The Undertaker Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bayley, WWE Fastlane 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE Fastlane wasn’t a great show. But it gave us a couple of surprises, both positive and negative.

The biggest one, for my money, was Bayley retaining the Raw Women’s Title and ending Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t have given the belt to Bayley when they did. But as that die had already been cast, I think they made the right move here.  After all he back and forth switches they did with Charlotte and Sasha, it seemed pretty obvious history was going to repeat itself. But they defied expectations, and added even more fuel for what seems like the inevitable Sasha Banks heel turn. Now you can once again call one of Bayley’s wins over Charlotte into question because of Sasha. What’s more, Bayley has done what Sasha could never do: Beat Charlotte on pay per view. This has turned out to be some really good storytelling. Bravo, WWE.

Less pleasant a surprise was the decision to have Roman Reigns beat Braun Strowman clean. Granted, it was the “chosen one” who beat him, and they did put on a really good match. But this all felt very anticlimactic. The establishment of Strowman as this unstoppable monster has become one of the better parts of Raw. I understand keeping Roman strong for Wrestlemania. But at the expense of Strowman? It seems like a waste. Mind you, Strowman won’t be killed by one loss. But this was needless. The big man could have gone undefeated for several more months.

Goldberg, WWE Fastlane 2017Then there’s Goldberg. The 50-year-old former WCW star won his first Heavyweight Title in over a decade, beating Kevin Owens in about two minutes. It was fine for what it was. We knew these two weren’t having a long match. Loved Owens “taking a powder” before the bell even rang. He milked it wonderfully. And how ironic is it that Goldberg’s old rival Chris Jericho is the one to come out, cause the distraction, and allow him to score the pin.

I saw many a fan on Twitter whining about Kevin Owens having to drop the belt. To that I say boo hoo. He lost the belt to one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen. If a squash like that is good enough for Brock Lesnar, it’s good enough for Kevin Owens. The guy will be fine, kids. Calm down.

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho calls out Kevin Owens. US Title Match between the two announced for Wrestlemania. Owens and Samoa Joe attack Jericho. Sami Zayn makes the save. Owens beat Zayn in an impromptu match. This Owens/Jericho match fell nicely into place, didn’t it? No wasted time here.

This seems to be the start of an alliance between Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, with Triple H being the common factor. They’d make an interesting tag team for sure.

Also, remember what Owens said about getting a rematch whenever he wants one. That’s a good continuity note for the future…

Neville def. Rich Swann to retain the WWE Cruiserweight Title. Austin Aries decks Neville after the champion disrespects him. Gorgeous attempt at a Phoenix Splash by Rich Swann. One of the best athletes on the entire roster.

Neville vs. Austin Aries. Now there’s a Wrestlemania match. I wouldn’t rule out a multi-man title match though. We all know how they love to shove everybody on the Wrestlemania card.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt Goldberg’s return to Raw as champion. Lesnar hits an F5 on Goldberg. I don’t have as much of an issue with those CM Punk chants as some people do. Especially in Chicago. But at certain points it’s cringeworthy. As much as I love Punk, had I been at this show I would not have been chanting his name at Goldberg. Not the time for that.

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but Lesnar vs. Goldberg feels like a solid Wrestlemania main event to me. They’ve told a good story. Now it’s just a matter of how Goldberg will do in a match that’s longer than a minute…

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass via disqualification in a WWE Raw Tag Team Title Match when Sheamus and Cesaro interfere. Looks like we’ve got a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match coming our way. Not necessarily the recipe for a classic. But we got a pretty good one between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, Edge and Rey Mysterio, and Los Guerreros all those years ago.

Ravishing Rick Rude announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Ricky Steamboat to induct. This one is long overdue. The real-life Richard Rood was a big star in both the WWF and WCW. Rude is probably most widely remembered for the program he worked with Jake Roberts in the late ’80s, making public advances toward Jake’s then-wife. But he also got some great matches out of the Ultimate Warrior, and was the centerpiece of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance in WCW. Fans have been calling for this for years, and I don’t doubt it’ll make for a wonderful moment in Orlando.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. After what happened with Neville, they wisely kept Austin Aries off commentary for this match. But they also left Byron Saxton off. So for one segment we just had Cole and Graves. A pleasant return to the two-man announce booth, of only for a short time.

The New Day def. the Shining Stars. The New Day are still doing the ice cream thing. That was enough to get me to hit the fast-forward button. Thank God, otherwise I’d have seen the Shining Stars. *shudders*

Sasha Banks def. Bayley to make it a Triple-Threat Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania, also involving Charlotte. Slightly disappointed that we may be getting another three-way this year. It feels like they’ve simply tagged Bayley in for Becky Lynch. What’s more, Bayley and Sasha have such great chemistry in the ring, as we saw here. But it is what it is. What’s more, it’s certainly not too late for Nia Jax to be added, making it a four-way.

Triple H once again threatens to end Seth Rollins’ WWE career if he shows up at Wrestlemaniastill can’t get over how awesome Hunter’s return promo was a few weeks ago. It’s was the best he’s done in years. I think we took his mic work for granted when he was out there with guys like the Rock and Steve Austin, because they had such big personalities. But he was great then, and he’s great now.

A vignette airs for he return of Emma. See you in 17 weeks!

Samoa Joe def. Chris Jericho via count-out. How many years has this one been in the making? Hardly the ending I imagined, but I doubt this is the last time we’ll see these two in the ring together.

Braun Strowman calls out Roman Reigns, gets the Undertaker instead. Reigns comes out to face the Dead Man and gets a Chokeslam. Not a good couple of days for Strowman. First he loses his first match to Reigns. Then he flat out backs down from the Undertaker. Yuck.

As the Chicago crowd reminded us, putting Roman in there with the Undertaker is no way to get him cheered. But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s a good story. The old guard vs. the new guard. It also doesn’t hurt that Reigns has superficial similarities to a young Undertaker. The long hair, the goatee, the tattoos, etc. I have no idea what we’ll get once the bell rings. But the build-up should be really, really good.

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A Logan Review – Old Man Stabby

Logan, 2017, Hugh Jackman, posterTITLE: Logan
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
STUDIOS: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Kinberg Genere, Hutch Parker Entertainment, The Donners’ Company
RATING: R
RUN-TIME: 137 min
RELEASED: 
March 3, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a fan of the X-Men film series, Logan is in many ways a frustrating film. It’s very much the expressionistic, character-driven piece it sets out to be. But the Wolverine character is heavily defined by the world he’s in. A world filled with prejudice toward super-powered mutants. In Logan, that world has been heavily altered. While we all love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, what this movie really could have used was a little more world-building.

In the year 2029, mutantkind has been nearly eradicated. Logan, the man formerly known as Wolverine, is one of the last ones alive. In his care is a frail Charles Xavier, suffering from dementia and seizures. Logan isn’t exactly in great health himself. But danger once again finds our clawed hero, this time in the form of a young girl named Laura. Like Logan, she has adamantium claws, healing powers, and a deadly temper. She is hunted by Transigen, the group responsible for wiping out mutantkind. And if they have their way, Logan, Charles, and this mysterious girl are next.

Comic book fans know Logan is somewhat based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan book. That story features a gray-haired Logan in a world conquered by supervillains. The first lines in the very first panel are: “No one knows what happened on the night the heroes fell. All we know is that they disappeared and evil triumphed and the bad guys have been calling the shots ever since.”

logan-image-1-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenThere’s very little information like this in Logan. Information that helps us define the different world we see these familiar characters in. I’m not of the belief that absolutely everything needs to be spelled out for the audience. But the memory of the X-Men team is very much a part of this movie. It even implies that a new generation will pick up where Logan and the others left off. So wouldn’t it be helpful to tell us what happened to the X-Men? Were they all hunted down and killed by Transigen? Was there a big battle, like in Old Man Logan? We don’t have to comb through the roster one by one. But for instance, Logan loved Jean Grey. That could have been used to prompt a line or two about how she and some of the others died.

Instead, the film is chipped away at by these questions about how the established characters got to where they are, and who some of these new characters are. We do get allusions to a tragic event involving the widespread telepathic side-effects of one of Xavier’s seizes in Westchester, New York. To the uninitiated, Westchester was the home of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and home base to the X-Men. So it’s reasonable to assume that’s where many of them died. But casual moviegoers won’t know that. Hell, I’m fairly versed in X-Men lore and it took me awhile to put it together.

logan-image-2-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenHalf the potential of a story like this lies in exploring the dystopian future, and how we got there. Logan doesn’t do much of that, and the movie suffers for it.

Still, Logan is indeed the R-rated Wolverine flick many have waited for. The movie takes full advantage of its expanded parameters. We see severed limbs aplenty, gallons of spilled blood, claw shots through the face, and plenty of F-bombs. If this really is Hugh Jackman’s last go-around as Wolverine, he goes out in a blaze of bloody and cathartic glory.

Jackman’s claim that this is the last time he’ll pop the claws is a downer for sure. In 17 years, he’s played the character seven times. Nine if you count his brief uncredited appearances in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s left an indelible mark on the character and the X-Men franchise as a whole, bringing tremendous depth and likability in addition to the berserker rage that fans love. What’s more, I’m not ready to fully rule Jackman out of another appearance in the role. He’s publicly flirted with coming back for certain scenarios, and it’s not like he’s been typecast. He was Jean Valjean, for crying out loud. More importantly, he’s a proven and highly lucrative commodity in that role. It’s show business, folks. Anything is possible.

logan-hugh-jackman-patrick-stewartPerhaps less publicized is that Logan is perhaps Patrick Stewart’s last time playing Charles Xavier. Something else this movie has going for it is the novelty of ol’ Captain Picard dropping a few F-bombs. Why the hell not?

Dafne Keen makes her film debut here as Laura, a.k.a. X-23. Not a bad way to make your entrance, with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart at your side. She’s quite the find. Keen doesn’t speak for most of the movie, and has to convey a quiet rage beyond her years. She becomes the perfect mini-Wolverine.

There’s been a good amount of talk about Logan defying the genre of superhero movies. While I maintain this genre is more versatile than people give it credit for, Logan feels unlike most, if not any superhero movie you’ve ever seen. At one point, Xavier and Laura are watching Shane. That’s extremely fitting, given the movie’s clear influence on Logan. Mangold has also talked about The Cowboys starring John Wayne, and The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood. Oddly enough, he’s also mentioned Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler.

logan-image-3-hugh-jackmanLogan is hardly the most satisfying installment in the X-Men franchise. But it’s absolutely the most unique. There’s an undeniable thrill and catharsis to seeing Jackman rage out as Wolverine, potentially for the last time. From a performance standpoint, he absolutely sticks the landing here. Though that should come as surprise to absolutely no one.

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A Deep Dive Five #1 Review – Simple But Satisfying

deep-dive-5TITLE: Deep Dive Five #1
AUTHOR/ARTIST: Brad Howell
PUBLISHER: Site B Creative
PRICE: $3.00
RELEASED: Fall 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder 

You know what this brings to mind? At least superficially? Bucky O’Hare. Google it, kids. They had an orange spacecraft on that show. Maybe the Deep Dive Five craft reminds me of that…

Aimed at younger audiences, this first issue of Deep Dive Five stars Captain Venus (a.k.a. V) and her right-hand Sam as they embark on a mission to rescue an ensnared baby whale. But their commanding officer, simply known as the Chief, takes them to task for using a ship recently flagged for hull distress. In other words, V and Sam are plunging into the depths in a damaged craft. While their intentions were noble, they may not make it back in one piece.

It’s tough to throw stones at Deep Dive Five. It’s a book about anthropomorphic animals having underwater adventures. There’s an innocence on these pages that you don’t often see. I’d be comfortable giving this to a reader of any age.

deep-dive-five #1, Brad Howell, interiorOne thing that stuck in my craw: V and Sam are referred to as “Jumper and Hicks.” I assume those are supposed to be last names. But we never find out who is who. I assume it’s Venus Jumper and Sam Hicks. I won’t lie, the name Venus Jumper is pretty neat.

Howell’s art is simplistic and even static at times, but very friendly. I found myself wanting to stay in this world a bit longer. I wished the characters were a little more expressive at times. But they also have big and inviting eyes. We even have a pair of Finding Nemo style fish looking on from the deep. A bit distracting, perhaps. But also cool to look at.

The colors are very vibrant and eye-catching. What I found most inviting was the way Howell colored the backgrounds for the underwater scenes. We don’t just get one or two flat colors, but a variety of them depending on how deep V and Sam go. I love the way Howell plays with the light on the above page.

More Deep Dive Five is apparently on the way this summer. Updates from Howell, in addition to a variety of other goodies can be found on DeepDiveFive.com.

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Broken Matt Hardy, Jeff HardyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As he revealed on his Twitter this week, Matt Hardy is gone from TNA. Reports say Jeff is on his way out as well.

Long story short, their contracts were set to expire and TNA reportedly bungled negotiations. We’ve heard similar stories in the past about the company’s dealings with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, among others. Mind you, Matt announced his departure just one day after TNA Grand Champion Drew Galloway also announced his. Ouch.

Matt’s departure is undoubtedly a huge blow for TNA. The whole Broken Matt/Brother Nero thing was the only thing in that company with any life to it. But from a fan perspective, it conceivably opens a huge door: Broken Matt Hardy’s arrival in WWE.

There’s been talk of Matt doing this bizarre character in WWE almost since he started it. Could it ever happen? Would WWE have any interest in it? If so, how much creative control would he have? Would he be forced to recite the awful dialogue we hear so often on Raw and Smackdown?

Broken Matt Hardy, TNAWWE is in an interesting spot with the Hardys. Obviously, they’d be fools not to at least explore the possibility of bringing Matt and Jeff back. They were immensely popular, and could headline a Hall of Fame class someday. But if they simply try to bring them back in their old characters, a giant portion of the audience will inevitably clamor for Broken Matt and Brother Nero. I can practically hear the “Delete!” chants now.

While they’ve obviously toned down their attempts to “re-brand” talent from other promotions, all this Broken Matt stuff originated on TNA television. I can see Vince McMahon rejecting it simply because it’s not a WWE creation. It’s the same reason we’ve never gotten a War Games Match on WWE TV. And that’s to say nothing of the outright silliness of the whole thing. Imagine the 70-year-old McMahon’s reaction to things like Senior Benjamin, Vanguard 1, and King Maxel.

I think what this all really comes down to is Matt’s priorities. Jim Ross has talked about the two Cs, cash and creative, being the primary reasons a talent departs a promotion. Matt has a young son, and another child on the way. One more WWE run could put his kids through college someday, and get him back in the loop with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. But money isn’t everything. Matt has a good thing going with this character. It doesn’t necessitate him jumping off ladders every month. He can do it for another year, he can do it for another 10 years. If he’s found something that makes he and his family happy, I say stick with it.

wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017-john-cena-the-mizPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and the Miz get personal on Miz TV. Nikki Bella comes to Cena’s aid, the two share a kiss in the ring for the first time. They tried to do way too much with Miz here. He seemed to be stumbling trying to cover all the bases. From a story perspective, this renewed animosity between Cena and Miz seemed to come about spontaneously in the Battle Royal last week. But in this promo they tried to justify a deep-seated hatred of Cena by the Miz. They threw so much out there about Cena’s wrestling skills, his alleged politicking, and his latest attempts to balance WWE and Hollywood. But they don’t need all of that. They just needed to pick one motivation for Miz and stick with it. What we got here was all over the place.

Cena’s stuff about the Undertaker was really interesting. I highly doubt that was ad-libbed. But I’d like to think it was…

Inevitably, the John Cena/Nikki Bella relationship has come to Smackdown. In a way, this reminds me of when Randy Orton hit Stephanie McMahon with the DDT on Raw several years ago, and an enraged Triple H emerged from the back. Everyone knew they were together, but now it was “TV official.” It’s the same case here.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017Becky Lynch def. Mickie James in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. Alexa Bliss unintentionally costs James the third fall. Good match. These two are fun to watch in the ring, and they compliment one another very well. This program has been exactly what I imagined it would be, and that’s a good thing.

Was Becky screaming “Becky Balboa!” after she won?

Apparently Alexa Bliss’ nickname amongst the NXT crew was “Baby Trish,” as in Trish Stratus. Listening to her promos, I can absolutely see why. Intentional or not, I can see a lot of of heel Trish Stratus in her. Considering the great success Trish had, there’s no one better for Alexa to emulate.

AJ Styles def. Luke Harper to earn a WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Shane McMahon takes an accidental kick from Harper. This one surprised me. I thought for sure we were getting a three-way between Wyatt, Orton, and Harper. Now it looks like we may get Wyatt, Orton, and Styles.

I wouldn’t count out the match between Styles and Shane, though. They a point to put those two out there together a few times, including what we saw on Talking Smack. This is a nice way to keep AJ in the title hunt in the months leading up to Wrestlemania, but I don’t know if I see him in wrestling for it this year.

dean-ambrose-february-28-2017Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Not Corbin’s best mic work by a long shot. Often times he’s very hit or miss in that respect. I’m buying into this stuff with he and Ambrose, though.

Dolph Zigger def. Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match. It’s funny. I hate Chairs Matches on the TLC pay per view. But this one didn’t bother me. I guess they’re fine on free TV,  but not if you have to pay for them?

Are they building this up to Crews finally rising to the occasion and getting a singles win over Ziggler? Otherwise, he’s looked like a jobber. An athletic jobber, but a jobber nonetheless.

Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, burning down the Wyatt Family compound. I wasn’t crazy about Randy’s dialogue in this segment. But that’s the only thing I can really nitpick here. This was a great piece of business, using a setting that’s long been a part of the Wyatt Family lore. They even explained why that place is so precious to Bray, what with Sister Abigail being buried there.

Have we ever seen a vengeful, enraged Bray Wyatt before? I don’t know that we have. Certainly not like this. Certainly not like he’s bound to be now. An angry Bray Wyatt against an angry Randy Orton? That could be some interesting television…

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WWE Fastlane 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-february-27-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Some quick thoughts from Raw before we get into Fastlane predictions…

– The big news coming out of this show is that Seth Rollins is apparently still going to get physical at Wrestlemania. From a storyline perspective, it seems like Hunter baited Seth into a confrontation by demanding that he “not call me out at Wrestlemania.” Do we eventually find out that was his plan? Either way, I’m happy Rollins won’t be missing his second consecutive Wrestlemania. He caught an awful break, and he deserves the chance to finally have this match.

– There’s been plenty of talk these past few weeks about Samoa Joe being Triple H’s puppet, and what Hunter has done to his old allies. Is this something they’re planting a seed for in case Rollins somehow has to pull out of Wrestlemania? Or is this a more long term plan? Perhaps it’s both.

wwe-raw-february-27-2017– Good match between Joe and Cesaro this week, as one would expect. Samoa Joe weighs almost 300 lbs, and Cesaro kept picking the damn guy up. Honest to God, just get this guy some acting classes and let him have a singles run. Hell, give him the US Title again! Why not?

– Did everybody pick up on the whole New Day/Oscars joke? See, the envelope said the wrong name. Like what happened with La La Land at the Oscars. They’re spoofing current events. Get it? Huh? Did ya get it?????

Of course, like their usual attempts at topical humor, it was brutal. I’m actually starting to dread New Day segments. Please give these guys something else to do.

And now on to Fastlane. I skimmed the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match off here, as well as the pre-show match. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for ’em, and it’s not like there’s any shortage of stuff to go over otherwise…

wwe-fastlane-2017-luke-gallows-karl-anderson-enzo-and-cassWWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo and Cass

If I’ve got the pen here, Enzo and Cass win the Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania. Gallows and Anderson just won them a few weeks ago, and I don’t see any reason to take the belts away from them a month before the big show. Then again, I thought for sure Bayley’s first title win would happen at a show like Wrestlemania or Summerslam, and they did it two weeks ago on Raw. But a title change here would be, in the words of Gorilla Monsoon, “highly unlikely.”

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

wwe-fastlane-2017-neville-jack-gallagherWWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher

I like these two together. They overachieved last week in that contract signing segment. Gallagher is a lot of fun, and I imagine he will be Cruiserweight Champion someday. But that day isn’t today. Neville is the hottest thing they have in that division right now. He’s been such a breath of fresh air on Raw. They’ve got a good thing going with him. Let’s not nix it prematurely.

PREDICTION: Neville

wwe-fastlane-2017-sami-zayn-samoa-joeSamoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn

I can’t imagine Zayn winning this match. But considering this was originally supposed to be Seth Rollins’ spot, it’s a hell of an opportunity for him to show off in a brighter spotlight. I imagine he won’t disappoint.

So…what does Joe do at Wrestlemania now? Be in Triple H’s corner?

PREDICTION: Samoa Joe

wwe-fastlane-2017-bayley-charlotte-flairWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Ugh. Fine. Just give the damn belt back to Charlotte. At this point they have to, don’t they? They’ve built up this pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t just break it now. With this in mind, their decision to put the belt on Bayley two weeks ago seems even more ridiculous. But they’re struggling for stories to tell in this Women’s Division right now, because they just don’t have enough wrestlers. It seems like Bayley’s first title win was just done for the sake of filling time. Dhe deserved better than that. Either way, what’s done is done. Just give Charlotte the belt back, and we can look ahead to what I assume will be a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

wwe-fastlane-2017-roman-reigns-braun-strowmanRoman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

I imagine this one will be better than some are thinking. Roman is so athletic and explosive. I’m picturing a sort of irresistable force meets immovable object scenario which could be fun.

An appearance from the Undertaker seems likely here. They planted that seed in the Royal Rumble Match, so this would be as good a time as any to give us the next chapter in that story. Roman can be on the verge of winning, and then you get the standard Undertaker gong, the lights go out, and he hits him with a Tombstone or something. No matter how it happens, a pinball victory over Roman Reigns is a big deal. It’s a hell of a feather in Braun’s cap as we head into Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

kevin-owens-bill-goldberg-wwe-fastlane-2017WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Bill Goldberg

Very little doubt about this one. Goldberg wins his first title in over a decade. It’s just a question of how it happens, and how quickly.

There’s a lot of potential for run-ins and chaos here, both from Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho. If I had to pick one, I’d say Jericho. He and Owens did that great angle on Raw, and they did another one more recently at an overseas show.

But they really don’t need any interference here. If Goldberg can squash Brock Lesnar in under two minutes, it’s not going to hurt Kevin Owens to sustain a similar loss. Don’t blink during this one, folks.

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A Suicide Squad: The Black Vault Review – Squad vs. Zod

suicide-squad_-the-black-vaut-jim-lee-coverTITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: The Black Vault
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1Suicide Squad #1-6
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: February 28, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If The Black Vault isn’t the most important and most notable Suicide Squad book DC has ever published, then it’s absolutely in the top two. This is the biggest that Suicide Squad has ever felt, and may be the best its ever looked.

Thanks to the movie, the Suicide Squad “brand” has never had more eyes on it. The Black Vault features almost all of the characters from the movie, including a few pages of the Joker. So it’s bursting with crossover appeal for casual moviegoers. With this in mind, DC loaded the book up with A-list artists, most notably Jim Lee. Indeed, the master of the modern superhero epic is drawing characters like Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Talk about something you don’t see every day…

Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad, is a black ops group assembled by government agent Amanda Waller. Comprised primarily of imprisoned supervillains, the team is sent on covert missions. They serve as both soldiers, and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order or become compromised, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their skulls. Like the movie, in The Black Vault our team consists of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. They’re accompanied by Colonel Rick Flagg and Katana.

suicide-squad_-the-black-vault-harley-quinn-jim-leeTheir latest mission sees our heroes sent to a secret Russian prison to neutralize a secret doorway to the Phantom Zone. In the process, the team meets none other than General Zod.

People can say what they want about Jim Lee’s influence, for better or worse, on DC’s “house style” right now. But when he’s in his element, he’s one of the all-time greats. Lee is at home with the dynamic and the awe-inspiring. As such, it seems like Lee’s work on the book starts out rather slow. He starts on issue #1 and has to re-tread some of the ground covered in the Rebirth issue, specifically Waller’s motivations. He takes us from the team’s home base at Belle Reve Penitentiary to the Russian facility, giving us a few cool shots in the process. He and Rob Williams also have a really fun take on Belle Reve, where the prison cells are plucked and moved by a giant claw arm.

But once Zod enters the story at the end of issue #2, Lee gets to flex his muscles. He makes Zod surprisingly large, literally twice the size of the other characters (save for Croc). But the ultra powerful Kryptonian against these mostly street-level characters makes for a fun fight, particularly when the big guy goes against Katana. At the end of issue #3, we bring in a few other characters to oppose the Squad. But the good stuff is with the general himself. Issue #4 gives us a cool interaction between Zod and Croc, and a nice climactic moment involving Rick Flagg. It’s not Lee’s best work. But it’s still pretty damn awesome.

suicide-squad, Joker, Harley Quinn, Gary FrankThe notoriously deadline-challenged Lee was massaged into Suicide Squad‘s a bi-weekly format with a reduced workload. He only had to produce 12 pages per issue, with the rest going to an oversized back-up story spotlighting a particular team member. I suspect most fans will find Gary Frank’s look at Harley Quinn the most enjoyable. While on a mission with Flag, she struggles with some of her more villainous impulses. These are personified, of course, by the Joker. I’m not in love with Frank’s rendering of Mr. J. But his Harley is delightfully expressive in a way that’s exaggerated, but not quite cartoony. Naturally, this compliments both her character and Williams’ script.

But artistically, Philip Tan gets “Best in Show” as far as these back-ups are concerned. In addition to the Rebirth issue, he does the Katana story for issue #3. Tan shows off his versatility with an anime-inspired look at her origin. The script isn’t the strongest, but Tan and colorist Elmer Santos provide visuals that range from haunting to downright heart-breaking.

Rick Flag gets a lot of quality page time here. The Rebirth issue is essentially about him. Williams writes him as unwaveringly loyal, even to his own detriment. He’s the conscience of the team. A good guy tasked with leading all these bad guys. Flag is easy to root for and empathize with. Considering he’s the least flamboyant and colorful character in this book, that’s a good thing.

General Zod, Suicide Squad #2, Jim LeeOn the other end of the spectrum, Zod is an oversized caricature of himself, spouting lines like…

– “Prostrate yourself before your general, sub-creatures!”
– “I will boil and eat your magic!”
– “I have incinerated your human flesh and reveled in it’s pungent stench!”

I understand humor is a valuable component here. But c’mon, really? You’ve got Harley for that. You’ve got Boomerang for that. We don’t need Zod for that.

On the subject of weird comedy, this book has a recurring bit about Killer Croc throwing up. Oddly enough, it works. Can’t say I ever imagined Jim Lee drawing that.

The Black Vault represents the first time Suicide Squad has been elevated to a top-tier title with A-list talent. That alone makes it one of the most noteworthy stories in the team’s history. And while this isn’t the best scripting I’ve ever seen, Rob Williams knows how to put together a good Suicide Squad story. One can argue the book has never been in better hands.

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A Green Arrow, Vol. 1 Review – Ollie’s Greatest Hits

Green Arrow, Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Oliver QueenTITLE: Green Arrow, Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Oliver Queen
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLER: Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra. Cover by Ferreyra.
COLLECTS: Green Arrow: Rebirth #1Green Arrow #15.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Life and Death of Oliver Queen gives us a lot we’ve seen before. But it’s wrapped in a fresh package, and frankly some of this stuff was sorely missed. So it works out, and makes for a fun book.

A human trafficking case in Seattle brings Green Arrow and Black Canary together, in more ways than one. But what they end up fighting is something much larger, and closer to Queen Industries than Oliver could ever imagine. As such, new alliances will be forged, and older ones will be tested. Our heroes are about to meet the Ninth Circle.

To an extent, this book feels like “Ollie’s Greatest Hits.” Green Arrow and Black Canary are one of the classic couples in DC Comics lore, and they’re back together here. We’ve got him losing his fortune, which famously happened during the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run of the ’70s. Percy also plays up the more political, social justice elements of Green Arrow, which is another hallmark of the O’Neil era. And then you’ve got the return of John Diggle, a character that originated on the Arrow TV show.

green-arrow rebirth #1, title pageWhen you put it all in a list like that, this book looks vderivative and unoriginal. But for a longtime fan like yours truly, it feel like a homecoming. I enjoyed much of what was done with the New 52 Green Arrow book. But this feels like the return of the genuine article. Of course, that’s what they were going for.

This book establishes that Ollie and Dinah are acquainted with one another, but don’t know each other very well. Obviously that changes here as they become romantically involved. But here’s my question: From cover to cover, how much time is supposed to have passed here? When we get to the end of Life and Death, the implication is that Ollie cares about Dinah as much as anything in his life. But the two haven’t been together long enough to justify such a connection, have they? Obviously they like each other. But there’s nothing in this book that justifies such a deep-rooted love from either of them. It might have been more advisable to use the events of this book to plant the foundation for their relationship. That way readers feel like they’ve been in the loop from the start.

That being said, the chemistry is there between the two. They have that familiar volatile affection for one another. Dinah challenges Ollie, pointing out the inconsistencies in his approach as Green Arrow. Ollie accepts her challenges and returns in kind. But in the end their fondness for one another is undeniable. They’re fun to read.

The Ninth Circle are a group of villains using a weapon that’s truly timeless: Money. Our heroes come across them while taking down a human trafficking ring, and as Ollie painfully finds out, they have their claws deep into Queen Industries. They’re perfect villains for Green Arrow, exemplifying the kind of corruption the character has fought against for decades, and should absolutely be fighting today.

green-arrow-black-canary-otto-schmidtOllie’s relationship with his half-sister Emiko is of particular importance here. We learn who her mother is, and we get an apparent heel turn from her. I was concerned about her development as the book went on. But without spoiling things, I’ll say Percy leaves things in a satisfying place by the time we close the book.

Artistically, the star of this Life and Death is Otto Schmidt. Sadly, he’s only around for about half the book. But his style is a terrific fit for Green Arrow, and superhero comics in general. It’s expressive, it’s animated, the line work is beautiful, and it’s got a tremendous energy to it.  It’s also very conducive to action, the Canary Cry in particular (shown right). Schmidt, who serves as penciller, inker, and colorist on his issues, renders them simply, but colorfully. Like most of Schmidt’s work on this book, it’s very charming.

The second half of the book is drawn and colored by Juan Ferreyra, who is also the cover artist. His work has an almost airbrush-like texture to it that’s interesting, and he’s very good at drawing the disfigured members of the Ninth Circle. His colors are wonderfully rich, and at times intense. But with all due respect to Ferreyra, it’s just not quite as fun as what Schmidt gives us.

DC needs a good Green Arrow book right now. Just like they need a good Wonder Woman book, a good Flash book, a good Supergirl book, etc. With the emergence of the DC Extended Universe, as well as the “CWverse,” there’s so much potential for new fans to crossover into comics. I would argue that for a long time, DC failed to capitalize on that. With the DC Rebirth line, they’ve given themselves a valuable chance for a fresh start. And that’s what they have here with Green Arrow. While it’s not perfect, it’s something for fans old and new to latch on to.

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