Sunday, June 29, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 29 June 2008

This week, Uncanny X-Men finishes its "Divided We Stand" arc, by setting the team up in San Francisco; Wolverine: First Class guest stars the High Evolutionary; and Vertigo revives Madame Xanadu.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Night of Champions 2008

Until last year, the WWE's June pay-per-view was called Vengeance. It was one of those forgettable C-list shows. But last year they gave it a gimmick, and renamed it Night of Champions. The idea was that every title in the company would be defended. Since this had more or less already happened at Backlash 2007, it wasn't altogether clear why this was meant to be special. This year, they've been a little more sparing in defences of the minor titles, which makes an entire show of title matches a little more meaningful. (If you care about such things as the Raw tag titles, anyway.) However, while Night of Champions 2008 is certainly an entire show of title matches, it's not entirely clear whether all the titles are being defended this year. I'll come back to that later.

To complicate matters further, last week saw the 2008 WWE draft, the company's annual HR masterclass. Once upon a time, a wrestler whose act was getting a bit tired could freshen things up by jumping to another company or another part of the country, for a fresh audience and fresh matches. But the WWE has driven most of the competition out of existence, leaving three shows that are essentially interchangeable. Raw is the A show, Smackdown is the B show, and ECW... well, ECW tails in at somewhere around F or G... but they're all essentially the same formula. In theory each show has its own roster, and the draft reshuffles those wrestlers to provide fresh combinations. For no particular reason other than to show them who's boss, the WWE generally don't bother to tell the wrestlers in advance.

This year's draft seems to have been a decidedly last-minute affair. They did a first round of draft picks on Monday night's Raw, but then did a second round on their website on Wednesday - with virtually no advance publicity. This might explain why the writers seem to have been spinning their wheels; it's hard to do much long term planning when you don't know who the cast will be next week. The general thrust of the roster was to gut ECW, which is a lost cause, and reinforce Smackdown, which needed the help.

The extensive roster reshuffle means that a lot of the matches on this show no longer entirely make sense. Of course, if they play it right, that can work to their advantage.

1. WWE Title: Triple H v. John Cena. Now, pay attention, because this gets complicated. This is Raw's world title match. But the champion is Triple H, and he was drafted to Smackdown. If he retains, he takes the belt with him to Smackdown. So it's important to the whole brand that Cena retains here.

Except... well, except Raw also has a chance to pick up the Smackdown world title, as we'll see below. And the ECW world champion was drafted to Raw, taking his belt with him. So there are all sorts of potential outcomes here. It's a fairly safe bet that the ECW belt will make its way back to ECW sooner or later, but Raw and Smackdown could well swap their titles. Or one show could end up with multiple titles for a couple of months; that could start the build to Summerslam in August (one of the major shows of the year).

Basically, there's a whole load of stuff they could do here, which makes it tough to predict. My bet would be that Triple H retains and Smackdown gets both belts for a couple of months, if only because it's the sort of lopsided story that the WWE tends to like.

Triple H's move has apparently been planned for months, so it was the last opportunity to do the match. They've been trying to bill it as a long-awaited match for the ages, but nobody takes that seriously. I'm sure the match will be good, but if they're expecting the audience to treat it as an all-time classic match-up, they're likely to be disappointed.

2. World Heavyweight Title: Edge v. Batista. This is the Smackdown title, currently held by Edge. Batista was drafted to Raw on Monday, so if he wins, he takes the title with him to Monday nights. Aside from that, it's an unmemorable feud. It's basically filler, and I can't see much advantage in having Batista win the title here. My guess would be that Edge either gets himself disqualified (thus retaining on a technicality), or wins with the help of his cronies. Either way, Batista's protected, and Edge can move on to deal with the new arrivals on his show. Match should be good.

3. ECW Title: Kane v. Big Show v. Mark Henry. This was originally going to be Kane versus the Big Show, with Mark Henry hanging around in the background waiting to take on the winner. But Kane was drafted to Raw, and the Big Show is on Smackdown, so that wouldn't make sense. They've solved that problem by adding Mark Henry to this match and making it a three-way... er, except that Mark was also on Smackdown, so they had to move him to ECW in the supplemental draft.

Now, in storyline, there's supposed to be an ongoing exchange deal where ECW and Smackdown wrestlers can appear on one another's shows. Effectively, they've been one single roster. But that's going to change, as the plan is to tape ECW on Monday nights alongside Raw. That means the "talent exchange" is probably ending soon, and the division between Smackdown and ECW will become meaningful again.

Of course, nobody's explained this on air, so quite why casual viewers are supposed to care about wrestlers being drafted between Smackdown and ECW, I have no clue.

Anyway, this looks like a rather lousy match between three enormous guys. Logically, Mark Henry ought to win, since he's on the ECW roster and the other two aren't - but that's almost too obvious, so I suspect misdirection of some sort.

4. WWE Tag Team Titles: John Morrison & The Miz v. Finlay & Hornswoggle. Yet more utter confusion. These are the Smackdown tag titles, but the champions, Miz and Morrison, are from ECW. Their opponents, Finlay and his bloody midget, were drafted to ECW on Wednesday. So whatever happens, the Smackdown tag titles are apparently going to ECW. I don't quite understand that either.

This will be a comedy match. There's a midget in it, for heaven's sake. The WWE doesn't take tag team wrestling particularly seriously, which is a shame, because Miz and Morrison have developed into a very good heel team. But I have a nasty feeling the midget's winning. I'm not looking forward to this.

5. World Tag Team Titles: Hardcore Holly & Cody Rhodes v. Ted DiBiase Jr & mystery partner. Holly and Rhodes, doing a "veteran and rookie" gimmick, have held the Raw tag titles since last December - largely because they never defend the things. Almost literally - almost five months passed without a televised title defence.

Cody is the son of 1980s star Dusty Rhodes, and he's a rather bland babyface. Ted DiBiase Jr is also the son of a legendary eighties wrestler, and for some reason (the implication is bribery, but they haven't really gone into it) he's getting a title shot in his very first match. The identity of his partner is a secret, which has led to a lot of speculation that they're going to do a stable of young second-generation villains. However, most of the obvious candidates were sent to Smackdown in the second draft. A lot of people are now betting that the mystery partner is Cody, switching sides. The alternative is that it's somebody completely random, like Paul Burchill.

DiBiase's an unknown quantity in the ring, so I have no clue what this will be like - if it's even a proper match at all.

6. WWE United States Title: Matt Hardy v. Chavo Guerrero. Hardy was drafted from Smackdown to ECW on Monday, taking his United States title with him. Strangely, Chavo is also on the ECW roster - but he's supposed to be part of Smackdown's La Familia faction, so I suspect some sort of storyline where he switches shows.

Common sense says that Matt is newly arrived on the ECW roster, and ought to retain his title. But common sense rarely plays a part when they're writing Matt Hardy, so I expect him to lose, partly because it's obviously a bad idea, and partly because it would pave the way for Chavo to jump back to Smackdown with the US title. This should be a fun undercard match.

7. WWE Women's Title: Mickie James v. Katie Lea Burchill. Mickie is the defending champion, and I believe this is the first time we've seen Katie in a singles match since she was called up to the main roster. She used to wrestle on the British indie circuit, and is now doing a brother-and-sister gimmick with Paul Burchill, putting on her best Chelsea accent. Initial plans reportedly called for this to be an incest gimmick, but fortunately that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

By the standards of WWE women's matches - which are admittedly not high - I think this should be quite decent. They're both experienced wrestlers, and Katie's got some presence. I'd have Katie win here, if only because there's not much more to be done with Mickie as champion.

8. WWE Intercontinental Title: Chris Jericho v. mystery opponent. They haven't announced this, but the Wrestling Observer seems to think this is happening. Jericho is caught up in a feud with Shawn Michaels, who is way too far up the pecking order to be wasting his time with the Intercontinental Title. In storyline, Shawn is injured, so my guess would be that he interferes to help one of the Raw draftees win the belt. That would free up Jericho and Shawn to fight at Summerslam without the encumbrance of this unwanted midcard title. It would also set up a tag match for Raw (Shawn and the new IC champion versus Jericho and his new buddy Lance Cade). The most obvious potential challenger is CM Punk, who could really use a title to rebuild his credibility, although Kofi Kingston wouldn't totally shock me.

Worth buying? It's a solid card but it doesn't have any obvious blowaway matches. If you're interested in the storylines as well, though, that may be enough.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


It's a little dispiriting to learn that the BBC is finally showing MeeBOX, a pilot that Adam Buxton made last year.

Not the fact that they're showing it. The dispiriting bit is that (a) they took six months to broadcast it, and (b) they're showing it at quarter to midnight tonight on BBC3. Mind you, it's a busy station. They've got a lot of repeats of Two Pints of Lager And A Packet of Crisps Please to squeeze in.

For the benefit of Americans: Adam Buxton is one half of Adam and Joe. Joe is Joe Cornish. He's working on the Ant-Man movie script with Edgar Wright, incidentally. Anyway, Adam and Joe used to have their own series on Channel 4, which was often very good. I have a vague recollection that they were discovered by sending in home-made films to the long-forgotten Takeover TV. Basically, if they'd been around today, they'd have been discovered on YouTube.

The Adam and Joe Show had stuff like this.

And a lot of stuff like this.

And quite a bit of stuff like this.

But Wikipedia tells us (and I believe they're right) that The Adam and Joe Show is never repeated on TV, nor is it available in full on DVD. In fact, of all their output over the years, the only thing that's still regularly shown on British TV is Shock Video, a schedule-filling clip show in which they introduced excerpts from tedious soft porn and supposedly amusing adverts from around the world. It's actually better than it sounds, largely because they completely ignored the remit and just talked over the whole thing. (Mildly NSFW, I suppose - but worth clicking.)

Even YouTube seems unaccountably keen to show me extracts from their forgotten BBC3 travelogue series, Adam & Joe Go Tokyo. Oh, and some good stuff that isn't embeddable.

Adam and Joe were good. And at the moment, they're doing the Saturday morning show for BBC Radio 6. This being a BBC show, there's a music-removed version available as a podcast, and it's worth your time. And yes, okay, I suppose they were always going to be a bit of a cult act. But surely in the multi-channel world there ought to be a place for them somewhere?

X-Axis comments thread - 22 June 2008

This week, there's pretty much nothing out. So just the X-books. Ultimate X-Men has more drugs (and even more plot holes). Wolverine begins Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's "Old Man Logan" storyline. And X-Factor finally leaves Mutant Town.


Having done the first draft of my May sales column for the Beat, I might as well throw this one open for suggestions.

Avengers/Invaders #1 is at number 4 in the charts, with estimated sales at 108K. Um... why? Is Alex Ross really that big a draw as a co-writer?

Monday, June 16, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 15 June 2008

This week, yet another Wolverine one-shot with X-Force: Ain't No Dog; Marvel belatedly follow up Neil Gaiman's Eternals miniseries with an ongoing title; and the second wave of Minx books begins with Burnout.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 8 June 2008

This week: Angel: Revelations #1 (even though it came out last week), with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Adam Pollina revisiting Warren's boarding school days. Wolverine: Dangerous Games, an inane story about an issue that was topical four years ago. And Ultimate Origins, because we still care about the origin of the Ultimate Universe... er, right...?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

X-Axis comments thread - 1 June 2008

This week, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men finally wraps up the Whedon/Cassaday run; X-Men: First Class has an Angel solo story (but one that doesn't make much sense); and Mark Millar's 1985 miniseries begins.

And no, I have no intention of reading Final Crisis, thank you very much.

Number 1s of 2008: May

"4 Minutes" lasted a total of four weeks at the top, all helping to give 2008 the slowest turnover of number one singles in quite some time. But here's something to break the pattern.

The Ting Tings, "That's Not My Name" (18 to 25 May, 1 week). The Ting Tings are an indie duo from Manchester, and this is officially their chart debut. There's actually a bit of fudging going on there - the Ting Tings have waged an intensive promotional campaign in indie circles for quite a while, but until now (and the release of their album) they've kept themselves largely invisible from the mainstream. So when their first single, "Great DJ", was released earlier this year, they deliberately broke the packaging rules to ensure that it would be disqualified from the chart.

Thanks to that act of intentional self-sabotage, the Ting Tings technically go straight in at number one with their first "real" single, and it's a fun little eighties throwback. The album also entered at number one the next week, and two of its tracks made the chart as album downloads. One was "Great DJ" (ironically, now eligible for the singles chart because it isn't a single any more), and the other was "Shut Up And Let Me Go", because it's been in an iPod advert. So, a beautifully executed leap to the mainstream for these guys. And a meticulously calculated one, but hey, nothing wrong with that.

Rihanna, "Take a Bow" (25 May to present, one week and counting). This is a little bit of a surprise, to be honest. It's her second number one, following "Umbrella" a year ago. Since then, we've had "Shut Up And Drive" (number 5), "Hate That I Love You" (15) and "Don't Stop The Music" (4). And... the mid-tempo ballad is the one that gets to number one?

Well, one factor is that this is new material. And more to the point, it's new material which the fans have to buy in single format, because it won't be on the new album either. It's going to be a bonus track for the "Special Edition" of "Good Girl Gone Bad", the album she released last year. So even if her fans only download the lead track to complete the album, that counts as a single purchase for the chart.

Apparently the midweeks are predicting the song will stay at number one today. I can't see it lasting much beyond that - it's just so wimpy - but you never know.

Also on the charts in May...

Wiley, "Wearing My Rolex." Wiley's an elder statesman of UK garage (despite his best efforts to get the genre re-named "Eskibeat", which never really caught on), and this is by far his biggest hit, reaching number 2. The video is a remarkable illustration of how you really can beat a lame joke into the ground in only two minutes eighteen seconds.

Gabriella Cilmi, "Sweet About Me." I've mentioned before that the introduction of downloads has seen a return to records making a slow climb up the charts, but this is a truly extreme case - after three months on chart, "Sweet About Me" is at number 18 and still climbing. Obviously, it helps that the song has been picked up for an advert. It's a nice enough summer pop record, although the video is one of those eyebrow-raising affairs that would probably send Dave Sim through the roof. (Make the same video with the genders reversed and see how far you get offering it for daytime airplay. Although, of course, that argument ignores tons of cultural context...)

Meanwhile, over on the album charts, there was, er, general surprise when Scooter's new album showed up at number one. True, there's a greatest hits album attached, but... Scooter? These guys?

Scooter are huge in Germany. They've been making essentially the same video for years: high-pitched vocals, sugary tunes, standard euro beat, mad blond German yelling incongruous gibberish. Garnish with random references to the KLF. They're best known in Britain for their, er, sensitive interpretation of Supertramp's "Logical Song." And if you're in the right mood, there's something vaguely endearing about their unabashed nonsense. Of course, if you're in any other mood, you'll want to kill them within thirty seconds.

It's a particular odd album hit, because the lead single - "The Question is What is the Question" - didn't even make the top 40. Experts say it's a combination of the greatest hits CD, good use of TV advertising, and a very quiet week for albums. But still... SCOOTER?