Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 04 (AVX: VS #1, Uncanny X-Men #11, New Avengers #25, and Secret Avengers #26)

The most capable and consistent method of telling a story through violence right now is professional wrestling. Action movies have their moments, but the focus there is more on something that will look cool. Wrestling, on the other hand, attempts to further narratives through matches. A fantastic recent example is the Hell in a Cell match from WrestleMania XXVIII between the Undertaker and Triple H. That was a master class in telling a story in a match. While Marvel has promoted AVX: VS as a series that's simply expansions of fights teased in the main series with all of the story taken out, that's a bit of a lie. Even if there isn't a a broad story being told, there's still the story of the fight itself being told. Basic concepts of who these characters are, how they relate to one another, and what they ultimately want can be viewed through how they fight one another. How vicious are they? Do they fight clean or dirty? What strategies do they employ? A lot of information can be communicated through violence, something that even the most basic wrestling matches tend to do.

Take the dark match (pre-show match put on for the benefit of the live crowd and usually featuring wrestlers who either aren't high profile enough to make the main show or a new talent learning how to wrestle in the style of that company) that I saw on Monday night at the taping for WWE Monday Night Raw: Antonio Cesaro vs. JTG. JTG has been with the company for years and never progressed beyond the midcard, beginning as one half of a popular tag team Cryme Tyme. His gimmick is 'urban toublemaker,' which can shift between face (good guy) and heel (bad guy) pretty easily depending on how mean he acts. Antonio Cesaro is a wrestler with lots of experience on the independent circuit as Claudio Castagnoli and, after signing a developmental deal with the WWE, has been working in Florida Championship wrestling as Antonio Cesaro. Recently called up, his gimmick is that he's a former European rugby player that, according to a very brief pre-match promo he cut, broke too many of his opponents, so he's come to the WWE where it's encouraged that he break his opponents. The match was maybe three minutes long and, yet, you could see the basics of each man's character on display. Cesara used mostly striking moves and did so aggressively, like he was legitimately trying to hurt JTG. JTG, on the other hand, was more flashy in his moves, relying less on power than speed and agility, doing moves that would draw notice to himself. This is a fairly standard concept in wrestling: heels don't do 'cool' moves, because that will make people want to cheer them. This division was kept up throughout the match where Cesaro kept relying on power/striking moves and JTG did inventive, flashy counters. More than that, at times, Cesaro seemed like he didn't know what next to do, showing inexperience that JTG capitalised upon. But, JTG could never keep things going because Cesaro was too overpowering -- too strong, too aggressive, just too much. As far as matches go, it was dead simple and didn't tell a broader story beyond who these two were and how they related to one another.

Neither of the two fights in AVX: VS #1 manage to even accomplish that, but they come close in a few areas.

Match #1: Iron Man vs. Magneto

The idea here are two familiar opponents who know each other's abilities and have planned accordingly. Iron Man immediately counters Magneto's magnetic powers, so Magneto hits a big power move. Right there, the pacing is awful. They go from zero to two thousand in no time. Partly a limitation of the page count, but also a sign of not knowing how to structure something as simple as the comic book equivalent of a three-minute match. Of course, part of the problem is that they're sticking Iron Man vs. Magneto in a three-minute match. Watching this fight is like watching the first few minutes of the Undertaker/Triple H match from WrestleMania XXVII where they immediately tried to end things and it didn't work: there's a reason why they're called 'finishers.' They need a solid base to build upon and this match doesn't have that. Instead, it's a couple of quick punches, a big power move, a counter, Iron Man hitting Magneto's finisher on him, Magneto kicking out, Magneto stealing some of Iron Man's moves, that not working too well, so we get into one of those 'punching back and forth' bits that spills to the outside before Iron Man jumps back in the ring to squeek by with a countout win. Lame. It's a filler match that prolongs the feud until the big showdown on PPV. Whose bright idea was to book this match?

Winner: Iron Man via countout [1/2*]

Match #2: Underwater Cage Match - The Thing vs. Namor

Marvel takes a page out of TNA's playbook and books a bigtime stipulation match too early, so it winds up meaning nothing. They begin brawling outside of the underwater cage and, immediately after entering the cage, they begin using weapons. I did like the Thing countering Namor's initial strike, but the use of weapons so early lacks in build. The giant fish is the underwater cage equivalent of a steel chair, I imagine. Namor introduces the weapon, but the Thing counters and uses it against him, pinning him down to escape the cage the winner at 2:37. Namor getting right back up shows how unsatisfying a victory for the Thing this was and, like, the Magneto/Iron Man match, this was simply a transition match that left things open-ended. Except the use of the stipulation and weapons drag it down since they come off as meaningless and ineffective.

Winner: The Thing via escaping the cage [DUD]

Two matches in and AVX: VS is already looking like a complete disaster card with the wasting of stipulation, reliance on big, flashy moves... it's like Vince Russo booked this shit. In future matches, look for the big swerve finishes where allies turn on one another. Also, notice how everyone is sarcastic and kind of jerky: no faces or heels, just a bunch of 'cool tweeners,' because everyone wants to cheat, but no one wants to get booed. Weak. (Also, those 'fun facts' are like the most annoying play-by-play commentary ever.)


Uncanny X-Men #11 doesn't attempt to show violence in the same way, preferring to step back a little and expand upon moments we've seen already in Avengers vs. X-Men from a perspective unique to this title. The closest thing we get to a 'match' is Red Hulk vs. Colossus, which is sort of like watching two surprisingly inept big men go at it. It's just punches and no real strategy -- funny given the Red Hulk's role as a strategist on the Avengers. Just two big men trying to outpower one another, like the Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales or the Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy or the Undertaker vs. Mark Henry or the Undertaker vs. Kane... goddamn, the Undertaker had a lot of shitty WrestleMania matches... But, there is an interesting element here in the way that Colossus's character is one where he is strong and is afraid of losing control. When he does, he freaks out after a while and the Red Hulk takes advantage. Nice bit of storytelling there. I am disappointed that the Red Hulk's big finishing move is the Big Show's Knockout Punch. He always struck me as a Powerbomb sort of guy...

The other glimpses of fights are unremarkable in that regard, getting by on some clever narration by Kieron Gillen. The end of the issue (Cyclops sending out a press release) is a little underwhelming.

New Avengers #25 and Secret Avengers #26 each tell stories that have little to do with one-on-one fights that I can compare to wrestling matches. As such, I don't care about them this week. They're also in their beginning stages and don't offer a lot. It is nice to see that the tie-ins will do more than simply expand upon the main series. We knew that Secret Avengers would be fairly independent in its approach, but how independent New Avengers will be is hard to say for sure yet.

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #3 and, possibly, Avengers Academy #29 (it may simply come down to the ability to buy a rack copy determining if I begin buying tie-in books beyond my existing pull list).