Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts his challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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The Paige Situation, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Human beings are so weird.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read that Saraya-Jade Bevis, known to WWE fans as Paige, was one of the victims of yet another mass celebrity photo/video hacking. Sadly, Austin Watson (Xavier Woods) and Tyler Kluttz (formerly Brad Maddox) can also be seen in the…content. I haven’t seen it. But there’s reportedly quite a bit. We see this kind of thing so often nowadays. I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like. My heart goes out to all three. Particularly Bevis, who was clearly the target.

Something like this tends to bring out the worst in people. Certain wrestling fans can already be a crass, immature group at times. I’ve lost count of all the “Up Up Down Down” jokes I’ve seen on Twitter. I think back to what happened with Lita, Edge, and Matt Hardy all those years ago, and how tough things ended up being for Lita in particular. And this time there’s friggin’ video footage…

People are so quick to judge. But the fact is, Bevis, Watson, and Kluttz are three consenting adults who did nothing wrong. Though you can argue it was foolish of them to tape this. This looks like it’s a few years old. But sex tape leaks and cloud hacks are nothing new. You’d think that as public figures, they’d have been a little more conscious of that. Along those lines, there’s allegedly some footage of the NXT Women’s Title being, shall we say, defaced. They put that on film, for crying out loud. But in the…*ehem*…heat of the moment, your judgment can undoubtedly be impaired.

The reality of it is, Bevis already had one foot out of WWE. She’s already been popped twice for Wellness Policy violations, and she’s engaged to Alberto El Patron (formerly Alberto Del Rio), who happens to be the World Champion over at Impact Wrestling right now. This obviously complicates things further. While neither she nor Watson deserve to be fired over this, if she still has any desire to wrestle for WWE, she might be better off going her own way for awhile. To say the least, being a full-time wrestler for WWE is a demanding job. Until this blows over it’s just going to make it more difficult. If her heart’s not in it, she shouldn’t be doing it.

Again, my own heart goes out to all three of the victims here. I hope whoever leaked this stuff gets what they deserved.

Ponderings From Raw

After a public “apology,” Mick Foley gets fired by Stephanie McMahon. Sami Zayn comes out to defend him, gets put in a match with Samoa Joe. This was a nice spot for Zayn to be in. Definitely a big character moment for him. Hopefully he continues to establish himself as an anti-establishment underdog after Wrestlemania comes and goes. At this rate, I imagine he’ll just be in the Andre Battle Royal.

And so it seems Mick Foley’s time as the general manager of Raw has come to an end. This run from Foley obviously had it’s share of problems, the biggest of which was him having to recite WWE’s heavily scripted dialogue. Foley was, and is, a performer that can incite a heavily emotional response from audiences. Doing that using someone else’s words is difficult. Most of the time, that stuff comes from your gut and from your heart. Nobody wrote those ECW promos for Cactus Jack all those years ago. That’s not to say he can’t shoulder some of the blame. But in many ways, Mick was out of his element here.

I think Foley is often put in these authority figure roles in the hopes of re-creating the magic of his time as WWF Commissioner in 2000. Foley has often said he wishes he’d stayed in that position longer. But frankly, I think it ended at just the right time. He left us wanting more, and clearly it’s left a lasting impact.

Regardless of what anyone thought of Foley’s time as general manager, he remains one of my favorite pro wrestlers of all time. To me, he has always been passion personified.

Samoa Joe def. Sami Zayn via submission. Joe with that damn dive through the ropes to the outside. Not sure why they felt the need to have him do that. We so many of those dives, at this rate the Big Show will be doing one next.

Charlotte Flair def. Dana Brooke. They could easily have put Dana Brooke into the Women’s Title Match at Wrestlemania by having her beat Charlotte here. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Wrong place, wrong time for Dana. I’m interested to see how she does on her own from here on out. But I don’t have high hopes.

Chris Jericho exposes the “real” Kevin Owens on the Highlight Reel. Owens ambushes him, rips up the List of Jericho. Damn. He ripped up the list. That clipboard is more over than most of their roster…

As was the case when Owens slammed Jericho’s head into that sign a few weeks ago, there were shades of Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels here. Only this time, we have to go all the way back to Wrestlemania XIX, when they did that story about Jericho idolizing Michaels as a youngster. This struck a similar chord.

Incidentally, notice that Darren Drozdov figure in the photo of 16-year-old KO? I still have that. Why I have that one as opposed to certain others, I have no idea. But it’s somewhere in my home right now.

Brian Kendrick def. TJ Perkins. Afterward, Kendrick reveals he’s stolen Akira Tozawa’s passport. Not much of a match here. Though he focal point was obviously the furthering of the Kendrick/Tozawa story.

They did another episode of Bring It to the Table after Raw last week, on which JBL and Corey Graves both expressed that 205 Live isn’t the show if should be right now. The emphasis, they said, should be more on action and less on the gaga and entertainment aspects. I can’t say I disagree. I was just surprise to hear them say it.

Nia Jax def. Bayley in a No Disqualification Match to earn a spot on the Raw Women’s Title Match at WrestlemaniaNo surprise here. A Fatal Four-Way between Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax has been rumored for weeks now. All I can say is I hope Nia doesn’t win it. If I had to pick now, I’d say Bayley retains. But it seems like it’s up in the air.

Triple H: Seth Rollins can compete at Wrestlemania  if he signs on for a Non-Sanctioned Match. So there it is. Seth Rollins is going to get physical at Wrestlemania. It’s been somewhat evident for awhile now, especially after last week. But it’s nice to see this officially put on the table. As unfortunate as Seth’s injury was, it gave them a cool story to tell. It put him in a hell of a babyface spot.

The CM Punk chants were out in full force again this week, during both Hunter and Stephanie’s segments. @ProWrestlingMag on Twitter, who I tend to disagree with half the time, made a valid point during the Stephanie/Zayn stuff: “Maybe chant for SAMI instead of CM PUNK. Idiots.” Fair point…

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo and Cass in a handicap match to retain their spot in the Raw Tag Team Title Match at WrestlemaniaHappy to hear the announcers point out how seemingly illogical it was that Gallows and Anderson attacked their partners at the top of the match. The idea was if Sheamus and Cesaro lost, they’d lose their spot at Wrestlemania. I understand “emotions running high,” or whatever. But the champs looked downright stupid here.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville confronts Aries after the match. In a very short time, Aries has established himself as Neville’s most credible challenger yet. If they give these two enough time, they could be a dark horse candidate to steal the whole show.

The Undertaker interrupts the main event between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. The Dead Man chokeslams Strowman, but eats a spear from Reigns. Undertaker took some flack for looking old after hitting Strowman with the chokeslam. Hey assholes, Strowman’s got to weigh over 350 lbs. Undertaker had hip surgery less than a year ago. Do the math. I’m actually surprised they did that spot.

They didn’t follow up on Reigns’ retirement comment from last week. I half expected the Wrestlemania bout to become a Retirement Match. You’d think if ‘Taker’s career were truly about to end, they’d promote the hell out of it. This week was the absolute latest you’d want to pull the trigger on that…right? Let the speculation continue, I suppose.

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A One Trick Pony Review – Nathan Hale’s Apocalypse Tale

TITLE: One Trick Pony
AUTHOR: Nathan Hale
PUBLISHER: Amulet Books
PRICE: $14.95
RELEASED: March 14, 2017

***WARNING: Minor spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know how I can tell I’m becoming a crotchety old man? I’m getting angry at teenagers for being on their smartphones too much. The other day I actually coined the term, “screen-craving mouth-breathers.”

So yeah, Nathan Hale’s One Trick Pony was up my alley.

My first exposure to Nathan Hale came at this year’s annual Children’s Literature Breakfast held by Anderson’s Bookshop in suburban Chicago. He did a very funny presentation about the power that pictures and visual content can have in the learning process. Using an overhead projector and a marker, he told us all his animated version of the Lewis and Clark story. It was very much in the vein of his Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series of graphic novels for kids, which take the same sort of look at history. If you get the chance to see him, I highly recommend it.

One Trick Pony is something different. It’s an original, post-apocalyptic graphic novel about a world where electronics are scarce. An alien race, which humans call “Pipers,” have stripped the Earth of its machines. As such, the world has reverted back to horses and spears. Our main character, a young girl named Strata, lives with a mobile caravan collecting and preserving technology. One day, on a routine hunt for tech, Strata and her brothers find a golden mechanical Pony called Kleidi. But the Pipers are always lurking, and Kleidi is literally a giant golden target.

I can’t find a lot of bad things to say about this book. It’s sort of like War of the Worlds meets The Hunger Games meets…whatever you’d consider a modern popular cartoon to be. I’ll say The Simpsons for lack of a better example. It’s witty and plainly spoken. It also has a nice moral in there about paying the piper for the luxuries we have, ergo the creatures (shown right) being called “Pipers.” I like the idea of these alien invaders having a moralistic agenda. In the end, we find out that’s not entirely the case. But I appreciate this story being given to youngsters.

Hale’s style is very simple, with a “sketchy” feel to it. But he’s more than capable of being a rock star on the pencil, especially when he gets to draw the caravan that’s carrying all the hidden tech. All the little details are awesome. It’s almost a contrast to the way he draws the human characters.

The story is presented mostly in grayscale. The exceptions are shades of yellow, a tiny bit of brown for skin tones, and deep gold, the latter we see on the Pipers and Kleidi. The sky is almost always a faded yellow, which with the gray gives us a very desolate feel.

Oddly enough, the element in this story that seems the most forced is Kleidi, the titular robotic horse. Kleidi and Strata have a boy-and-his-dog sort of bond, which I guess I can buy. But Kleidi being a robot thins out that premise, especially since we never find out exactly what this robot is or where it comes from. So our ending, which directly involves Kleidi, loses some of its edge because she’s almost more of a vessel than a character.

To use a Star Wars analogy, it’s like Han Solo’s relationship with the Millennium Falcon. He cares about it. But not in the same way he cares about, say…Chewbacca. Kleidi feels like Han and the Falcon, and I think it wants to feel like Han and Chewie.

What’s more, the world Hale creates is so much more interesting than the Strata/Kleidi dynamic. So interesting that I was actually disappointed when the story ended with the loose ends tied up, and a nice little bow on it. I was hoping we’d get a sequel to Kleidi. Especially considering things end rather abruptly. I’m not an advocate of every story being stretched into an epic trilogy. But there could have been more to explore here.

But perhaps I’m being too critical. Kleidi is a very good read, and hopefully the start of a new path for Nathan Hale. He’s a great history teacher. But he’s also got a knack for writing some history of his own.

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A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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A Mae, Vol. 1 Review – Beautifully Frustrating

Mae, Vol. 1TITLE: Mae, Vol. 1:
AUTHORS: Gene Ha, Danny Busiek, 
PENCILLERS: 
Ha, Paulina Ganucheau, Sally Jane Thompson
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I would call Mae a blend of Doctor Who and The Wizard of Oz, with a little Harry Potter sprinkled on top. Our creator/writer/artist Gene Ha makes a point to name drop all three in the pages of Mae, Vol. 1. So I imagine he’d be okay with that statement.

What’s more, Mae has a lot in common with those stories. It takes a seemingly average young person and thrusts them into a world of fantasy and adventure. Nine years after Mae’s sister Abbie mysteriously vanishes, she abruptly reappears telling stories about another world. Monsters, talking cats, and a price on her head from the House Zemetrasi. To Mae, it’s all beyond belief. But Abbie has been followed, and their father is soon kidnapped. Now Mae must follow her sister into a place unlike any she’s ever known, and become the hero she never knew she could be.

It’s always fun whenever an artist, much less one the caliber of Gene Ha, gets to just cut loose and create. The most appealing aspect of Mae, for my money, is seeing all the eccentric fantasy elements and characters Ha designs. The robotic, and very tall Rytir Kazisvet, who kidnaps Mae and Abbie’s father, is tremendous. I’m also rather fond of the fuzzy little creature in a hoodie that comes after Abbie early in the story (shown below). And then you’ve got the Dukes, four human heads which all share the same robotic body. It all feels like we’re just scratching the surface, and future issues could bring us anything.

There’s something to be said for the way Abbie and Mae are dressed. Both outfits are very distinct, and in a broad sense allow you to get their characters almost instantly. Abbie’s outfit consists of a fez and a Napoleonic War style outfit. It feels very adventurous, and the fez seems very much like a nod to Matt Smith’s time on Doctor Who. Mae, on the other hand, is wearing a scarf (a nod to the Fourth Doctor?), glasses, hat, and coat. It’s a look for a modern woman who’s well-read, and isn’t afraid to flaunt her geekiness.

It’s refreshing that Mae is our title character and main hero here. She’s a fangirl, but she’s not depicted as social awkward or an oddball. In essence, she’s just an average girl who happens to love her some Doctor Who and Harry Potter. While her lines about such things usually come off contrived, she feels like the most genuine and real character in the book.

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why this book reminded me so much of Toy Story. You can argue it evokes memories of the human-centric Pixar movies in general, a la The Incredibles. But Toy Story was what came to mind for me. Then when you look closer, you realize Ha’s pencilling, shading, and inking make the figures pop to the point that they look three-dimensional. This effect also does wonders for the creatures Ha designs. Under someone else’s pencil, that little fuzzy guy with the sunglasses might look like fairly generic fantasy character. But drawn by Ha, he almost looks lively enough to be one of the Muppets. Albeit, a fairly violent Muppet.

On the downside, there are a few points where characters look static, and the image feels artificial as a result. The best example in the book can be seen in the lower lefthand portion of the image at right. Abbie, as she’s laughing, looks detached and unnatural. Though I will say the adjacent panels look lovely.

Mae marks one of Gene Ha’s only stints as a writer. To say the least, it’s ambitious. These are his characters and his vision, which he actually raised the funds for on Kickstarter. The world he’s created has a lot of depth, and has a sort of Oz quality to it. But a times it’s a struggle to figure out exactly how it works. It’s clearly influenced by bits and pieces of our world, or “old Earth” as they call it.

Ha starts small, first setting the story in the girls’ home in small-town Indiana. We then spend an issue in a city in our fantasy world, before we expand and find out what sort of politics drive it. In issue #4, Mae and Abbie sneak into the castle of the House Zemetrasi, searching for  Rytir Kazisvet and their father. There’s talk of a war with someone called the “Obruoni,” and a quest for the “technology of the ancients.” It’s all very vague. Who are these people? And what do they want? And why? It’s not that there’s a lack of interest, just a lack of comprehension. Heck, does this fantasyland even have a name?

In the bonus material included for this book, Ha says he avoided exploring the setting and the alternate history because it got in the way of the larger adventure. But there’s always something to be said for context. There’s some quality adventuring on these pages, but it feels like a piece of this story is missing.

Mae also presents a challenge I’ve never come across before: The names of certain people and places are hard to pronounce. It’s tough to even sound them out mentally. The Dukes are collectively called “Nehynouci Vojvodove.” And the city they visit is called “Krunyrves.” I get the idea that another world is going to have a different sort of dialect. But at least words like Oz, Gallifrey, and Hogwarts are easy to wrap your mind around.

Paulina Ganucheau tags in for issue #6, giving us a standalone Abbie story. Our supplemental material also includes a nice little tale from Mae’s school days by Danny Busiek and Sally Jane Thompson. Neither advance the primary narrative, but they offer an intriguing look at the world of Mae through an alternate lens. The same can be said for the series of pin-ups we get from the likes of Amanda Conner, Philip Tan, and Yanick Paquette. Gene Ha obviously has plenty of friends on the comic book A-list.

In the end, I’d call this first volume of Mae as “beautifully frustrating.” Gene Ha’s art is gorgeous, and it’s fascinating to see what he creates here. We’ve also got two delightfully strong female leads. But it feels like our story is incomplete. Still, perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Ha is that despite my frustrations, I’m still interested to see what’s next for our young heroines. I’m hopeful they have many more adventures to come.

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Randy Orton Wins (Again), Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You can make the argument that this has been the biggest week of Braun Strowman’s career. You can also argue it’s been his worst in quite some time. From a creative standpoint, at least.

At Fastlane, Strowman dropped his first pinball loss to Roman Reigns. A needless loss, in my opinion. After Roman threw Undertaker out of the Royal Rumble Match, it was pretty apparent they were going to work together at Wrestlemania. Especially when Reigns said something to the effect of, “It’s my yard now.” That was all the impetus ‘Taker needed to show up at Fastlane and either cost Roman the match, or bring it to a DQ finish. Strowman did not need to lose clean.

But what happened on Monday was even worse. Strowman calls out Reigns, and gets the Undertaker instead. When the two come face to face, Strowman backs down. The big man’s been calling for competition for months now. But when he’s confronted by an icon like Undertaker, he cowers? BS.

So with less than a month left until Wrestlemania, what do you do with Strowman? There’s no obvious opponent for him, unless they want to do another match with the Big Show. Rumor has it Shaquille O’Neal has backed out of the match that was reportedly in the works for months. So another giant vs. giant match is something they could try. Show and Strowman definitely overachieved when they main evented Raw.

But I think it’s more likely Strowman winds up in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And if that’s the case, he needs to win it. They’ve branded Strowman as a destroyer. So to rebound from what happened this week, he needs to destroy. Have him chuck out a bunch of smaller guys, and then eliminate a couple of bigger names. Kane and Big Show come to mind immediately. But you’ve also got guys like Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, and Luke Harper. These guys are all players, but it doesn’t look like they’re getting a featured match. They could even have the New Day present Braun with the big trophy, and have him lay them out.

I understand that Strowman couldn’t be undefeated forever. But now that he’s taken this step backward, he needs to take two steps forward.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and Nikki Bella def. James Ellsworth and Carmella. Miz and Maryse ambush John and Nikki after the match. Toward the end of the match, our heroes hit Five Knuckle Shuffles in stereo. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Nikki adding that move to her arsenal.

“When you have true love, you don’t make her sign a contract to be your girlfriend.” That was a good line. I liked this whole “Our love is real, theirs isn’t” approach from Miz much better than what we got last week. While so much of what he said in that Miz TV segment seemed regurgitated from old feuds, this is something they haven’t done with Cena before. The stuff about his relationship with Nikki being fake and plastic strikes an intriguing chord.

After laying out Curt Hawkins again, Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Later, Corbin takes out Ambrose with a pipe, and then traps him under a forklift. See, they call Baron Corbin the “Lone Wolf.” And he’s wearing a shirt with a wolf on it. Get it? Isn’t that cute?

Mojo Rawley announced for Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, has a brief confrontation with Dolph Ziggler. So we’ve pretty much established what heel Dolph Ziggler’s role is on Smackdown. He’s the ring general that works with newer undercard babyfaces like Apollo Crews, Kalisto, and now Mojo Rawley. He’s likely in the Andre Battle Royal at Wrestlemania this year.

I really think it’s time. If Dolph Ziggler still wants to be a top guy, he needs to go the way of Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and Alberto El Patron. He needs to get out of that company, climb some new mountains (New Japan Pro Wrestling comes to mind), and then potentially come back later for a fresh start. Dolph Ziggler is such a damn workhorse, and he’s as talented and charismatic as anybody they’ve got. But he’s stuck in midcard hell. He could potentially become the hottest free agent in wrestling, and still do his stand-up comedy on the side if that’s what he wants. At this point, here are more opportunities for him outside of the WWE bubble than inside.

Alexa Bliss delivers her “Blissertation.” Becky Lynch and Natalya come out, each looking for a title match. Daniel Bryan announces Bliss will defend against every available woman on the Smackdown roster at WrestlemaniaCrowd seemed dead during Alexa’s portion of this. She’s really good on the mic, but there can be a disconnect between her and the live crowds sometimes.

This match seems destined for the pre-show, much like the big women’s tag match last year. So who’ve we got for this one? Obviously there’s Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Becky Lynch, and Natalya. Carmella is around. The only other name I can think of is Eva Marie, unless they want to bring someone up from NXT at Wrestlemania.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James def. Becky Lynch and Natalya. Natalya turns on Becky to cost her team the match. Mickie turns on Alexa after the champion steals the pin from her. Does this constitute a babyface turn for Mickie James? If they wanted a feel-good moment for longtime fans, they could have her win the belt at Wrestlemania. She’s certainly as capable as she’s ever been. Just a thought.

Randy Orton def. AJ Styles to secure his WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Styles yells at Shane McMahon after the match. Loved the line: “Randy Orton burns down a man’s house and gets rewarded for it.” Hey, it’s essentially true.

No Bray Wyatt on this show, which I can appreciate. Last week was a big moment for his character. It’s wise to let things breathe a little bit.

A slower and more methodical match, which is Orton’s usual M.O. Not the most thrilling watch, but still pretty good. I was waiting for the big counter into the RKO, and I loved how they faked us out with that Phenomenal Forearm spot. I imagine they’ll save that for a pay per view match. Even if it’s not a singles bout, these two are bound to mix it up at a big show someday.

If you caught Talking Smack, you saw footage of Styles confronting Shane backstage. It was, of all people, Road Dogg who got between them. Michael Hayes had a cool cameo as well.

On Talking Smack, Miz also got to rebut John Cena’s scathing promo from last week. He talked about how Cena stole his last t-shirt design from a beer company, and how he stole his girlfriend from Dolph Ziggler. Why couldn’t that have been on TV?

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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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