension

Well, they went to the trouble of putting Axel and Sandow together. They may as well let them have a win.

I want to like this whole Mega Powers parody thing. But I’m stumped as to how Sandow and Axel can get it to translate to upward momentum. Yes, it’s great the company is actually doing something with these guys. But the problem with being a comedy act is that if you do it for too long, you get pigeonholed into that kind of role (a la Santino Marella). If there’s anybody that doesn’t deserve that, it’s Damien Sandow. But I suppose in order to achieve greatness, you’ve got to stay in the limelight. And this weird new gimmick has indeed kept Sandow in the limelight. So here’s to the new Mega Powers…or perhaps the Super Mega Powers? The Ultra Powers? The Super Mega Ultra Powers?

PREDICTION: Damien Sandow & Curtis Axel

WWE Payback 2015, DivasThe Bella Twins vs. Naomi & Tamina Snuka

I like the pairing of Naomi & Tamina. Tamina is good in the bodyguard role, and it’s cool that they’re playing up the familial connection between the two. That being said, UGH, another pay per view match with the Bellas. Hopefully this one is quick and painless.

I see the Bellas picking up a win here, but Naomi and Tamina attacking them after the match to keep the rivalry going. Eventually, we will indeed see another title match between Naomi and Nikki. Hopefully at that point they’ll switch the title, and they can put Naomi in a program with Paige, or another lady that’s a bit more likeable than Nikki.

PREDICTION: The Bella Twins

WWE Payback 2015, King Barrett, NevilleKing Barrett vs. Neville

Neville has illustrated lately how a wrestler can still find victory in defeat. He’s lost matches to Barrett, John Cena, and Dolph Ziggler. But his performances have always been memorable, and left the crowd wanting more.

This time, however, he’s due for a win. My guess is both of these men will be involved in the Elimination Chamber show later this month in the big match for the Intercontinental Title. If I had to guess, I’d say King Barrett will be walking out of that match with the title. This would, of course, lead to the stakes being raised between Neville and Barrett via a title match. So while Barrett will end up with the gold eventually, Neville will get his hand raised at Payback.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE Payback, Dolph Ziggler, SheamusDolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus

I’m curious as to why they didn’t up the stakes with another stipulation in this match. This feels like a downgrade from Extreme Rules. Still, a rematch was the right move, given what happened to Ziggler.

As I’ve mentioned previously, WWE is in need of upper midcard heels right now. Sheamus fits the bill perfectly. He’s an established star who’s found new life as a bad guy in recent months. If they’re looking for guys to put against Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, or John Cena, he should be first in line. However, after what happened last month with he and Ziggler, Sheamus should get his comeuppance here. Let’s say Sheamus gets the win, then Ziggler attacks and forces him to kiss his “arse.” Turnabout is fair play, after all.

PREDICTION: Sheamus

WWE Payback 2015, tag title matchWWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd

It’s amazing what a heel turn can do. Whether this heel turn was planned from the get-go or not, The New Day have now become one of the hottest heel acts in the company. What’s more, they’re a hot heel act that can put on great matches, as we saw at Extreme Rules. A Two-Out-of-Three Falls match should do nothing to hinder them in that respect.

The tag belts are supposedly going to be up for grabs at Elimination Chamber. If WWE wants to switch the titles to a babyface team like Cesaro & Kidd, I imagine it will be there. So it’s another win for The New Day at Payback. And why not? I’d say they earned it for making this crappy gimmick work.

PREDICTION: The New Day

WWE Payback 2015, Ryback, Bray WyattBray Wyatt vs. Ryback

I imagine this match was booked as a way to give Bray his mojo back after the Wrestlemania loss to The Undertaker. He’s got to beat someone, after all. Ryback’s as good a choice as anyone.

This is also Ryback’s first big pay per view match in awhile. This whole angle might have been a test to see how willing fans are to get behind him against a major heel like Bray. If that’s the case, I’d say he’s done alright. Not great, but alright. Ryback still has a lot of people to win over. Regardless, he won’t be winning this match.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

20150426_payback_EP_LIGHT_match-HP_cenarusev“I QUIT MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev

An “I Quit” match against the guy who never gives up. There’s a tough assignment if there ever was one.

I imagine the big story in this match will be Lana. Does she stay with Rusev or doesn’t she? As much as the “smart” fans all want to see her stay with him, it looks like they are indeed going to go ahead with a babyface turn. And what better time than what will likely be his last PPV match with John Cena. Indeed, it looks like Cena will still be the man to beat after Payback.

The question is: What happens to Rusev after Payback? If he taps out here, he’ll have lost to Cena on three consecutive pay per views. Ouch. There’s certainly no shame in losing to the biggest star in the company. But so much for this guy being an unbeatable brute, huh? I’ll be very curious to see what happens to Rusev the following night on Raw.

PREDICTION: John Cena

WWE Payback 2015, Fatal FourwayFATAL FOURWAY MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose

The writer in me doesn’t like that Roman Reigns is in this match. I certainly wasn’t for putting him with Big Show again. But a one-on-one match between Reigns and Rollins for the WWE Championship should be something WWE is planting seeds for now, regardless of when it actually takes place. From a storyline perspective, Rollins humiliated Reigns at Wrestlemania in front of his family and the entire world. That’s a hell of a backstory for a babyface redemption rematch. So why he’s being stuffed into this multi-man match is a mystery to me.

Supposedly, Dean Ambrose was added to this bout so that he could be pinned for the finish, and Orton and Reigns could stay strong. As happy as I am to have Ambrose here, I don’t think he was needed for that purpose. Randy Orton is a made man in WWE. A loss to a heel, particularly a vile, cheating heel like Rollins, isn’t going to hurt him. One thing that might hurt, however, is taking a triple power bomb from Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns. You know they’re going to bust that old Shield favorite out. WWE might even be testing the waters here for a Rollins/Reigns/Ambrose match at a big pay per view down the line.

In any event, Rollins goes over here. He’s got a lot left to do as champion. I imagine next on his to-do list is a match with Kane…

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

Images from WWE.com.

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