A Batman/The Flash: “The Button” Review – Take the Good with the Bad

TITLE: “The Button”
AUTHORS: Joshua Williamson, Tom King
PENCILLERS: Jason Fabok, Howard Porter
COLLECTS: Batman #2122The Flash #2122
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
TENTATIVE COLLECTION PRICE: $19.99
COLLECTION RELEASE: October 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I want to like what I’m seeing here. And I guess I do, for the most part. I just have to turn a certain part of my brain off. Namely, the part that registers guilt about a company cashing in on imagery and characters from a landmark story without their creator’s blessing.

After months without any leads relating to the mysterious button Batman discovered during the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the Dark Knight gets a surprise visitor: The Reverse-Flash. But what’s his connection to the Button? Where does it come from? How does it connect to the apparent changes made to the timeline? And how does all of this somehow involve the world of Flashpoint?

“The Button” doesn’t give us any answers. But it does wet your appetite for the just-announced Doomsday Clock event in November. It also manages to tug at your heartstrings with some pre-New 52 imagery and characters. So it does what it’s supposed to do. We even catch a little glimpse of Dr. Manhattan at the end…sort of (shown below).

While we’ve known about the DC Universe/Watchmen stuff for about a year now (Has it really been that long?), I still feel dirty when I see the Watchmen imagery. It doesn’t do much good to complain about it, as what’s done is done. But considering what an achievement Watchmen was, and how revered it is to this day, without Alan Moore’s blessing there’s a certain lack of purity here. That’s only going to become more pronounced as we go forward.

Our inciting incident occurs when the button comes into contact with the Psycho-Pirate’s mask, causing the Reverse-Flash to materialize in the Batcave. After a fight, Batman and the Flash attempt to trace the button’s unique radiation to locate it’s source using Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill (Yup, that’s a thing.) After the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot came and went in the mid-’80s, the Psycho-Pirate was the one character who retained his pre-Crisis memories. I assume Reverse-Flash’s reemergence has something to do with that memory retention. There’s no other explanation…is there?

“The Button” definitely gives us the vibe that this New 52 continuity we’ve been in for the past several years is an injustice perpetrated by Dr. Manhattan. Several years have been from the timeline, forcefully robbing our characters of their memories and in some cases their very existence. We check back in with Johnny Thunder, who at one point cries, “We lost the Justice Society! It’s all my fault!” We also see Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes, who’s screaming about a future only she knows about. As Batman and Flash make their way through the timestream, we see glimpses of events from Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, and other stories that have seemingly been out of bounds for the New 52.

Then there’s the big surprise in the final issue: Jay Garrick’s brief return. Jay comes back much the way Wally West did in Rebirth, but is unable to find a tether to reality the way he did. He’s seemingly jerked back into non-existence via some familiar blue energy.

There’s a surreal and almost meta element to seeing characters like Jay and Wally pine to come back. Jay has a line, “They took everything from me, Barry. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.” Odd as it may sound, it feels like he’s talking about DC itself, doesn’t it? I’ve enjoyed the DC Rebirth initiative as much as anybody. But it does entail the company eating some crow. Yes, we’re happy to see so many familiar elements back in our books. But who took them away to begin with? Would they have gone through with the reboot if they knew they’d be backtracking it just four years later?

Oddly enough, the emotional meat of the story isn’t so much the return of Jay, or the drama of what’s been lost. It comes in when our heroes accidentally find themselves in the Flashpoint universe, and they come across that reality’s Batman, Thomas Wayne. Thus, we get a reunion of sorts between father and son, each Batman in their own world.

We’ve seen stories where Bruce somehow gets to talk to his parents again. Whether they’re ghosts, visions, or what not. But Batman #22 gives us two unique moments that manage to really hit home. The first is when Bruce tells Thomas, “You’re a grandfather. I have a son.” For older fans, that’s a really strong, relatable moment. The second comes as the Flashpoint sequence is ending. In their final moments together, Thomas asks Bruce not to be Batman anymore, and to instead find happiness. That’s a really compelling use of the Flashpoint Batman. I wasn’t expecting it here, but it creates a hell of a potential conflict for down the road. Can Bruce continue his crusade now?

Jason Fabok handles the Batman side of things, and handles them quite well. You can’t deny quality when you see it. His work has a definite epic quality to it, and is very much worthy of what we see here. The Flash issues are pencilled by Howard Porter, who I have a lot of respect for. That being said, his style has never really been my cup of tea. As cool as the time stream sequence in The Flash #21 is, Porter’s work gives it a certain awkwardness. For instance, there’s a panel where we can almost see up Batman’s nose. Not necessarily what we’re supposed to be looking at, is it?

“The Button” is a fine bridge between DC Universe Rebirth #1 and Doomsday Clock. For some of us, there’s going to be a lot of Watchmen-related discomfort on the horizon. But it looks like we’ll be getting our share of feel-good moments too. Take the good with the bad, I guess…

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A Twisted Dark, Vol. 1 Review – The Horror in Your Head

TITLE: Twisted Dark, Vol. 1
AUTHOR: Neil Gibson
PENCILLERS: Atula Siriwardane, Caspar Wijngaard, Heru Prasetyo Djalal, Jan Wijngaard, Ant Mercer, Dan West
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER:
TPub
PRICE: 
$14.99
RELEASED: August 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Twisted Dark is a series that lives up to its name in more ways than one.

From the UK-based TPub and author/editor/founder Neil Gibson, Twisted Dark is a collection of short psychological horror and suspense tales. This is indeed the twisted and dark underbelly of the human psyche. We’ll meet Rajeev, who rises to power in Dubai through manipulation and deceit. There’s Soames, a patient in a psychiatric ward convinced everything around him is a twisted game. We also have Ashbjorn, whose fractured mind is trying to shield him from the unspeakable pain of his horrific reality. These stories and characters stand alone for now. But they all exist in the shared universe of Twisted Dark. They may not know it, but their paths have already started to cross…

What I really enjoy about Twisted Dark is that it showcases the versatility of the black and white comic book. You’ve got so many different methods and textures on display here, at times from the same artist. Caspar Wijngaard, for instance, does “Routine.” We see deep blacks, a lot of jagged lines, and a high black and white contrast. He also does the cover, so it’s the style you expect when you open the book. But then later, we get “Cocaina,” in which he lowers the contrast, and starts playing with grays. His brother Jan Wijngaard also gets to show off with two stories. I would classify his style as softer than Caspar’s, and bit sketchier. It’s one thing to do that between different titles. It’s another to do it within a single volume, and is a real credit to both men as artists.

I stumbled across this book at C2E2 this year. It’s got a three-page opening story that provides a hell of a hook, and an appetizer for the book’s brand of storytelling. I love that first page (shown right). There’s a haunting sense of foreboding in the art alone. And then you read that lone bit of text at the bottom. Now that‘s a hook.

Most of these stories have a narrator with a very storybook-ish voice. Everything’s very plainly spoken, and seemingly unbiased. There’s a haunting quality in that. Especially after we see all these awful and disturbing things happen. We have no indication that the narrator is part of the horror itself in any way. But he’s your messenger, so you develop a subtle fear of him (her?) as well.

Once you hit the second or third story, you inevitably recognize a pattern to the storytelling. It’s the classic twist take on horror. (Twisted Dark…get it?) At some point in the story, you learn that your main character isn’t who you thought they were, or that they were being deceived somehow. Evil and/or bloodshed commences. You learn not to get too invested in who you’re seeing, and you’re always on the look-out for the swerve. This has obvious pros and cons. When you have an anthology of twist stories, they almost aren’t even twists anymore. They’re stories that adhere to a format. “Windowpayne” comes at about the midpoint of the book, and is about an entrepreneur with a facial scar who creates windowpanes that double as a sort of television. The character is interesting, but the story has an ending you can see a mile away because of the story patterns.

In apparent recognition of that pattern, the majority of the book’s subsequent twists become a little less jarring, though often no less violent. “Munchausen’s Little Proxy,” which is about a woman addicted to surgery, is more of a character piece than a narrative with a twist. Ditto for “The Pushman,” about a train worker from Tokyo. As there are several more volumes of Twisted Dark, I’m curious to see how the stories are positioned going forward.

On that note, all these stories and characters apparently exist in the same universe, and there are connections to be found. Perhaps I’m simply not eagle-eyed enough to spot them, as none were apparent to me as I closed the book. But I don’t doubt they’re there.

I appreciate the psychological component of Twisted Dark. While there’s no shortage of violence, they aren’t stories about violence, or gore, or monsters, or any of that. Twisted Dark recognizes that the scariest place of all is the human mind…

There’s an argument to be made that “The Routine” is the book’s best tale. It’s got a very horror-ish look, and it’s the first major twist we see, so it’s the most intense. But the character that gets the most development is Rajeev, by virtue of being the only one who’s story gets a sequel. He starts off as a humble but average man from south India who becomes a slave laborer, but in time rises to power. I wouldn’t call Rajeev’s tale the best in the book, but it does get the most page time, and thus the most progression. The second story, “A Heavenly Note,” is somewhat unique. While Rajeev rises to power in the first tale, the second one is about maintaining that power. That’s not always something you see in stories about the rise of tyrants. Obtaining power is one thing. Keeping it is another.

Twisted Dark would still work as a series featuring self-contained short stories. What we get is fairly simplistic, at least at this point. But the book manages to make good on it’s name. Plus, the idea that all these stories will somehow bleed into one another adds another level of intrigue. If you like your horror a little less gory, and more psychological, Twisted Dark is up your ally.

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A Review of The Walking Dead #167 – Andrea’s Fate

TITLE: The Walking Dead #167
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: May 3, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been a direct correlation between the quality of a Walking Dead story, and how real and relatable things feel. That’s what’s made this story different from typical zombie lore. We’ve had so much time with these characters, and seen them to do much more than run from zombies. The world they live in is obviously a fantasy. But we’ve seen them grow and change like real people.

That’s what makes issue #167 so impactful. To a certain extent, it feels like a real person has died. Furthering that point, it’s handled in a very raw and emotional fashion. This is unquestionably one of the best issues of the entire series. Maybe the best.

Andrea has been bitten. After having been with her for so long, Rick must once again say goodbye to a woman he loves. But can he bring himself to continue on without her? And how does her death impact Carl, Negan, Michonne, and the rest of the survivors? Especially now that the Saviors may once again be a threat…

I’ve never been any good at saying goodbye. Maybe that’s why this issue resonated so much with me. This is essentially one big goodbye to Andrea. They even forego the letters column this month, replacing it with a message from Kirkman about the character. It all may seem a little self-important. But The Walking Dead has such a passionate and devoted fanbase, that you can actually see the some of the reasoning behind it. Andrea has been part of the series since it’s second issue. She was one of the “originals.” So her death means that much more.

My favorite page in the issue is on a 16-panel grid, where we see major and minor characters alike pay their respects to Andrea. Each gets one panel. There’s a striking honesty on this page. You have some of the obvious, “we love you” and “if it hadn’t been for you” type stuff. But Heath, for instance, says: “We never talked much. I’m sorry for that. I’m not the best at making friends.” Carl’s love interest Lydia says, “I don’t think you like me, but…I’m not going to hurt Carl.” Then you have Negan, who puts his own little spin on a goodbye. And that’s not even taking the artistic quality of the page into account. It’s fantastic work by Kirkman, Adlard, and the entire team.

Kirkman uses Andrea’s death to talk about the human condition a little more directly. When talking with Carl about his relationship with Lydia, she tells him “People like to think there are people out there they’re meant to be with” but that “Anybody can love anyone if they want to.” He’s essentially trying to debunk the idea of soulmates, and asserting the notion that people make their own destinies. One might read that as Kirkman getting on his high horse. I suppose that’s true. But it’s his book, after all…

As one might imagine, much of the issue is spent with Rick and Andrea alone. He sits at her bedside in her final hours. It’s good stuff, but we get some odd repetition. Rick breaks down, talking about how he can’t go on, can’t stay strong, etc. In her last big monologue, Andrea tells Rick that he must continue, and how he’s made everyone else stronger. Then a few pages later, after Andrea has passed, Rick doubts himself out loud again. As he did just a few pages earlier, he says he “can’t do this anymore,” and that he just killed a woman a matter of hours ago. (It happened last issue. Long story.) The only real difference is that Andrea is dead in the latter scene. It’s a big difference of course, and Andrea’s monologue has all the appropriate power. I just wonder why the choice was made to have Rick repeat himself. In between those stretches of dialogue, we get four whole pages of silence, simply letting the art show us the final moments of Andrea’s life. I wonder if it would have been better to maintain that silence.

Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tone artist Cliff Rathburn work their usual magic here. I almost hate to use that term, as it seemingly lessens the gravity of what they’ve been able to accomplish on this series. It’s Adlard and Rathburn have been with the series since it’s early days. So it’s always gratifying to see them there when a long-standing character leaves the book.

There are a good amount of splash pages and two-page spreads in this issue. There’s a two-page shot of Rick at Andrea’s bedside that’s tremendous. There are a lot of deep black in the room, yet we get the sunlight coming in through the window. This is also a great showcase for Adlard’s character “acting” skills. He’s become absolutely amazing with the subtleties in human facial expression. Case in point, the splash page of Rick’s face after Andrea is gone once and for all, and the impact of what’s just happened finally sets in. Then you have the panel below, where Andrea has died, and Rick has to prevent her from turning…

Despite Andrea’s death, this issue is really about two things: Perseverance and hope. This is the most painful and most personal blow Rick has faced since he lost his wife and baby. But the issue ends not with more grief, but with an eye toward the future. The Walking Dead isn’t necessarily a series that’s known for it’s optimism. So often this world prompts its character to act on their darkest and most disturbed impulses. Going the other way was smart, given the emotional impact of what we’re seeing. It’s part of what makes this a landmark issue for the series.

One of the things Kirkman does very well with The Walking Dead is create a certain legacy for characters that have died. The deaths of characters like Glenn, Lori, and Herschel are still being felt in the series today. So as we move forward, the question becomes: What will Andrea’s legacy be?

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Will Jinder Mahal Shock the World? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

it looks like business just picked up. WWE and Jim Ross announced this week that the Hall of Fame broadcaster will lend his famous voice to the shows WWE recently taped in Norwich, England. The shows will be centered around the new WWE United Kingdom Division, of which the center is UK Champion Tyler Bate. Ross will work alongside Nigel McGuinness.

This is a hell of a selling point, not just for these UK shows, but for the WWE Network in general. JR’s voice is desperately missed on WWE television. He’s one of the best overall storytellers they’ve ever had. He could bring you inside the ring, break down the psychology, and put talent over in a way that most announcers today just don’t do. That’s a disservice to both the wrestlers and the fans. As many network subscribers will still be unfamiliar with the UK talent on that show, Ross’ name also has tremendous value.

I’m hopeful WWE will continue to bring JR in to call matches on the big shows, specifically Summerslam, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania. We don’t need him to call every match. But he added some nice extra garnish to that Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. When WWE wants a match to feel special, they can always plug JR in to knock one out of the park. He’ll do it every time.

After WWE inexplicably let him go a few years back, it’s tremendous to see these two sides rebuilding that bridge. Let’s start making up for lost time.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton appears for the first time since the House of Horrors Match. A brawl ensues with the other main eventers. A Six-Man Tag is made for later in the night. Jinder’s mic work had some heat to it. It wasn’t necessarily well-delivered. But if they keep working at this little experiment, they could have something here. The real question is what happens to Jinder after Backlash

By the way, does this grouping of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers have a name? It seems like they should.

Natalya def. Becky Lynch. A Six-Woman Tag Match is made for Backlash, pitting the “Welcoming Committee” against Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Lynch. Speaking of factions, can we get another name for this Nattie/Carmella/Tamina tandem? The Welcoming Committee is really damn lame.

Not a huge fan of the SIx-Woman Tag route they’re taking for Backlash. That’s a match for Smackdown, not a pay per view. The Welcoming Committee isn’t exactly the Shield.

Erick Rowan def. Luke Harper. Did Harper sleep with somebody’s wife or something? What does he have to do to get a substantial, sustained push?

Harper and Rowan are running into the same problem they had the last time the Wyatt Family broke up. They can’t seem to break out and distinguish themselves outside of being Bray Wyatt’s former henchmen. Harper has been close. But we still don’t know much about him. And the only thing we’ve ever really known about Rowan is his affinity for sheep masks. Why does he even wear it anymore?

Shinsuke Nakamura confronts Dolph Ziggler. A match is made for Backlash“You treat me like a contagious disease.” I like that line. I actually might steal that someday. Good mic work by Ziggler.

Be ready, folks. That Chicago crowd is going to go absolutely nuts for Nakamura.

In a WWE.com, Aiden English explains why he’s so emotional. Last week, Dave Meltzer speculated that WWE had English cry on television because they were mocking Mauro Ranallo. I’m not sure I buy that. I’m more curious why English is calling himself an “artist,” when that’s also Nakamura’s moniker. Apples and oranges, obviously. But still.

Breezango def. The Ascension, after another edition of “The Fashion Files” airs earlier in the evening. The Usos come out to cut a promo. So are Tyler Breeze and Fandango babyfaces now? They’re seemingly being shifted to a more comedic role. That suits their wit and delivery, so long as WWE doesn’t overdo it. Which they will, of course.

Another great promo from Jimmy and Jey. Where the hell have these guys been for the last seven years?

Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and and Sami Zayn. Mahal scores the pinfall on Orton. Last week Jinder beats Sami, this week he pins Orton. I don’t know if it’s officially my prediction yet, but Jinder Mahal could very well shock the world at Backlash. They could position him as the beatable champion who needs his run-in buddies to retain the title. Stranger things have happened. In that sense, I can’t help but continue to think of him in the same vein as JBL circa 2004.

Randy Orton isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a babyface WWE Champion. Granted, he hasn’t had a lot of time yet, nor a particularly hot feud. But right now, anyone not named AJ Styles is going to have an uphill battle if they want to be the top babyface.

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Braun Strowman’s Injury, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This sucks. That’s all there is to it.

Last week, they gave Kurt Angle a line about Braun Strowman having a rotator cuff injury. That’s not exactly true, but there is a little something to it. Strowman is apparently having a minor procedure done on his elbow. He’s going to miss about eight weeks. Thus, the angle they shot on tonight’s show.

The timing of this is awful, as Strowman has become one of the hottest things on Raw right now. All the Roman Reigns detractors have gotten quite a kick out of watching Strowman beat the hell out of him. Rumor has it he was supposed to wrestle Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title in June of July. The silver lining in all of this is they may now have to save that match for Summerslam. That’s a better deal for Strowman, in my book. Now the question becomes who you put with Lesnar in the meantime. Balor? Rollins?

Strowman didn’t need a break from the spotlight. But he’ll have that much more momentum when that “Braaaauuuunn!!!!” bellow hits again, and he comes looking for revenge. There’s just something satisfying about watching a big, tough bastard looking for a fight. It’s simple. It works.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose and the Miz announced as guest co-general managers for the evening. An injured Braun Strowman comes out, says he wants Brock Lesnar. Despite the injury, Ambrose makes a match between Kalisto and the one-armed Strowman. Really surprised to see them give Kalisto a mic here. It remains his worst enemy. In contrast, I loved Strowman’s line: “I crushed you like an empty beer can.”

Finn Balor def. The Miz. Miz attempts to use his GM authority to disqualify Balor. Ambrose re-starts the match. Decent outing for these guys. Miz is settling into things on Raw better than I thought he might. He’s gotten lost in the shuffle before, and he did lose a little of his Smackdown buzz when he came over. But he seems to be on the rebound. He and Ambrose have a title match next week, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t win it back.

Alexa Bliss w/Nia Jax def. Mickie James w/Bayley. Glad to hear a crowd actually be into Mickie a little bit. She deserves so much more than a lot of the American crowds have given her since she’s been back.

Alexa Bliss is already really good. But she’s going to be great someday Some of the little mannerisms and the little things she does with her body language are really fun to watch.

Roman Reigns interrupts Braun Strowman’s match with Kalisto, takes a chair to the giant’s bad arm. There’s something borderline funny about this feud leaving both guys bandaged up like this. Jim Ross would say they look like they’ve been in a car wreck.

This UK crowd wasn’t kind to Roman, though few crowds are. Those were some intense boos when his music hit.

Sheamus and Cesaro won a Tag Team Turmoil Match to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Damn. This is a hell of a win for Sheamus and Cesaro. Not just to win Tag Team Turmoil, but to pin every other team in the match. You can’t look much more dominant than that.

But do they need a new entrance? The one they have now has a little bit of a babyface vibe to it.

Goldust and R-Truth were in the hopeful underdog spot here. I’ve never understood why they don’t use Goldust more. He’s as good as he’s ever been. Maybe better.

Seth Rollins det. Samoa Joe via disqualification. Court Bauer was on Steve Austin’s podcast last week. The two happened to talk about how they need to do a better job of defining Seth Rollins’ identity as a babyface. Definitely worth checking out, as they made a lot of good points. The Kingslayer nickname is cool. But we need more on the character end from him.

I appreciated the taunting spot they put in this match when Joe was working Rollins’ knee. Joe makes a hell of a convincing bully when he wants to. Him sending Rollins into that exposed steel turnbuckle didn’t hurt in that sense either.

TJP def. Jack Gallagher with a handful of tights. They put Neville on commentary for this match, and he did pretty well. If you’d told me that a year ago, I’d never have believed it. That’s how far this guy has come.

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Cold match. At least we didn’t have to endure any stuff with Fox and Noam Dar this week.

Bray Wyatt def. Dean Ambrose after the Miz interfered. Pretty predictable finish. Ambrose and Wyatt did pretty well here, though. The shock of the night was that after what happened last week, we didn’t see Finn Balor go after Bray. I assume they’re still working together.

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Chris Jericho’s Run Ends, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I remember catching an episode of Smackdown with a buddy of mine about 10 years ago. Not a regular viewer, he was confused about the number of title belts he was seeing. He said to me, “I thought only the best wrestlers were supposed to have belts.”

Man, WWE was frustrating in the mid-2000s. Actually, it’s still pretty frustrating. But at least now the belts mean something.

For so many years, it seemed like WWE was just moving belts from wrestler to wrestler just for the sake of moving the belts. Almost as if it were an obligation. Not so much with the top titles. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles most certainly suffered. Only in recent years has the company tried to breathe some life back into those two belts, and play up their importance.

While some may not want to hear this, it really all started with John Cena. His run with the US Title reinvigorated it, and at times made it as important as the WWE Championship. That seemingly created the blueprint for other uppercard wrestlers to carry it, and that momentum also translated to the IC Title. Fast-forward to this week, and we’ve got guys like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho fighting for them in the main events of Raw and Smackdown. It’s such a far cry from the days when the belts would essentially just be props that certain wrestlers would hold. Now it feels like they actually represent something. Prestige. Honor. Glory. Status.

The WWE and Universal Heavyweight Championships should always be the crown jewels of their respective shows. If you win one of those, you’ve reached the top. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles should be no one’s consolation prize. They aren’t second-place trophies. They’re championships with rich legacies of their own. WWE should never again allow us to forget what an honor it is to hold them. Especially now that Brock Lesnar is the Universal Champion. If this week’s Raw is any indication, the Intercontinental Title may soon become a vital part of Raw every week. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho opens the show. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens each interrupt, before brawling with each other. Not much to this segment, really. It was essentially Jericho’s re-introduction to Smackdown. I’m curious if they’ll actually keep him on this show when he inevitably comes back.

Jericho’s US Title win at Payback was a big surprise. By no means did they have to give him the belt. But it was a nice win for him on his way out. Also, conspicuous by their absence on this show were Randy Orton and the “suspended” Baron Corbin. Assuming WWE knew they would be absent coming into this show, that would explain Jericho being used as a band-aid of sorts.

Jinder Mahal def. Sami Zayn. Decent match. Three weeks ago, there wouldn’t have been a doubt in anybody’s mind that Zayn would go over here. Not only did Jinder win, but he’s building momentum for a WWE Championship Match. What a world we live in.

I like this alliance between Jinder and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz). Has there ever been any sort of Indian faction in WWE? I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and nothing comes to mind.

Tye Dillinger def. Aiden English. Nice intensity from Dillinger here, for a quick win. This was more or less a glorified enhancement match. But we can’t say they haven’t started him out strong.

Natalya and Carmella def. Naomi and Charlotte. Becky Lynch runs out to help the babyfaces afterward. They’ve essentially done a 180 with Charlotte these past two weeks, turning her babyface. That’s a little odd, as she’s turned out to be such a natural heel. My guess would be they wanted to even out the babyface/heel ratio amongst the women on Smackdown.

The obvious direction would now be a Six-Woman Tag Match at Backlash. I can’t say that thrills me. As Carmella pinned Naomi in this match, I’d almost prefer to see the two of them have a match for the championship.

Dolph Ziggler def. Sin Cara. Not a fan of Sin Cara’s new gear. Not that it matters much. He’s in the exact same role on Smackdown that he had on Raw. Then again, it only took one night for Jinder Mahal to become top contender for the WWE Championship…

Another vignette airs for Lana’s Smackdown debut. My wife and I were at another couple’s home this weekend, and they happened to have Total Divas on. It was the episode where Lana and Rusev got married in Bulgaria. I can honestly say Lana was the most obnoxious woman on that show. Considering how irritating I find the Bellas, that’s really saying something. Rumor has it she may be dropping her Russian accent, which is fine. It seems like she’s not going to be with Rusev anymore. So why risk further accent slippage on TV?

“The Fashion Files” airs, starring Breezango. Tyler Breeze and Fandango target the Usos and the Smackdown Tag Team Titles at BacklashThese two have deserved a more prominent role for some time now. This fashion police gimmick has essentially been comedy fodder. To their credit, they got a chuckle or two out of me in this segment. But they can be much more than that. I don’t expect them to get the belts at Backlash. But at least they’re in the title picture.

Kevin Owens def. Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Title. Owens destroys Jericho after the match. I’m surprised we didn’t see AJ Styles again in the closing moments of the show. He and Owens mixed it up in the opening segment, after all.

Nice clean win for Owens, followed by an injury angle to send Jericho away for however long he’ll be gone. Perhaps the best testament to how good this run has been for Jericho is how sorry so many of us are to see him go. He’ll obviously be sorely missed.

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Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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