Kurt Angle Returning to the Ring, Plus WWE TLC Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been a wrestling fan for more than 20 years, and I can’t ever remember a WWE pay per view being changed so significantly with so little notice. For the better, mind you.

Both Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are reportedly suffering from viral infections, and have been pulled from this Sunday’s TLC show. As such, Smackdown‘s AJ Styles will replace Wyatt in the match with Finn Balor. But the bigger news is that Kurt Angle will wrestle his first WWE match in over a decade, as he replaces Reigns in the main event. The match will see Angle team with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in a Handicap Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match against the Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro.

To call this a wild move is an understatement. There’s obviously been buzz about Angle wrestling again since he came back. But you’ve got to believe he didn’t have much more notice about this than we did. Has he passed a physical? What’s he capable of doing? How far are they willing to push their luck? Remember, this is one of the most violent and dangerous matches WWE puts on all year. And having seen Angle wrestle for so many years, you know he’s not going to go half-assed.

It’s rare that a match becomes must-see in such an abrupt way. As we get into TLC predictions, I just hope all parties know what they’re doing…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox

Supposedly, this was supposed to be Sasha Banks against Nia Jax. That changed when Nia took a leave of absence. I’m a Nia Jax fan, but I don’t think we’re missing much by swapping her out for Alicia. We’ve seen Sasha and Nia wrestle so many times, and we’ll undoubtedly see them wrestle again soon enough. As for who wins, I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be Sasha. This is a throwaway match, and I doubt they’re leveling Alicia up.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher

As someone who doesn’t regularly watch 205 Live, I’ve got almost no investment in this match from a story perspective. I do, however, like Alexander and Swann as a tag team. My hope is that these four can overachieve in what is essentially a filler match. We’ll need new babyface challengers for the Cruiserweight Title soon (more on that later), so it makes sense for Alexander and Swann to go over. Let’s just hope they look good doing it.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Mickie James

This program has been everything I hoped it would be. It rejuvenated Mickie James. She’s too good to be the bit player she’s been since coming to Raw. Since returning to WWE, really. She got to show a little more personality, and newer fans got to know her a little better. If they don’t cast her aside after TLC, she could remain a commodity. After all, if there’s one thing this Women’s Division needs right now, it’s more names.

That being said, I don’t see her getting the belt. I’m not sure how quickly they’re going to move Asuka into the title picture. But we’re clearly moving in that direction, and Alexa is the perfect heel opponent for her. Even if Mickie didn’t get the belt, it wouldn’t be for long. A better use for her would be a pay per view match against Asuka, attempting to recapture some of the magic from their NXT Takeover match.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto (c) vs. Enzo Amore

Was Kalisto even supposed to be Cruiserweight Champion? We know now that the Lumberjack Match in which he won it was originally supposed to be Enzo against Neville. But Neville walked out, and here we are. Was Kalisto simply going to be another opponent for Enzo? Or was he supposed to win this pay per view match, effectively ending Enzo’s “no contact clause” with the Cruiserweight Division?

Either way, one thing is certain: Now that Neville is gone, Enzo is the only true star on 205 Live. The best case scenario here is that he’s able to give the rub to somebody new. This was a nice little boost for Kalisto. But the pendulum now has to swing back in Enzo’s direction. Expect him to leave TLC as the “realest champ in the room” once again.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

Asuka vs. Emma

You know what’s sad? This is the biggest match Emma has had since she came up to the main roster. She’s clearly capable of more, and she’s actually developed a certain charisma since coming back from the Emmalina fiasco.

But of course, this match isn’t about her. It’s all about Asuka, and for good reason. They’ve got something with her. Not just in terms of her persona, and her in-ring style, but her winning streak. She was never beaten in NXT, and toward the end of her run they were really starting to play that up. That needs to continue on Raw.

Thankfully, Asuka doesn’t work by the hour. I’d expect her to make quick work of Emma to show us who and what she is. Expect suplexes, expect kicks, and expect the Asuka Lock. Whatever you do, don’t take a pee break during this one.

PREDICTION: Asuka

Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles

This is a bigger match than most casual WWE fans realize. Not that they’ll tell you why…

In 2014, AJ Styles was the man who succeeded Finn Balor as leader of the Bullet Club over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They weren’t rivals. In fact, they barely spent any time in the promotion together, as Styles came in right as Balor was leaving. But that’s an irresistibly intriguing commonality between them.

WWE won’t talk about the Bullet Club, especially after that little “invasion” stunt a few weeks ago. But in the preview for this match over on WWE.com, they do mention that Balor and Styles briefly crossed paths in Japan. That’s likely as far as they’ll take it. That’s a shane. Especially considering Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, also former Bullet Club members, will likely be in the building.

Balor was originally supposed to be in his Demon get-up for this match. That seems wholly unnecessary now. While he and AJ have a history of sorts, there’s not enough bad blood here to merit the Demon’s presence. Not yet, anyway.

They’re obviously gearing AJ up to challenge for the WWE Championship soon. So having him lose to Balor wouldn’t be great from a timing standpoint. Also, Balor has racked up two pay per view victories over Bray Wyatt. So he can afford to drop one here. But in the end, this one isn’t necessarily about who wins. It’s more about what they’ll deliver from an artistic standpoint. Given enough time and opportunity, these guys could turn in a classic.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

HANDICAP TLC MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro

This match was already a little messy. Now that Reigns has been swapped out for Angle, I barely know what to make of it.

The story here was about the Shield overcoming impossible odds. But taking Reigns out ruins that, and inserting Angle creates a whole new equation. Now, it’s all about what Kurt will do, and the question of what he’ll be like in the ring after all these years. It actually doesn’t make much sense for it to be a Handicap Match anymore.

How about this: Add Matt Hardy and Angle’s “son” Jason Jordan to the mix. Now you’ve got an even five-on-five. And how about we put something on the line? Maybe the winners get to represent Raw in a traditional Survivor Series Match against Smackdown? They can figure out a way to sub Miz or Strowman in there later. I’m just looking to add stakes to this match.

Either way, the outcome here was never in doubt. The good guys win. This match will likely go a long way in determining Angle’s in-ring future. They could easily use this to set up a future match with Miz, or even Strowman. All of that in due time. For now, I just want Kurt to get through this match safely. Needless to say, this wasn’t how any of us expected his in-ring return to go.

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A Go Go Power Rangers #4 Review – The Mystery of Salad Girl

TITLE: Go Go Power Rangers #4
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
PENCILLER: Dan Mora
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 18, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Go Go Power Rangers #4 opens with a flashback to what I’ll call the “Salad Girl scene.” It’s a story from Kimberly and Zack’s recent past that’s been referenced a bunch of times in the series. Until now, when a character would mention “Salad Girl,” I had no idea if I was missing a joke or a plot detail. So if this issue accomplishes nothing else, it at least solves the mystery of Salad Girl.

Thankfully, there’s more to Go Go Power Rangers #4, as the book wraps up its first arc, while still leaving a plot thread hanging for next time. As Rita begins her second attack on Angel Grove, Kimberly is in a tough spot. She must choose between saving her boyfriend Matt, and protecting the city at large as the Pink Ranger. Meanwhile, Jason is also on the sidelines for fear of being exposed as the Red Ranger. Our heroes once again have their backs against the wall!

Dan Mora and colorist Raul Angulo have a very distinct energy they bring to the Power Rangers universe. Thus far, that’s been best exemplified in their sequences with the zords. They opened the series on a high note with their brief take on the climactic fight from “Day of the Dumpster.” They recapture that magic here, as we see the individual zords in action, followed by the Megazord. Mora somehow has a knack for drawing comic book style destruction on a grand scale. Part of it is that he’s awesome with action sequences (see the Jason/Trini sparring session from issue #2). But there’s something immensely satisfying about how these giant machines kick up debris when they’re summoned, or how the action lines wonderfully convey the speed and impact of certain blows. It also doesn’t hurt that this book has an almost regal take on the Megazord. One of the highlights of the issue is a splash page showing us the Megazord formation.

Incidentally, Mora and Angulo also give us a terrific version of our resident school principal, Mr. Caplan (shown above). His shtick on the show was that he wore a toupee. I think we can safely say they nailed that one.

On the writing front, things still look pretty good. Although late in the issue, we get a scene that seems to come out of nowhere. Zack shows up in the Command Center alone, and asks Zordon why he wasn’t chosen as team leader. He cites Jason’s absences from two recent conflicts, and in all fairness he does have a point given how early this is in their run as heroes. Parrott did plant a seed for this back in issue #2. But this still feels very sudden. Thankfully, Zordon gives him a good answer.

It’s not necessarily a good use of one’s time to apply logic to content created for young children two decades ago. But seeing as I’ve already made a habit of it, let’s go ahead. We get a trademark Rita Repulsa move here, as she uses her big wand to make her monster grow giant-sized. Standing at her side, her henchman and monster-maker Finster asks why she’d do this. This is what she says…

“We must see every skirmish to its conclusion. It’s been this way on countless worlds. Every move, every battle, every monster is a wound. Individually, each cut may miss the mark. But eventually, with enough cuts, one will strike the target…”

She’s essentially saying it’s a numbers game. If you throw the dart enough times, you’re bound to hit the bull’s eye sooner or later. I’m not in love with this approach. It almost makes it seem like Rita is resigned to a certain amount of failure from the start. Given how short-tempered she always was on the show, it feels like a contradiction. I will, however, credit the book for trying to make some kind of sense out of it. At least if you separate the strategy from the character, it works.

Nitpicks notwithstanding, we’re only four issues in, and I adore this series every bit as much as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, if not more. Part of this book’s concept is that we get to spend a little more personal time with Jason and the others. It’s a strategy that’s paying off, and that isn’t a surprise. It’s been 25 years, but people still remember these characters, and the qualities the actors were able to inject them with. As it turns out, Ryan Parrott, Dan Mora, and the BOOM! Studios crew are bringing some pretty Morphenominal stuff to the table as well.

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Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We learned last week that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are coming back to Smackdown, a tag team once again. This time they’ll be called the Bludgeon Brothers.

On one hand this is a shame, especially for Harper. This guy can go. His match with Randy Orton at Elimination Chamber was awesome. But any time he gets some momentum as a single, it fizzles out. So they put him back with Rowan, as that’s worked in the past. Plus, it’s not like Rowan was doing much anyway.

No matter what these guys do, they’ve been painfully stuck in the shadow of the Wyatt Family. This is no different. Their vignettes are shot in a wooded area, which is synonymous with the old Wyatt Family vignettes. Rowan still has the sheep mask. And what their saying is in very much the same tone as their promos with Bray. They’ve shifted the focus, but essentially they’re the same characters.

So at this point, is there any harm in just putting them back with Bray? The poor guy is dying a miserable death on Raw right now. I’ve talked about how he needs a new coat of paint or something. While the Wyatt Family is hardly new, at least it worked. Why not trade Harper and Rowan to Raw, and bring two guys of equal value over to Smackdown. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews come to mind.

Or better yet, why not just move Bray back to Smackdown? On Team Red, he’s become a punch line. On Team Blue, he was WWE Champion. Can somebody throw this poor guy a lifeline? Throw all three of them a lifeline!

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show in his home state of Washington. A confrontation with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens ensues. This opening segment made me realize how much I miss Bryan as a wrestler. Clearly I’m not the only one. He’s more over than any of today’s full-time guys.

It’s almost a waste for heels to prod Bryan about not being able to wrestle anymore. It’s not going anywhere, but it makes people want to see it that much more.

Heel Sami Zayn is a lot of fun. Or at least he was this week. He needs new music, though.

Michael Cole fills in for Tom Phillips, who is “on assignment.” First we get Corey Graves on both shows, now we’ve got a few weeks of Cole on both shows. Do we just want to have Saxton pull double duty and get it over with?

Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi def. Natalya, Tamina, and Lana. Carmella was on commentary for this match. At one point, Graves asks her who she’d like to be champion when she cashes in her Money in the Bank contract. She said something about it not mattering. What she meant was, “Lana. She can’t wrestle. She also doesn’t know how to sell the Figure 8.”

Sin Cara def. Baron Corbin via count-out. Sin Cara isn’t becoming the United States Champion. Not now, anyway. He’s good enough for a larger role, though. He’s damn sure got the talent for it.

Jinder Mahal challenges Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. AJ Styles interrupts and attacks the WWE Champion. Well, they went and did it. It’s Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal at Survivor Series. The silver lining in all this?  I’m very curious to see how Paul Heyman puts Jinder over as a credible opponent.

Styles took exception to Mahal saying he’d beaten everyone worth beating on Smackdown, since “you haven’t beaten AJ Styles.” For the record, Jinder beat AJ in May, during the build-up to the Backlash match where he won the title. In their defense, I wouldn’t want to highlight that in building to a match between them.

Dolph Ziggler def. Bobby Roode. 50/50 booking rears its ugly head again. Not exactly a stellar match, either. On the upside, they didn’t have Roode lose on pay per view.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn def. Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. Really good match. Particularly for Nakamura, who’s had a rough couple of months. He and Jinder had ZERO chemistry, and their matches suffered for it. So for Nakamura to be in there with Sami Zayn, who he had an amazing match with in his NXT debut, was a huge breath of fresh air.

Also, Corey Graves called Nakamura a “combat artist.” Has he done that before? I like that. It works a lot better than simply calling him, “the Artist.”

Zayn and Randy Orton were awesome together. How about a program with them, and then one between Nakamura and Owens as a palette cleanser from Summerslam and Hell in a Cell?

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Kane Shocks Roman Reigns, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it the planned main event for Survivor Series next month is Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal.

Oh dear. Dear oh dear. That’s…that’s quite a choice, isn’t it?

In theory, this should be one of the biggest matches WWE can put on. The champion of Raw against the champion of Smackdown, on one of the biggest shows the company puts on all year. It beats the hell out ofwhen they’d putting the big champion vs. champion match on Raw with little to no build-up. And not even in the main event!

But Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal isn’t exactly Clash of the Titans. Yes, they’ve strapped the rocket to Jinder. But his big matches against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura haven’t delivered, and his racially charged promos haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

Having grown up a wrestling fan in the ’90s, I present you with this analogy. Imagine if they put the WWE Championship on Bob Holly in 1997, and then tried to market a major pay per view match pitting him against the Undertaker.

The buzz is that it’s going to be a non-title match. So without the hook of a title possibly changing hands, what’s the draw here? I imagine it’s seeing Brock Lesnar beat the crap out of Jinder and the Singh Brothers. There’s also Paul Heyman’s promos in the build-up. If anyone can put Jinder over as a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar, it’s Heyman.

Whenever they do these Raw vs. Smackdown matches, people always talk about how it could reflect badly on the loser’s brand. In this case, if Brock kills Jinder, how does that make Smackdown look compared to Raw? This kind of stuff gets overthought quite a bit. But given the perception of Smackdown as the B-show (even inside the walls of WWE, reportedly), some concern is merited.

Could they have Brock take Jinder to Suplex City and beat him? Yes. But I don’t see that happening. Remember, Jinder is a Vince McMahon project. They’ve spent most of the year trying to get this guy over as their big Indian star. They’re making a big fuss out of him being the champion when they go to India in December. So it’s in their best interest to keep him looking relatively strong through the end of the year. Frankly, I don’t see why you’d book this match if not to benefit Jinder in some way.

This match has “outside interference” and “screwjob finish” written all over it. You’ll have the Singh Brothers out there, you’ll have Heyman doing something. And Jinder’s next opponent (AJ Styles?) or Brock’s next opponent (Finn Balor?) could easily play a role in the finish somehow. It almost has to. That’s how you get out of this thing without Brock throwing Jinder around and making Smackdown look like the bush leagues.

So who wins? Give it to Jinder by disqualification or count-out. That way Brock gets away without being pinned, and Jinder can technically say he beat the mighty Brock Lesnar.

Then again, don’t put anything past this company. Remember, at this same show last year Brock lost to Bill Goldberg in less than two minutes…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins call out their opponents at TLCGood to see the guys back in their black gear, doing the old Shield entrance. Not sure why we couldn’t have done that for the big reunion last week…

Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O’Neil def. Elias, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. For some reason, that opening shot of Elias sitting with Gallows and Anderson was really funny. And a tribute to the Honky Tonk Man, of all people. Does that make Honky a good brother?

Cedric Alexander def. Jack Gallagher. Solid match. I’m still getting used to heel Jack Gallagher. He definitely needs new music.

There was a faint “We want Neville!” chant during this match…

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Alexander hit the Lumbar Check. I can’t imagine what it’s like to take that.

Braun Strowman appears on Miz TV. A stipulation is added to the Reigns/Stroman Steel Cage Match later in the night. So if Strowman wins, his team gets another partner at TLC. If Reigns wins, it goes back to three-on-three. A nice added hook for an already big match.

All this team stuff has me in the mood for Survivor Series. So do you put the Shield on a traditional five-person team? Or do you give them their own match? Maybe a six-man elimination match?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Fox ambushes Banks afterward. Crazy Alicia Fox is entertaining. Campy, but entertaining nonetheless.

A brawl breaks out after Kalisto interrupts an Enzo Amore promo. Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak lay out Kalisto and Mustafa Ali. I cringed when Kalisto’s music hit. Any time this guy takes a mic, it’s bad. And he didn’t disappoint in that respect. He told Enzo he’d walk out of TLC the “new Cruiserweight Champion.”

I don’t know that it’s coincidence that WWE keeps bringing up Rey Mysterio Jr. They’ve mentioned him as one of Kalisto’s influences, they posted a brief video on Rey’s response to last week’s title win, and then they name dropped him again this week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear they’re trying to court him for a return. Perhaps not a full time return. But they’d be foolish not to at least try for him.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins def. Cesaro and Sheamus to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. With Ambrose and Rollins back in the Shield gear, there was a little extra sizzle on this one.  But as gifted as these guys are, it’s still the same match we’ve seen a hundred times. It’s a good match. But the law of diminishing returns was in full effect here.

Not a surprising finish here. Having the Shield take a big loss right before their big pay per view comeback wouldn’t make sense right now.

Finn Balor announces the Demon is coming to meet Sister Abigail at TLCAnother week, another promo from Finn Balor. Worse yet, that awful Sister Abigail promo from last week apparently rubbed off on him, as they reached into their special effects bag again. Though at least the Demon character is somewhat cool. That Sister Abigail thing is another story entirely.

Bayley and Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss and Emma. Mickie has been nicely rejuvenated. Of course, the big story is Asuka’s debut this Sunday. To their credit, WWE has playied her up as the big deal that she should be. Now all we can do is wait and see how it goes…

Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns in a Steel Cage Match, with help from the returning Kane. Kane will now join Miz’s team against the Shield at TLCThis was a legit surprise. I didn’t think we’d see Kane back until his real-life run for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee was over. But his inclusion makes a certain amount of sense, as Reigns did supposedly retire his brother at Wrestlemania. Now watch them completely ignore that…

They were teasing Curtis Axel as the fifth man for most of the show. So to prove himself, Axel gets goaded into picking a fight with Roman before the Cage Match. So instead of finding him alone, or maybe jumping him as he’s going to the ring, we see him walk up to all three members of the Shield backstage. Axel’s a good wrestler, but he might just be the dumbest henchman in television history.

Then again, when Miz found him hanging upside down, one of the first things he asked was: “Who did this???” So is one of them rubbing off on the other?

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Neville No More? Is the “King of the Cruiserweights” Gone?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When I closed out last week’s Raw review with a question about where Neville was, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

But low and behold, here we are. The real-life Benjamin Satterley reportedly walked out on WWE before Raw this past Monday. There are conflicting reports on whether it happened that day, or some time the previous week. But either way, the “King of the Cruiserweights” is likely gone from WWE TV. At least for the foreseeable future.

Jim Ross, who once served as WWE’s head of Talent Relations, has said that the reason a talent leaves the company is usually about one of two things: Cash or creative. With Neville, it’s reportedly both. Obviously we’re in the dark about much of this. But allegedly two of the factors for Satterley walking out were the direction of his character, and being left off the Wrestlemania 33 DVD. The later was also a factor in Austin Aries, ironically Neville’s opponent at the event, leaving the company. Not being on the DVD affects a talent’s royalties in a big way. I expect that was a big shot to Satterley’s wallet. 

It’s not really my place to talk about the money involved here, as I don’t know the particulars. However, from a creative perspective, this is a real shame. I’m not immensely familiar with Satterley’s pre-WWE work. But having watched him these last two years, it seemed like things finally picked up for him when he became a part of the 205 Live crew. He might be the only one who can make that claim. Sorry TJP, Rich Swann, and almost everyone from the Cruiserweight Classic

My big criticism of the Neville of 2015 and most of 2016 was that he had no personality. He was like a video game character who could do all these cool flippy moves, and of course the breathtaking Red Arrow. But there was no substance or personality to him beyond that.

But Neville’s entry into the Cruiserweight Division, more specifically the accompanying heel turn, gave him a chance to finally showcase some charisma. In doing so, he became far and away the star of 205 Live, and dare I say one of the best heels in the entire promotion. He found the missing ingredient, and seemed to be on track to bigger and better things.

So why walk out? Obviously, all this is all speculation. And as I said, I’m not going to dive into the financial element. But there are clues to be found…

First, let’s consider how WWE isolates the Cruiserweight Division compared to the rest of its roster. It’s rare to see a designated Cruiserweight get to wrestle someone outside the 205 Live roster. For instance, you wouldn’t see Jack Gallagher wrestle Sheamus, or Rich Swann against Seth Rollins. Gallagher and Swann would have to face each other in that equation, as they’re both Cruiserweights. The one exception to this rule seems to be Enzo Amore, who can apparently have one-off matches with the Miz, and get mauled by Braun Strowman. But everyone else has to stay in their division. Heck, the Cruiserweight Division even travels together as a whole, regardless of who is a babyface and who is a heel. They’ve all come out together numerous times to stare angrily at Enzo as he verbally castrates each of them.

It seems as though WWE is trying to avoid confusing casual viewers as they attempt to get the 205 Live brand over. I imagine they want the Cruiserweight Division to stand on its own before allowing it to bleed over into other areas of the show. Ergo, being a Cruiserweight essentially pigeonholes you into one corner of the roster. For someone like Neville, who’s clearly capable of graduating to a higher spot on the card, this would create an agonizing glass ceiling. Winning the Cruiserweight Title may have been both the best and worst thing to happen to him.

This general lack of flexibility on WWE’s part plays into the stifling of creativity that has already lead numerous big names to leave the company. CM Punk is the most prominent example. But there are also the likes of Cody Rhodes, Austin Aries, Ryback, and Wade Barrett. All those guys are awesome talents. But for whatever reason, they weren’t allowed to take their best shot at stardom because of how their characters were portrayed, or their stories were written. I understand not everyone can be in the main event picture. But doesn’t everyone deserve a chance to try? Doesn’t everyone deserve the chance to be themselves out there, and contribute to the product in their own unique way? Wouldn’t that make a more compelling television show?

The answer, of course, is yes. But that’s just not how it works in today’s WWE. Sometimes you simply are where you are. In terms of Neville, that’s such a missed opportunity. Once he found his groove on the main roster, it was obvious he had more to offer than a gorgeous finisher.

There’s no question about whether Benjamin Satterley will be okay. Clearly he will. Other promotions will flock to him. But to me, the more pressing question is what WWE can do to allow their talents to be more creative, and have more of a voice in the presentation of their characters. In the long run, who knows what that might cost them? WCW let Steve Austin, one of the hottest stars in the history of the business, slip through their fingers. Who’s to say WWE isn’t sending future marquee talent out the door by refusing to let them realize their full potential?

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The Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few quick thoughts from Hell in a Cell before we get into Raw

It’s amazing how the Usos and the New Day have continued to top themselves over the last several months. They did it again here, turning in a performance with every bit as much drama and bad blood as the Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon match. One can even argue it was better artistically. In a match where everyone expects some kind of 20 foot dive off the cage, it takes real creativity to deliver on the Hell in a Cell concept while actually staying inside the cell. Both teams were elevated here. All these guys should be very proud.

While the signs were there in retrospect, Sami Zayn’s heel turn seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a hell of an intriguing twist that could potentially breathe some valuable new life into Sami’s run on Smackdown.

So that’s twice Shane has tried the elbow drop off the top of the cell, and twice he’s crashed and burned. Maybe it’s time to pluck that one from the playbook, eh? Really good match, though. Now if only they hadn’t gotten that shot of one of Shane’s kids grinning as Owens was beating up his dad and taunting him.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Shield finally reunites against the Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus. This was obviously something they’ve built to for months. So to see Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose back together is cool. I imagine we’ll get them back in their trademark black outfits at TLC.

I’m trying to enjoy this for what it is. But one thing that does put a damper on it is that it’s obviously all just another attempt to get Roman Reigns cheered. Just look at the blocking in the segment. Rollins on the left, Ambrose, on the right, Reigns in the middle. And of course, Reigns kept using the Shield music after they broke up. So their entrance is going to be synonymous with him in particular.

Yes, I’m nitpicking. But this is also very transparent. What’s more, it’s not even going to work. For better or worse, most fans have made up their mind about Roman. As soon as this is over, the haters will start booing again.

Jason Jordan def. Karl Anderson. I’m not sure Booker T is the guy to be playing up the notion of Kurt Angle giving his son special treatment. His amazing career notwithstanding, he has virtually no credibility. As the weeks go by he just becomes more a verbal whipping boy for Michael Cole and Corey Graves. Granted, better to have him out there than David Otunga. But that dynamic between Angle and Jordan is important. Better to have Graves play it up.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. When Titus is on, he’s really on. Hokey as it was, I got a kick out of the banjo stuff before the match. This manager gig really suits him.

On the flip side, I’m not at all amused that Elias broke out the Undertaker’s “Old School” spot and walked the top rope. The announcers didn’t even acknowledge it. Though to be fair, Graves alluded to it, calling it a “disrespectful version of a cover song.”

Kurt Angle puts Enzo Amore in a Cruiserweight Title Match against Kalisto for later in the evening. Enzo called it the “Loserweight Division.” That one might stick.

Braun Strowman def. Matt Hardy. The Shield emerges, Powerbombs Strowman through the announce table. This was really good. To his credit, Roman nailed his line about them being “the three workhorses that run this business now.” He even got to look into the camera.

Mickie James and Alexa Bliss exchange words leading up to TLC. Last week I talked about how WWE should exploit Mickie’s talent for country music and have her record her own entrance theme. We didn’t get that here, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Mickie was in country gear here, and even put a little twang in her voice. This is good. For WWE audiences, this is fresh. And apparently, they like the term “biscuit butt.”. More of this, please.

Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher def. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali. Why is Jack Gallagher is wrestling in that get up? Yes, he’s a heel now. But why does that mean he can’t wear wrestling trunks?

Both Alexander and Ali are so damn good. It’s such a shame they haven’t been able to get over to any real extent

The Shield to headline TLC against the Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Braun Strowman in a Handicap TLC Match. Four on three? That’s a little weird. Strowman could do some amazing things in that environment, though. Especially with support from the veterans in this match.

Bray Wyatt reveals his “Sister Abigail” persona to Finn Balor. So Sister Abigail is Bray Wyatt with some kind of shroud over his head and a weird voice filter. Wow. What a great pay off to years of build-up.

And this was in the new “main event” spot. They wanted people to stay tuned in for that third hour after this. Balor can’t move on soon enough.

Emma def. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alicia Fox, and Dana Brooke to earn a match with Asuka at TLCGraves: “I don’t really know what to say about Emma anymore. I’m so baffled by the fact that she still exists.” Wow. What an awesome endorsement for Asuka’s first challenger.

To be fair no one actually expects Emma to beat her. That’s half the reason they chose Emma for this spot. She’s someone they can feed to Asuka, but also give her good match. Somehow I don’t think the same can be said for Alicia Fox or Dana Brooke.

I’m worried Dana Brooke is going to hurt somebody someday. That sequence she had in there with Bayley was….yeesh. But Alicia, and even Emma looked like they had two left feet out there too. This one just didn’t click.

Roman Reigns to face Braun Strowman in a Steel Cage Match next week. They’re going back to the well with these two, which is fine by me. Like the Usos and the New Day, they always deliver.

Kalisto def. Enzo Amore in a Lumberjack Match to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I hate to go back to Graves again, but he was really tearing Enzo down during his entrance here. I can’t tell if there’s legit heat between those two. Either way, it doesn’t pay to piss off one of the guys that calls your matches every week.

So Enzo puts his hand on Mustafa Ali during the match. Ali later gets his receipt, which more or less costs Enzo the match. If this means Ali gets to be in a (relatively) high profile feud with Enzo, I’m game. He deserves a shot.

I’d be surprised if Enzo didn’t get the belt back soon. This seems like something they concocted to get out of the no-contact clause thing. He could very well get it back at TLC.

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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A Review of The Walking Dead, Vol. 28 – Time’s Up

TITLE: The Walking Dead, Vol. 28: A Certain Doom
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
COLLECTS: The Walking Dead #173#178
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
September 27, 2017

***WARNING: MAJOR spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When you get right down to it, we’re really just waiting for all of these characters to die.

Consider the horrible things that happen to people in The Walking Dead. It’s not at all uncommon to see human beings ripped apart, disemboweled, and eaten alive. And that’s just by the zombies. Now look at everything the characters do to each other. They go to war with one another, cut each other up, bash each other’s brains in, and all manner of grotesque things. That’s the world they live in. Nobody in The Walking Dead dies of old age. Everyone in these stories is on a ticking clock.

In this volume, a major character’s time runs out. And it’s handled unconventionally, at least by Walking Dead standards.

When we open the book, the people of Alexandria are about to face the biggest zombie hoard of their lives. As the survivors rush into action, Rick and Negan struggle to survive amidst the undead. All the while, a group within the extended network of communities is preparing to rebel against Rick’s leadership. A group with a familiar name…

Let’s jump right in: This is the book where Andrea dies. Issue #165 ends with the discovery that she was bitten while helping fend off the giant hoard. Rick discovers what happened at the end of issue #166, and issue #167 is devoted entirely to her death.

We almost crack the fourth wall in #165. On the very first page, Negan is fighting off zombies, and says: “It’s funny how they keep trying to bite you, isn’t it? I mean, who’s getting bit these days–after knowing the rules this long?” And on the very last page? Andrea with a bite mark on her neck. I can’t decide whether Negan or Kirkman is the bigger jerk…

Kirkman seemed unexpectedly emotional about Andrea’s death, even including a personal message in lieu of a letters section in issue #167. He literally apologizes for killing Andrea, apparently anticipating how hard it would be for his more loyal readers. The message struck me as strange, and almost self celebratory to do that immediately after the story in question. The issue spoke for itself. The idea is that even after once again losing a woman he loves, Rick must continue on and draw strength from those around him.

Then again, Kirkman wasn’t wrong about the reaction. This story and this world can bring out a lot of emotion in its audience, and evidently its creator as well. Plus, it’s not like the message hampers the content itself. I just wouldn’t make a habit out of it.

Andrea is one of the few characters in The Walking Dead to die peacefully. Other longstanding characters like Glenn and Lori had their lives violently ripped away. But with Andrea, both the readers and the characters know it’s coming, and they’re left to agonize over it. My favorite page in the entire volume is a 16-panel montage of Andrea being visited by various characters, each saying goodbye in their own fashion. It’s a very honest way to look at a death. It’s simple, but extremely effective.

As one might expect, Rick can’t bring himself to put Andrea down so that she doesn’t become a zombie. Ergo, we get a scuffle between Rick and a zombified Andrea. An awkward physical transition and some repetitive dialogue notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good scene, centered around Rick’s inner turmoil over whether he can bear the battle any longer. Very empathetic, given everything we’ve seen.

This book also takes us a few more steps toward Negan’s redemption, as he and Rick are forced to fight side by side against the hoard. Negan even saves his life at one point, and subsequently opens up about what happened to his wife, Lucille.

The Negan redemption arc has been the most interesting thing about the series for awhile now. What makes it work so well is that Negan is an admitted psychopath. So while it seems like he’s come along way since we first met him, it’s not far fetched that this could all end up being a giant ruse. And with Andrea now gone, Rick is about to be extremely vulnerable. Seems like a hell of a good time to spring a trap. I’m not betting on a swerve turn, however. Negan trying to be a good guy is a lot more interesting than Negan reverting to his old ways.

Artistically, the book is strongest in issue #167, as that’s where the strongest subject matter is. Penciller Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and grayscale artist Cliff Rathburn turn in some absolutely beautiful imagery. There’s almost too much to mention. Virtually everything during Rick and Andrea’s final scene is awesome. The character acting is emotional and on point, particularly from Rick. There’s an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread of Rick at Andrea’s bedside during her dying moments. The tragic tenderness of that moment, coupled with how visually shaken Rick is, make Andrea’s transformation into a zombie that much more horrific. The scuffle itself isn’t perfect, but the turn itself is.

The talk between Negan and Rick in issue #164 is also artistically notable, as it’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Negan be in front of another person. It’s one of the few moments in the entire series where we can tell he’s being honest. We don’t just get that from his dialogue. It’s also in his eyes, how he’s positioned in certain panels, the lighting/shading in the scene. It’s human connection, and it’s a pivotal scene in the relationship between these two characters. Now it’s just a question of how real it was on Negan’s end…

While they don’t have Negan with them any longer, the Saviors reassert themselves in this volume. It’s not remotely on the same scale as before. But it’s mildly compelling, and an alright source of tension. It takes something of a bizarre turn in issue #166, when Rick accidentally kills their new leader Sherry. During a physical confrontation, she gets pushed into a table at an awkward angle and her neck snaps. The Walking Dead isn’t exactly known for its unconvincing death sequences. But I didn’t buy this one. The physicality of it was strange. Oddly enough, it’s similar to the awkward transition we see in issue #167. Both involve an attacker being on top of Rick, and then being pushed backward. Perhaps we’ve finally found something in this series Charlie Adlard doesn’t draw perfectly.

Obviously, The Walking Dead is in no danger of…well, death. The series seems as healthy as it’s ever been. But from a creative standpoint, I often wonder about story patterns we see in the book, and whether a paradigm shift is in order.

I refer specifically to the use of big bad villains leading big bad groups to terrorize Rick and our heroes. We’ve had the Governor, we’ve had Negan, and to a lesser extent we’ve had the Whisperers. But Negan, the Saviors, and the All Out War storyline have been such a tough act to follow. It’s virtually exhausted the villain formula. Even when the Whisperers put a bunch of heads on pikes, it seemed to pale in comparison to the violent bullying we saw from the Saviors. And if we’re not fighting bad guys, we’re fighting zombies, which are essentially an environmental hazard at this point.

The book’s saving grace is that we still care about the characters, specifically the ones that have been with us a long time. Rick, Carl, Michonne, Negan, and Eugene all come to mind. But have we reached the point where we can’t break any new ground with them? In the long run, how healthy is a series where readers are just waiting for the clock to run out on the characters they love? What can be done to give The Walking Dead a creative jolt?

I don’t have the answer. I just hope Robert Kirkman does

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