A WWE Summerslam 2017 Preview, Plus: Baron Corbin Goes Bankrupt

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

From pre-show to main event, Summerslam 2017 has 13 matches. THIRTEEN. Do we even have time for an introductory editorial?

Looking up and down the card, what comes to mind is that we’ve got an awesome main event. But everything else? Meh. Objectively, it’s a stacked card. But for me personally, it’s pretty much a one-match show. Not exactly ideal for the second biggest show of the year.

Let’s take a look…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz and the Miztourage

It’s not often that you see the Hardys or the Miz on the pre-show. For better or worse, this card is like a double-stuffed Oreo…

Considering the direction they’re going with Jason Jordan, it seems unlikely that they’d have him lose here. I’m picturing him pinning Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel. I imagine they’ll have him challenge Miz for the Intercontinental Title at the next Raw pay per view. At least they didn’t rush into it.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Akira Tozawa (c) vs. Neville

Ugh. Well what was the point of doing this on Raw if we’re just going to turn around and put it on Summerslam? I can’t stand it when they do this. At least with Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt they used it as an excuse to bring out the Demon. This just feels wasteful. Like they didn’t know how to kill time with them on Raw, so they just decided to switch the title. The one upside? They probably got more time on Raw than they will here.

I see them giving the belt back to Neville. Champion or not, he’s the best thing they’ve got going in that division. Winning the belt gave Tozawa a certain legitimacy. But as a character, Neville is more intriguing.

PREDICTION: Neville

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

The Usos deserve to get the belts back here. Their whole image change has been amazing. Their promos are among the best in the entire company. They’re like an entirely different team. And while they’d upped the ante and put some kind of stipulation on this match, they work really well with the New Day.

However, now that they’ve put the belts on Kofi, Xavier, and Big E., it feels like they need to stay there for awhile. I have no idea who they’ll put them with next. But it will almost certainly be a step down.

PREDICTION: The New Day

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Remember when Rusev was an unstoppable monster? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The thing is, he could easily be that guy again if he could just get a few big wins under his belt.

Sadly, that’s seemingly not in the cards for him at Summerslam. Randy Orton just put Jinder Mahal over three times on pay per view. Despite inexplicably pinning Jinder last week, he’s owed a pay per view rebound. Apparently when a big babyface needs an obligatory win, Rusev is the guy you call.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor

Obviously, they had Bray beat and humiliate Finn on Raw to justify a Demon appearance at Summerslam. It’s a little cheap. But I’m just happy Bray got to beat him at all. Even without the Demon paint, it would have been easy to just have Balor get his big win and move on. At least he saves a little bit of face this way.

If Balor is breaking out the Demon stuff, he’s got to win. This is only the second time we’ve seen this alternate personality of his compete. When the Demon finally does lose, it should be a big deal. But he needs to be built up first. Thus, it’s a victory for Balor.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Naomi (c) vs. Natalya

With all due respect to Natalya, this seems more like the title match you’d make at a “B” pay per view. A No Mercy or an Elimination Chamber. It would be another thing if Nattie was on this big roll, and we had a sense they were going to go with her. But that’s not the case. This seems more like a match they’re putting out there as an excuse for Carmella to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase. But after what we just saw with Baron Corbin on Smackdown, that seems a lot less likely. An attempted cash-in? Maybe. But nothing that will actually stick.

With that in mind, I can only assume Naomi keeps the belt. Natalya deserves a big moment as much as anyone. I just don’t think this is it.

PREDICTION: Naomi

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks

Her talent, guts, and passion notwithstanding, Sasha’s been getting on my nerves as of late. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. But it’s somewhat related to her alleged real-life heat with Alexa. She was on Raw Talk awhile back and called her a fake, implying Alexa didn’t love wrestling as much as she did. Granted, it was a worked shoot. But Sasha strikes me as the kind of person to take herself too seriously in that respect.

Still, I see things paying off for her at Summerslam. Before Bayley got hurt, it seemed like they were setting her up to win the belt back from Alexa. Realistically, without Bayley around this is the biggest match they can do in that Raw Women’s Division as it exists now. Unless someone like Asuka shows up after Summerslam, they’re going to need to shake things up. Putting the belt on Sasha accomplishes that for now.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon

It’s highly doubtful this match, or any match on this card, tops what AJ Styles did with John Cena at last year’s Summerslam. Especially given that he and Owens haven’t necessarily had the best chemistry. But adding Shane to the mix gave the program that extra push to get it here. I am intrigued to see how things play out with Shane. He and Owens have a really interesting dynamic.

Owens is obviously going with Shane after Summerslam. So it makes sense to have Owens lose after getting in Shane’s face and prompting a physical reaction. They could have AJ win clean, I suppose. But Shane is in there. May as well use him.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Big Show vs. Big Cass
Enzo Amore to be encased in a shark cage. 

Cass is one of WWE’s big projects right now. Regardless of how popular Enzo is, everything they’re doing here is about elevating him. So it should go without saying that he’ll wind up getting the win here.

It’s not often that you see a babyface trapped in the cage for a match like this. It’s almost always designed to keep a bad guy isolated so he can’t interfere. We just saw that with Chris Jericho at the Royal Rumble. If Enzo does wind up interfering, I imagine him somehow costing Show the match, furthering his status as the village irritant. To his fellow wrestlers, at least. To most fans? Not so much.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

As hokey as it was at certain points, the build-up to the reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose was very effective. If you need proof, look no further than the crowd that night. It was a cool moment. A moment I imagine they’ll try to top once Roman Reigns comes into the picture.

But first, we’ve got to establish that Rollins and Ambrose can still do big things together. To do that, they’ve got to take the tag belts away from Sheamus and Cesaro. I expect that’s exactly what we’ll see here. The crowd should really be into this one as well. The Shield magic notwithstanding, all four of these guys can go. There’s a good chance this winds up being one of the better matches of the night.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Prior to Tuesday’s Smackdown, I had Cena pegged to win this one. But Corbin’s failed cash-in has me second-guessing things. If Cena costs Corbin his big match, and then beats him at Summerslam, where does that leave him? If they want him to remain a player, Corbin needs to get his revenge on Cena. Otherwise, he’s going to have to climb his way back up the card. Or worse, he could be the next Damien Sandow. Only not as talented. Or as over.

You know who I’d like to see? Frustrated, bitter, angry, violent Baron Corbin. Show me that this man is dangerous. Convince me that I should be afraid of him not just because of his physical stature, but his cunning and ruthless mind.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This wasn’t at all what I expected for Nakamura at this show. Considering he just popped up on television in April, it’s a little quick for his first WWE Championship Match. But I can’t bring myself to gripe too much about it. At least it show us that WWE has enough confidence in him to place him in a big match like this. It’s reminiscent of where AJ Styles was last year.

Nakamura’s match with Baron Corbin at Battleground was a disappointment. If he and Jinder Mahal turn in a stinker on a big stage like Summerslam, some of that stink might stay on him for awhile. What’s more, Jinder hasn’t had that epic WWE Championship Match yet. So it’s in both these men’s interest to give us something great and memorable.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Jinder Mahal experiment is over just yet. I see this match having the same outcome that a lot of his matches do. The Singh Brothers meddle in the match, which results in either a dirty finish or a disqualification. Either way, the title stays on Jinder. After Randy Orton’s victory over the champ two weeks ago, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got a three-way dance for the title coming up between Mahal, Nakamura, and Orton. I can’t say I’m dying to see it. But there’ve certainly been worse matches.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman

From a conceptual standpoint, this is a fairly flawed show. That being said, they got the main event right. All four of these guys are hot right now, and any of them could conceivably walk out with the belt. On paper, that makes for an awesome main event.

WWE tried to throw a curveball our way by having Paul Heyman announce that if Brock loses the title, both of them will walk out. Considering Brock is not only under contract until Wrestlemania, and he’s being advertised for shows post-Summerslam, it seems unlikely he’ll drop it here. That’s not to say he can’t lose it, go away, and then come back later. But my gut says Brock keeps the title.

For me, the real drawing power of this match lies in the potential for sheer brutal chaos. All four of these guys hit hard and throw far. Hopefully, no matter who comes out on top, the audience wins.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Ric Flair’s Legacy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ric Flair has once again become a hot topic. The iconic wrestler underwent major surgery this week. The exact nature of that surgery is unknown. But Flair was reportedly placed in a medically-induced coma. As we’re all too familiar with heartbreak and tragedy in situations like this, many of us feared the worst.

While the situation is still very serious, it seems like the real-life Richard Fliehr has a good amount of stylin’ and profilin’ left to do. That’s cause for celebration. The wrestling business has seen far more than its share of tragedy.

No one will ever be able to say with any certainty who the greatest professional wrestler of all time is. So much of this industry is subjective when it comes to the good and the bad. But as I scanned through the various well-wishes and tributes to Flair that popped up in my Twitter feed, it occurred to me that he may indeed be the closest we ever get to a definitive answer. For no other reason than if you ask any given wrestler, or even a knowledgable fan who the greatest of all time is, more often than not they’ll say Ric Flair. He’s synonymous with excellence and prestige in the wrestling industry. That’s not an accident. He inspired a generation of wrestlers with his incomparable promos and nearly unparalleled athleticism. Flair has given us so many memories. He’s a man who’s earned his place of honor in not only the wrestling industry, but popular culture itself.

So thank you, good sir. Have a speedy recovery.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose calls out Seth Rollins. The two come to blows. Sheamus and Cesaro come out to attack, but the former Shield members fight them off. Ambrose and Rollins finally do their trademark fist bump and reunite. The two duos to clash for the Raw Tag belts at SummerslamHave you ever seen a more milked fist bump? Jeez. Just make out, already.

Though I will say this: It worked. The crowd wanted to see them get back together, and WWE effectively built it up over several weeks. Now the question is, will they be as enthusiastic to see Roman Reigns rejoin the group?

Spoiler alert: No.

Sasha Banks def. Nia Jax to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match against Alexa Bliss at SummerslamAlexa’s silver lifeguard chair was an interesting touch to all this. Brings certain Baywatch-esque imagery to mind…

As time has gone on, Sasha has come to grate on me in more ways than one. But I’ll never deny how hellacious some of her bumps are. That swing she took into the barricade? Ouch. No way to protect your head on that one.

After a promo from Big Cass erupts into a fight, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson help Cass injure Big Show’s punching hand. What a difference a hot crowd makes. A different town would have given Cass the “What?” treatment. The fans in Boston made him look like a star. Cass even got to ad-lib a little bit. While he’s still not an awesome talker, this was his best segment thus far as a villain.

Akira Tozawa def. Neville to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I saw someone on Twitter say that Neville “legitimized” the Cruiserweight Division. While I wouldn’t go that far at all, it’s tough to understate what he’s meant to the 205 Live crew. He’s been the only one in this division with any kind of heat. He’s literally been an island. While this Cruiserweight Division has been an albatross for some (Austin Aries comes to mind), it’s been arguably the highlight of Neville’s entire WWE run. He made it work, and deserves a lot of credit for that. He deserves to graduate and move on to bigger things. But I imagine he’ll get his rematch in the near future.

One thing that has been legitimized? Akira Tozawa. He stood out from he moment he first appeared on Raw. And taking the belt off Neville after all this time is a huge deal.

Bray Wyatt def. Finn Balor. Wyatt dumps red paint on Balor afterward. This was the second of two matches on this show that were originally pencilled in for Summerslam. We later learned that it will now be Bray against Finn’s Demon personality at the pay per view. That’s pretty cheap, given how they got there. But at least Finn is getting on the show. I was worried this meant they were pulling the match. Not that it was all that amazing…

Mickie James def. Emma. Well, in Emma’s case I suppose a losing streak story is better than no story at all. Or worse yet, no TV time. Prior to last week, when was the last time we’d even seen Mickie on television? She deserves so much better.

After a match between Jason Jordan and the Miz ends in a disqualification, Jordan and the Hardy Boyz beat Miz and the Miztourage in a Six-Man Tag Team Match. This Jason Jordan thing had better end in a heel turn. Because right now he’s about as milk-toast as can be. Ironically enough, this is what they did with Kurt Angle in 1999 to make him a bad guy.

By the way, stellar job last week guys. Putting Jordan against a job guy from Canada, in Canada. Oye. I don’t claim to be an expert in wrestling psychology. But that’s pretty basic, isn’t it?

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman. Lesnar and Strowman need to be pulled apart. This main event is pretty damn strong. And they can get some mileage out of putting Brock with all three of these guys in singles matches down the road. As we saw here’s there’s obviously some fun, unexplored territory between Brock and Braun. Brock is reportedly going to be around as we move into Autumn. Seems like a damn good way to hold fan interest coming out of Summerslam.

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Summerslam on the Horizon, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Doing something different this week. Let’s rapid fire a few news stories…

Rey Mysterio Jr. reportedly not returning to WWE. The company reportedly passed on Rey because they weren’t interested in working with Konan, who is part of Rey’s representation. It’s no big loss or gain either way, as far as I’m concerned. No disrespect to Rey. But at the end of his WWE run he simply wasn’t the same caliber a performer. That’s what age and injury will do to you.

I understand the impulse to use a big name like Rey to appeal to the Latin market. But they don’t need him to do that, do they? I’ve always wondered why they didn’t plug Kalisto into that spot. Granted, Kalisto’s not much of a talker. But Rey never was either.

Becky Lynch and Cris Cyborg create Summerslam buzz. UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg has been sparring with Becky Lynch on Twitter, supposedly to create buzz for a Summerslam match.

Uh huh. Sure. They’re going to book a match with a big name UFC star this close to the event. And that’s assuming she’d even get clearance from UFC to do anything physical.

Would I like to see it? Sure. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Global Force Wrestling Women’s Champion Sienna calls Charlotte Flair out on Twitter for copying her look and pinky finger mannerism. Again with the Twitter drama. I had never heard of this woman until I caught wind of this. I’m sure she’s talented and everything. But…is she for real with this?

Sienna incorporates the Peacock into her look, as does Charlotte. But what apparently prompted the jab from her was the pinky gesture Charlotte uses with Becky Lynch. It’s a jokey thing they do that means “tea time.”

I’m sure Sienna is an awesome wrestler. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never seen her. And with all due respect, I’m pretty sure Charlotte hasn’t either. So let’s cool our jets and not go to war over coincidences.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena opens the show. Baron Corbin interrupts. Daniel Bryan makes a match between the two at SummerslamTom Phillips gave this match a nice little tagline: “The Future vs The Franchise.”

In an era where so much of what we see is scripted, Cena’s ad-libbing is usually really refreshing. Now fans get the pleasure of chanting “Dumpster Fire” at Baron Corbin. (They should have chanted it at that Punjabi Prison Match.) Imagine how many cool moments like that we’ve missed over the years because of over-scripting.

The Usos def. Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger. The New Day return to beat down their Summerslam challengers. Fun to see the New Day show a little more of an edge as they attacked the Usos. Now if only the rubber match at Summerslam was a Street Fight or something, and not just another match.

Charlotte Flair def. Lana. The story of this match was supposed to be about Charlotte outdoing Lana at every turn. And yes, hey gave us that. But it ultimately became about Charlotte’s wardrobe malfunction. Yep. Her tights got pulled down a bit. That happened.

It’s funny what catches on. All these years after the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl scandal, we’re still using the term “wardrobe malfunction.” The world is so random…

Shane McMahon brings AJ Styles and Kevin Owens to the ring to set the record straight regarding Summerslam. Shane accidentally takes a Pele Kick from Styles. I’d love to know what percentage of my brain is made up of useless pro wrestling trivia. When Kevin Owens referenced Shane having refereed before, my mind immediately jumped to the moment from Survivor Series ’98 that they ended up showing. I can’t decide whether that’s quirky or sad.

Carmella def. Naomi in a non-title match with help from James Ellsworth. Natalya is the one challenging for the belt at Summerslam. But between Carmella having the Money in the Bank briefcase, the alliance between Lana and Tamina, and the ever-present Charlotte and Becky Lynch, Nattie is almost an afterthought. I’m a Natalya fan, but this almost feels like a pre-show match.

Also, can we get Ellsworth an acting coach or something? He was awful in that backstage segment with Nattie and Carmella.

Shinsuke Nakamura talks to Renee Young about his WWE Title Match at Summerslam. Not to overstate my point on the whole scripting thing, but one of the biggest drawbacks of not letting the wrestlers speak for themselves is that they all end up saying the same things. That stuff Nakamura said about Cena being the measuring stick of WWE and being a 16-time champion was all fine in theory. But the actual structuring of his verbiage made it come off phony. Something about him using that measuring stick expression just didn’t feel right.

On the upside, his English was fine as a whole. I didn’t have any trouble understanding him. Doing this in a pre-tape was smart. Nakamura might be like Brock Lesnar, in that when he has to talk, it’s better not to put him out in front of the crowd.

Randy Orton def. Jinder Mahal in a non-title match. Rusev jumps Orton afterward. I’d forgotten Jinder is Canadian. That Toronto crowd reminded me real quick. What else would you expect from the city that booed Bayley?

Very surprised to see Jinder lose clean here. I assume this was done to make him look beatable for Nakamura at Summerslam. I just hope they don’t use this match as an excuse to give us more Orton/Mahal matches. The fairly quality of their pay per view encounters notwithstanding,  Orton did what he was supposed to do and put the new star over strong. Now onward.

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The Bayley Backlash

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not really in much of a talking mood this week as far as Raw goes. But there is one thing that really merits comment: Bayley.

During her match with Nia Jax last week, Bayley separated her shoulder. This week on Raw they announced she won’t make it to the show, and brought her out for an in-ring promo with Charly Caruso. She said something about the fans supporting her through this tough time, and there were audible boos from the Toronto crowd.

In response, Bayley did what is often the worst thing you can do. She acknowledged the boos. She said something like, “I don’t know why you’re booing.” Toronto answered her with even louder boos.

This has been bubbling up for a little while now. Bayley has her dedicated fans, of course. But a vocal minority has been turning on her in recent months. It’s not Bayley’s fault, so much as they way that character has been written. There are a lot of examples we can point to. But the biggest one is probably her recent program with Alexa Bliss. That brutal “This is Your Life” segment, the disappointing Kendo Stick on a Pole Match, etc. The fact that she was heading into yet another match with Alexa at Summerslam probably didn’t help matters.

The real-life Pamela Martinez may not realize it now, but this injury might turn out to be the best thing for her. That character has a stink on her that some time away from the limelight can help with. When she comes back, the fans will be excited to see her again.

Granted, that doesn’t mean they’ll write or book her any better when she gets back. But let’s take it one step at a time.

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A Teen Titans: Damian Knows Best Review – A Return to Glory?

TITLE: Teen Titans, Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLERS: Jonboy Meyers, Diogenes Nieves, Khoi Pham
COLLECTS: Teen Titans #15Teen Titans Rebirth #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 14, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Teen Titans have had a pretty awesome run on television over the last decade and a half. The comics, on the other hand? They’ve been a mixed bag. But this new Teen Titans series under the DC Rebirth banner offered yet another fresh start for one of the most iconic and prolific superhero teams in all of comics. A chance to make the Teen Titans great again!

I wouldn’t call Damian Knows Best a great book. But these still manage to be the best Teen Titans comics we’ve gotten in several years. Since 2011 at the very least.

In the wake of his 13th birthday, Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin, summons his own team of young heroes to combat a threat from his past. Damian’s grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul, has sent his own team of young assassins after the Boy Wonder. Their mission? Either bring Damian back into the League of Assassins or kill him. But as his new teammates are about to find out, Damian isn’t one to make things easy.

Damian should have been on the Teen Titans a long time ago. That last really good Teen Titans story I alluded to above? It sees Damian barge in and briefly anoint himself team leader. Why it took so long to get him back on the team is beyond me. Sticking a character as abrasive as Damian in a team environment is a natural source for tension and conflict. Making it a team of adolescents ups the ante even more. It’s an update this book has desperately needed since…well, 2011.

Perennial team members Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven are back. I’ve lamented previously about how the series can’t move away from them, presumably because DC wants to match the cartoon show. Plus, they’re synonymous with the iconic Wolfman/Perez era. Swapping one or two of them out for newer characters might open the door for even more new possibilities. That’s what a relaunch is supposed to be about, after all. We at least get a little of that with the inclusion of Kid Flash.

However, Ben Percy does a commendable job turning up the teen angst with most of our heroes. The common theme among them is the feeling they don’t belong anywhere. Like so many young people, they feel isolated.. That commonality that makes them feel like they belong together, instead of being lumped together for no real reason (other than editorial mandate). The opening sequence with Beast Boy is one of the character’s best in quite some time. As he behaves in his typical animated and boisterous fashion, the narration captions highlight his inner turmoil, most notably over the “death” of Tim Drake. Throw in how wonderfully drawn and colored the whole thing is, and you’ve got a knock-out intro.

That’s one of the things DC has failed to do with Teen Titans for so many years: Really amp up the teen element effectively, making this book considerably different from Justice League and the other team books out there. Need an example? Look what Mark Waid is doing in Champions. All those characters feel like teenagers trying to find their way in the world and blaze a new trail that’s different from the previous generation’s. Teen Titans doesn’t have that rebellious streak to it. But having these characters feel young and a little less sure of themselves is damn sure a step in the right direction.

Most of the Demon’s Fist characters are forgettable. They’re led by Damian’s cousin Mara. Despite being fairly forgettable herself, she has a strong origin story. She trained alongside Damian growing up, competing with him but never quite besting him. Damian was intended to lead the Demon’s Fist, but Mara took over in his absence. If you subscribe to the idea that all of Batman’s villains represent a distorted mirror image of him, then Mara would be the equivalent for Robin.

Jonboy Meyers was supposed to be the regular artist for Teen Titans. He made it through issue #1 before leaving due to “creative differences.” That’s a damn shame. Meyers breathed so much new life into this series, giving us an Anime-inspired expressiveness, and thus a sense of fun the book has sorely lacked for a long time. Make no mistake about it, the guy knows his way around a superhero action sequence. I’ll specifically cite the Kid Flash pages from the Rebirth issue as evidence.

Diogenes Nieves has the unenviable job of tagging in for Meyers in issue #2. To his credit, the transition goes about as smooth as you could ask. He gives us a couple of gorgeous pages of a rainy rooftop scene between Damian and Talia al Ghul. Still, the little quirks in Meyers’ art are still sorely missed. The same, sadly, can be said for when Khoi Pham takes over on issues #3-5. Objectively, he’s a fine artist. When it’s time for our team to rise up in issue #5, Pham nails it. It’s just that Meyers has that certain flair. Starting with it and then taking it away doesn’t do the book any favors.

Thankfully, one constant in the book is colorist Jim Charalampidis, who brings a valuable consistency to the series despite the changing artists. These pages look a touch darker than I might have expected. But it’s still the beautiful blaze of color you’d hope to see from a superhero team book like this.

It’s been quite awhile since I picked up Teen Titans on a consistent basis. This new series changed that. Did Damian Knows Best make Teen Titans great again? No. But it made the series good again. That’s more than you can say for any other book to bear it’s name in the last several years. Now, here’s hoping things stay good for quite some time. These characters, and this series deserve at least that much.

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Anxiety Talk: Anti-Anxiety Playlist, Vol. 1

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve never been a morning person. Back when I was working 9-5 jobs, my anxiety made them downright terrible. I’d wake up with a 50 lb weight in my gut, unable to eat. On bad days, I’d have to fight back tears during my commute. You’d think I was going to the gallows.

Low and behold, I still have my head. While it’s not nearly as bad as it was, part of having anxiety is living with that kind of fear on a day to day basis. So yeah, I still have bad mornings sometimes.

Music has always helped. Especially during the drive to work. I usually like something that has a good beat or is generally motivational. Ideally both. When you’re scared to greet the day, that’s what you need. Something to get your blood pumping, inspire confidence, and remind you the world isn’t so bad after all.

What follows are five songs that have worked well for me during bad mornings, whether they happened a day or a decade ago. They sit on my iPod in a playlist called “Anti-Anxiety.” When the fear has taken hold, these songs have helped me find the courage to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

I don’t want to say, “I hope they work for you too!” or anything, because everyone’s mind is different. Consider it a nudge toward making music a part of your daily coping routine, if it isn’t already.

My reference point for these songs is going to be YouTube. But as you might imagine, YouTube is finicky with copywritten material. So I invite you to click the link and check the videos out for yourself. On the plus side, chances are you’ll know the majority of these…

1. Sara Bareilles – “Brave”

Obvious? Yes. A bit on the nose? Yes. But it’s still a great song.

“Brave” has been described as a civil rights anthem. Bareilles has said the inspiration for it came from seeing a close friend struggle to come out. But the song is really about being comfortable in your own skin, and having the courage to be who you really are.

In reading about “Brave,” I saw it referred to as a “power ballad.” As I’m not nearly as fluent in music as I am in other things, I’d never heard that term before. But it’s apt as hell. “Brave” acknowledges that you feel weak, while reminding you that you’re strong. Not a bad message to start the day with.

2. The Score – “Unstoppable”

This is my most recent addition to the playlist. You might remember it if you saw Power Rangers. There’ve been days where I’ve repeated “Unstoppable” a multiple times on the way into work.

The first line of the chorus is, “We can be heroes!” That’s what put it over the top for me. Obviously I’m a big superhero nut, so it works on that level. But one of the reasons so many of us love superheroes so much is because they can stay strong and brave while facing the unimaginable. Typically, people with anxiety aren’t facing the unimaginable. But it feels like we are. So we need to be reminded that we too can be strong and brave. We can be our own superheroes, despite what our mind tells us.

3. Johnny Cash – “I Won’t Back Down”

Yes, I know it’s a Tom Petty song. Maybe my favorite Tom Petty song. But Johnny gives it a more intimate touch that somehow hits home for me. Something about a man, his voice, and a guitar.

The original song came out in 1989. I remember rooting through some of my dad’s CDs, finding a Greatest Hits album for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I wish I’d found it sooner. I imagine it would have helped me push through some tough times.

4. Florence and the Machine – “Shake It Out”

I recently heard “Shake It Out” for the first time in awhile. It actually gave me goosebumps. Specifically, at the lyrics: “And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back. So shake him off.” Damn, that’s beautiful.

“Shake It Out” is essentially about letting go of your baggage and leaving the past behind you. I’ve always been hesitant to say my anxiety has cost me certain things. Jobs, money, opportunities, things like that. Anxiety itself doesn’t force you to do anything. In the end, you make the decisions. Some people have issues separating those two things. But almost everyone has something in their past they’d change if given the chance. I’ve spent my fair share of time ruminating on all of that great stuff. “Shake It Out” asks us to let all of that go. I use it in the context of shaking off any lingering fear from the previous day, and simply living in the present.

5. Weezer – “Pork and Beans”

“Pork and Beans” is really about Weezer maintaining their identity amidst pressure to make more commercialized music. But it’s also about having the audacity and the courage to be yourself. It’s delightfully defiant. “I’mma do the things that I want to do. I ain’t got a thing to prove to you.”

That’s often a tough concept for someone with anxiety to put into practice, as the way we feel is so often a direct result of others. But it’s a good thing to hear when you feel that kind of self consciousness creeping up on you.

There bridge in this song is simply, “But I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!” etc. Sometimes I’ll catch myself singing that quietly if I’ve got a nagging or rising fear I can’t get rid of.

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WWE Smackdown Live Ponderings: Cena vs. Nakamura

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Mike Kanellis dead? Not the man himself, of course. But the character and his chances for success in WWE. That’s what a lot of smart fans have been saying since his loss to Sami Zayn at Battleground. He was also pinned by Sami Zayn in a tag team match two nights later. I’ll admit, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But does that mean Mike Kanellis is dead?

Let me say this up front: Wins and losses matter in pro wrestling. No matter how much some will tell you otherwise, it’s built into the fabric of the business. In theory, it’s why we tune in each week. It’s what drives the characters, and pushes their stories forward. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that these are still characters in a story. Maria and Mike Kanellis are heels. As I’ve said before, villains can bounce back from losses a lot quicker than heroes can. They can be motivated by revenge, selfishness, greed, etc. That path is a bit more narrow for the heroic types, as they’re bound to their honor.

Granted, if the bad guy never gets any kind of an edge or a win, he sacrifices his credibility and he’s no longer a threat. That’s when you end up with a character like Bray Wyatt, who’s just now starting to gather some steam again. At least, for now.

Did those losses to Sami hurt Mike Kanellis? Maybe. Maybe not. But for crying out loud, the act isn’t dead. Not every new WWE talent needs to go on a big winning streak once they come up to the main roster. Yes, you want to get them with the audience. But there’s more than one way to do that.

Maria and Mike Kanellis might not be a main event act together. But they still make a damn good package. I think the whole “Power of Love” thing is brilliant. Having them fawn over each other on television strikes a great nerve. We can’t just write these two off because Mike lost a match or two early on. He’s not a made man. But there are still plenty of opportunities ahead for him.

Wins and losses matter. But they aren’t the only thing that matters. 

Ponderings From Smackdown Live:

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens to retain the United States Title. After a controversial finish, a Summerslam rematch is made, with Shane McMahon as the guest referee. Objectively, these two have had good matches. That’s no surprise, as they’re two of the best in the world. But for some reason I just haven’t been feeling this feud. It’s not a lack of chemistry. There’s just some intangible that isn’t there. That’s why I was hoping to see this end after Battleground.

Referee Mike Chioda took a “punch” from KO in this match that clearly didn’t connect. Bad break. Especially considering it led to the finish.

On the subject of chemistry, Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon have an intriguing tension going on. Something between the two of them could help Smackdown maintain interest as we move into the fall, which is often the company’s most creatively challenging (and frustrating) period.

The Usos mock the New Day’s entrance, and cut a scathing promo. More awesome stuff. Tough to believe WWE has had these guys on the main roster since 2010, and we’re just now seeing this side of them.

Aiden English def. Sami Zayn. Maria and Mike Kanellis come out to rub salt in the wound. Aiden English gets a CLEAN win over Zayn? Damn. That’s the biggest win of this guy’s career. They did a fine job of making it look like a fluke victory, with the flash pin. I’m an Aiden English fan. His matches aren’t incredibly memorable. But he’s got a different kind of look and some decent singing chops. Very pleased he’s getting a chance to shine, as opposed to getting lost in the shuffle after Simon Gotch’s release.

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. Interesting counter to Carmella’s Code of Silence by Naomi. How much of a chance does Nattie actually have of beating her at Summerslam? As great as she is, I’d imagine it’s slim to none.

Rusev def. Chad Gable. Rusev issues an open challenge for Summerslam, which is accepted by Randy Orton. Really good showing here between these two, which had a great first chapter. Rusev threw Gable a little bit, playing to the size and power difference. Thus, it was that much more impressive seeing Gable suplex Rusev the way he did. The big Bulgarian got the victory in the end. But this did what it was designed to do. Both guys got over.

But poor Rusev. This guy keeps running into brick walls. First John Cena, now Randy Orton. It seems unlikely they’d have Orton lose a fourth consecutive pay per view match after putting Jinder Mahal over three times. Granted, you never know. But the smart bet is Rusev loses. Again. *sigh*

This match got me thinking: Could Rusev have been the guy WWE strapped the rocket to, instead of Jinder Mahal? For my money, the answer is yes. Rusev could have made just as good an evil foreign champion. Especially if he payed tribute to Vladimir Putin like he used to. Granted, the Russian connection isn’t quite as strong without Lana at his side. But they could make it work. He’s also better in the ring and on the mic. Did they miss an ample opportunity with this guy?

Shinsuke Nakamura def. John Cena to earn a WWE Championship Match at SummerslamWould you call this an upset? I know that question will piss people off. But remember, this is WWE. It’s Cena’s house.

This was the right move to make. Nakamura has been on the main roster for a few months. But they’re still trying to establish him as this legendary wrestler to the casual fanbase. A clean victory over Cena goes a long way in that regard.

The match itself was pretty good. Naturally, much of it was about the feeling out process between Cena and Nakamura. Their personalities made for an interesting clash.

It’s almost a given that at some point during a big John Cena match, his opponent is going to kick out of the Attitude Adjustment at least once. Nakamura did it twice in this match. Cena’s been using the AA for over a decade. In all that time, hasn’t anyone considered giving him a different finish? He could still use the AA. But how about giving him something that actually works?

Up to this point, the prevailing theory about Summerslam had been that it would be Cena challenging Mahal for the title. So if not Jinder, then who…?

Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura. Cena gives him an Attitude Adjustment through the announce table. Ahhhh, there we go. It’s Cena vs. Corbin.

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