Thursday, July 3, 2014


Saturday, June 28, 2014


Another good, straightforward SmackDown helped build the Money in the Bank pay-per-view set to premiere this Sunday on the WWE Network at 8:00 PM EST (with a 7:30 pre-show).

The night began with Triple H, Seth Rollins, and Randy Orton cutting promos. The impartial viewer in me can appreciate how Triple H went on about how this latest period in WWE History shall go down as "The Authority Era", and how Randy Orton and Seth Rollins got into it for a moment, but I've had my fill of Triple H promos.

He's always adequate, sometimes even excellent, but his ever-presence continues to wear on me, and I find it difficult not to nitpick his relationship with Seth Rollins. Perhaps I've simply chosen to believe they dropped the ball with Rollins, and I see everything he does through that negative filter. Even if I don't particularly like Seth on the mic, and even though I don't really feel his heel personality on a gut-level, his feud with Dean Ambrose has definitely developed into my favorite part of every show. And I'm hopeful that if Seth wins at Money in the Bank, all the things I've criticized about him, from his ring-attire to the Authority-phraseology in his promos, will fade from the forefront of my consciousness. I noticed, watching SmackDown this week, that my concern for such things was waning, and that I was simply more interested in watching Seth and Dean beat the snot out of each other.

I'm really encouraged by the number of budding feuds being featured on all of the WWE's shows right now.

We've got Dean vs. Seth, Usos vs. Wyatts, Big E vs. Rusev, Roman vs. Randy/The Authority and then whatever title-feud comes out of the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. Only a few weeks back it seemed like the only solid feud that existed was Bray vs. Cena, and now we've even got midcard and undercard wrestlers with good opponents.

I'm particularly encouraged by Big E's latest promos. He came down the ramp after Rusev's match and went on an over the top, but simultaneously empowering speech about America and its hard-working citizens, mentioning the steel mills and the factories of Pittsburgh (it made me feel like it was the 1940s), and then he bravely stood up to the Russian Bull. Rusev likely will never be over with me (not even with Lana getting him over with everyone else), but watching him and Big E trade blows is a thrill. They're big guys who can move, athletes that aren't weighted down by their size and that's always impressive to watch. The WWE has flirted with a Big E/Rusev feud for a while now, but it seems like they're officially moving forward with it, which is great for both guys. Big E is the standout, though, and, as I've suspected, has a unique personality and some mic skills tucked away under his hulking mass.

His promo wasn't necessarily him, I believe - meaning he's working a gimmick and not necessarily being Big E with the "volume turned up" the way a lot of wrestlers behave. He's playing a proud American character, and he played it a little more straight this week, but he does it incredibly well. And, most importantly, he comes off strong and powerful, which is more than he got during his IC Title run.

Paige had a quick match against Cameron that's not really worth writing about. Paige continues to remain unsupported creatively, having random, quick matches on almost every show. Such is a shame as she's much more than a pretty face (though apparently Vince McMahon's disinterest in her pale-skinned-dark-haired aesthetic is the reason she can't get her hands on a mic). The good thing about the Divas Division is that they're being permitted to do more than rip each other's clothes off and dump things on each other. There seem to be divisions with the Divas Division.

There are those who might occasionally find themselves in a pile or slop and those who get to shake their opponent's hand and have decent, but far-too-brief matches.

It'll be interesting to see what happens to the Division when more of the NXT ladies arrive on shows like Raw and SmackDown.

With all the hours of WWE programming available throughout the week, and with the flagship show clocking in at a staggering three-hours, there's no reason Paige and a solid opponent can't get thirty minutes. As is, there are brief moments of goodness and respectability between Naomi and Paige, which is certainly better than it could be.

I only hope McMahon's terrible taste in women doesn't destroy Paige's career. Sure, there are tons of guys who still like the balloon-boobed-bleached-blonde-bimbo gimmick, but the wrestling audience has changed. Pam Anderson is no longer the adolescent-twenty-something go-to sexual fantasy.

Approachable nerd-girls who play video games, like wrestling, and dig Nightmare Before Christmas are pretty much everything today's young, straight male desires.

Wait a second! you might say. Aren't you just proposing The Divas division be built around a different, but equally superficial and sexist view of women? Aren't you just saying that the Divas Champion should be determined by what straight, male wrestling fans like?

And my response would got me...I was being a bad feminist in those last couple paragraphs. Damn.

I think I just hate McMahon, and his seedy backstage exchanges with Trish Stratus are forever burnt into my brain, and the idea that he prefers that kind of female stereotype to someone like Paige or AJ Lee is beyond my comprehension - we're just drawn to different personalities and looks, and I was writing from a place of wanting to stick it to McMahon, not actually thinking about what should determine the quality of The Divas Division; ability.

(Also, my fiancée is basically a combination of Paige and AJ, so...yeah...)

And that's why Paige should be the champ and be supported by a good creative angle and have the chance to cut promos - she's good in the ring and works a cool gimmick.

She, like AJ, also represents a more body-positive female for the young girls that watch wrestling - and that is an important thing. I know we male smarks forget what it was like to be an adolescent, and we might staunchly refrain from ever imagining what it's like to be a woman because, you know, we're men damnit with really big orgasm-giving penises!

But if you think about it from an eleven year old girl's perspective, a gawky girl who maybe doesn't fit in with the pretty girls, and knows she's never going to look like a Stacey Keebler or a Trish Stratus, and sees such photo-shopped idealizations thrust in her face daily via mass-media, seeing someone like AJ Lee or Paige or Naomi as The Divas Champion is really inspiring. It's good to have relatable heroes when you're young, to remind you that it's okay to be a little weird or a little twisted or a little anti-establishment.

So you just witnessed me call myself out on shortsightedness, blinded by my own heterosexual manishness. That's never really happened here before.

Feminism is hard.

I enjoyed every match on the card (though I didn't watch Rusev's), and recommend tuning in for the matches alone.

Bad News Barrett (who I've now decided I just can't stand - from the way he tosses his cape off to the way he smiles and says "Boom", I just can't get on board), had a decent match with Dean Ambrose. I'm just in love with anything Ambrose does right now, so any segment involving him immediately makes me smile and sit forward in my chair.

It was nice to see Seth Rollins get the drop on Dean this week so that their feud is more of a back and forth and less Seth looking like a weakling.

The Ziggler/RVD and Del Rio/Cesaro tag match was incredibly entertaining. Lots of good spots, made all the better by the presence of Paul Heyman on commentary. The Internet keeps suggesting Brock Lesnar vs. Cesaro at SummerSlam for the title. I personally don't see that happening, because it doesn't seem like the WWE really believes Cesaro is that guy yet.

I know there are some spoilery rumors and even a SummerSlam poster circulating The Internet, but I haven't read or seen anything, nor will I. Reading rumors and the like only serves to actually spoil everything - if the rumors are positive then the joy you experience when they're proven true is lessened, and if they're negative and play out that way then you're just sad all the time. It's also difficult in this day and age to figure out what's real and what isn't, and the cat and mouse fantasy booking game usually spirals into an incoherent oblivion.

So instead of even trying to figure out what the WWE is going to do at Money in the Bank, I'll simply write about my hopes for the pay-per-view. And I only have one. I hope whoever wins the Money in the Bank briefcase contract match cashes in soon. I'd prefer it happen at the end of the show or on Monday Night Raw of course, but I really just hope whoever holds it doesn't do so for months. Such has proven to be a career killer.

The Money in the Bank contract has always bothered me, because it just doesn't make sense that the winner wouldn't immediately proclaim that they're challenging whoever the WWE World Heavyweight Champion is at the main event of WrestleMania.

To date, I've only ever heard one wrestler even suggest that and it was Mr. Kennedy. Remember him? Boy, those days were rough.

Sure, the contract means you can cash in on a vulnerable champion at any time, but even for a heel, even within the wrestling fiction itself, the main event at WrestleMania is the ultimate career accomplishment and the Money in the Bank contract is actually the easiest way to guarantee that spot.

Is there a stipulation in place that I'm just not aware of which states you can't do that? Because if not, that's exactly what a wrestler should do, and naturally would do. But, obviously, that just won't happen. Or who knows, maybe it will this time.

Bray and Sheamus put on a good, rough show, their stiffness complimenting one another. I actually really like Bray in the ring, even if he's not technically gifted. He just knows how to work what he's got and the few moves he has are spectacular, my two favorites being a slam that looks like a standing Rock Bottom and his suplex toss. The finish of the match wasn't particularly good; interference from the Wyatts and then the Usos flying all over the place as usual.

I really hope Luke and Erik win the tag titles at Money in the Bank. They're growing in strength and can continue to add some strength to the tag division.

The main event saw Kane and Roman trade slow punches and slow slams for a while. It wasn't a bad match, it just wasn't particularly exciting until the end when Roman got to go all Roman-mode. Even if he has the most boring match imaginable, I have to admit that a Roman Reigns comeback always wins me over and gets me hyped.

And Roman's had a ton of comebacks lately. Even after Orton interfered, grabbed the belts, and Kane gave Reigns a chokeslam, Reigns popped back up and speared both of them.

Seeing Reigns with the belt was a nice omen of the future, as championship gold is certainly his destiny, even if the ending of SmackDown virtually guarantees he won't win.

One of the only unacceptable outcomes.
I look forward to a Roman/Cena feud someday. Perhaps that's the SummerSlam match I'd vote for - though the prospect of Lesnar is impossible to pass up on.

I think in Roman and Cena there exists the actual battle between the present and the future, and it's quite possibly the most narratively appropriate WWE World Heavyweight Championship feud.

I don't think we're going to get that, though, and apart from its symbolic appropriateness or significance, it's probably not the best main feud right now. I really can't predict what's going to happen at Money in the Bank, and I don't really care to. Which is a good thing.

A few weeks back I wrote that I couldn't see how The Money in the Bank could turn out well at all. I've softened on that perspective. Now, I'm just interested in the outcome, no matter what it is (though Orton winning is something I cannot abide, but I doubt I have to worry about that).

One thing is for sure; we will have a new Champion, or Champions, this Sunday, and that's always an exciting thing. So get ready, mark your calendars, and cheer for your favorites.

May we get the Champion we deserve.

In Punk's name we pray.

Give me your predictions, hopes, and dreams in the comments section. Or Tweet and follow the WWE 2K14 Champ @MaximusWrestler.

Thanks for reading, and have a nice day!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

THE NXT REPORT (6/26/14)


I began watching NXT with "TAKEOVER" on the WWE Network, and it has become a pleasant escape into an alternate WWE Universe every Thursday night.

The hour-long broadcast is typically filled with a wide assortment of gimmicks and burgeoning talents, many of whom seem destined for success in the WWE's not too distant future.

Sami Zayn vs Tyler Breeze at NXT TAKE OVER
I assume there are many wrestling fans such as myself who typically stick to one show (RAW or SmackDown) a week, and don't bother watching others, or simply aren't aware of the existence of shows like NXT. Of the various non-flagship WWE programs available throughout the week, I recommend NXT above all others.

The matches are typically lengthy, the performers permitted to hone their craft and showcase their talent. There is an overwhelming air of positivity throughout the show that isn't particularly present on RAW and SmackDown. In a wrestling world overrun by authoritative, torturous boss-characters like Stephanie and Triple H, where it's obvious Vince McMahon is barking in Michael Cole's ear, where the same old faces keep smiling or frowning at the camera, it's nice to visit a realm where such intrusions are almost entirely nonexistent.

Everyone, from the tightknit, enthusiastic crowd, to the commentators, to the up and coming wrestlers themselves, performs with a joviality and hopefulness in keeping with the spirit of the show - that of a WWE farm league.

The fabulous spectacle of RAW or a pay-per-view is traded for an endearing intimacy between the self-aware crowd and the self-aware wrestlers. Mistakes may happen, gimmicks might not get over, matches may occasionally slow to the point where the crowd gets restless, but it's all fascinating and purely entertaining. Audiences get to observe these young athletes organically learn ring-psychology, and this aspect of the show alone makes it one of the more interesting bits of programming the WWE Network has to offer (though NXT is also on Hulu).

While pageantry is certainly one of the appeals of WWE wrestling, NXT is a welcome diversion, a focused, humble effort where wrestlers shake hands before and after their matches, and gimmicks are embraced for what they are.

The night began with a Vaudevillians victory.

I'm torn about this particular gimmick. I can appreciate the humor in it and I'm a sucker for old-timey-movie references. It's over with the NXT crowd, understandably so, as it's yet another irony-gimmick in keeping with the humor-aesthetics of The Internet Era. But I don't see it getting over on RAW. However, instead of being overly critical of things the way I am on THE RAW REVIEW, I think it's best to write from a spirit of pure positivity for NXT. So, in that sense, The Vaudevillians own their gimmick well.

Bull Dempsey debuted against Xavier Woods, promoted on commentary as a "throwback". The match itself was slow and a bit stiff, but the promo Dempsey cut at the end was better than anything I've heard from the likes of Orton and other "made men" in the WWE. Short, direct, and spoken with confidence.

Becky Lynch also debuted to defeat Summer Rae. This match was dance-heavy, and a little sloppy at times, but Becky had the crowd on her side and demonstrated some percolating signs of charisma.

The highlight of tonight's episode was the main event: a match between RVD and Adrian Neville.

As the crowd rose to their feet for RVD's entrance, there was an overwhelming sense of appreciation that Mr. Monday Night was stopping by.

I think the reason I like watching NXT is because it reminds me of The Wrestler. There's a grungy energy to the experience, a sense that anyone is a potential star, and that a guy on the bottom card of RAW is an absolute hero on NXT. The people are hungry and appreciative and the wrestlers are similarly inspired.

This energy contributes to matches, making even mediocre bouts feel significant.

Neville and RVD traded lots of kicks and flips, rolling around inside and outside the ring, and delivered, overall, a good show.

My favorite part of the entire experience, however, was Tyler Breeze on commentary.

Tyler Breeze is yet another comedic heel gimmick that I actually like. He's timely with his retorts and superb in the ring (be sure to watch his match against Sami Zayn at NXT TAKE OVER). His verbal sparring with Renee Young was thoroughly entertaining.

And it's nice to see Renee behind the commentator's table - it's strange to consider how I've never heard a female commentator in all the time I've watched wrestling. She might say, "Oh!" one too many times during matches, but she is the most genuinely likable person in the WWE today.

Unfortunately Sami Zayn did not wrestle, but in a brief, good backstage interview, he addressed the fact that Tyson Kidd betrayed him last week. He insinuated that this was the beginning of a feud.

Sami is my favorite NXT wrestler even after only having seen him a few times. He looks like my created WWE 2K 14 wrestler, and his entire being resonates with everything I'm intrigued by and value. There are great things in his future so long as the WWE doesn't tamper with his gimmick or misuse him. He is the embodiment of NXT's positivity and charm, his upbeat attitude and antics a welcome addition to the land of brohim posturing.

So if all you're watching is RAW or SmackDown, and pay-per-views on the WWE Network, do yourself a favor and check in to NXT. It might take an adjustment if you're accustomed to pomp and circumstance, but once you settle in, you'll discover signs of hope for the future of the WWE.

In Punk's righteous name we pray.

Come back next Tuesday for an all new RAW REVIEW. And don't forget Money in the Bank this Sunday at 8:00 PM EST.

And definitely don't forget to follow WWE 2K 14 Champion Maximus The Gladiator  @MaximusWrestler.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Since the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum, developer Rocksteady Studios redefined the comic book genre in the video game medium, and demonstrated that with the proper care and consideration, pop-culture icons like The Dark Knight could be expertly brought to interactive life (to read more on how Superman could be realized in a videogame click here).

With each new iteration (even Batman: Arkham Origins developed by WB Montreal), the Rocksteady approach to successful Batman-gameplay has brought players deeper into the mind and body of the Caped Crusader. With the addition of The Batmobile and a massive, more open Gotham for players to explore, Rocksteady aims to add the final piece to the Batman-experience puzzle in their swan song, Batman: Arkham Knight.

But where do we go from here?

Rocksteady plans to leave the Arkham series and move on to new projects after Arkham Knight becomes available, which likely means WB Montreal or a new in-house developer will inherit the property and continue expanding upon it.

While the prospect of sequels, especially an unhealthy, yearly deluge of them, is always cause for concern, as a Batman fan, I can't help but already be looking forward to whatever future video game adventures my favorite comic book character finds himself in. Certainly we should savor Arkham Knight, and the great Batman games we already have, but one can't help but imagine what might be coming someday in the not too distant future.

And so, examining what Rocksteady and WB Montreal have already done, considering that the basic gameplay tenets originated in Arkham Asylum haven't changed much in five years (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), here are some thoughts and suggestions on where the Arkham series could go, and how, like other stalwart franchises, it might evolve over the next several years.

Will they keep the "Arkham" Moniker?

Comic book titles have proven increasingly problematic over the years. It's hard for them not to all start sounding the same, especially when they go the colon route.

The Arkham series painted itself into a corner, establishing "Arkham" as a brand, integrating the word into each title. It's hard to imagine that they'll ever drop the "Arkham" from the series because it's become such an integral aspect of the story, the series, and the marketing.
But such comes at the cost of originality and integrity.
Is it really go to be Batman: Arkham Something for the next decade?

I suggest that the "Arkham" be dropped after Rocksteady's fond farewell.
The word "Batman" is enough to move units (to keep the businessmen happy), and people will always want a good Batman game regardless of whether or not it continues in the same storyline or even the same universe that we've grown accustomed to over the last five years. Being that Rocksteady means Arkham Knight to be their farewell, to continue with the Arkham story and name simply feels like milking the cow that's already given you everything it's got.
It's best for Batman video games, and the series as a whole, if a fundamentally new storyline is established, preferably taking place after the events of the next Arkham game, similar to how the Halo series birthed a new trilogy with Halo 4 after Bungie went independent.
Dropping "Arkham" permits the writers a little more freedom and also means the titles won't start sounding hackneyed. When you get a bunch of people in a room thinking "Okay, how do we work Arkham into this title?", creativity has died.
We don't need an Arkham: Brotherhood and an Arkham: Revelations and an Arkham: Unity.

And those certainly aren't the titles Batman deserves.
How many times can they remake Gotham?

Gamers gave Arkham Origins and WB Monreal a hard time. Unjustly. The game remains every bit as enjoyable as the previous Rocksteady games, and actually boasts a superior story and superior writing. My own reservations about it being a copy and paste game quickly vanished when, after about thirty seconds in, I realized the unavoidable truth; it is is good.
But will WB risk hearing the same criticisms and damaging the brand for the inevitable Arkham Knight sequel by simply rehashing the Arkham Knight environ? Will they rush another game simply to capitalize on the popularity of the series, re-use the new larger Gotham in, and once again add some signature touches and a new story?
If it's written by the same people who wrote Origins, I know I'd buy it, but the idea of continually pumping out Batman games in the same environment over and over again is unsettling. Quality would inevitably suffer, as well as innovation.
But this isn't Assassin's Creed where the developers have a wide-assortment of time periods and locations to choose from (unless they eventually alter the franchise and set it in a different time and a different Batman-universe).
So where do future Batman games go, literally? I don't suggest they leave Gotham, I just wonder at the longevity of the environment, but perhaps a drastic enough change will come to the series, similar to how The Legend of Zelda approaches Hyrule, that it won't grow stale.
I foresee getting one game the likes of Origins a year or two after Knight, and I foresee the same complaints from snarks and reviewers, proclaiming "copy and paste" and "cash-in". And it very well may be, but it also might be amazing. And then, perhaps a year or two after that, I foresee a proper sequel with a re-tooled city built from the ground up.
But how much can Gotham really change before it starts to feel too much like retcon and still remain interesting? How much can be added before developers are just adding things to add things? Will we ever really need to control the Batwing or the Batboat?
Perhaps, to keep things fresh, the developers of Batman games in the distant future might want to re-think their release-model entirely and allow, organically, to work with a single environment for several years.
Serialized Batman Adventures

Unlike other cash-cow yearly franchises, comic book characters actually do lend themselves to serialization.
Perhaps the future of games like the Batman: Arkham Series is a model not unlike TellTale's superb Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us games.
If Batman: Arkham Origins was a forty dollar expansion that was marketed as a forty dollar expansion, would you have disliked it so much? Would you have complained that it was a copy and paste game, or thought that it was amazing?
What if future Batman video game developers release their main, flagship game, and then, instead of rushing the development cycle on the sequel, permit a team to craft new stories utilizing that flagship game's tech and engine over the course of the true sequel's development.
The way this would work is as follows:  Batman: Arkham Knight is released. Six months later Season 1: Part 1 of a new Batman adventure is released as DLC and the season runs for a year, leading up to the release of Season 2, and so on, each new episode focusing on new characters, new conflicts, and even new areas of the already existing map.
These episodes would be available through a Season Pass, or, eventually, a compilation disc.
This model emulates the medium from which The Dark Knight came, and would inspire continuous conversation among videogame and comic book fans throughout the year. They would ask their friends, "Have you played the latest episode?" with the same intensity they discuss their favorite television shows.
Such addresses gamers' complaints that a yearly release model or a game like Origins is a mere cash grab by remaining transparent about what's actually in the game, ensuring that gamers know what to expect and simply judge the quality of the stories. More importantly, such a model also expands upon the Batman-videogame formula in a potentially exciting way that more closely emulates the source material.
Will there ever be Multiplayer?

The addition of multiplayer seems inevitable. Batman: Arkham Origins dabbled in an MP feature, but it wasn't supported and didn't resonate with audiences. There were some novel concepts, but it just didn't really work.
For multiplayer to work in a Batman game, it probably shouldn't involve Gears of War-like third-person shooting.
It would have to involve co-operative play. Far too often videogame features, whether they be small tropes like maps or additional gameplay features like multiplayer, are not imagined from the perspective the characters in the videogame itself. And, similarly, the reason gamers play such a game is not taken into consideration. If designers consider what's fun about Batman and who Batman is and why players want to be Batman, then it becomes clear that a natural extension of his world in the form of multiplayer is playing with your friends, each friend becoming a member of the extended Bat-family.
Gamers have been hungry to explore Gotham with a sidekick for a while now, and should such a feature never come at the cost of a great, single-player narrative, I'm all for it.
Swinging and souring through Gotham as Batman, Robin, and Knightwing together would certainly be a thrill, and entirely plausible on current technology.
A Truly Living City
Each of the Arkham games, even the forthcoming Knight, establishes a conceit that leaves Gotham overrun by thugs and short on regular citizens.
In the future, it would be nice to see Gotham fully-realized as an inhabited urban sprawl not unlike the heavily populated environments in the works of Rockstar Games.
The Arkham series has demonstrated a natural evolution toward an increasingly open environment, all the while placing restrictions on the worlds and gamers, albeit in natural, intelligent ways - in Asylum Batman was on an island, in Arkham City Batman was in a massive prison, and in Arkham Knight the citizens have fled due to the Scarecrow's threat of fear toxin.
Moving forward, it's only natural for the city to become increasingly alive, populated with the citizens Batman is sworn to protect. Such could create a stronger connection between gamers and The Dark Knight and his home - imagine hearing NPCs shout, "It's Batman!" as you sour through the sky, or shudder in awe if you happen to land in the city streets.
I envision a city that depends upon the Batman, a city that will descend into twisted chaos or ascend into a beacon of justice depending upon how gamers play. Instead of implementing arbitrary morality meters, why not allow the actual look of the city to indicate how selfish or altruistic players are in the role of The Dark Knight?
The more Batman takes care of random crimes throughout the city, the more he takes care of his home, the lower the crime rate will be, the happier the citizens will be, and the less likely it is that the cops will be on the look-out. The city will look cleaner, brighter, and be an all-around more hospitable place.
The more Batman ignores saving citizens, instead focusing solely on his larger, main-narrative pursuit of justice, the darker and drearier the city will become, the angrier and more terrified the citizens will be, and the more vigilant the Gotham Police will be in capturing The Dark Knight.
In this way the psyche of the player and Batman will be reflected, literally, in the world itself and offer opposing, yet equally exciting gameplay paths.
There wouldn't need to be a day and night cycle; it could remain permanently night, with the occasional cutscene during missions explaining the passage of time if necessary. Batman's activities would be made up of everything we've seen in previous games, but also everything we've seen in comics and films and cartoons, but have never really had the chance to partake in - random crimes like robberies, murders, and the like. Occasionally, it would be interesting and in keeping with the theme of moral-examination, if different crimes occasionally spawned at the same time and players would have to choose which one they valued more - perhaps a woman is being robbed in an alley while a bank heist is going down across town.
Integrating news broadcasts into this thriving city could also act as an extension of Batman's choices - filling players in on the consequences of their actions. For instance, players that choose to save the woman might hear a news report about how the bank robbers got away, killing two cops in the process. And then the report would give the names of the cops and who they were survived by. Conversely, if players chose to stop the bank heist, they'd hear about how petty crime rates are at an all time high and how five women and two men have been found dead in Crime Alley just last night.

Implementing subtle touches such as these will help draw players even further into the mind and habitat of The Caped Crusader.

I have no doubt that Batman: Arkham Knight will deliver the purest Batman-experience yet, as well as an all-around excellent videogame adventure. As Rocksteady forges a new path, hopefully tackling some of DC's other popular characters, I look forward to seeing what a new developer will bring to the series, and how The Batman might continue on his righteous quest for retribution and justice.
Thank you for reading and be sure to follow on Twitter @MaximusWrestler for more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

THE RAW REVIEW (6/23/14)


When this week's RAW came to a close I was left with little to do other than shrug and say, "Okay."

After a few inspired weeks, I'm left tired and disinterested.

While there were a few exciting and interesting moments, the card was a Smackdown repeat with some typical bottom-barrel RAW shenanigans thrown into the mix. And as much as The Authority (both real and unreal) might want to believe otherwise, adding Kane into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship ladder match at Money in the Bank does absolutely nothing to help build the event. If anything it achieves the opposite.

So as to avoid a repeat of last week's RAW REVIEW, I'm going to avoid applying too much brain power to the Vickie Guerrerro/Stephanie McMahon human-bile-debacle, which was only a natural evolution of last week's puke angle. For some strange reason, Vickie's late husband, the beloved Eddie, was brought into the fold, empowering Vickie to stand up for herself against Stephanie. She became a face in five seconds, got pushed in some brown-stuff, was fired, and then pushed Stephanie in the same brown stuff. And then Vickie paid respect to her husband by shaking her chesticles, kissing her fingers, and raising them towards heaven.

And the people cheered.

May we all be so well-remembered by our loved ones.

Unless I'm not privy to some backstage truth about her leaving, she'll be back as GM of RAW or SmackDown soon enough, like always - keeping things classy and shrill.

The night began with two quick singles matches between Luke Harper and Erik Rowan against Jimmy and Jey Uso. The matches were so quick that there wasn't really any time to absorb or enjoy them. The end of the segment was great though, just from a visual standpoint, with Harper and Rowan holding the tag titles over their heads, tongues lashing wildly.

I'm a little disappointed that Luke Harper's finishing move is simply a clothesline. For someone so strangely talented and diverse in the ring, as well as complex in character, it seems unfairly reductionist.

His entrance is cool, though, sauntering down the ramp to an eerie harmonica-version of "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands". It's good to see someone else standing out in the Wyatt family, especially considering the formidable presence of Bray. Luke has shown he's got his own creepy mic skills, and an awesome in-ring style that Mick Foley accurately summed up as, "Making complete sense, because it makes no sense."

Seth Rollins continues his descent into "on the bubble" territory.

I'm finding his promos worse and worse with each new effort. And that new's not helping matters. I was willing to give it a chance, but it's just not very good. I'd be willing to overlook it if Rollins was having amazing matches, cutting awesome promos, and had an all-around charismatic personality. But if one thing is lacking then it makes everything else look worse.

I can only blame him so much for all of this. He's obviously being the character the WWE tells him to be. But the WWE seems like a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't company where if you don't do what you're told you risk getting fired or worse, buried, and on the other end, if you do what you're told then you run the risk of becoming stale, giving the WWE the satisfaction of blaming you for the failure of your angle, and getting fired or worse, buried.

It seems that in order to be successful WWE Superstars either have to find themselves graciously, luckily in a well-written angle or have to be willing to strike out on their own, improvise with what they're given, and get the crowd on their side before the WWE can put the breaks on it.

Right now Rollins just seems weak, and, as always, it's all Triple H's fault, the heel bastard!

I'm realizing now that having Seth Rollins betray his Shield-mates for Triple H was a bad move for the Rollins character. Had he become a new member of Evolution or immediately been jettisoned to a place of power, it would have been fine. But instead it's as though he's traded-down, accepting a lowly position in the company when, just a few weeks ago, he was a main event player in the most dominant group in WWE history.

Now he's wrestling guys like Kofi and RVD.

There wasn't really any chance he wouldn't instantly become Triple H's lap dog. He has to play the part of a young, naïve kid asking daddy for help. But Seth Rollins has been wrestling for a long time now. Sure, he's only been in the WWE for a couple years, but he's a tried and true wrestler.

Seth Rollins and Trip H...getting close.
He shouldn't be asking for permission, he should be making or accepting challenges. And he should have explained his heel turn not as "What's best for business", but as "what's best for him", likening himself to Shawn Micheals, the famous tag-team betrayer.

Last night on RAW, when Rob Van Dame came out and challenged Seth, Rollins angrily freaked out and started pleading with Triple H to give him the match. "I can handle it! I want it!" Rollins kept hissing at his boss. And then Triple H accepted on Seth's behalf. The same thing happened later backstage when Seth pleaded with Triple H to put Dean Ambrose in the Money in the Bank match.

A highlight of the segment was RVD, surprisingly. He claimed that Triple H and Seth didn't take him seriously enough, and then Seth said, "I would if it was 2005" and then RVD retorted, pretty naturally, "Oh yeah when you were a little kid asking your mom and dad if you could stay up to watch me because you wanted to be a wrestler."

I always like it when a veteran puts a young kid in their place, and as typical as RVD's comeback to Seth's comment was, I liked it. It's the first time since he's been back that RVD has contributed anything in the way of story. And these are the sort of exchanges I miss: someone on the ramp talking to someone in the ring, going back and forth with venom, culminating in a match. There's not enough of that these days. It's a quick, one-off story that easily makes sense and contains the essence of the medium.

The match itself was fine, but the high point of the entire segment was, once again, a crazed, interfering Dean Ambrose.

Dean is my spirit animal.

If I was pushed to my mental and emotional limit, I'm pretty sure it would look a lot like Dean Ambrose. For this reason, among others, he's quickly become my guy, the one I'm rooting for, the man I look forward to seeing above all others. He had a good night on SmackDown that you can read more about here, and he continues to add more and more to his character each week.

I've always enjoyed him, and my fellow wrestling fans and friends helped fill me in on his past excellence, but it's only now that I'm fully able to enjoy and appreciate him on a gut level, because he's not shackled to a group and seems willing to go places other new wrestlers just don't know how to. He understands his character, himself, and knows how to use that all-important mic. He's finally coming into his own in the WWE and it's finally given me someone to admire in Punk's absence.

After attacking Seth in the ring, dragging him around the outside, leaping off the announcer's table, and pummeling Seth some more, Dean grabbed a microphone much to my surprise and went on about how he might as well be put in the Money in the Bank contract match because if he wasn't he was going to interfere, cost Rollins the match, steal the contract briefcase, and that he would, "screw up that entire pay-per-view!" And he tossed the microphone on the mat, ripped the WWE logo off, and then screamed into it some more, and then threw it down again.

He established in this quick tirade that he's a hungry contender, eager for retribution, willing to do anything to get what he wants, but also, very importantly, that he operates outside the rules. His threat to steal the contract briefcase and ruin the entire pay-per-view demonstrates that Dean Ambrose is not your average wrestling character, and that he is indeed interested in becoming the top guy. He exhibits a self-awareness and a welcome destructiveness that breaks down typically boring wrestling conceits and allows for real growth.

He'll also easily win the crowd over with such behavior, without ever needing to address the crowd. Not once has Dean even acknowledged the existence of the WWE Universe since his war against Seth. He just keeps doing exactly what he wants to do for himself. There's something respectable, likable, and decidedly different about that. And I could watch him interfere in Seth's matches for a full calendar year.

Ambrose seems like the kind of guy that could thrive even if the reigns are put on him by the brass. I'd like to think he'd find ways, on the mic and in the ring, to keep pressing, to keep demonstrating how he's a main event player and the future of the company.

The brass is on the Roman Reigns train right now, and while I like Roman, I think most of us can agree that's not the sure bet the WWE hopes he is. I certainly think Roman will be successful, in that the WWE will always use him for big spots and that he's not really in danger of ever descending into Zigglerville. He's like Orton and Batista and Cena - a chosen one.

But he's not The Rock or Austin or Hulk Hogan. Maybe he'll figure out how to deliver a good promo, but he's as stiff as they come on the mic.

He almost always has the expression of a man trying to remember his lines, like this guy:

The confused face of the WWE.
I saw Roman in two backstage segments, one on RAW and another on WWE Network's Backstage Pass, and he's just unnatural, trying too hard, and clearly not yet comfortable in his own skin. All of that is mixed up in natural wrestler-bravado, so he might not even be aware of his stiffness. But he has to loosen up a bit, or never speak, because when he does speak, he's talking, almost exclusively, in clichés like "Actions speak louder than words". Let that be his motto and let him speak in the only way he clearly knows how; visual language.

Roman exudes enough strength in character and charisma during his entrance, his matches, and his final poses that he doesn't really need to literally say anything. He could easily be the strong silent type who sulks around backstage, pacing, eagerly awaiting conflict, disinterested in interacting with anyone, purely focused on attaining his dream. Such scenes would be in keeping with his entrance - he's a lone-wolf now, no friends, and doesn't even enter the same way as other wrestlers.

And then, every so often, he says a few simple, profound things.

Between Roman, Dean, The Wyatts, Stardust and Golddust, Bo Dallas, and a few NXT performers on the come-up, the WWE has entered one of the more visually interesting periods of its history.

Over time, almost imperceptibly, the once bland, primary-color-filled PG-Era has morphed into a surprisingly complex show filled with real-life super heroes of all shapes, sizes, and colors, cult leaders, and motivational speakers. The way many of these characters move, use their facial expressions, and enter the arena, helps create variety and quality with regard to the spectacle of the show.

While we smarks deservedly take WWE creative to task for their bad angles, the upside of the current product is that we are experiencing something of a visual renaissance in the WWE (from NXT to RAW), where our present popular culture is informing gimmicks in pleasant and exciting ways.

The advent of modern cell phones contributes to the beauty of The Wyatt Family's entrance.
Where pyrotechnics once existed purely for their own sake, simple flashlights and spotlights actually contribute visual depth to these characters.

One such character who has quickly become a favorite of mine (and many) is none other than nine and Bo, Bo Dallas.

If anyone from the WWE happens to read this review, let it be known that I'm officially offering my services to write, exclusively, for Bo Dallas. I can be contacted via Twitter @MaximusWrestler.

I have a MFA in Creative Writing, I've been writing this review for two straight years, I wrestled my freshman year of high school, I don't cost much, and even Mick Foley thinks I got good ideas:

Bo's latest exchange with Titus O'Neil (another underused, underappreciated performer) was even better than his SmackDown interaction with Fangango.

"Hey, buddy," he said to Titus after defeating him, and then Titus smacked the mic out of his hands. "Silly me, butterfingers," Bo went on in his gentle, eerie little voice. I really foresee darkness in this character's future, as in Bray Wyatt-like insanity. I want him to win us over with heel-humor for months, to keep winning, and to keep making us laugh, and then for him to do something so vicious and despicable that even I question what I ever liked about the gimmick.

There's so much potential with Bo, and all I hope is that it's permitted to flourish.

Which brings me to quite possibly one of the most interesting things I've seen on Monday Night RAW.

Both Damien Sandow and Big E Langston cut incredibly strange, but fascinating shoot-like promos on RAW. Particularly Big E.

A month or two ago (I can't keep track of anything anymore) I suggested that it would be amazing if Sandow were unleashed, if he were permitted to give worked-shoots.

The WWE flirted with that idea for a week or two after putting Sandow in the Magneto costume - he would interrupt the RAW pre-show, and start shooting on Smackdown, but he'd always be interrupted and never be permitted to finish.

Since then, he's devolved into an identity-crisis gimmick where he wears a new silly costume every week. I sincerely hope all of this will inevitably be remembered in a ten minute segment on the future Sandow DVD in ten years after he's already become a multi-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion: I Am Sandow: The Intellectual Savoir: Hear Me Orate.

While most of the promo was the same, sad shtick we've seen him perform the past couple weeks, he let one little morsel drop that not long ago he was told, "You people don't find me entertaining". That's the kind of thing I can easily environs Triple H or Vince McMahon saying to Sandow, simply because they didn't "get" his gimmick. He went on talking about how he wasn't going to let the fans determine his destiny, which is perhaps an acknowledgement of the fact that people, both casuals and smarks alike, have been sadomasochisticly enjoying Sandow's latest tomfoolery.

He's so good at owning whatever his gimmick is, no matter how terrible, that he can get over with it - the trouble is that we're cheering something bad and that he likely despises.

Big E interrupted Sandow before he could go any deeper, made quick work of him, and then began his own promo.

We rarely hear from Big E so this was a special moment.

In the past, he's given strange, humorous promos, and on Twitter he's exhibited a likable personality that the WWE just doesn't permit on their show.

Big E tweeted some purposefully inflammatory, and wonderfully cutting jokes a few weeks back about Rusev probably not liking "cornbread" and "fried chicken", which is a direct critique of the WWE, who's had Rusev target and destroy several black wrestlers with suspect frequency - Big E among them.

Big E began his speech on Monday in a pretty straightforward fashion, going on about how Rusev is disgracing America, and then things started to get a little odd - in a delightful way.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, and I haven't read anyone else's impressions of this yet, but Big E gradually turned his voice into a stereotypical parody the likes of Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. I heard this as a subtle shoot against McMahon and the WWE for the company's archaic approach to race and racial gimmicks.

It's like he's saying, "You want me to just be the black guy, huh? Well then this is what you get."

At least I'd like to think that's what he's doing; just a subtle auditory middle-finger for having to job to Rusev over and over, despite being a potential top-tier talent.

Moving on...

Much was made about the Ziggler/Barrett match for the Intercontinental Championship.

It was certainly good, but I think the hype, coupled with the fact that it was a rematch from Smackdown, hampered my enjoyment of it.

As always, it was fun and had some great spots, and I appreciated the fact that they actually addressed that it was a title match, even going so far as to have the ref lift the belt, but, knowing the outcome, the drama wasn't there for me.


I can write the same thing for the main event. Perhaps I should have stuck with it, but I'd already seen the handicap heels against faces Money in the Bank contenders tag match on Smackdown.

The only "new" thing that happened was Kane came down at the end of the match and beat some people up.

Between commentary and Triple H and Steph, the idea that Kane is the force of ultimate destruction is really being hammered into our brains, and the more it gets hammered in the more ridiculous it becomes.

They should really just let the whole Kane thing go, but for some strange reason creative feels a need to have a Kane-specific through-line with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Meanwhile Roman Reigns doesn't even remember The Shield existed and Bray Wyatt has no memory of kidnapping and brainwashing a child.

The end of the night was decent, though, with Roman spearing "The Devil's Favorite Demon". I was just happy to see it didn't end with Kane doing his hands going down, fire-starter routine. If we're to believe opposite momentum then Roman doesn't stand a chance on Sunday.

Or does SmackDown matter enough being that there's no brand separation anymore that we should look to that show to decipher who's going to win at pay-per-views?

I'm definitely curious about Money in the Bank. But I'd like to be excited.

There just seems to be so many combustible elements that it's interesting to see how the WWE will finally settle into clear, straightforward championship storytelling. I'm not particularly rooting for anyone (I don't want Dean anywhere near the briefcase, because that thing isn't all it's cracked up to be), and the entire concept of this Money in the Bank World Heavyweight Championship match and the contract match causes nothing but uneasiness.

The Money in the Bank contract itself has become something or a narrative terror throughout the year.

There just seem to be so many ways for things to go wrong that it becomes difficult to imagine how they could go right. It's all in the follow-through, and regardless of the quality of the actual pay-per-view, if the WWE doesn't adequately capitalize on certain superstars it might be bad for business.

Also bad for business is having Daniel Bryan address the loss of the titles for the first time in a sit down interview on the Money in the Bank pre-show! He should just be gone. Having him back at all is a bad idea, but having him back in this unceremonious fashion is disgraceful - unless he participates in the pay-per-view in a larger sense, perhaps assisting one of the younger stars in ascending the ladder.

We need someone calling the WWE out on such decisions, both inside and outside the ring. Hopefully, one day, that man shall return...

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, backseat-books, and the like.

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