Thursday, August 31, 2017


Who benefits?

That always seems to be the question, doesn't it?  The Batman has made a career of investigating the world's most outlandish criminals.  He understands them as few others ever could.  And yet...he exists in a world where the outlandish can't hope to compete with the impossible.  Yet the impossible seems to happen every day.  How does a mere man keep up with the developments of such a world?  Well, for starters, with a little help.  With allies.  The Batman has many allies.  And he keeps tabs on them all...

The Justice League in all its glory reunites to battle the Crime Syndicate, comprised of evil counterparts to each of its members.

Orion of the New Gods questions his origins as he defines the last great era of the Fourth World.

Batman's greatest foe becomes Superman's worst nightmare: the Joker takes control of the whole world...

As if that's not bad enough, Lex Luthor is elected president of the United States!

Hal Jordan begins his work as the Spectre.  One of his first acts is resurrecting his best friend, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow.

Imperiax declares war on Earth, and it's once again Superman who leads the way against the apocalypse.

The Joker prepares his final punchline when he discovers he has a terminal brain tumor.

Batman dreams of the future, and envisions a world in the grip of Lex Luthor and Brainiac.

In the real world, he finds his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, framed for murder.

Can it get worse?  He becomes hounded by the mysterious Hush.  Is Tommy Elliott somehow responsible for all his troubles this decade?

He dreams of a Superman raised in the Soviet Union.

The Batman's partner, Tim Drake, Robin, leads a team of new Teen Titans.

He dreams of the Justice League's encounters with a team called the Avengers, a kind of memory he doesn't remember having.

He begins working alongside Superman on a regular basis.

And again...who benefits?  He finds himself devastated by the consequences of Sue Dibney's murder.  Dibney was the wife of Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man, Batman's only investigative rival.  Her death exploded the superhero community, revealing a time when the Justice League...Did it really happen?  Did they dare alter the Batman's memories?  How would that even be possible?  The most disciplined mind...He realizes for the first time, the world really is bigger than the Batman...

He never trusted Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern.  He seemed vindicated when Jordan went rogue and tried to remake the universe in his image.  Unlike the others, he never forgave him, even when Jordan sacrificed himself to save the planet, even when he assumed the awful mantle of the Spectre.  So what, then, when Jordan reclaims the power ring of Green Lantern?

And can he ever forgive himself for Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle's murder?

Seven heroes converge in an intricate tapestry against the Sheeda horde.  Batman is one of the few to comprehend what happens.

He remembers what it was like to accept his first partner, Dick Grayson, Robin, into his life.

Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman realize how far they've let things spiral out of control, but not before chaos truly erupts at the behest of Superboy-Prime, who has been driven mad observing a world he believes has corrupted the very idea of the superhero.

Superman discovers a terminal illness, and unleashes his full potential for what he believes to be his final days.

In the aftermath of crisis, a world without its biggest heroes struggles onward.  Ralph Dibney wrestles his demons.  John Henry Irons, Steel, realizes Lex Luthor has tricked John's niece into believing his lies.  Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire make a heroic trek back from the edge of the galaxy.  Black Adam attempts to fill the power void.  Booster Gold loses it.  And Renee Montoya makes a curious new friend, a man who calls himself Charlie.  Who asks her the most important question she'll ever have: How will she ever live with herself again after the brutal murder of her partner, Crispus Allen?  It's a whirlwind, epic year, and where is Batman during all of it?  Convincing himself that he's freed himself of his crusade.

And yet...then he meets his son, Damian Wayne.  And everything changes.

At least his allies in the Justice League bring themselves back together.

Freddy Freeman attempts to prove he has what it takes to claim the mantle of Captain Marvel.

The Justice Society takes it upon itself to train the next generation of heroes.

The Amazons are tricked into declaring war on America.

Regardless of the Batman's feelings toward Hal Jordan, he must feel the urgency of Sinestro's renewed war against the Green Lantern Corps, this time leading an army of yellow ring bearers.

And lo!  There came a time when the New Gods died...

Hush?  Or is it Dr. Hurt?  Hurt didn't just torment the Batman, he destroyed the Dark Knight's mind...leaving him ripe for the terror of Darkseid's Omega Beam...

Superman's world comes crashing down in the wake of Brainiac's latest defeat.  There's a new world of Kryptonians suddenly just around the corner, and Jonathan Kent is dead.

But Barry Allen, the Flash, is finally back!

Lost in time, Bruce Wayne's once and future successor, Dick Grayson, accepts the mantle of Batman, with Damian Wayne at his side as a volatile new Robin.

The dead rise, but then hope returns in the form long lost heroes returning.  But at what price?

And who benefits?

Adapted from DC YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
SUPERMAN #160, 171
BATMAN #608, 655, 676
52 #1

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Waverider referred to it as an event horizon, a massive convergence of crises.  But it's a little difficult to explain without examples, so that's exactly what I'm going to give you...

The unthinkable happened for the first time when Lois Lane discovered that Clark Kent was Superman.  In some circles this was always the worst kept secret in the universe, but Superman had managed to keep his secret identity intact, even from a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who'd been obsessed with him for years, until he had become engaged to Lane and felt continuing the ruse was no longer morally justifiable.  It was a testament to Superman's character all the way around, just one of his many defining moments that decade.  If only it hadn't been followed by a bigger one so soon...

Before that could happen, I myself was drawn into these events in the near future, when the hero once known as Hawk became the villainous Monarch and sought to protect his identity, except he couldn't account for a man being sent into the past to stop him, a man who became Waverider.  A man named Matthew Ryder.  Me. 

The Greek gods went to war, sending Wonder Woman into a truly epic struggle.

Superman's next crisis involved Brainiac, against whom he assembled an army of allies.

John Stewart assumed stewardship of Oa's Mosaic, attempting to maintain peace among a legion of alien species.

Doomsday came for Superman, at last.  His epic battle against an unconquerable monster led to their mutual destruction, an unspeakable outcome for a world suddenly without its greatest protector.

Similarly, the brilliant, drug-enhanced Bane targeted Batman, breaking his back and taking control of Gotham City.

In both instances, these icons were replaced, for a time, by pretenders to the throne. 

Alien parasites came to Earth and transformed unsuspecting citizens into a new breed of superhero.

Driven mad by the utter destruction of Coast City, Hal Jordan declared war on the Green Lantern Corps so that he might obtain enough power to bring his beloved city back.

Bart Allen arrived from the future to create a new kind of Kid Flash, the single synapse Impulse, pushing the concept of speed, and the Speed Force itself, to new heights.

Jordan's mad quest converged with Monarch's, who elevated himself to the villain called Extant, threatening all of reality, until it collapsed around them with a cosmic rebirth.  In the aftermath, David Knight took up the Starman legacy, and redefined it, as well as the concept of the superhero.

Diana lost the role of Wonder Woman to Artemis but continued her fight for justice in Man's World.

Green Arrow died in a fiery explosion.

Neron struck literal deals with the devil across the villain landscape, significantly augmenting their threat level, notably revitalizing Lex Luthor so that he could plague Superman anew.

Heroes across two realities collided.

I witnessed a chilling vision of a future in which Superman walked away from his never-ending crusade.

In the present, he had the extraordinary development of working alongside Lex Luthor to combat the extinction of the sun, which only Hal Jordan's redemptive sacrifice ultimately prevented.

Then, of course, he finally married Lois Lane.

Batman tackled one of his greatest cases ever, seeking the identity of the Holiday Killer.

Superman and Batman led a spectacular revival of the Justice League.

And then Superman became radically altered, transforming into an energy being complete with a bold new look.

The Godwave made its way through the galaxy, wreaking havoc on everyone's powers.

Iris Allen wrote her late husband Barry Allen's life story.  This is significant, as he had been known as the Flash.

A cataclysmic earthquake hit Gotham.

The heroes of the 853rd century united with the modern day to battle the Tyrant Sun.

The Justice Society made a triumphant return.

Hal Jordan completed his redemption by becoming the new host of the Spectre.

Waverider saw all of this, and I suppose I ought to believe him.  His future is mine, his past mine.  He has seen wonders.  What effect does this have on a man?  I suppose I'll find out...

Adapted from DC YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
SUPERMAN #66, 75, 123
BATMAN #492, 500
JLA #1
JSA #1

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


The Psycho-Pirate knows.

Here's the thing, as anyone who understands Green Lantern and the myriad color spectrum around him knows, emotions control everything.  He who controls emotions, controls...everything.  Except for himself.  That's always been Psycho-Pirate's biggest failing; here is a villain who isn't defeated so much as defeats himself.  That is, as I'm sure you'll agree, that most villains suffer from extreme overconfidence that eventually collapses in on itself, but the Psycho-Pirate is different.  He channels emotions thanks to the Medusa Mask.  Anyone foolish enough to look directly at him immediately falls to the power of the mask, and his mastery of emotion.  Just not his own.  This is called irony.  Being aware so keenly of the power of emotion, he becomes overwhelmed by it, the totality of it.  It makes him somewhat cosmically aware.  He comprehends things on a scale few others can imagine, but he becomes paralyzed by this knowledge.  He doesn't know how to overcome this. 

He certainly doesn't know what to do about the multiverse.  Because while others may be aware that it exists, only Psycho-Pirate knows how they interact.  Or rather, how they once collapsed.  During a crisis...

All of time creeps into this vision, naturally.  The Psycho-Pirate knows that Superman, when he was a boy, once worked alongside the Legion of Super-Heroes, in the 30th Century, but that this alliance came to a permanent end that sent them in disparate directions, perhaps to the detriment of them both, if they ever understood what the Psycho-Pirate could see...

The Psycho-Pirate saw the story of Batman unfold, from the very beginning to recruiting allies in Robin and Batgirl.

The daughter of the Batman from Earth-2, the Huntress, stepped across the multiverse.

Mongul arrived and pitted Superman against Martian Manhunter.

A team of new Teen Titans gathered, and Deathstroke the Terminator took on a contract against them.

Primus took charge of the Omega Men and launched a crusade in the Vegan system.

Superman and Batman waged separate battle against the amazing Spider-Man and a rampaging Hulk, respectively.

On Earth-2, the Justice Society expanded into the All-Star Squadron.

Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew emerged in the multiverse.

The Legion battled the greatest darkness that ever lived in the final campaign of Apokolips.

There occurred a crisis on Earth-Prime.

The Teen Titans clashed with the X-Men.

King Arthur returned in the far future.

Ambush Bug cracked reality in his massive debut.

Jason Todd debuted as the new Robin.  His origin was much the same as Dick Grayson's.  Or was it?

Lobo became the most infamous last of a kind.

A ronin in the distant past may have been conjured by a madman in the future.

The Batman of Earth-1 met the Batman of Earth-2.

The trial of the Flash became inevitable after he murdered his arch-nemesis, the Reverse-Flash.

Swamp Thing learned that he wasn't actually Alec Holland, but rather an earth avatar merely convinced that it was Holland.

Deathstroke and Terra took out the Judas Contract on the Teen Titans.

The legacy of Superman was examined at various points in the future.

The Justice Society on Earth-2 disbands.

And at last...the Crisis.  The Psycho-Pirate watches in horror as the Anti-Monitor declares war on the multiverse, becoming an unwitting pawn.  Eventually, the multiverse collapses...and all of reality resets, with only the Psycho-Pirate knowing that any of it ever happened...Most tragic of all is the sacrifice of Barry Allen, the Flash, after having finally cleared his name of murder, too...

And what of the Superboy of Earth-Prime?  What indeed?

Booster Gold arrived from the future in order to become a superhero of the modern day.

An aging Batman confronted the twilight of his career, having descended into nightmare.

A comedian was murdered.

Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

The Psycho-Pirate witnessed Superman born anew.

Darkseid launched a campaign against Earth in the present.

The Justice Society retired into a never-ending battle.

The Psycho-Pirate saw Batman's origin recounted once more, and then Wonder Woman's.

The Question emerged once more.

The Justice League found a sense of humor.

Jason Todd's origin changed.

The son of Batman was conceived.

No one could stop the Manhunters.

The Joker took his madness too far, arbitrarily paralyzing Batgirl.

Buddy Baker, Animal Man, began a journey toward the meta.

A man in a Guy Fawkes mask battled the forces of anarchy in the near-future.

Darkseid sought the Anti-Life Equation.

The Psycho-Pirate sees fans vote for the death of Jason Todd.

A cosmic invasion occurred.

Dream woke up.

The Doom Patrol crawled from the wreckage.\

The Huntress reincarnated on Earth-1.

Batman explored a serious house on a serious earth.

The Legion reached maturity.

Tim Drake became the third Robin.

The Psycho-Pirate observes the origin of Green Lantern.  And he wonders...

Adapted from DC COMICS YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
THE NEW TEEN TITANS #1, 2, 16, 42
CAMELOT 3000 #1
BATMAN #357, 404, 408, 426, 442
SUPERMAN #400, 423

Monday, August 28, 2017



And lo, there came a time when the Teen Titans went their separate ways.  Crushed in their idealism by the Justice League, the young heroes disbanded in the wake of their failure to prevent the assassination of peace activist Arthur Swenson.  Convinced that they were doing more harm than good, Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Kid Flash, and Hawk & Dove gave up their costumes, but found a new benefactor in Mr. Jupiter, and someone their own age, Mal Duncan, who still believed in them. 

Green Arrow challenges Green Lantern to prove he cares as much about humans as he does aliens.  Together, they hit the road and explore America. 

Media mogul Morgan Edge is discovered to be under the employ of a dark god.

Superman's worst nightmare, the existence of Kryptonite, finally ends, but then he begins losing his powers, too.

Escape artist Thaddeus Brown finally meets the one trap he can't break free from: death itself.  His mysterious pupil Scott Free, however, takes up the Mister Miracle identity in tribute.


Batman is captured by the League of Assassins and locked in a prison cell.  He finds his cellmate Talia beguiling, and in many ways the perfect match he never expected to find.  Then he meets the master of the League, Ra's al Ghul, who reveals that Talia is his daughter, and the whole reason the League was sent after Batman was to trick him into falling in love with her. 

A man named Damian and a woman named Linda are arguing, casting recriminations against each other, and all their secrets are exposed.  Linda accuses Damian of having murdered her previous lover.  Before he can object, a Swamp Thing appears and murders Damian.  Linda can't know that this Swamp Thing is her reanimated lover.

Green Arrow's quest to redeem Green Lantern's humanity hits a snag when he discovers his sidekick Speedy has become a junkie, and he had no idea.

Mister Miracle reunites with the love of his life, Big Barda, as they confront the vengeance of Apokolips, the world Scott Free escaped years ago.

John Stewart is mad at the world but feels totally impotent to affect real change.  Then he's awarded the power ring of Green Lantern.


The Seven Soldiers of Victory reunite from across time to battle their greatest foe.

Jason Blood becomes the Demon
and if you look for rhyme or reason
you'll just end up feeling sick
for 'tis a king's most wicked trick.

Wonder Woman ends a personal crusade to prove herself in the world of man on its own terms and resumes her Amazonian crusade by returning to Paradise City and performing twelve labors.

Billy Batson once more utters the word "Shazam!" and becomes Captain Marvel, having been denied the transformation for years by the evil Doctor Sivana.

Klarion the Witch Boy
is in the employ
of a mischievous spirit
to test the Demon's wit.

The Sandman enters your dreams in a bright costume.

The Spectre exacts grim wrath on criminals.

Libre briefly has the powers of a god and transcends his enemies in the Justice League, but can't balance the scales of his own nature.


Stalker exchanges his soul in order to become a warrior, but realizes he lost his humanity in the process.

Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein converge into the Firestorm matrix.

The Reverse-Flash murders Iris Allen, the Flash's wife.

Green Lantern discovers Guy Gardner being held prisoner by Sinestro in the Phantom Zone.  Like John Stewart, Guy had been considered an alternate for Hal Jordan's power ring.  In rescuing him, Hal found that Sinestro had broken Guy, leaving him with brain damage and in a coma. 


It's a decade fraught with trauma, all of it orchestrated by the dark god of Apokolips, himself battling a never-ending war in the Fourth World against his counterparts on New Genesis.  In his mad quest for the Anti-Life Equation, Darkseid has the heroes of Earth question everything they had long assumed about themselves.  Eventually the whole affair ends in implosion, and perhaps a rebirth...

Adapted from DC COMICS YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
WONDER WOMAN #203, 204

Thursday, August 24, 2017


It begins with a question.  Simple, really: "How did he lose his hair?"

The person asking is Vic Sage, a TV reporter from Hub City, but he's not doing an on-air piece.  He's having a conversation with Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man.  Did I say "begin"?  Because this is well into the decade, near the end of it, really, 1967.  Ralph has already made his name, and his twitching nose has become world famous, by then, but Vic, at least the one no one knows, the one without a face, is one of the few persons alive who can give the quirky detective a run for his money.  His question concerns Lex Luthor.  Ralph's been wondering why the Justice League of America, easily the decade's biggest story, came together, and Vic asks in return, "How did he lose his hair?"  Vic answers every question with another question.  He just never stops asking.  He's not the kind of guy who keeps friends.  At first, Ralph is mystified.  All he really wanted was brag about being offered membership, something he's sure Vic is never going to receive, something he and Sue can joke about when they have Vic over for dinner, because Ralph's a clown even if he's the greatest superhero detective the world will ever know; rumor has it he conceived the stretching gimmick mostly to drive clients his way.

Of course he bites.  "Do you know?"

"Did you hear about Van-Zee?"  Of course Ralph had.  Van-Zee was another Kryptonian, like Superman, so much like Superman that Lois Lane actually confused the two for long enough that Sylvia DeWitt, a socialite who yearned to be Lois but never had the reporting skills for the gig, decided Van-Zee was good enough for her, and they got married before settling on Venus.  The difference between Lois and Sylvia was about the same as Van-Zee's inability to live up to Superman's legacy; it takes drive to be Superman, as it turns out, not to mention a certain amount of distracting aloofness, which sort of comes with the territory. 

Vic, of course, doesn't mention why Van-Zee is significant, but it's enough for Ralph to realize Lex Luthor, by most accounts a millionaire philanthropist, is probably the elusive madman who has been plaguing Superman throughout the decade.  But what does that have to do with his hair?

"Trick question: Was Superman a part of the Justice League's first adventure?"  When the alien parasite Starro came to Happy Harbor, it triggered the convergence of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, the Flash, and Green Lantern, all the major superheroes who'd appeared in the wake of Superman.  Ralph knows Superman wasn't a part of this adventure, except that he offered the new team his blessings.  So technically no.  And yes. 

He also knows Superman had nothing to do with the spectacular circumstances in which Allen Adam was transformed into Captain Atom at the height of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War, thus inadvertently becoming one of the decade's defining figures.  It wasn't long after this, actually, that Ralph first assumed the Elongated Man identity.  He investigated Adam's story and found that it checked out. 

The Justice League, meanwhile, battled another amazing enemy, Professor Ivo's android Amazo, who could duplicate the powers of each member, and then later still another would-be conqueror from space, Despero.  Ralph first became aware of Vic Sage when he learned the reporter had been questioning whether or not Lex Luthor had been drawing these aliens to Earth in an effort to discredit Superman, the world's most famous extraterrestrial.  Vic's response?  "Would that really be out of character?"

Then he asks, "Have you heard of the Phantom Zone?"  Ralph professes ignorance, but then looks into it and discovers that a young Superman had encountered it, only to learn that one of Krypton's greatest villains was trapped there, General Zod.  For the first time, Ralph wonders if Vic is asking for him to look into Superman's past to puzzle out the present's menace, Lex Luthor.  He discovers that Green Lantern's greatest enemy comes from his past, too: the evil Sinestro, who had once been a member of the Green Lantern Corps.

Vic asks Ralph if reality is the same as it ever was, and to illustrate he asks if Ralph heard about the time the Flash met the Flash, in the fateful day Keystone City was discovered at the other end of Central City, twenty years after it seemed to have vanished from existence.  Ralph has no idea what to make of this at all, but he'll be reminded of it soon enough.  Vic asks him something easier, to investigate someone named Pete Ross in Smallville, whom Ralph learns is a childhood friend of another reporter, Clark Kent, whom Vic suggests could in fact be Superman.  Faster than a speeding bullet?

Green Lantern is confronted by Star Sapphire, whom Vic suggests is really Carol Ferris, Hal Jordan's girlfriend.  That's nothing compared to the Justice League meeting the Justice Society, the full-blown version of the Flash meeting his inspiration from another Earth.  Villains with identity issues, Eclipso and Dr. Polaris, appear.  Ralph asks a question for a change, about whether or not the new Teen Titans are a junior Justice League, to which Vic replies, "Who is Donna Troy?"  Green Lantern strikes again, helping Sinestro's successor, Katma Tui, realize her devotion to the Corps.  A third Earth appears, introducing the Crime Syndicate, evil versions of the Justice League.  Ralph asks if there's an evil Elongated Man.  Vic replies, "Where's Zatanna's father?"  Aquaman marries Mera upon settling concerns about her citizenship with disgruntled Atlanteans.  The Riddler strikes Gotham City for the first time in twenty years.  Buddy Baker becomes Animal Man.  The Cluemaster challenges Gotham City.  Vic and Ralph agree that Riddler and Cluemaster have nothing on them, but of course Vic asks, "Have you seen the Batman?"  Ralph takes a break to attend the Flash's wedding to Iris West, although Vic tells asks him, "Did you see the Reverse-Flash there?"  He also wonders if Ralph cares for the idea of Plastic Man, to which Ralph replies, "He's fantastic."

There's a Batgirl in Gotham when Vic officially enters the scene at the same time as the Blue Beetle.  After the Flash races Superman, Ralph asks, "Who won?"  Vic replies, "Does it matter?"  And then, "Did you ever have the feeling you were inhabited by a Deadman?"  Ralph learns that Lois Lane has quit her romantic obsession with Superman.  Vic only says, "Who's creepier than the Creeper?" right after wondering what will become of Guy Gardner, the man who would be Green Lantern.  Then Vic asks Ralph, "Do you know who Julius Schwartz is?" And has he seen Wonder Woman's new costume?  Another trick question, as it turns out.  She's become a spy.  What about Superman's Vietnam adventure?  Or the Justice League's war on Mars?  And, "Who is the Phantom Stranger?"  Who will stop Green Arrow?  Did Abel forgive Cain?  Who will follow Black Canary into the League?  Will the madness of Jean Loring end peaceably?  What drove Snapper Carr to leave the Justice League?

Ralph says..."Enough questions, Vic.  I get it.  I investigated Lex Luthor.  Turns out he's from Smallville.  Can't tell you how hard it was to nail that.  Lex really knows how to stretch the truth.  Clark Kent is Superman, and Clark and Lex were once friends.  Lex inadvertently became a fan of his best friend after Clark became Superman, but their friendship ended forever when Superman asked Lex to study the deadly Kryptonite meteor, and it poisoned him, which among other things caused him to lose all his hair, not to convincing him that Superman had sought to eliminate the one person in the whole world who could expose him for what he really was."

"Did he ever suspect?"

"That's the funny part," Ralph says.  But the Question is no longer there.

Adapted from DC COMICS YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28, 30, 54, 85
THE FLASH #112, 123, 165, 179
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1, 12, 21, 22, 29, 71, 75, 77
GREEN LANTERN #7, 16, 21, 30, 59
DETECTIVE COMICS #327, 351, 359
SUPERMAN #199, 216

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Monkey Flip: NOVA 2017

It's 2017 and Alex Helton's world is changed forever.  Colt Carson has a talk with him early, admitting that he's been a dick, and that he's booked them in a match November.  For the NOVA title, and Alex will be...the defender.  Alex doesn't believe it for a minute.  "Bullshit," he says.  "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit."  Carson likes the reaction so much he has Alex repeat this in the arena, and it's the exact character catalyst he needs to once and finally get over, become a vocally supported, uniquely supported competitor.

But he's booked to lose his match at Idolwild, against Hector Luna, one of the most respected indy wrestlers of his generation.  Luna is booked in March to do the honors for Carson, a month before Carson challenges for the title, which Dixon Wolfe is holding.  Dixon's been champion since last October.  In fact, Dixon will remain the longest-reigning NOVA champion for the foreseeable future (I won't tell you what that means just yet, son).  Alex is booked to lose again in February, and the fans chant "Bullshit!" right along with him.  Little do they know...He loses in March, and the fans chant "Bullshit!" 

In April, he picks up his first win of the year.  It's against Anton Jericho, and yes that's significant, as even Carson has realized that Anton's a Helton guy, making that two active competitors on the roster, including Alex's old friend Scott Peavy, and two departed, slipped-through-Carson's-fingers superstars, Koba and Bronson, both of whom were positively giddy about Alex's future prospects.  Alex wins again in May.  In June, he beats Damian Goch, and Goch makes it clear to the fans, at the end of the match, that he's passing the torch, mouthing "Bullshit!" after taking the pin, and they return it back to him, loudly. 

Finally, finally, in July, at the Warrior card, Alex battles Dixon for the title.  It's the best match of the year.  Everyone says so.  If Dixon's epic reign is to finally end, three months short of a year, it will have to end spectacularly.  They brawl all over the arena.  And this never happens at a NOVA show, except in stretcher matches, which at this point are a thing of the past.  Alex breaks out the kendo stick, which fans haven't seen him use since the match with Koba, last March.  The fans know what this means.  They know immediately.  He didn't even have to argue with Carson about it.  He couldn't believe it then, and he doesn't believe it as he's using it on Dixon, clubbing the champion as he's never clobbered anyone with it before, letting savagery fly, knowing that once again, as Koba helped him realize, that expectations are a funny thing, and that if he's going to make history he's going to have to break his own rules, play to what the fans want, what he's long denied them, what he's long been denied himself.  And Dixon's smiling.  He's smiling from ear to ear.  The fans can't believe it.  They've never seen anything like it.  They know what Dixon knows, that finally, he's being given the fight of his life, and it's from Alex Helton, who having the fight of his life...And just like that, it's over.  One, two, three.  Alex is champion.

Three Rules, in August, is designed to replicate this without duplicating it.  For the first time ever, not only will one man compete in each of the "three rules," but two of them: Alex and Dixon.  First, they have a tornado match.  Scott can't be his partner.  Neither can Anton.  Scott's injured.  In he suffers a stinger against Jull Marias.  It's basically the end of Marias, who sticks around a couple more months (a decisive loss to Carson in February sends a clear enough single).  The immediate concern is that Scott is paralyzed for life.  He remains motionless in the ring for several minutes, and the whole locker room panics.  Alex fights back tears.  Carson gives him the okay to break kayfabe and be there for Scott on the way to the back.  It won't be until October next year that Scott is up to competing again, and that's for the "Beast" program that will establish the persona WPW use to great effect.  He becomes more limited, but emphasizing his power becomes a huge draw.  It would never have worked in NOVA, except fans realize at this precise moment how much Alex and Scott mean to each other, and on that note, embrace Scott's "Beast" for reasons other than the storyline, because he's their last link to one of their all-time favorites at that point.

Anton defeated Steve Williams on the Warrior card; at Three Rules he's Dixon's tornado partner, and at Unleashed VI in September, he's Alex's challenger in the main event.  Alex has Jason Donovan beside him at in the tornado match.  Donovan is a solid indy competitor who'll never break the main event in NOVA, much less WPW or NWW.  Alex gets the win and the pin, on Anton, leaving the fans to anticipate their next encounter, and eager for Dixon to grab the spotlight in the night's next match, under kendo rules.  Everyone knows what this means, and so Alex and Dixon play against expectations.  Alex lets Dixon do the monkey flip.  It draws a decent pop.  He unveils a corkscrew flip from the turnbuckle, with the stick.  It's something he's practiced a thousand times, and half the time been thoroughly dissatisfied with.  The momentum of the move makes it hard to stick the landing, so it's always a matter of the flashiness overcoming the execution.  With the kendo stick?  It's enough not the get tangled up and completely botch it.  Somehow he pulls it off.  He calls it the Hell on Earth, which helps WPW come up with the "Hell Town" gimmick when his name is switched to Alex Dane next year, and the company still wants a nod to his given name.  Somewhat more intimidating than the monkey flip.  Tricky as, well, hell to pull off, so he'll only ever do it sparingly.

The final match of the evening is the stretcher match.  This is the one where they allow themselves to duplicate what they did at Warrior.  They fight all over the arena.  They go into the stands, right among the fans themselves, which never happens at a NOVA show, so that there's no mistake how special a moment this really is.  It creates the right amount of illusion about how personal this is, how desperate they are to end the feud, two matches on the night later.  Alex gets his third and final pin.  He remains champion.  The whole idea was to sell this as an impossibility.  He scaled the mountain after years of futility, only to lose, definitely lose, the night of his first defense, against the man who had proved to be the most dominant champion the company had ever seen, in three grueling matches in more than an hour of wrestling...But he does it.  He comes out with the belt still in his possession.  If someone had told him back in 2012...

At Unleashed, the anniversary card, he beats Anton.  In October, he beats Luna.  In November...the card he dreaded more than any other...he beats Carson.  Easily.  It's such a lopsided contest, he feels guilty the whole time.  He wallops on Carson for twenty minutes.  Carson just keeps taking it, rallying just long enough to be beaten down all over again.  Alex enjoys every minute of it.  He doesn't care for a minute that he already knows the ride ends in December, against Oliver Pine, against a guy who overstays his NOVA welcome after a lengthy title reign to become irrelevant, and it's not just because WPW has come calling with the most unbelievable deal imaginable, the chance to headline World Famous just a few months later, in a sensational battle of indy darlings, against the one-and-only BM Pro...The match with Pine is brutal in ways he hasn't experienced before.  He suspects it's Carson's passive-aggressive parting shot.  Pine works stiff, and Alex's back is screaming out in pain by the end of it, and he's wondering if he'll even be able to wrestle again in a few months, much less live up to the hype...But what the hell, right?  He screams "Bullshit!" at the end of it, and the fans scream it right back at him, and they know what happens next, too, and for a change, they aren't bitter about it.  Not one bit.  They love their fortunate son.  They know he'll deliver there, too.  He's experienced far too much.  As he's walking out of the arena, Scott's there waiting for him, and it's the most emotional moment NOVA has ever experienced.  Pine's moment is completely overshadowed.  He stands ignored in the ring.  (Ah.  Maybe that's why that happens.)  Alex and Scott embrace, and Alex shouts "Bullshit!" one more time, and he's behind the curtain, the deadening curtain, before he can hear it repeated back at him one last time. 

Scott pulls him close, and says, "I love you, brother."  The pain is there on his face as he says it.  His neck will never be the same, and in that moment, he doesn't care.  Alex blows off Carson, still congratulating himself for having engineered all of this, and Alex is suddenly pissed off.  He feels full of ingratitude all of a sudden.  This year has been magical, many things could've been different.  He wonders if it would've been better.  He fears what tomorrow will bring, if he's going to fail on the bigger stage, if he's been set up to fail...Is it just one big cruel joke?  That's why he blows Carson off, when he should be thanking him, thanking him for the years of opportunity, and, yeah, for putting all this past year together, for sticking with him when other wrestlers fell by the wayside, a lot of much bigger names, the ones everyone already knew, the ones who came in and made huge splashes and walked away as soon as they'd been given these same opportunities without so much as...He turns around and gives Carson a hug, scowling the whole time.  Carson is totally bewildered, and Alex begins to laugh. 

Life is good.  His fortunes just took a cosmic monkey flip forward. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Monkey Flip: NOVA 2016

It's 2016, a year away from destiny, and Alex Helton begins it by telling himself the same nonsense he's been telling himself all along, and he keeps getting the same results.  He drops the tornado championship at Idolwild, giving Cairo Brown the rub, and then in February working yet another program with best friend and long-time enabler Scott Peavy.

Things get interesting in March.  The Russian Koba, the monster of a machine who is only just beginning to steamroll the sport of professional wrestling, lobbies hard to work with Alex.  Colt Carson, the perennial prig who succeeds with the cult promotion NOVA despite himself but will never admit it, is dead-set against it.  He won't budge.  It's actually the first crack in his grip on Koba, but he doesn't know it.  Koba knows what he wants, and he's already important enough in the company despite having arrived only last September where Carson is forced to take his demands seriously.  But not without a price.  This is a fight Koba has been waging on Alex's behalf for months.  While Scott had headlined a couple cards over NOVA's three-year existence, Alex never has, despite being one of its most dependable performers.  But in Alex's case, it's made him easy to take for granted. 

Koba, though, knows what he sees, and he threatens to walk away if Carson doesn't give him what he wants.  Carson's retaliation is swift and brutal: Koba's forced to drop the NOVA title to Oz Hedges at Idolwild.  The backlash from fans effectively tanks Oz's popular career, even though he'll go on to certain success in WPW, just nowhere near where he might have if he hadn't been branded a stooge backstage.  Koba will walk away after July, and end up with the same impactful career he'd left behind, taking his eternal fight with Bronson into NWW and perhaps one day even beyond, once Bronson's made his transition to WPW.  Time will tell.  Bronson is a guy who realizes Koba has been given a raw deal, and talks his way into NOVA merely to help point it out, but he has bite behind his bark, and he becomes more successful than even Koba, and in a shorter length of time, and leaves even sooner, just as fed up with Carson's bullshit.

They're the first chinks in the company's armor, but because guys like Alex stay, it survives.  Actually, it's because guys like Alex stay that it survives, because they stick around precisely to prove it's endurable.  But even Alex leaves as soon as he hits it big, a year later...

The match with Koba, at the Pink Mist card in March, becomes Alex's signature, the match that makes his career, solidifies it, makes everyone really sit up and pay attention.  He breaks all his rules.  For one night he embodies everything he'd previously feared.  Koba knows as well as he does that his reigns with the kendo championship didn't mean what his reputation became because of them, but that he'll have to use brutality in order to sell his ability to keep up in this clash.  He in fact uses a kendo stick at various points, never with the signature monkey flip, never again, but every other thrilling variation he can imagine.  It's enough to give Koba his longest match to that point in the company.  Alex loses the match, and the next month is given a complete throwaway match with the eternally overwhelmed Gabe Parkman.  Koba keeps the title a few more months before dropping it permanently, to "Stunner" Steve Williams, who makes it seem credible while Koba works his greatest, and career-defining, NOVA match with Bronson in July's Warrior card, just a few months before Bronson repeats history, claiming the NOVA title and quickly walking out on the company...

Alex is nowhere to be seen the next two months, after the pointless Parkman match.  He resurfaces on the same Warrior card, once again battling Scott.  His pal is well on his way to solidifying the slow burn "Beast" character he'll one day elevate to WPW in the Helton/Peavy feud to end them all, their names changed but their chemistry once and forever intact.  This is all Koba needs to tell Bronson he needs to work with Alex, too, and the lobbying to make that happen...But it does.  At Three Rules in August, Alex and Bronson compete in a stretcher match.  The company had actually ditched the gimmick championships by this point, hoping to legitimize its business to mainstream fans, but this is the card where they will always live on, year after year.  By being placed in one of the eponymous "rules" matches (including a NOVA title match) on the card, Alex is being given the begrudging nod he's earned, and against the company's would-be replacement prospect.  Bronson wins the title at the fifth Unleashed card the next month, and then...yeah.  Where is Alex on that card?  In a losing effort to Damian Goch, an indy star well on his way to accepting that NOVA would be someone else's spotlight..

Carson's become desperate, though.  Now, he's always telling Alex that.  He's confiding in Alex as never before.  In the biggest irony of the whole company, the man Carson has tried so hard to bury over the years by keeping him always just on the cusp of a breakthrough is suddenly desperately needed to keep everything together.  Alex is booked in October to help launch another would-be hot prospect, Tupra, who will dance as Alex has danced over the years, perhaps forever, perhaps never to realize his full potential.  Alex realizes too late that Carson has actually used him, that he used Alex to bury another potential Koba, another potential Bronson, because looking back, he sees that Tupra had exactly that potential, but in being clipped off at the knees...

Still, he doesn't have too much time to feel bad, as he helps launch Anton Jericho into the next level in November.  Jericho is part of the emerging next generation of NOVA stars, and he's just found himself, one of the first stars NOVA has genuinely created.  The experience of working with him at this point in Anton's career is enough for Alex and Scott to remember him later, when they've been granted permission by WPW to write their own checks, so to speak. 

It's important to remember, too, that this is the period where NOVA undergoes a drastic format change that sweeps the rest of the wrestling landscape before long.  Having been exposed years ago as scripted, wrestling had struggled to find a way to reclaim a semblance of credibility.  NOVA's solution is to give real value to wins and losses.  The idea is that a win will advance you further up the card, until you've earned a shot in the main event.  Everyone has a fair chance now, and fresh matchups are guaranteed every month, the spirit of NOVA's competition-based mentality.  Those who rack up a lot of wins will deserve competing for and winning championships, and holding on to them for long stretches at a time (even if NOVA itself will never quite figure out how to keep someone champion for very long). 

In theory, it's the greatest thing to ever happen to professional wrestling.  In's frustrating.  The gods truly must smile on you.  When they do everything's great, and you instantly look like a million bucks.  But if they don't...And Alex fears that once and for all Carson has actually devised the perfect system to justify keeping him down, where hotter fresher names will find Alex low on the card, even if they have less real talent...Case in point, a loss to Oliver Pine, another guy who will never live up to his potential, in December...

But again, all this changes in 2017...!

Elsewhere, Steve Williams begins his campaign for greatness in RoG, which has suddenly lit up hotter than NOVA, thanks to realizing just how far behind it'd fallen in recent years.  Names like Williams, Nero, Bobby Brisco, Gorilla Graham, and Freddie Hammond emerge as the futures of WPW and NWW.  In NWW, meanwhile, Andy Lethal begins to emerge as a breakout star, years before he and Iron Henry join NOVA.  And who's that in October?  Bronson!  But much, much more on in in 2017.  And 2018.  And 2019...And...In WPW, Paul Tugend continues to prove that he's the face of the company for the foreseeable future.  And least, until Alex arrives...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Monkey Flip: NOVA 2015

It's 2015, and Alex is still two years away from destiny, two years away from feeling like he's actually accomplished something, two years away from feeling like he's got any real worth...

For January's annual Idolwild card, the one NOVA always uses to introduce its latest acquisitions, Alex learns that he's working against Mistico, a wrestler who's adopted a famous moniker but who will never, like Sin Cara in another reality, amount to much as a commodity in the United States.  Still, Colt Carson loves Mistico, and so he's booked to have a strong initial push, and that means a win over Alex, which means Alex has to work overtime to get him over, whatever he has to do, which because Mistico has virtually no experience outside of Mexico, basically everything.  This one match puts so much psychological strain on Alex, he questions all over again whether he really wants to continue pushing this dream forward.  What fans typically refer to as botches, happen practically once a minute.  He's a mess once he reaches backstage, a sparsely catered ghost corridor, and throws up.

He begs Carson to let him work with Scott again.  This will always be Alex's go-to solution.  He's scheduled to work against Damian Goch, in yet another grueling kendo championship program, but Carson is tiring of Alex and gives in without much fuss, so the spot and the title go to Idan Judd, an upstart former Olympian who will never live up to his potential, who Alex will wrestle in April for the title, Idan's last match with the promotion, an unmitigated disaster of a match that further erodes Alex's self-esteem.  To the paying fans he seems better than fine, but privately he's falling apart.  For March's card, he's booked in a tornado title match where all he needs to do is put over the increasingly popular Cairo Brown, who has definitely been paying his dues, which will show when WPW comes calling for him, just like Alex.

In May, Alex shepherds the green Lloyd Cole, who will never amount to anything, in a basic and unsatisfying kendo match, before transitioning back to Brown in June, in a match Alex finally feels ready to cut loose.  It's the end of his third and final run with the title, but Alex is more than ready to move on.  Even if his preferred use of kendo sticks is graceful, contrary to the familiar brutality of the weapon, fans more often than not prefer Carson into delivering the expected.  Of course there was a reason Alex never went with that style, because it's brutal and destroys the body.  He can name plenty of colleagues who perform in constant pain because of these expectations, and he desperately wants to avoid becoming one of them.  Brown obliges, and they spend half the match performing Alex's signature kendo stick monkey flip.  When the bell finally rings, and he's tapped out to Brown's River Song, Alex does one last flip, of the kendo stick into the crowd, a symbolic ending to this phase of his career.

In July, he teams with Scott in another tornado title match, and they become one of the rare duos to compete on successive cards together in NOVA's variation of tag team matches, winning both times.  As one of four matches at Three Rules in August, it's a testament to Alex's emerging job security with the company.  Even Carson can no longer deny his significance to the company.  Alex and Scott work a third tornado title match at Unleashed IV, the annual card celebrating NOVA's inception, this time on opposing teams.

Because he continues to win these matches, Alex is blindsided when he's left off December's card.  NOVA holds one card a month where the whole roster might be expected to appear; their one hour weekly shows, because in the grand scheme of things they're a small company that makes sporadic house show dates, only have so much space to spotlight the roster.  He spends a lot of time in an unfulfilling real estate career, hoping one day to put it behind him.  The last thing he wants is to be showing houses during the last show of the year. 

He also has to admit to a certain amount of professional jealousy: NOVA has signed one of the hottest prospects wrestling will see for the next half-dozen years, the Russian Koba, who makes his debut at Unleashed IV.  Koba is pushed all the way to the top almost instantly, a fighting machine the lacks of which have rarely been seen, who so thoroughly dominates everyone he meets that he fairly decimates them.  Unlike a lot of monsters who are monsters simply because they're limited workers, Koba understands the business so well it's virtually impossible to keep up with him.  Alex realizes for the first time that perhaps his limited growth is a product of his limited skills, that if he wants to be seen as the best he has to be the best.  He watches Koba and he wonders...In a few years time he'll have figured it all out.

Elsewhere in 2015, "Hustle" Paul Tugend emerges as the new face of WPW, the very man Alex is destined to succeed.  In NWW, Iron Henry becomes the third generation in his family to ascend that company's ladder of success.  He'll later compete in NOVA at the same level and help revitalize the company, what some will call an evolution.  In RoG, BM Pro completes his transformation by winning the Super 8 a second time (this time against some true future standouts, including "Stunner" Steve Williams and Tommy Hart), and then winning the company's heavyweight title before abruptly jumping ship to WPW, where he will quickly dominate its ACW brand, foreshadowing his emergence as a superstar who will one day compete against Alex at World Famous under very similar circumstances...