Saturday, May 31, 2008

One Night Stand 2008

Yes, a mere two weeks after the last PPV, it's time for another one. One Night Stand is an odd show. It stated life in 2005 as a one-off tribute to ECW, the influential cult indie promotion. In 2006, it was used as a springboard to launch the WWE's own version of ECW, which turned out to be a half-hearted mess.

By the end of that year it had become embarrassingly clear that the new ECW would not be able to sustain its own pay-per-views. But One Night Stand 2007 was already on the schedule, and so the WWE ran a show entirely composed of what they hand-wavingly labelled "extreme rules matches" - i.e., gimmick matches. Placing it two weeks after a regular WWE show might have made some sense if it was a completely distinct ECW show, but in the event, it was just a weird oddity.

And now, here we are again - apparently for no reason, other than that somebody forgot to take it off the schedule. The WWE certainly can't seem to work up that much enthusiasm for it; the main event segment on Monday's episode of Raw was given over to telling us that (a) they're going to give away some money to boost the ratings, and (b) the rosters will be reshuffled... in a month. Mentally, they've already moved on to the next show (Night of Champions, at the end of June).

But hey, it's on Sunday, and it's on Sky Sports 3 in the UK, so let's look at the card.

1. WWE Title, Last Man Standing: Triple H v. Randy Orton. This is a rematch from two weeks ago. If that match had ended inconclusively, then this might make sense, but in fact Triple H just won the match cleanly. So Orton is getting a rematch because... er, well, because there wasn't enough time to set up any other challengers, really. But even then, they shouldn't have done such a decisive ending in the previous match.

It's often said that one of the problems with Triple H is that - as the boss's son-in-law - he books his character to be ridiculously strong. There's certainly no sense that Orton, or anyone else on the roster, poses the slightest legitimate threat to his continued reign as champion. Now, this sometimes works. The Undertaker has made a career out of being essentially invincible. But usually, matches work better if there's a realistic possibility that the good guy could lose. His actual matches are fine, but the storylines suck the life out of them.

On paper, the idea here is that a Last Man Standing match (i.e., victory by knockout only) favours Orton, because he won an LMS match against Triple H back at No Mercy 2007. In theory that's fine, but in reality it doesn't work because Triple H is apparently invincible. Oh well.

It'll be an okay match, and Triple H will win.

2. World Heavyweight Title, TLC Match: The Undertaker v. Edge. This is the fourth consecutive PPV where Undertaker and Edge have fought over the Smackdown world title, and it's really time to draw a line under it. The title is still technically vacant, as the previous match ended with a count-out, but that's really academic. This time round, they're going for the little-used and TLC Match ("Tables, Ladders & Chairs"), which is basically a ladder match with added weapons, and if you ask me, probably more trouble than it's worth for a D-list show such as One Night Stand.

There's also a stipulation that if Undertaker doesn't win the title, he's leaving the WWE. So, unless they've got some weird long-term story in mind, he's winning the title - perhaps leaving the way clear for Edge to jump to Raw and face some fresh opponents there.

Actually, I suspect this should be a pretty good match. It's wasted on a show like this, though.

3. Singapore Cane match: The Big Show v. John Morrison v. Tommy Dreamer v. C.M. Punk v. Chavo Guerrero. Winner gets a shot at the ECW Title at Night of Champions. Interestingly, the ECW Title isn't being defended on this show. I applaud this move; they have three world titles and there's no reason why they should all be defended on every single show. The winner will get four weeks to build up to a match against Kane, and there's the outside possibility that by that time, somebody might care.

A Singapore Cane match is just a normal match, except with an added kendo stick. Most of these guys are actually pretty good, so on paper it could be decent. Midcard wrestler Tommy Dreamer sticks out like a sore thumb, admittedly. He's there because the premise is that all the former ECW Champions are competing for the title shot, and Dreamer held the belt way back in the 1990s. So expect him to take a vicious beating in order to save the more senior wrestlers from having to do it.

The winner is tough to call. Kane is a babyface, so logically you'd expect his challenger to be a heel. That would be Chavo or John Morrison. But we've seen Kane and Chavo several times before. Morrison has possibilities, but he's still co-holder of the tag titles. Big Show/Kane isn't a particularly enticing match, but they're both very large, so the WWE might go for it anyway. Dreamer isn't winning in a million years. If CM Punk wins, then it's a storyline leading to a heel turn. I'm going with Morrison, who would at least be something fresh.

4. First Blood Match: John Cena v. JBL. Marooned on the fringes of the main event, John Cena finds himself wrestling JBL for the second show in a row. First Blood matches (first person to bleed loses) are usually pretty dire, since it's hard to tease a finish. And if you accidentally cut somebody for real, well, you're screwed. In fact, if you think about it for a moment, a First Blood match is actually significantly less extreme than a normal match, since those regularly continue with everyone bleeding freely. So what we have here is... a match which you can only win on a blood stoppage technicality. Oh, hold me back.

I suppose Cena should probably win to try and rebuild his fading aura, but frankly, I don't care.

5. Stretcher Match: Shawn Michaels v. Batista. A match which makes a degree of sense, but should still be hampered by the gimmick. The basic idea is that Shawn beat Batista at Backlash (two shows ago) by faking an injury, so Batista wants revenge. Nice, simple, straightforward. And so they're going to do a Stretcher Match, another gimmick which looks superficially good on paper, but usually doesn't amount to much.

A Stretcher Match is meant to sound as though the loser is going to be beaten so badly that he will have to be removed from the arena by the medics. In fact, the rules of a Stretcher Match are that the winner is the first person to put his opponent on a wheeled ambulance stretcher, and push it over a finishing line. So if you've ever wanted to see main event wrestlers fighting over a portable bed, this is your chance.

Floating around the edge of this storyline is Chris Jericho, who seems to be going steadily mad. He isn't booked anywhere else on the card, so I'm assuming he gets involved somewhere here to continue the story. (Although quite how they do that is another matter; Night of Champions is supposed to have every champion defending their belt, and it's hard to imagine Jericho defending his mid-card Intercontinental Title in a three-way against Shawn Michaels and Batista.)

Who wins? Er... it's a stretcher match, I don't honestly care. Batista, probably.

6. Falls Count Anywhere: Jeff Hardy v. Umaga. This is the second show running to be loaded with Raw matches, no doubt because they've got by far the better roster at the moment. The upcoming reshuffle ought to balance things out. Anyway, here are a couple of upper midcard Raw guys who should have a pretty good match without much story. Umaga used to be an unstoppable monster, but he's faded into being just an above average villain. He's supposedly being sent to Smackdown in the draft (a smart move), so conventional wrestling wisdom says that Hardy, the babyface, should beat him on his way out. Mind you, the draft's a few weeks away, so they could always have Umaga win here and give Hardy the rematch on free TV.

7. I Quit Match: Beth Phoenix v. Melina. For once, a women's match that doesn't feature the champion, Mickie James. Technically this is heel/heel, but Melina is obviously in the course of turning babyface to help balance out the roster. At the moment, it's far too heavy on villains, and they have nobody to fight. It's a bit silly to have an "I Quit" match on the undercard; the whole premise is based on beating the opponent into submission, and that ought to take a bit longer than the ten minute timeslot they'll probably get (including entrances). Theoretically you could always win one of these matches by submission, but for some reason nobody ever does.

Beth should probably win here; she's supposed to be a dominant wrestler, and I can't see the sense in having her lose an undercard I Quit match to an ex-valet. On the other hand, Melina ought to have momentum as she continues her babyface turn... but I think it'll be easier to rebuild Melina after a defeat.

Worth buying? Um... probably not, unless you particularly want to see the Undertaker/Edge match. The rest is okay, for the most part, but it's dragged down by some ill-advised gimmicks, and some of the pairings are way too familiar. This is a schedule-filler, and they'd have been better off not bothering with it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Eurovision 2008

I know, I know, it's been a couple of days now. But the Eurovision Song Contest is always worth writing about.

Now, some of you are American, so a bit of background is probably unavoidable. Eurovision is a ridiculous annual song contest organised by the European Broadcasting Union. In its early days, people took it vaguely seriously. Even as late as the seventies, people like Abba would still crop up from time to time. But basically, as far as western Europe is concerned, the whole thing has drifted off into a parallel universe of extreme kitsch. As a general rule, no credible artist would go within a mile of the thing. This turned it into a weird competition based on finding the best Eurovision Song, an unfathomable sub-genre bearing no relationship to anything that sells to anyone, anywhere. In a way, this made it surreally wonderful.

But in the last few years, things have changed, because Eastern Europe has joined en masse, bringing the total number of entrants to 43, and forcing the introduction of an elaborate semi-final system. And the Eastern Europeans see things a bit differently. They understand full well that the whole thing is a bit ridiculous - the Baltic states in particular have been entirely willing to take the piss. But over there, genuinely successful acts are prepared to enter. And some of these Eastern European countries aren't that interested in writing Eurovision songs. Why, they enter songs that local people actually like.

This has created a bit of controversy, because the western countries have been doing very badly in the last few years, while the eastern countries cheerfully dole out maximum points to one another - culminating in this year's event, which was won for the first time by Russia. Britain, meanwhile, came last. Cue the usual whining and complaining about political voting. Why, if only those dastardly ex-commies would play fair, we British would have won.

Let's get serious. The British entry was crap. Only two countries in the whole of Europe voted for it at all - Ireland and San Marino, if you're wondering. It was a mid-paced anaemic disco record, a genre which hasn't been fashionable anywhere in the continent for a good twenty years. It didn't even make the Top 60 when released in Britain (although in fairness, it'll probably climb next week). But the winning Russian song...

...was getting solid votes from the western countries too. It's a ballad that does nothing for me at all, but it's the sort of thing that actually does sell across the continent, performed by Dima Bilan, a prettyboy singer who's already successful in his home country. Now, I have no desire to hear this thing ever again. But I have no trouble believing that people voted it for it because they liked it. Hell, it's better than Westlife.

So much for the winner. Here's a selection of other songs you might have missed - and, for the benefit of those of you who DID sit through the whole show, I've tried to dig out the promo videos instead of the Eurovision performances (which are usually a bit blurry). There's nothing as spectacular as LT United or Lordi this year, but there's a lot of generally... interesting stuff across the board. It's an unusually strong year in terms of quality.

Let's start with Ani Lorak of the Ukraine, because this is perhaps the last refuge of old-style Eurovision. It's a big epic pop dance number, tragically undermined by its godawful English language lyrics - as exemplified by the title, "Shady Lady". Of course, that's only a problem if you speak English as a first language, so naturally it came second.

If you can get past the lyrics, it's not bad. For something a little more modern, here's the third-place song - "Secret Combination" by Kalomira, the Greek entry. This actually does sound like something that would be a hit around Europe. But then, that'll happen if you shamelessly rip off Timbaland. I can see this actually getting a release in Britain. (Hopefully without the bloody great watermark on the video, but it's the best I could find.)

We've had rock songs before - in fact, Finland tried again this year, with a second-rate Iron Maiden. But here's Turkey's Mor ve Otesi, with "Deli", which appears to be the first attempt at emo.

According to Wikipedia, these guys have been around for twelve years, and they're very big in Turkey. Heaven only knows what they're doing in Eurovision, but I approve of any country entering a band they actually like. Perhaps we should try it some time.

And now for something completely different. Plucky little Latvia, going for the ultra-camp angle.

Magnificently stupid. And now a real treat - "Day After Day" by Elnur and Samir, the very first Eurovision entry from all the way over in Azerbaijan. I know what you're thinking: do they even have camp in Azerbaijan? Well, here's your answer. Look out for the remarkable vocal solo at 2:20.

But we haven't even touched on the really weird stuff yet. Here's "Pokusaj" by Laka, a truly remarkable entry from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which takes a bit too long to get going, but after a few listening, turns out to be rather brilliant. There's almost a hint of Arcade Fire in there.

Now, I mentioned earlier that, with a whole 43 countries entering, we now have a semi-final system which everyone has to go through. Everyone... except for five countries. The host nation (the previous year's winner) goes through automatically. And so do Britain, Germany, Spain and France, because they put up most of the money. You can imagine how that goes down in the rest of Europe.

The British entry was crap anyway. The Germans sent in No Angels, a girl band who mutilated their song by singing it a mile out of key, and who came joint last with us. But France... France is in a strange mood this year, entering indie synth songwriter Sebastien Tellier, who chose to sing in English.

A lot of people are saying this is the best thing in the show, and by conventional indie-pop standards, that's unquestionably true. But it's not a Eurovision song; great as it is, it's just not that sort of mass-appeal pop song. Full marks for trying, but I suspect a lot of the eastern Europeans thought France was taking the piss, faced with Tellier's endearingly shambolic performance and Bontempi arrangement.

France wasn't taking the piss. Spain was taking the piss.

Now, this track seems to have been through quite a few mixes, so let's go with the live show...

I kind of like it, against my better judgement. ("Tres! El Michael Jackson! Quatro! El Robocop!") But a reggaeton parody? That's pretty damned obscure even for the British - god only knows what they made of it in Minsk.

Anyway, all told, I'd say this was an unusually good year for the Eurovision song contest, and Britain's crashing defeat was wholly deserved. You could make a strong case, in fact, that this is the closest Eurovision has been to a "real" song contest in years...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 25 May 2008

This week: Aron Coleite takes over Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine: Origins reaches issue #25, X-Factor evacuates Mutant Town, and X-Men: Divided We Stand #2 runs more trailers and vignettes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 18 May 2008

In this week's epic edition: The long-delayed GeNext miniseries begins; New Exiles has dragons and biplanes; Wolverine fights a naked blue woman; Wolverine: The Amazing Immortal Man and Other Bloody Tales claims the record for the most overlong title in X-books history; X-Men Origins: Colossus ends up demonstrating why nobody has bothered before now; and Captain Britain and MI13 return.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Judgment Day 2008

For once, a PPV that I definitely won't be watching, unless it gets some pretty spectacular reviews. The record function on my Sky+ box packed in last week, so I'm taking the opportunity to upgrade to HD. And that won't be done till Tuesday. If the show gets really spectacular reviews, I might pick it up afterwards, but from the look of this line-up, I'm not holding my breath.

For some reason, this show is overloaded with matches from Raw. They've officially announced six matches, with four from Raw, one from Smackdown, and one from ECW. Although I can't find any mention of it on the WWE's web site, the usual sources say there's a seventh - Mark Henry vs the Big Show - which would be a Smackdown match. But this is still a very Raw-heavy show, perhaps because they've got a lot more star power than the other brands at the moment.

And on one level, there's a lot of big names on this show, up and down the card. But for the most part, they're in combinations we've seen before, or that don't particularly thrill me. Still, let's go through it.

1. WWE Championship, steel cage match: Triple H (c) v. Randy Orton. The Raw world title, in other words. Triple H won the title from Orton at Backlash in a four-way match, also featuring John Cena and JBL. This is Orton's automatic rematch. Or rather, this is Orton's second rematch, because the first one aired on Raw as part of a bizarre angle to push William Regal as the biggest villain on the show. Regal has notionally been "running" Raw for months now, without ever doing anything. But then he won the 2008 King of the Ring tournament, which also aired on Raw, and went stark raving mad.

So the current story is that Regal stalks around the show throwing his weight around and arbitrarily doing weird things, like turning off the lights in the middle of matches, booking people in 2-on-15 handicap matches, or, in this case, ordering the show off air while the match was still going on. (The actual finish was that Regal went out to the arena and stopped the match for no reason, making it a No Contest draw.) And now, equally randomly, he's booked Triple H and Orton in a steel cage match. Why a steel cage match? Just because. There is no reason. I'm going to assume that's because Regal's nuts, rather than because the writers have forgotten that they're supposed to have a reason for gimmick matches.

Anyway, Triple H has been utterly dominant in this feud (as usual), and it's a pretty safe bet that he's not going to lose the title in his first proper defence. The match will be fine, and while there might be some sort of Regal-related shenanigans, you can be pretty sure that it'll actually air.

2. World Heavyweight Title: The Undertaker v. Edge. The Smackdown world title. These two already fought at Wrestlemania, and again at Backlash. Traditionally, by this point they'd be wheeling out the gimmick matches for a bit of variation. But no. Instead we have a circular storyline that doesn't make a great deal of sense.

Deep breath... Undertaker beat Edge for the title at Wrestlemania, using his Unnamed Submission Hold, which the announcers adamantly insist is a mystery to all. It's actually a gogoplata, a little-used MMA submission hold. At Backlash, Undertaker retained the title with the same move. So far, so logical. Then it all gets a bit silly.

Edge's fiancee Vicky Guerrero, the corrupt Smackdown general manager, strips Undertaker of the title, on the grounds that the gogoplata is a chokehold, and chokeholds are against the rules. This is all true, and might have made sense if he hadn't been using the hold for months. Then, Vicky banned the hold for good measure. Yes, the hold that was illegal anyway. Yes, I know.

And then... Then Vicky announced a tournament with the winner facing the Undertaker for the vacant title at Judgment Day. A tournament which she rigged for Edge to win. Now... wouldn't it have been simpler just to say that the tournament was for the vacant title? What's the point of stripping Undertaker if you're going to put him in the next title match anyway?

Normally WWE storylines make passable sense (in their own warped way), but this really is bordering on gibberish. Anyway, it's Undertaker and Edge for the vacant title. They've had good matches so far, and I'm sure this will be at the same standard. Logically, there are two likely endings - either Undertaker wins clean with one of his other finishers, or he uses the gogoplata and gets DQ'd, with the title remaining vacant a little while longer.

3. WWE Tag Team Titles: John Morrison & The Miz v. Kane & CM Punk. This is the token ECW match. Morrison and the Miz (despite being on the ECW roster) have held the Smackdown tag titles since last November, and have developed into a rather good team. Unfortunately, they've been short of decent challengers - they've spent most of this time in a half-hearted feud with low-ranking babyfaces Shannon Moore and Jimmy Wang Yang. It's a shame, because they're good talkers, and could be very entertaining in a higher-profile role. After a shaky start, Morrison has grown into his acid-casualty character; and Miz is continuing to improve in the ring. I would happily see these two remain as champions for a while, but I don't expect it to happen.

Kane is the ECW Champion, and CM Punk still holds the Money in the Bank title shot that he won at Wrestlemania. Since winning that, he's drifted around doing Not Very Much, and generally getting beaten up by midcarders like Chuck Palumbo. This is a very strange way to book somebody who's won a shot at a world title, as they've made it pretty clear that Punk is simply not in the same league as any of the current title holders. I can only assume he's in the course of a slow-burn heel turn, which would actually make sense.

Kane and Punk are a random-looking team, but they've actually teamed up on ECW on-and-off for several months (in matches that evidently left no impact on anyone). I expect this will be a good to average match, and the babyfaces will win to start an oddball title run, and give Punk an excuse to appear on a higher-profile TV show.

There are two other conceivable outcomes. One is that Punk screws up and loses the match, continuing his slow-burn storyline. I would be happy with that. The other is that Punk turns on Kane, lets the bad guys beat him up, and then cashes in his title shot. But I can't see any wrestler wasting that title shot on the D-list ECW Title.

4. WWE Women's Title: Mickie James v. Beth Phoenix v. Melina. The women's division is desperately short on good girls, which is one of the reasons why Mickie has got the title again. This three-way seems to be intended mainly to provide an excuse for heels Beth Phoenix and Melina (who's been on the fringes for months) to squabble with one another. I suspect this means Melina's turning, in order to even out the sides somewhat. The match will be short and okay; I predict Mickie retains after Melina costs Beth the match, setting up a straight Melina/Beth fight down the line.

5. Chris Jericho v. Shawn Michaels. Another strange storyline from Raw. Last month, Shawn Michaels fought Smackdown's Dave Batista. It ended with Michaels apparently suffering a knee injury, but then pulling off a suspiciously good superkick to win. Jericho was the guest referee in that match, presumably to justify his taking an interest in the story - he certainly didn't contribute anything to the match.

Since then, we've had Jericho accusing Shawn of faking the injury, Shawn insisting that he didn't, Jericho being won over, and Shawn then saying "Hey, I was faking after all." And now they're going to fight. Technically both wrestlers are meant to be heroes. The storyline started off with Jericho seeming to be the villain, but as it's moved on, they seem to have decided that it's Shawn. The crowd reaction is going to be very interesting; I'm not sure it's possible to make people boo Shawn Michaels, even if that's the plan. I suspect the crowd might just be confused.

Jericho is the Intercontinental Champion, but there's been no mention of that midcard title being on the line here, and it's plainly beneath Shawn Michaels. So I'm assuming this is a non-title match.

Technically, it'll be a great match with these two involved. The storyline is so bizarre that I'm not even going to try to predict an outcome - although a run-in by Batista is entirely plausible, since he's not doing anything else. To my mind, this is the only thing on the card that really counts as a big draw - it's likely to be good, and there's an interesting story behind it.

6. John Cena v. JBL. Arbitrary pairing of the other two from last month's four-way title match. Cena has been off filming a movie, so the build-up to this has been lacklustre. In his absence, they've been pushing JBL strongly as a bullying villain. Cena could do with a big win, so I assume he's getting it here. The match probably won't be much.

7. Big Show v. Mark Henry. Two very large men hit one another. Big Show seems to be working his way through the villainous giants on Smackdown, which makes some sense, but doesn't allow for especially good matches. This isn't the best use of him. Big Show will win - unless, please god no, they're planning a long-term feud - and the match won't be much to write home about.

Worth buying? Meh. Jericho/Michaels looks good. The rest of the card... well, there's some technically sound stuff on there, but the storylines aren't very inspiring, and I can't fathom why they're doing Undertaker/Edge for the third month running. I can't say I'm losing much sleep about missing this show.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 11 May 2008

This week, the concluding part of the Logan miniseries; Robert Kirkman's final issue of Ultimate X-Men; Quicksilver stars in X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead; Vertigo revives House of Mystery; and Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca launch Invincible Iron Man.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


This clip has been around for a few months, but apparently they're really doing a weekly serial starting on May 22. The world is a better place for knowing this.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 4 May 2008

For whatever reason, Ultimate X-Men #93 didn't show up at my store, so we'll probably come back to it next week. But we do have the X-Men's Free Comic Book Day special (actually rather good), X-Men: Legacy #210, and from the "I suffer through them so you don't have to" file, DC Universe Zero.