Sunday, April 29, 2007

Triple Six

In Japan, as everyone knows, they take professional wrestling very seriously. Unlike the Americans and the Mexicans, they still like to maintain the pretence that they're watching a real sporting contest. Everyone knows this is complete nonsense, but it amuses the audience to play along.

Naturally, there are alternative promotions which take, shall we say, a different line. HUSTLE is probably the most notorious, but DDT and its sister promotion 666 are also way over the line into complete insanity. Take, for example, the DDT Iron Man Heavymetalweight Title, which has been going since 2000. You can find the full title lineage, at least up to April 1, here. It starts off relatively sane, and then swandives off a cliff.

The Heavymetalweight Title is defended under 24/7 rules, just like the WWF Hardcore Title used to be. It's been held by a bewildering array of cameramen, minor celebrities, women, and wrestlers parodying other wrestlers. On Christmas Day 2004, a monkey called Yatchan won the title and held onto it for a month. The next year, the title was briefly held by a Hello Kitty stuffed doll. On three separate occasions, it's been won by a ladder.

And then there's the stretch of random title swaps from 2006. The story here, apparently, is that President Ramu of the 666 group won the title and decided that it would be, like, really cool if somebody from the 666 group could be the 666th champion. Unfortunately, the list of champions was only up to 293. So the group engaged in some intensive trading of the title among themselves, "defending" it in games of rock paper scissors and so forth.

The great thing about this is that somebody could put the title on President Ramu and then decide that the storyline wasn't quite silly enough. Because President Ramu is a twelve-year old girl who uses the Undertaker's finisher.

Really. Look, here she is.

The most recent reported holder of the DDT Iron Man Heavymetalweight Championship, by the way, is a miniature daschund called Cocolo.

UPDATE: Courtesy of the F4WOnline message board, just in case you figured she only does the chokeslam, here she is in a (heavily clipped) 6-man tag. Girl power!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Backlash 2007

Wrestling doesn't work in seasons - as the pre-recorded commentary on Smackdown vs Raw 2 all-too-accurately informs us, these people keep going until they physically can't go on. But Wrestlemania is the biggest show of the year and, in spirit at least, marks the annual season break. So with Backlash, we enter the 2007/8 season.

The post-Wrestlemania period tends to be a bit of a lull. There are two reasons for this. One is that after the huge climax of the previous show, you've simply got to dial back a bit. The other is that by all appearances, the WWE tends to wake up the morning after Wrestlemania, blink for a few minutes, and mumble "Uh... what shall we do now?" The usual solution is to do a few rematches for Backlash, rather than diving straight in to any new storylines.

So it's a holding show. In past years this has been a Raw show, but apparently there's now been a change of policy. The WWE is getting a little worried about the buyrates for the minor shows, and it's decided that from now on all the shows will feature wrestlers from Raw, Smackdown and ECW. This rather undermines the goals they were trying to achieve by running three separate brands in the first place. Partly, they wanted to create their own competition in the absence of WCW, meaning that wrestlers would be able to jump from show to show occasionally, and freshen up their act with a new set of opponents. Partly, they wanted to free up space on the PPV schedule for more wrestlers. On the other hand, it's good news for the ECW roster, who at least have some vague prospect of getting a PPV payoff now.

If they're sticking with this, though, they really might want to consider consolidating the titles. There are six matches announced for Backlash, all of which are title matches, and three of which are for the Raw, Smackdown and ECW world titles. You can't have three world titles in parallel on the same show; it's silly. Not that that's likely to bother anyone at the WWE.

1. WWE Title: John Cena v. Shawn Michaels v. Randy Orton v. Edge. This would be the Raw title, and John Cena is still the champion, having successfully defended against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania. Orton and Edge have been added back into the mix to provide some actual villains for this story, but the focus is still primarily on Cena and Michaels. The story is that Michaels is taking his defeat last month with amazingly poor grace, and is still pursuing a personal feud with Cena. Since Cena is once again provoking divided crowd reactions, this works quite well. Cena and Michaels are both technically good guys (in Cena's case, unequivocally so), but the crowd is split. That always makes for a much better atmosphere.

The match itself should be great. Michaels is one of the best wrestlers of his generation. Edge is very good. Orton is fine when he's trying (and he has every reason to try right now, for reasons which I'll come to). And Cena isn't the greatest wrestler in the world, but he has plenty of charisma and can usually hang in there at the level of his opponent. These four should have no trouble putting on a quality main event.

As for the winner... since the focus is on Cena and Michaels, I'd be very surprised if Edge or Orton came through to win. It wouldn't make much sense in terms of story flow. Then again, it's the beginning of a new season, so I wouldn't completely rule out Edge stealing the title to start a new storyline. Orton is completely out of contention; he was kicked off the European tour halfway through, allegedly for destroying a hotel room and racking up the sort of bill that would suggest he was either in a very, very luxurious place, or he was assaulting a structural wall with a sledgehammer. This sort of thing happens from time to time with Orton, who is, by all accounts, a bit of a dick, and rather stupid. But he does have talent and presence, and the WWE are very wary about releasing big names who could jump to TNA, so he's not going anywhere. That said, they're hardly going to trust him with the world champion role.

A Michaels win is a more realistic possibility, but he beat Cena clean on Monday night, which is usually a pretty good indication that he's not winning on Sunday. So I'm betting on Cena to retain in a good match, probably by pinning Orton.

2. ECW World Title: Bobby Lashley v. Umaga, Vince McMahon & Shane McMahon. This is the sequel to last month's hair-versus-hair match at Wrestlemania, in which Lashley represented Donald Trump, and Umaga represented Vince. Lashley won, so Vince is now wearing a hat, and out for revenge. The result is this rather bizarre match in which Lashley will defend the ECW title under three-on-one handicap rules against Umaga, Vince and his son Shane.

They haven't done a great job of explaining the rules for this thing, but I believe the normal approach would be that the heels work as a tag team, and whichever one pins Lashley gets the title. Logically, Vince would actually have been better booking the match as a four-way, but they've already got one of those, so...

Without the bizarre celebrity angle, this feud has gone a little bit cold over the last month. The match will probably be okay, but not great - Lashley's still fairly inexperienced, and the McMahons are basically gifted amateurs. I'm not quite sure about the outcome, though. Lashley is on a major push at the moment, and this would seem an inopportune time for him to lose the belt. But then again, a 3-on-1 handicap match lets him save face, and he's had the belt since last December. And Umaga randomly dropped the Intercontinental Title to Santino Marella a couple of weeks ago, which might suggest that they're freeing him up to jump to ECW as the new champion. Also, the WWE's booking formula normally suggests that the guy who's losing at the PPV is made to look strong on the immediately preceding weekly show - and Lashley decimated the bad guys on Tuesday. So history suggests he's losing this weekend.

Tentatively, I'm going for Umaga to win this, but I wouldn't be remotely surprised if Lashley retained. If either of the McMahons wins, they've lost their minds.

3. World Heavyweight Title, Last Man Standing: The Undertaker v. Batista. The Undertaker won Smackdown's world title at Wrestlemania in a match that was generally considered to be unexpectedly good. This is the rematch, and since it's highly unlikely that the Undertaker will simply give the belt back after a one month reign, it's virtually certain that he'll retain.

Last Man Standing matches look good on paper, but have all sorts of problems in practice. In most matches you want to pick up the pace as you approach the finish, but with these things they inevitably slow down as the "near falls" have to be replaced with "the referee counting very slowly to nine while nothing happens." I don't really like them.

Although the Wrestlemania match exceeded expectations, this sounds like two big guys thumping one another very slowly for twenty minutes, and I'm not particularly interested.

4. World Tag Team Titles: Matt & Jeff Hardy v. Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch. These would be Raw's tag team titles, although just to confuse matters, Matt Hardy is still on the Smackdown roster. Don't ask. The Hardys won the titles from Cena and Michaels a few weeks ago in a ridiculous battle royal, when Michaels threw the match in a fit of pique. This sort of thing does nothing to help the credibility of the titles, but at least the Hardys still have a huge personal following.

Cade and Murdoch have been hanging around the fringes of the roster for a while now, and seem to have been wheeled out simply as a convenient heel tag team for the Hardys to face in their first title defence. They're okay, but I'm not expecting wonders from this match. There's no earthly reason to move the belts twice in such quick succession, so the Hardys should retain.

5. United States Title: Chris Benoit v Montel Vontavious Porter. Benoit and MVP had a good match at Wrestlemania, in which Benoit retained the title, somewhat to my surprise. This is the rematch, and it seems a reasonably safe bet that MVP should win this time, to begin his first reign as a singles champion. Frankly, this storyline has been in a holding pattern for weeks, and there's not much to be said about it. I'd have put MVP over for the title at Wrestlemania, personally, but all logic says they have to do it now. Benoit doesn't need the title; MVP's momentum will be damaged if Benoit beats him clean twice in a row.

So, MVP to win, and the match should be good.

6. Women's Title: Melina v Mickie James. I don't even remember when this match was announced, but apparently it was mentioned somewhere on the Milan show. Really, this is about giving Melina an actual wrestler to defend her title against, now that the promotion for Ashley Massaro's Playboy shoot is over. Amusingly, they did a three-way women's title match on a house show in Paris earlier in the week which they botched spectacularly - Mickie James pinned Victoria, who forgot to kick out, meaning that Mickie won the title. They did a rematch later in the night so that Melina could get her title back.

This sort of thing happened in WCW from time to time - the company developed a remarkable habit of having titles change hands during overseas tours and then not acknowledging it on TV. Naturally, this just annoyed local fans. The WWE has actually included this screw-up in its official title history, so at least they're making the best of it. (Planned title changes at untelevised shows are also not entirely unknown, although for obvious reasons they're extremely rare.)

These two should have a passable match and, in the absence of any other half-decent women to fight, Melina should retain through evil trickery in order to set up another rematch.

Worth buying? Doesn't matter, it's on Sky Sports 1. Overall, it's not bad for a Backlash show, and the Cena/Michaels/Rated RKO fourway should be very good. There are other matches on here with potential, but the stories are decidedly underheated.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seriously, now...

One unfortunate side effect of the "comics are art" mantra is that a lot of people who clearly aren't making art at all now believe that they're making Proper Art (which, naturally, requires an awful lot of time to get right). Usually this is an unspoken assumption.

But, as I read through Marc-Oliver's DC sales column (which he very kindly sends me in draft), I see that last month, DC published a book entitled Wildstorm Fine Arts Spotlight: J Scott Campbell.

Now, there's nothing wrong with J Scott Campbell if you happen to like that sort of thing - which is to say, mostly stories about nubile spies. But "Fine Arts"? Going a bit far, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse double bill was a bit of a turkey at the US box office, and now the Times reports that Momentum have cancelled the scheduled UK release on 1 June. The new line is that "it will definitely be released here but we don't know in what form."

One suggestion being mooted in America, after the disastrous box office takings, was to release the two films separately. Presumably that's what they're thinking of. But everything I've heard about Grindhouse suggests that the (admittedly inordinate) length was only part of the problem.

I'd never heard of a grindhouse before, and nor have most other people. With scratches, missing reels, fake trailers and other assorted gimmickry, Tarantino and Rodriguez have produced a nostalgic tribute to something for which virtually nobody has any nostalgia, outside the most hardcore film geeks. You can't sell a film on that basis.

Tarantino's always been big on film references, or the outright recycling of ideas from other people's films. But in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, he uses them to tell a story. The references and homages in those films are never allowed to overshadow the main point of the film. They're either easter eggs, or source material where Tarantino has found a good plot point or storytelling idea that he decides to recycle. This is fine.

Kill Bill, on the other hand, I have real trouble with. It's still got a lot going for it, but watching that film, I'm left with the impression that Quentin Tarantino wants to show me his video collection for three hours, and he's going to hit me repeatedly with a sledgehammer until I agree that it's just fantastic. Kill Bill isn't much good, judged as a story. It doesn't have the great dialogue of the earlier films. It works as a visual spectacle, but that's about it, unless you find the mere quoting of films to be an absolutely thrilling way to spend an evening. I don't much like it.

Grindhouse sounds alarmingly like more of the same, only much, much worse. I can't honestly say I've got the slightest interest in seeing it. He got away with this once with Kill Bill, but gimmicky homages are a dead end in the long run.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Marvel sales for March

Here's the March sales column at the Beat, for those of you who are interested.

And for those who aren't, here's "Fair Doreen" by Tunng.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Since I've been following the spate of TV phone-in scandals with at least mild interest, I watched this evening's episode of Panorama (which, at least if you're British, you can watch online here).

The BBC is a strange organisation. It's hard to imagine any other broadcaster which would devote part of its flagship current affairs show to attacking the credibility of the BBC's own explanation for the Blue Peter screw-up. But, as they point out, at least the BBC doesn't run phone-ins for profit. It uses them to cover the cost of the calls and then gives the profits to charity.

They devoted most of the show to broadsiding GMTV, who are rather a soft target. It's the usual story where a broadcaster has been running a phone-in competition but the winners have been chosen hours before the phone lines close. While this is unquestionably dodgy, I've never quite understood what's in it for the phone operators - what do they gain from choosing the callers early? - and Panorama never really bothered trying to explain that. Instead, they gave us a parade of vox pops from outraged callers who may have been entirely right but, with the best will in the world, didn't do much to challenge the perception of quiz TV as a tax on gullibility. (Of course, that's precisely why it needs to be properly regulated.)

It's been quite a while since I watched Panorama. When did they start filming all their interviews in ridiculous, shaky close-ups? Does somebody seriously think that this looks edgy, underground and cool? And if so, why do they think that's an appropriate style for Panorama, of all things? When they start running blurry footage of people in offices doing nothing decipherable, and bill it as a "reconstruction", I just get annoyed.

For all that, though, they still managed to put the boot into the rest of the industry, and it seems they're causing all sorts of problems for GMTV (who, fortunately, have been able to blame the whole thing on their suppliers). Hopefully, all this will provoke at least some degree of re-thinking on the part of the major broadcasters, since the real significance of this whole affair is a widespread abuse of their relationship of trust with the audience.

X-Axis comments thread

This week's X-Axis has Cable & Deadpool (since it actually finished a story in the last fortnight), plus Xeric grant recipient Boy Who Made Silence, and the debut issues of Loners and Nova. Feel free to comment.

Oh, and since I feel any post needs more than two sentences, here's the video for "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror" by Jeffrey Lewis. Unusually self-aware New York hipsterness. (And, er, do listen to the lyrics, because otherwise it's just six straight minutes of the same thing repeated.)

If you've never heard of Will Oldham... well, in a roundabout way, this video tells you all you need to know.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Back to work...

- Right then, back to normal after my time away. If you're wondering, this Sunday's X-Axis will cover both weeks' comics - although as it happens, virtually all the X-books published over the last fortnight were mid-storyline, so they wouldn't have got a full review anyway. But there are plenty of new titles and miniseries to review, so I'll do some of those.

- There's nothing like complete honesty as a PR strategy for dealing with utter disaster, and here we see the Brooklands Group explaining the performance of Popworld Pulp, a weekly music magazine which they've cancelled after one issue. Popworld is basically a pop music and interview show that goes out in a hazily positioned kids/teens slot on Sunday mornings on Channel 4. It used to be quite good when Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver hosted it, but these days it seems a bit lost. After over a year of development, favourable focus groups, and extensive promotion, they printed 130,000 copies of issue #1, and sold 9,000.

That's not very good. So the official spin? "The magazine has bombed in a way nobody connected with it could ever have envisaged." It's about the only way you're going to get out of that situation with any dignity, really.

- I've already written the March sales column for the Beat, so presumably it'll go up in the next few days. It's a good month for Marvel, of course. DC haven't been doing so well lately, and it's hard to imagine this week's World War III changing that - if anything, it illustrates where they're going wrong. Now, I haven't read the one-shots, although the reviews have been decidedly unenthusiastic. But I have read 52 Week 50 and the editorial at the back.

In a nutshell, DC admit that the big idea for 52 was to explain all the big jumps forward that we saw in the "One Year Later" stunt almost a year ago. But, er, they lost interest and did something else instead. So now they're doing all that material in some rushed one-shots in the last month instead. Whoo.

Now, I'm not saying that the original plan for 52 would necessarily have been a better comic. But the fact that the original plan apparently went so comprehensively out the window makes me wonder what on earth they were thinking with this "One Year Later" stunt. For the tiny minority of you who don't read comics, "One Year Later" involved all DC's titles jumping forward a year. Things had changed, which begged the question of how they'd changed. 52 was supposed to be a year-long weekly story which covered the missing year in (sort of) real time. This must have seemed like a really good idea when somebody was watching 24.

The problem is that 22 pages to cover a week's events isn't very many, which means that 52 is an awkwardy paced book. On top of that, it's running alongside all the other DC books. Now, you'd have thought this would require some careful co-ordination to make sure that everyone knows what's being revealed when. It's hardly reasonable to expect all the OYL titles to set up a big change and then ignore it for a year just to avoid treading on 52's toes. And, y'know, it's the lynchpin of your entire line for the year. You'd think there'd be a plan or something. You'd think that not having a plan would be a recipe for disaster. It sounds as though, if there ever was a plan, it was ignored very early. I haven't been reading many of the DCU titles, but if the sales figures are anything to go by, it doesn't seem readers are too thrilled with the way things are.

And then... if 52 wasn't about explaining what happened in the missing year, what was it about? Looking back on it, it just seems like a random collection of largely unrelated stories which have ended up in the same comic through an accident of scheduling. It doesn't tell a single story; I'm increasingly sceptical that it's going to deliver any sort of satisfactory resolution at all. I'm going to give it those two extra issues to prove me wrong, but as things stand, I haven't got the slightest intention of sticking around for the sequel, Countdown.

- Reading over Marvel's July solicitations, it's clear that Roy Thomas is very much back in favour. He seems to be writing the Marvel Illustrated books singlehandedly, and he's also credited with co-writing, of all things, Mystic Arcana: Black Knight. Marvel Illustrated is basically a revival of the old Classics Illustrated format, and it's plainly an attempt to extend Marvel's audience. I find it interesting that, for a project like that, they reach for an old warhorse like Roy Thomas, who's been around since the sixties, and has a rock-solid grasp of the basic principles of comic book storytelling, but in a very traditional American style.

In the superhero genre, they've been trying to get away from that sort of thing for years; most of the last few years has been about trying to redefine Marvel's house style by reference to Brian Bendis (also solid, but in a very different way which doesn't always translate comfortably to this genre) and Mark Millar (all over the place, but energetically so). Perhaps they feel Roy Thomas' style doesn't have the same stigma when you apply it to something else.

Also in July, we've got the ludicrously over-extended World War Hulk crossover, which sounds like the dullest thing ever. Four issues of the Hulk being angry and smashing things? Might work. Haven't done it in a while. Seventy-two issues of the Hulk being angry and smashing things? Shoot me now.

Matt Fraction and Barry Kitsons' Champions series sounds potentially decent. Except that it turns out Marvel don't actually have the rights to call a comic book Champions any more. Heroic Publishing claimed it last year, on the strength of some scattered comic books published over the years, based on their RPG. In fact, it turns out that Marvel tried to challenge the Champions RPG back in the mid-1980s, only for their trademark to be successfully challenged itself, on the grounds of abandonment. They tried to trademark the name again in the 1990s, and the registry rejected it. They're on shaky ground with this one, to put it mildly. And if Heroic have only put out a handful of Champions comics, it's still more than Marvel have.

Now, it's true that Marvel probably have a bigger legal budget than Heroic - but they'd still need some sort of case, and they're on shaky ground. Besides which, is it really worth spending that much money over the right to re-use an utterly generic name from a short-lived late-seventies comic? Wouldn't it be a better use of time and money to change it?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Miscellany: 13 April 2007

- The March 2007 direct market sales are out, and it's another drubbing for DC. Oh dear. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #1 made the top ten (at number 9), prompting Newsarama to observe that it "may be the first non-Marvel/DC title to finish in the Top Ten in several years." Or, you know, you could go and look it up. Actually, I believe they're right - there hasn't been a non-Marvel/DC book in the DM top ten since 2003, when retro licensed properties enjoyed a short-lived fad.

- The NASUWT complains that Life on Mars will inspire homophobic bullying in schools. This really is the sort of thing that gives political correctness a bad name. Leave aside the fact that it's a post-watershed show. It's a time travel show. The whole bloody point, beaten home with a sledgehammer in every single episode, is that Sam Tyler has gone back to the 1970s, when people had unenlightened views. What the hell does the NASUWT want? A big flashing caption saying "BAD"?

Yes, sure, there's an element of yearning for a simpler time to show, but only the terminally stupid could watch that programme and think it had an uncritical attitude to 1970s sexism, racism and homophobia. If we're going to dumb things down for people who can't even wrap their heads around the not-exactly-stellar complexity of Life on Mars, we might as well just abandon the idea of popular drama altogether.

(Watched the last episode, by the way. Bit of a cop-out, I thought.)

- Another regulator wades into the TV quiz arena, as the Gambling Commission hints rather heavily that it thinks they're illegal lotteries. This, by the way, is the reason why these channels tend to offer free web entry, although they don't publicise it much. They argue that if you CAN enter for free, then it's a free draw, which is outside the legislation. Of course, the free draw exception was plainly never intended to cover something like this, where the predominant entry route is paid, and the operation is run as a commercial concern.

It also sounds like the Commission is about to bring down the hammer on the other popular device of having a really, really easy multiple choice question and then claiming that this makes your phone-in into a game of skill. All of this is long overdue - we passed the point years ago where these rules should either have been repealed or enforced - and it means that if the Commission is serious, it's going to put a dent in some income streams that broadcasters have been taking for granted.

- Oh, and I see Marvel have just pushed back Ultimates 2 #13 by another week. Again. It's never going to come out, is it?


Monday, April 09, 2007

Miscellany: 9 April 2007

Hmm, it's been longer than I thought...

- This week's X-Axis has reviews of Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America - Wolverine (yes, that's the full title), Avengers: The Initiative #1 and Omega Flight #1. No reviews next week, because I'm holiday. The X-Axis will be back in a fortnight.

- There is, honestly, a reason why I haven't been updating the Indexes. Trust me.

- Since I linked to my own Marvel sales post for February, I should also belatedly link to Marc-Oliver's equivalent for DC. If you haven't read it, it's wrist-slitting stuff for DC. The post-Infinite Crisis launches generally haven't caught on, the WildStorm imprint is D.O.A., and the latest revamps of Wonder Woman and Flash seem to be underperforming to an embarrassing extent. Hopefully the Vertigo imprint is still doing well in the bookstores, because there's really not much in these figures to cheer DC up.

- This year's indie novelty record, "Thou Shalt Always Kill", has charted on the strength of pre-release download sales. I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Bit studenty - well, extremely studenty - but the "just a band" stuff is great. It's actually been getting daytime airplay on Radio 1, which is kind of odd for a record that consists of a man whinging about Minor Threat fans.

- Tonight on WWE Raw: Mick Foley, in something involving the Make A Wish Foundation. They're pushing it rather hard in the preview, which means one of two things: (a) they haven't written anything else worth mentioning yet, or (b) it's some sort of angle. But... even the WWE wouldn't be tacky enough to do a storyline playing off a cancer kids' charity? Would they? I'm fearing the worst here.