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Emerald City Comicon 2014, 4thletter! Edition

March 24th, 2014 Posted by |

Pardon my promo, but Emerald City Comicon is this weekend, and I’m headed up to Seattle to work it for Image. It’s gonna be pretty busy for me, I think. I’m running the signings at the Image booth and doing the panels, so I figure I’ll be at the con from open to close, running laps around the booth and to the panel rooms and back.

Here’s what I’m moderating and who I’m talking to. You can find a signing schedule here. The booth’s 212.

Image Comics Presents Comedy in Comics
Sometimes the best comics are the funny ones, but getting jokes across in print while simultaneously telling an engaging story can be tough. Luckily, we have a panel of experts who can tell you their secrets, tips, and a few really good jokes.

Program date and time: Friday, March 28, 3:00 p.m. in Room TCC 301

Panelists: Rob Guillory (Chew), Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens), Roc Upchurch (Rat Queens), Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals), Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals), Jim Zub (Skullkickers), Brandon Graham (Prophet)

Image Comics Presents Sex Criminals
Sex Criminals debuted in 2013 and quickly became the book of the year. Now, a few months into 2014, the same looks to be true! Sit down with creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky and bare your soul, fetishes, and anecdotes with the Sex Criminals.

Program date and time: Saturday, March 29, 2:00 p.m. in Room 3AB

Panelists: Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals), Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals)

Image Comics Presents Crime, Adventure, & Fantasy!
Gunfights, heists, cowboys, hoodlums, magicians, adventurers, aliens, and more: are you not entertained? Image Comics’ varied publishing line has something for everybody. Settle in and listen to the experts discuss creating entertaining stories.

Program date and time: Saturday, March 29, 5:00 p.m. in TCC 301

Panelists: Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly), Jason Latour (Southern Bastards), Jason Aaron (Southern Bastards), Joe Keatinge (Shutter), Leila Del Duca (Shutter), Frank Barbiere (Five Ghosts), Joshua Williamson (Ghosted)

Image Comics Presents Building A Better Dystopia
No matter how good we have it, a future where we have nothing has its own thrill. These creators know their way around a dystopia, whether it’s due to mad science, economic factors, or nightmarish alternate dimensions.

Program date and time: Sunday, March 30, 3:00 p.m. in Room TCC 301

Panelists: Nick Pitarra (Manhattan Projects), Greg Rucka (Lazarus), Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), Simon Roy (Prophet), Ed Brisson (Sheltered), Johnnie Christmas (Sheltered)

On top of that, I’ve got a non-Image panel I’m running on Sunday featuring a couple of cool cats:

Harsh Realm: Adam Warren and Brandon Graham
Room: HALL D (602-603)
Time: 1:40PM – 2:30PM

Adam Warren (Empowered) and Brandon Graham (Prophet) are two creators at the top of their game. The two gather to discuss how they incorporate their influences in their work, creating comics that don’t look like any other comics on the racks, & more!

This is probably my biggest con weekend ever, at least in terms of responsibilities. I should probably quit trying to figure out what I’m gonna wear and start thinking about what I’m going to ask, huh?

Holler if you see me, forgive me when I’m busy.

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This Week in Panels: Week 235

March 23rd, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s panel time! I’m joined by Space Jawa, Matlock, Gaijin Dan and a rare entry from Dickeye. Jawa has double the panels due to some screw-up from his shop last week.

Writing-wise, I went back to the old What If well for old time’s sake by writing about 20 Uplifting What If Stories for Den of Geek US. It felt like coming home.

This week brings us the end of Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man and to be honest, I feel like it wasn’t worth my time. I don’t mean the issue, but the entire run. Despite being one of the must-read comics from the beginning of the New 52, it led to a big arc that went on for far too long, killed off his son (when the most beloved take on the character went out of the way to explain why this was a bad idea) and then meandered until its finale. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is still well-written enough, but it feels so pedestrian as it reaches its big climax.

I’ll probably start picking up Superman/Wonder Woman because Charles Soule has been rocking my socks off on everything else he’s written, but I feel my interest in DC dwindling by the day.

All-New Invaders #3
James Robinson and Steve Pugh

All-New Invaders #3
James Robinson and Steve Pugh

All You Need Is Kill #8
Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Ryosuke Takeuchi, Yoshitoshi ABe and Takeshi Obata

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and we are all cyborgs

March 19th, 2014 Posted by | Tags:

Last year, I provided an afterword for Archaia’s release and updating of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009, drawn by Marcus To, written by FJ DeSanto, and colored by Ian Herring. My copyright was left out of the book, but part of the deal was I kept the rights to the text so I could bring it here and show it to you. If you’re into Ishinomori, this Cyborg 009 dvd set is well worth checking out, too. This text is as it appeared in the hardcover, though I’ve styled the titles and headers differently than they appeared in print.


ishinomori, innovator

Something as simple as a cursory overview of Shotaro Ishinomori’s career can impress even the most jaded comics fan. He holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Comics Published By One Author,” laid the foundation for two separate popular genres, and blazed several different trails across a wide variety of projects. He had a fuller career than most people dream of, and even fifteen years after his death, his creations are still being revamped, remastered, and revived for all-new audiences. His influence is tough to overstate, and his remarkably fruitful career has resulted in a bibliography that’s a library unto itself.

Ishinomori often worked in a science fiction mode, filling his stories with giant monsters, transforming heroes, and robots big and small. His bombastic sci-fi tales worked magic on his target audience — young children and teens, generally — but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t appeal to adults. The contrary is true, in fact. Ishinomori employed classic hero versus villain tropes and slapstick humor in his work, but made sure to include just enough nuance and depth to make the stories fascinating from an adult point of view, as well. The subtext in his work speaks volumes, and often presents a fascinating point of view. Beyond that, the subtext meshes with the child-friendly material in a remarkably organic way.

Cyborg 009 is a classic example of Ishinomori’s broad appeal. A team of nine humans-turned-cyborgs rebel against Black Ghost, an evil organization bent on doing wrong. They fight other cyborgs and giant robots using special powers and laser guns. Each cyborg has his or her own custom power or specialty. Some are capable of moving at mach speed, while others can breathe flame. The fights are flashy and exactly as exciting as they need to be, but the subtext provides Cyborg 009 with an unexpected amount of depth. That depth makes the conflicts in the series even more resonant and exciting. It hints at a greater context than something that is purely the forces of good battling the forces of evil.

merchants of death

Cyborg 009 begins with a history lesson. Ishinomori quickly summarizes World War II, including the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before introducing the idea of nuclear proliferation and the Cold War. He then immediately transitions to a meeting of the real villains of the series, creating a direct link between war and our villains. Instead of being a shadowy cabal of evil magicians, scientists, or aliens, the men behind the horrors sweeping over the globe were much more mundane. They were mere arms dealers and warmongers. They put up with the dramatic overtures of the Black Ghost and produce weapons of mass destruction in order to make money hand over fist. The evil of their actions is simply an acceptable side effect of business. It’s collateral damage.

Ishinomori’s use of warmongers as the prime movers of the series is pointed casting considering the atmosphere at the time. Cyborg 009 debuted in 1964. That’s less than 20 years after the end of World War II and the introduction of atomic warfare, 11 years after the end of the Korean War, and square in the middle of rapidly escalating violence in Vietnam. The world was in the process of being carved up by opposing forces, and the business of war was booming. The creation of newer and more lethal weapons allowed war to become a very profitable enterprise. The predations of warmongers partially led to the overwhelming paranoia and fear that permeated the Cold War era, and nuclear panic ensured that everyone knew that the world could end at any moment.

It’s telling that the villains have such a banal motivation, as well. Ishinomori’s villains may employ the classically cartoonish and outlandish tactics that you would expect from an organization with a name like “Black Ghost,” but at their core, they’re simply men who want more than they have and will stop at nothing to get it. They’re greedy, and greed is a very human failing. The human element is what makes Ishinomori’s stories so resonant, even decades after they were first introduced. The villains in Cyborg 009 are human to the core, and it is the very human capacity for unthinkingly callous evil that drives the Black Ghost.

The cyborgs are part of an arms race. In this case, the warmongers want to create new weapons to take advantage of new battlefields, and thereby avoid the peace process. They’re an escalation, another result of the evolution of war. Black Ghost’s plan to turn humans into cyborgs requires the corruption of human beings. Rather than soliciting soldiers or building a volunteer army of cyborgs from scratch, the organization chooses to kidnap innocent humans from a variety of places and walks of life and turn them into cyborgs. The Black Ghost, like war, can and will touch you, no matter how far removed you may think you are from the conflict.

man made machine

The international and diverse cast of Cyborg 009 hammers that home. Our nine cyborg heroes and the cyborg villains they battle are ballerinas and chefs, actors and delinquents, privileged and oppressed, adults and children. They represent us; they represent humanity. The cyborgs are unique, both in power and personality, but they all have a great capacity for good or evil. Like most humans, they simply have to choose between their baser natures and doing good.

The concept of free will is a vital part of the Cyborg 009 story, but Ishinomori explores coercion and the limits of free will, as well. The villainous cyborgs are under the control of evil forces, but still manage to demonstrate genuinely human traits, sometimes even in the midst of battle. Sometimes they’ve been bullied and are lashing out, and other times they repay a kindness as best they can, even if it goes against their programming.

They are human first, even when their human identity has been stripped away. Many of the cyborgs have been altered far past the point where they can be strictly defined as human. Cyborg 0013, for example, is a giant robot, while another is a Western-style mansion. But, no matter what we go through, no matter what horrors, we are still human. We have the capability to not just adapt to our situations, but to overcome them.

the good doctor

Part of what gives us the strength to overcome adversity is our community. We find strength in groups, wisdom from our elders, and motivation from seeing people like us succeeding. In the case of Cyborg 009, Dr. Isaac Gilmore serves as their mentor and engineers their jailbreak. Gilmore served as a scientist in the Black Ghost organization, and shares responsibility for the creation of the cyborgs. He rebelled against his employers, and in doing so, represents another important aspect of the human experience: repentance.

Gilmore, as an agent of the Black Ghost, did wrong. His intentions may have been honorable, but he took part in an experiment that forever ruined the lives of more than a dozen human beings. Many of the advances in science that led to the creation of weapons of mass destruction didn’t come from men and women who wanted to destroy the world. The pursuit of knowledge often comes with a catch, and Gilmore was lucky enough to realize the catch before he progressed too far down a dark path. He chose to stop and repent for his dirty deeds, and that gives him a strength and depth that is vital for the story of Cyborg 009.

Making up for mistakes is an important part of the human experience. It’s a way of exercising control over both yourself and your environment. You refuse to let yourself be defined by your mistakes, you work to make up for those mistakes, and in doing so, you change the world around you. You become the good person that you want to be when you seek forgiveness for your mistakes, and the knowledge that you have the capacity to slip up keeps you on the straight and narrow. You’ve been there before — you don’t want to go back again.

the morally upstanding juvenile delinquent

Joe Shimamura, better known as 009, is another example of a heroic character with rough edges. Originally, he was the son of a Japanese woman and a foreign father. He was considered an outcast, and he suffered for his heritage. He was bullied and teased, and he slipped fairly easily into the life of a delinquent. He didn’t become an outlaw because he wanted easy money, or because he felt like being a delinquent was fun. He was forced into a corner and he adapted.

He never left behind his inner goodness, however. After becoming a cyborg and returning to Tokyo, he comes across an old friend in Shinjuku. The friend is more than willing to bully and rob another person, but 009 rejects that idea. He stops his friend and rebukes him in front of a complete stranger. This kindness is repaid later, when the stranger is revealed to be a rival cyborg in disguise and chooses to spare 009′s life.

009′s graciousness is another sign, and an important one. You always have a choice. If you find yourself between a rock and a hard place and you do something wrong, that doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing right. It just means that you made a choice. You can always choose differently, even if it means temporarily alienating a friend to comfort a stranger.

The fact that 009 is the titular character and the window into the Cyborg 009 universe is fascinating. We see the world through 009′s eyes, and as a result, we can’t help but identify with him. 009 and the reader are both new to the world Ishinomori has created, and 009′s experiences color our own experiences with the world.

Many heroes are written as if they were always morally upstanding and have never, ever wavered in their beliefs. It’s a comforting idea to think that there is someone out there who always makes the right decision, but that isn’t realistic. Everyone makes bad decisions and goes through trials and tribulations. 009 is no different from anyone else. The difference is that he’s made the decision to reject the negative choices he made before, and to do right from that point on.

danseuse, soldat, femme

Francoise, unit 003, is innocent and unaffiliated. Where 009 had to fight simply for the right to live life as he wanted before he became a cyborg, 003 spent her time as a ballerina. Her passion was to entertain people, to be a living work of art. In a way her purpose in life was the opposite of what war represents. War devastates communities, destroys livelihoods, and lines the pockets of the men and women who don’t care who they hurt. There are no winners when it comes to war.

Dancing, on the other hand, is meant to enrich our lives. You can experience it on a physical level, as you admire the acrobatics and contortions the dancer performs. You can also experience it on an emotional level, as the movements of the dancer spark feelings within you. Dancing is meant to create appreciation in a viewer, while war only ever creates conflict.

By drafting 003 into their war, the Black Ghost organization is doing exactly what war does: it corrupts innocence. It takes something beautiful — whether that’s dancing or simply living your life as you wish — and dashes it against the rocks. It’s cruel and unfair and 003 is a perfect example of why. She’s a kind and sweet person, nice almost to a fault, and she did absolutely nothing to deserve her fate.

War respects no one. It doesn’t pick and choose whom it affects. It simply happens and we’re left to pick up the pieces. In the case of 003, she was left enhanced by her experience with the Black Ghost, thanks to the addition of high tech communications capabilities, but is left divorced from her previous life. She can’t go back, not without bringing the baggage she now carries with her. War’s touch is indelible. You can move past it, but it sticks with you. You’re forever changed.

cyborg soldier, human heart

One of the most impressive things about Ishinomori’s original Cyborg 009 stories is how resonant and relevant they remain to this day. The world has existed in a state of constant warfare for decades now, if not longer. Skimming the newspaper or Internet shows that armed conflict is a fact of life for many, many people. There are powers beyond our control that wish to divide the Earth up, reasonable people who have been forced into bad situations, and bad people who are eager to take advantage of bad situations. War is here, it is real, and sometimes it’s even right outside our window.

Ishinomori’s cyborgs represent us, but they do more than that. They encourage us. They inspire us. They suggest that someone, somewhere can stand against great evil and not just survive, but succeed. They can make a difference, whether that difference is pushing for nuclear disarmament in real life or battling evil cyborgs in fiction. All it takes is making a choice. The specific choices change as time goes on, but the core idea is incredibly versatile.

The cyborgs are human. Once you understand that, the meaning behind the rest of the series flows like water. Their enemies are war incarnate, men and women who would exploit the Earth for their own gain. After being touched by those enemies, the cyborgs are decidedly different than they were before, but their innate human goodness remains the same. They rage against the injustice they suffered, and they fight to make sure that that injustice is never perpetrated again.

The setting of Cyborg 009 is a world that is constantly on the brink of being destroyed. Governments wage war, shadowy figures finance and enhance those wars, and the only thing stopping humankind from being overrun are the actions of honest and moral human beings who refuse to let the wrong side win. The cyborgs are sacrificing their lives to prevent that exact outcome. There are plenty of reasons to be afraid, but there is a reason to have hope, as well.

Seeding a comic intended for children with these ideas may seem strange at first glance, but Ishinomori pursued his allegory in such a way that the story remains perfectly appropriate for all ages. Ishinomori stops well short of becoming overbearing or preachy. There’s nothing in there that’s inappropriate for children. Ishinomori couches the allegory in familiar ideas: a delinquent with a secret heart of gold, a wizened mentor, and a flashy and bombastic evil organization. It’s only once you scratch the surface that you realize the reason why Cyborg 009 works as well as it does is because it is working with deeper themes than pure “good versus evil” or squeaky-clean generic adventures.

- david brothers, 2013

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My Grandpa’s Stories Can’t Be This Weird

March 18th, 2014 Posted by | Tags:

Kazuhiro Urata - Grandpa 01

Kazuhiro Urata - Grandpa 02

Written and drawn by Kazuhiro Urata, adapted by Tania Fukuda, translated by Abby Lehrke. My Grandpa’s Stories Can’t Be This Weird, 2014.

Kazuhiro Urata’s My Grandpa’s Stories Can’t Be This Weird, which runs in the free Manga Box app, is dumb. It’s the same kind of dumb that made Akira Toriyama’s Dr Slump one of my favorite comics. It’s aggressively-but-knowingly dumb, a shaggy dog joke with digressions that are actual jokes instead of distractions.

The hook is almost always the same. There’s a boy who just wants to go to sleep, a grandfather hellbent on reading a story to his grandson, and a storybook that is a wacky version of an established story. The kid reacts to each absurd new element with disbelief until the end, when the story kinda-sorta comes together.

There’s just one main joke here, and the fun is seeing how the joke is twisted into a new form with each new strip. Everything about this excerpt makes me laugh, and it’s just the first three pages. There was one a while back where he replaced all the characters in a fairy tale with murderers, good and bad, that has me ready to cry laughing by the end of page one, and the Red Riding Hood story is a new twist on an old joke with several utterly incredible bits.

There are a few other comics that have that one-joke framework that I like. I was an avid reader of Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics for years, and ONE & Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man has a surprising number of gags based around one punch. (My favorite is a background gag, a bear that got knocked out in the woods.) My Grandpa’s Stories is more steeped in anti-humor than any of those series, but I’m really into it. Reading it is kind of like waiting for the point where a balloon tips over from inflated to burst.

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This Week in Panels: Week 234

March 17th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , ,

Ahoy, my friends! Another week of panelingus begins with me and Gaijin Dan and Matlock and Space Jawa! Jawa is inconsolable due to what appears to be the final installment of Batman: Li’l Gotham. Meanwhile, Matlock only sent me DC panels for whatever reason. Ah well.

For Den of Geek US, I had some stuff go up. The main course is a review I did on the WWE/Scooby-Doo crossover movie that just came out. Then I also wrote little fluff pieces on the live-action Street Fighter web series and the preview of the upcoming Deadpool wedding issue. The backups of that issue will feature stories by every single major Deadpool comic writer. From Priest to Waid to Simone. Sounds awesome.

Batman #29 (Gavin’s pick)
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Batman #29 (Matlock’s pick)
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Batman: Li’l Gotham #12
Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

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World Trigger: Teen Teams vs Aliens

March 17th, 2014 Posted by |

daisuke ashihara - world trigger

Created by Daisuke Ashihara, translated by Lillian Olsen, edited by Hope Donovan. World Trigger, 2014.

Daisuke Ashihara’s World Trigger is one of my favorite strips in Weekly Shonen Jump. It’s about teens fighting aliens from a neighboring dimension, and while I thought it was going to be a weirdo analogy for illegal immigration (the organization is BORDER, the aliens are Neighbors), it is actually a great teen team comic. It’s cool like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game was cool, but with a boys’ manga swagger—swords made of lasers, customizable weapons that fit your temperament, teams of people with diverse interests and personalitys, coolguys saying cool things right before or while things explode, and heroes thinking of their friendships while effortlessly carving up aliens. There’s a sense of danger, but it’s lessened by the fact that the characters are using fake host bodies made of energy, so if you need to—for example—cut off your own leg to kill a monster, then you can do that, and it’s cool instead of horrific. When they ramp up the carnage, it’s like a video game character booping out instead of wall-to-wall gore and viscera.

It’s not Screaming Shonen like Seraph of the End or Attack on Titan, where uncontrollable and annoying levels of rage power the main characters. It’s…Steady Shonen? It has a lot in common with sports manga, where that lone wolf nonsense only goes so far. World Trigger feels very safe, both in style and in plot, but it has a lot of good stuff within that safeness. It feels good, and that’s because the character work is very strong and the jokes are good.

A good example is this page from a recent chapter, where a nerdy girl who belongs to BORDER wears her fandom on her sleeve. Sometimes you don’t need a laser sword to slash a monster…

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“I think I might be pregnant.”

March 13th, 2014 Posted by |

katusuhiro otomo - akira - nurse 01

katusuhiro otomo - akira - nurse 02
Written and drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo, adapted by Jo Duffy, colored by Steve Oliff, lettered by Mike Higgins. Akira, 1988.

I say I like to re-read Akira a few times a year, but the truth is I do that in addition to reading random passages out of it whenever they come to mind. I get something out of it every time I go back to it, and this latest round, spurred by a couple friends reading the book for the first time, is no different.

This scene and its followup are among my favorite bits in the book and a good illustration of both how callous and awful Kaneda is and how good Otomo is at making comics. This time around, I’m looking at the table the school nurse is holding onto for dear life. I like how the table is the only thing keeping her from floating into the air on the first page. She’s into Kaneda and feeling good, until the second page rolls around and the table is the only thing keeping her from collapsing to the ground.

Otomo does a lot with a little.

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Luke Cage, keeping it realer than most

March 12th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , ,

Richard Corben - Cage - fence

Richard Corben, Brian Azzarello, Jose Villarubia. CAGE, 2002.

I re-read this one the other week. It’s one of the comics I got way back when I was getting back into comics, and was probably one of my first Corben comics, too. I hadn’t read it in years, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I re-read it. It looks like the last edition debuted in 2002, and the series hasn’t been re-packaged since, which is a shame. The intro to the hardcover, written by Darius Jones, is called “Straight-up Real Nigga,” something I can’t imagine Marvel ever associating with Cage in the here-and-now, but also an idea I’d love to see the character actually be able to deal with in the comics themselves.

Corben and colorist Villarubia put in work on this page, and it’s probably my favorite image of the character. There’s no tiara, no yellow shirt, nothing that screams “This is Luke Cage!”, but it’s still signifying nonetheless. You get the sense that he’s dangerous, he’s mad, and he’s invincible. You can hurt him, you can knock him down, but you don’t get to win. That background Villarubia threw behind him in panel 4 is great, a bloody sunset that follows in Cage’s wake.

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This Week in Panels: Week 233

March 11th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , , ,

It’s time again for This Week Panels. It’s time again to take every new comic that Matlock, Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa and I read over the last week and cut them down into a panel that best represents the issue. Sounds like fun? Great! Join in if you’re ever interested. My email’s on the side.

I’m posting two Bleach panels this time around, mainly because I forgot to post one last week. Sorry, Dan.

Awesome comics this week. Afterlife with Archie was absolutely astounding and I can’t recommend it enough. The whole thing was heartbreaking, other than the interlude about how the Blossom siblings are totally incestual. That’s not me joking. That’s an actual plot point. In an Archie comic. The guy who wrote it is now in charge of the company. No fooling.

Magneto is cool because someone at Marvel realized that the best part of X-Men: First Class was the stuff near the beginning about Magneto being a super-powered Inglorius Basterd. It’s like that, only in the present and he’s bald.

Burn the Orphanage was really strange this week and not exactly in a good way. Easily the weakest of the trilogy.

Afterlife with Archie #4
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla

All You Need Is Kill #7
Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Ryosuke Takeuchi, Yoshitoshi ABe and Takeshi Obata

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift Part 1
Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

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The WWE Network: Two Weeks Later

March 10th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , ,

It’s been two weeks since WWE released the WWE Network. An idea that’s been around for years, WWE’s been wanting to find a way to make money off their extensive video library and the DVD releases just haven’t been cutting it. Originally, the Network was going to be an actual television channel, but cable providers told WWE to go fuck off, turning the entire concept into a running gag amongst the fans. It kept getting delayed over and over to the point that nobody really expected it to ever happen.

Then they changed the concept and made it a Netflix-like streaming channel. After the press conference to announce how it worked, I must have seen a record number of people posting that image macro of Fry yelling, “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” I had the same mindset.

The sell is that the WWE Network is $10 a month (you have to agree to six months at a time) of streaming video that you can access via computers, game consoles, phones, tablets, etc. You get every single WWE/WCW/ECW PPV, lots of old shows, replays of more recent shows, original programming and every live PPV in HD. There would always be something playing on the feed, but you can check out pretty much anything on demand. That’s an insane deal. So how has it stacked up?

It went live two weeks ago and experienced the expected rough beginning. For the first day, it was extremely difficult to sign up for the service. While the live streaming worked out fine, it was nearly impossible to get an entire show when watching the on demand material. That appeared to be a fault in their setup, which they’ve since fixed. After the second day, things have mostly run smoothly.

Mostly.

The Xbox 360 app has famously been a disaster. For a week, nobody was able to log in. Now you can log in, but it’s missing the search function as well as a ton of PPVs. You can’t access any of the WCW or ECW PPVs, as well as any Wrestlemania that isn’t 29. Hopefully they fix this soon, especially considering I like to have this on in the background on my TV.

Although they claimed that all their PPV stuff would be uncensored, that’s mostly a lie. Sure, Booker T still accidentally drops the n-bomb back in that 1996 WCW PPV, but lots of nudity and curse words are taken out. For the most part, it’s understandable. A lot of shows were already prepared due to the now-defunct WWE On-Demand service and they were all cleaned up for that. That’s why WWE is totally allowed to play old footage of people calling the company “WWF” now, but a lot of clips blank it out anyway because they were prepared years back when that embargo was in effect. Also, there’s the music issues, especially with ECW. I’ve heard that most of New Jack’s matches have been removed, mainly because he’d spend the ENTIRE match with “Natural Born Killers” playing.

Then there’s the problem with NXT ArRIVAL, the PPV put together for WWE’s developmental promotion. As an early stress test, they did the show live to see how the servers would handle it. With 20 minutes left, things went to hell and there were serious issues. Considering Wrestlemania is coming up in a few weeks with no major live shows ahead of it, it’s iffy on whether or not that show will actually be watchable via the Network on the first go.

Despite all of that, the Network is AWESOME. It is so goddamn awesome and if you ever enjoyed wrestling, get on it. As mentioned, you get hundreds of PPVs at your fingertips and a lot of random shows from the past. They put more stuff up by the day, but right now it’s mostly old Raws from the first year of its existence, Madison Square Garden house shows from the 70′s-to-early-90′s, WCCW shows, ECW Hardcore TV and that Smackdown where Arnold Schwartzenegger showed up to beat up Triple H. They’ve also been putting up the documentary stuff from the DVDs they’ve been releasing, like a biographical look at Steve Austin or a lengthy interview where Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels clear the air about their old real-life hatred for each other.

They also have Legends Roundtable, a show where a bunch of old wrestling personalities would sit around and discuss whatever topic for an hour or so. One of the ones listed now is about Mean Gene, Michael Hayes, Mick Foley, Dusty Rhodes and Pat Patterson discussing the worst characters in wrestling history. It’s wonderful. For the first time in my life, I’m able to watch the Shockmaster’s tragic debut in great quality and it completes me.

The original programming is fantastic so far. I mean, the Raw and Smackdown pre and post shows I can take or leave. A half hour before and after the shows, you can see a roundtable discussion about what’s going on mixed with backstage interviews. Usually these interviews would only be hidden on WWE’s YouTube page, which is a shame, since a lot of them are really good.

Wrestlemania Rewind is a show where each week they spotlight a different Wrestlemania match. They’d spend about a half hour in documentary style, explaining the lead-up, then they’d show the match itself. So far they’ve only done the main events for Wrestlemania 1 (Hogan and Mr. T vs. Piper and Orndorff) and Wrestlemania 3 (Hogan vs. Andre).

WWE Countdown is basically your average VH1 talking heads show ala I Love the 80′s, only counting down a topic voted on by the fans. So far we’ve had Top 10 Catchphrases and Top 10 Entrances. One of the highlights is Daniel Bryan showing confusion over John Cena’s, “You can’t see me!” catchphrase because, no, he CAN see him. He’s standing right there and wearing bright colors! He is in no way invisible!

One of the shows coming down the pipeline is Legends House, where a bunch of old wrestlers do a Real World deal. It will feature Roddy Piper and Hillbilly Jim LARPing. Lord have mercy.

All the newer footage is in HD, including the live PPVs. They’ve also been using the Network as a way to see NXT, which is something I’ve been meaning to do on a regular basis to begin with. The ArRIVAL show was pretty amazing.

The whole thing is a radical concept and I really hope it works out for WWE. Sure, their insistence of a Batista vs. Orton main event on the biggest show of the year puts a bad taste in my mouth, but at least I can go rewatch this year’s Royal Rumble where the crowd verbally shits all over Batista for ten minutes straight. Their booking has been scattershot, but this strategy should be rewarded.

If you have even the slightest interest in wrestling, join the bandwagon because it’s pretty sweet and the price is a steal. I’m finding a lot of people are using it as an excuse to relive the utterly fascinating and laughably terrible final years of WCW and I really can’t blame them.

Meanwhile, my buddy Bearnt! uploaded a clip from one of the MSG shows. Here’s Roddy Piper delivering the weakest chair shot I have ever seen in my life.

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