G1 Climax 31: Night 1 / A Block

It’s time for my almost-annual tradition of recapping the G1 Climax for one or two shows before losing interest and/or running out of time to keep up on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual round-robin tournament. But I love watching what I can of this thing, and so I will once again attempt to document the ride through it. And as I document it, I will do my best to make specific match recommendations for you, dear reader, in case you don’t have time to watch like 27 three-hour wrestling shows over the next few weeks.

First off, before we even get to a single match, I cannot say enough great things about this theme song, which appears to be called “Max the Max” by JAM Project. The lyrics appear to be a combination of English and Japanese lines, switching back and forth throughout the song. Fortunately, all the lyrics — English and Japanese — are presented on the screen during the montage video.

The English lyrics are:
Top Rope
Flying attack
Battle Match
Real muscle live!
Full struggle
Danger zones
I know
Fighting with a real sword
YEAH!
I’ve got a Max the Max!
You’ve got a Max the Max!
Power

I rewound the show so I could listen to it again.

Match 1: Yujiro Takahashi vs. Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi’s first match in G131 is teed up in the context of whether or not he can three-peat.

I haven’t been watching as much pandemic-era NJPW as I had been before COVID, so I always forget about the eerie silence of the Japanese crowds until I’m watching a show again. For those of you who don’t watch, in order to minimize the projection of the virus, crowds are 100% masked and react entirely through clapping. So positive reactions manifest via applause, but otherwise it’s completely silent.

Pieter’s referee distraction — so that Yujiro could choke Ibushi with his cane — was pretty lame already, but especially so with the complete absence of a reaction from the crowd. So much of Ibushi’s appeal is his connection with the crowd, so his presence suffers a bit from the muted participation. But it’s funny, as dastardly as Yujiro’s ring presence is, the crowd still politely applauds his successful offense.

Both men sold each other’s offense incredibly well, with Yujiro making Ibushi’s flashy style look great, and — as I was thinking at the time — Ibushi was making Yujiro look way too effective. So while I was thinking throughout the match “Yujiro is looking surprisingly good here,” I still did not expect to see Yujiro get the win over Ibushi. The G1 often has a few profound narrative arcs throughout the tournament, so I wonder if we’re going to get a story of repeat G1 winner Kota Ibushi losing a step.

Match 2: Tanga Loa vs. The Great-O-Khan
I get that Great-O-Khan is scary, but that question mark mask that hangs in his face just looks like a piece of copier paper to me.

This match starts out as a much more traditional wrestling match than the first A Block match tonight, which makes sense given Khan’s amateur background, but I liked how it smoothly segued from the amateur style to some tough-guy brawling. One thing I enjoy about the G1 is how the tournament benefits from the wrestlers leaning into what makes their styles unique.

So far into this year’s tournament, we’re 2-for-2 on the heels distracting the ref so that their accomplices outside the ring can assault their competitors. One thing that’s nice about the silent crowd is that you can hear Tanga Loa’s trash talking really well. He and his brother seem to be two of the best trash talkers in NJPW, but there’s just always been something about both of them that has come off sort of lame to me. Not as lame as a guy who wears a question mark stuck to his face, but lame enough to where I’m fine seeing Khan go over here.

Match 3: KENTA vs Toru Yano
I hope this is like a 10-second squash. Fun fact: five years ago today I got to see KENTA (then pretending to be someone called Hideo Itami) beat the crap out of Austin Aries at an NXT house show. I have developed an extreme distaste for goofy humor in pro wrestling in my old age, so it just pains me to see anyone have to waste time with Toru Yano in the G1. But for what it’s worth, they did attempt to make the most of Yano and KENTA’s pre-match squabble to really establish KENTA’s unlikeable heel persona.

That said, I can’t believe this match. Not only did it last way too long, it also had the stupidest finish. It’s bad enough that Yano is in the G1; beating KENTA is turn-it-off stupid. It’s not the worst thing that a nasty heel’s underhanded tactics backfire on him, but there is a point at which there’s enough of a gap between the two wrestlers that the heel doesn’t need to go there.

Match 4: Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Hopefully this match can turn things around. I like Naito’s suit; fingers crossed he’s going to wrestle in that. Fortunately ZSJ’s entrance is taking long enough for Naito to slowly remove each unnecessary layer of his outfit. I have a Los Ingobernables hoodie that I picked up at a Ring of Honor show a few years ago, but it’s the weirdest fit of any hoodie I’ve owned. The sleeves are super poofy and the torso part is really short. Good judgment should have told me “Don’t buy a wrestling hoodie,” but poor craftsmanship led me to the desired outcome of “Don’t wear a wrestling hoodie,” so it all worked out.

ZSJ is so delightfully douchey. My introduction to him was WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016, before I’d been able to figure out how to translate NJPW’s website so I could subscribe to this stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about going back and re-watching that thing, with the hindsight of seeing where a lot of these guys went after that tournament. There were so many good names in there, even if it ended up going kind of a weird direction by the end.

This match gets off to a slow start, but it’s a totally narrative-appropriate feeling out of each other, with Sabre doing a ton of his twisty-turny grappling and Naito powering out and striking poses. It’s a delight to watch as it picks up, with good back-and-forth offense and reversals. Definitely the highlight of the night so far, as you’d expect considering what’s come before.

I love now Naito has this badass, fearless persona, yet he can also very effectively convey vulnerability and believable battle damage as the match rolls on in a way that doesn’t undermine that badassness at all. It’s a great balance that delivers so much emotional payoff. And then of course ZSJ comes off like more and more of a soulless, methodical killer as the match goes on as well. Their personalities complement each other so well throughout the story of the match.

I loved the finish, with Naito tapping. ZSJ is so good, and he makes his opponents look amazing. It can be so tempting to have him constantly put others over, because he’s so effective in defeat. I’m hopeful this could be the beginning of a higher singles push.

Match 5: Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
If you would’ve told me two years ago that Shingo Takagi was going to be the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, I think I would’ve suspected that maybe WWE signed Naito, Okada, Tanahashi, Ospreay, KENTA, Ibushi and maybe like a dozen others. I also would’ve expected Ishii to devour him, because Ishii is awesome. I realize Takagi is one of the few wrestlers to break Meltzer’s 5-star scale, and he had a great run in Dragon Gate, but I have just never seen much in him. But here we are, Takagi the champ and Ishii his first-round opponent.

I will say that, even if I second-guess the positioning and his gut, Shingo Takagi carries himself with a champion’s presence. It’s a good counter to Ishii’s “I will spit out pieces of your skull” demeanor. This is a brutal fight, and Tagaki absolutely belonged. I clearly just haven’t paying enough attention to him these past couple years. These two managed to make this largely silent crowd get (relatively) noisy! I am curious to see if they’ll protect Takagi over the course of this tournament, or try to make him seem like a vulnerable champion. So far so good for Takagi.

Great match, even though it had among the worst of Red Shoes’ ridiculously broadcast “Don’t worry, I’m no actually going to count to three!” near-falls. Hopefully Ishii can deliver the Toru Yano match I was hoping for tonight.

Overall Match Ranking for G131 A-Block Night 1:

Great matches, definitely worth watching:

  • Naito vs. ZSJ
  • Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
  • Decent; don’t go out of your way to watch if you’re just picking and choosing, but they’re definitely not offensive:

  • Yujiro Takahashi vs. Kota Ibushi
  • Tanga Loa vs. The Great-O-Khan
  • Skip, and if possible, delete from existence:

  • KENTA vs. Toru Yano


  • Puxley the Possum vs. Buddy Boo the Bad: A 24-Hour Coronavirus Comic

    Several friends and Doomkopf alums (who are also friends) got together virtually this past weekend to make something out of the fact that we’re all stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 24-hour comics process and rules would be the same — we’re just doing it in April instead of October.

    For mine, I started with my normal routine of soliciting random words to help me generate ideas. My girlfriend — on the spot and off the top of her head — gave me “possum,” “avenue,” “dream” and “oceanside;” Doom, Where’s My Car? gave me “cartography” and “comatose.”

    From those seed words, and from “Show Me the Way” by Styx (which came up on our 90s station during the ideation period), I came up with the idea you see below.

    I wanted to place this story in an abandoned city (my coronavirus influence) but I almost ditched the idea completely when I thought about how tedious it would be to draw city streets and storefronts over and over for 24 pages. Fortunately, my friend Christina — who has been taking photos of the mostly abandoned lower Manhattan lately — graciously shared some of her photos, which I was able to use as background influences (Christina also gets credit for suggesting the names “Buddy Boo” and “Puxley”).

    This was by far the most linearly I have ever constructed a 24-hour comic, as I had a good (general) idea of where I was going to start and (generally) where I wanted to go right from the beginning. However, I had no idea how to end it. All the details get filled in along the way (for example, Pete the Wizard was inspired by one of my friends’ comics, which involved a Pizza Wizard), but once I hit 20 pages 18 hours in, I was completely stumped on where to go from there. I sat there for another hour with no additional ideas on how to salvage it, so then at 8 a.m. I decided to take a three-hour nap with the hope that my subconscious would save the day.

    I woke up with an ending in mind, talked through it with my girlfriend, and then she made an off-hand comment that gave me a much better idea on how to end it. So I scrapped my first idea, sat down and cranked out the last four pages —- and came in just under the wire at our 1:30 p.m. stopping time. I had to use banked time when I completed my most recent 24 hour comic, so it felt good to be able to start and finish within the 24-hour window.

    As always, it was a blast to be able to do the challenge with my friends, and I hope you enjoy this story! We’ll have Doom DeLuise’s story up here on the site once he’s had a chance to scan and upload it.



    A Journey of Change: A 24 Hour Comic

    It was hard to get back in the 24 Hour Comics swing. I hadn’t done one since 2014, and I hadn’t done one with the Doomkopf crew since 2012. Doom DeLuise and I decided to rekindle some old magic, and we reunited via webcam and hung out remotely for most of the 24 hours.

    I got a late start on the East coast (I wasted a lot of time purchasing, attempting to set up, and eventually giving up on a new webcam), and I ended up pooping out at 6:23 a.m., which was the 15-hour point. What was supposed to be a little nap turned into 6.5 hours of sleep. I woke up to find DeLuise chugging away and nearing completion (and he finished — go read it). I worked to the end of our 24 hour period, but I wasn’t finished.

    I realize technically — according to the rules of the challenge — I failed, but I was enjoying my story, and out of commitment to DeLuise, I was determined to finish it. So figuring I had 6.5 hours in the bank, I waited until my next opportunity to tackle it. Work and personal travel tied up the next few weeks, but finally today I cashed in those hours and finished it.

    The lingering story popped into my head occasionally over the past few weeks, but I did my best to not think about it until I was sitting down and officially resuming. I didn’t want to cheat with the limited time I had left by thinking about it “off the clock,” so to speak. And when I did sit down this afternoon and officially resumed, I realized I had way more work ahead of me than I thought I had.

    I only had around 10 pages completely done. I had a bunch of pages either fully drawn and inked (but not lettered) or at least sketched — but I had very little recollection of what some of my intent was with some of these pages. So I spent a lot of my time today just getting reacquainted with what I had produced on 24HCD, trying to make sense of what I intended and trying to figure out what I could do with it.

    I usually work non-linearly on 24HCD stories, but this one took that to another level completely. I drew so many pages with no idea where they were going, how they were fitting in or even what they were fitting into. This went to such an extreme that, with about 2 hours left, I realized I had actually laid out a 26-page story. I found one page I could ditch completely, but only one, so I ended up making a 25-page 24-hour comic in 24 hours and 30 minutes. I went over time, but still averaged under one page an hour.

    This year, for inspiration, I asked my girlfriend to just tell me some random words. She offered balloon, rake, jungle gym, vacation and feudalism. Also — to honor tradition — Doom DeLuise and I listened to a 90s web radio station all night. Early on, “Sadeness Part 1” by Enigma played, and I started talking about the “monk craze of the early 90s.” He and I both happened to write down “monk craze” as inspiration. You can see it in both of our stories this year.

    Working in a non-linear fashion keeps it fun for me. If I figure out too early on where the story is going, I get bored. This one kept me figuring things out to the end (and when I say “figuring things out to the end,” I mean figuring out important things that should happen on page 3, 8, 14, etc.) and more than any other 24 hour comic I’ve done, felt like it was revealing itself to me. Technically a failure, but one of my favorites. I hope you like it!



    To Hell and Back: A 24 Hour Comic



    Monday Night Raw 2019-2020 “Season Premiere” – Live Thoughts

    I will refresh this blog throughout the night.

    Full disclosure — I stopped watching Raw probably around the time of Blood Money II, so I couldn’t tell you if this intro was new or not. But the stage and set definitely look new, and I read enough clickbait news sites to know that the pyro is back!

    And those are completely new announcers (or in Lawler’s case, old)! I’m very much looking forward to an episode of Raw that doesn’t include Michael Cole or Corey Graves.

    I thought they said they were going to start with the Universal Title match, but Rey doesn’t look dressed to compete.

    I like that they’re promoting matches to come later tonight. It’s so basic, but they’ve done so little in recent years to acknowledge the power of treating matches like they matter.

    Poor Rey — they never e-e-e-ever let Rey Mysterio finish a promo without getting interrupted.

    Totally misread Lesnar’s t-shirt as saying “Supper City.” Mmmm.

    (more…)



    Non-Doomino Effect: The Immortal Hulk #18-23

    Because of work trips and other general busyness, I fell behind on virtually every comics series I was buying, which then impeded my ability to get back on a weekly schedule. These Non-Doomino Effect entries will be an attempt to chip away at the stack so I can get back to the normal routine. Today, it’s The Immortal Hulk #18-23.

    I don’t think I’ve been a regular Hulk reader since the Peter David / Dale Keown days in the early ’90s. I bought World War Hulk but that was a miniseries. I started picking up The Immortal Hulk when the hype became too much to ignore, and I probably had a slow week or something and decided it was time to try something new.

    This series is really disturbing and unnerving, but it is fantastic. Also the art is really bad, which only adds to the sense that you’re reading something that is getting away with something. Sometimes I wonder if I would like it more if it had someone with a style like Mark Texeira or Bernie Wrightson illustrating it. But then on the other hand, I think the back-bencher art style somehow enhances the atmosphere of the book.

    It feels dirty. It feels like some under-the-radar publisher is releasing a bootleg Hulk series that Marvel clearly must not know about. It’s so good. As the new issues have been coming out to the shop, I’ve been catching up on the old issues in this title on Marvel Unlimited (at the time of writing this, Marvel Unlimited is up to #10 while I started reading the hard copies at #18).

    Sometimes you’ll feel sort of gross after reading an issue, but I highly recommend this series. One of my favorites.



    Non-Doomino Effect: Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1-2 and The Batman Who Laughs #4-7

    Because of work trips and other general busyness, I fell behind on virtually every comics series I was buying, which then impeded my ability to get back on a weekly schedule. These Non-Doomino Effect entries will be an attempt to chip away at the stack so I can get back to the normal routine. Today, it’s Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1-2 and The Batman Who Laughs #4-7.

    Scott Snyder’s run on Batman from The New 52 was one of my favorite runs of all time. I loved the horror element he brought to the book, and both of these series have been fantastic.

    Batman: Last Knight on Earth reunites him with Greg Capullo, who is great, but still — for whatever reason — seems content being a blatant Todd MacFarlane rip-off. This series is so far probably best described as a Batman take on Old Man Logan. Society has collapsed, the bad guys have won, there are all sorts of spectacles to express the extent of the damage (such as the hills they’re walking on being the cloak of the fallen Spectre) and it’s up to Batman to save the day.

    As I mentioned with DCeased, I usually don’t care for Elseworlds / What If stories, but this is done well enough that I’m digging it and very much looking forward to the final issue (I think it’s just three issues, anyway). This would probably be perfect if not for the JRJr cover.

    Speaking of people wounded by the cruel laughter of others, that leads me to The Batman Who Laughs #4-7. I was keeping up on this series before my summer derailed me, and I was totally digging it, but the story was dense and twisty enough — and Jock’s art is often ambiguous enough — that I frequently kept putting the later issues aside because I felt like I didn’t have the attention or patience to dedicate to them.

    I’m glad I finally sat down and finished this series, though. I wasn’t a huge fan of Metal, even though I admired its attempts to tie together a lot of threads from throughout the years. So even though this was a Scott Snyder book, I didn’t have a lot of emotional buy-in to this, given that The Batman Who Laughs came from that event.

    Ultimately that didn’t matter much, though, because this series really just boils down to being a Batman vs. The Joker story, with the added bonus of being a Batman vs. Batman story. Other than a few cameos from the weirdly immortal-or-whatever Joker (another thing I didn’t really care for from Snyder’s Batman run), this felt like an otherwise straightforward (in a good way) cat-and-mouse Batman story. Solid stuff.

    BONUS FOOTNOTE: I had seen all the “Year of the Villain” stuff with the Batman Who Laughs all over it, and therefore thought “This series probably won’t have a satisfying ending if the Batman Who Laughs is still out and about” but I was wrong! I felt like this series ended just fine — it was just the pivot out of this series that was lame.

    I picked up Batman/Superman #1 a few weeks ago, which spun out of this series and picked up the fight against The Batman Who Laughs; I figured that new series must include an intriguing story of how The Batman Who Laughs escapes and launches his new evil plot!

    NOPE.

    Even though (SPOILERS) The Batman Who Laughs #7 ends with The Batman Who Laughs captured and securely imprisoned, and then plugs that the story continues in Batman/Superman #1, he’s just out on the loose in that issue, with no mention of how that happened. Lame. I have no intention of continuing with that series.



    AEW All Out – live thoughts

    I’m catching this show a day late and have so far avoided almost all commentary of any kind and all substantive spoilers. Here’s a repeatedly updated post as I make my way through it.

    • The opening promo package was well-produced, but it’s discouraging to hear this screamy rage-rock soundtrack. It’s one of the elements that WWE seems to have permanently anchored to 1998, and an area where AEW could’ve immediately differentiated themselves.
    • First match is SCU vs Jurassic Express. I love Luchasaurus but I don’t like people (and promotions) having to pretend a guy is really a dinosaur. The camera shakes, SCU selling fright — that’s kind of lame. Why can’t he just be a real guy dressed as a dinosaur?
    • There’s something about the production of AEW’s hard camera that makes it look like there’s a light haze in the arena, which really reminds me of WCW.
    • I would go easy on the commentary saying SCU has a combined 64 years of experience. To me that falls on the wrong side of the “celebrating a career” vs “these guys are old” line.
    • Surprised they’re going to Omega-PAC so early in the show.
    • Another thing AEW needs to fix is the quality of their music going to the audio feed. It sounds like we’re just getting the audio from the arena sometimes, and not well-mic’ed at that. It makes the experience of watching on TV so much less immersive. WWE does a great job of mixing the entrance themes well so that you hear them in full quality.
    • Great match between PAC and Omega, even with some botched spots. They’re both big enough pros to cover for those mistakes. Kind of surprised by the finish; at some point they’re going to need to protect Omega, and hopefully that’s soon.
    • Darby Allin looks like he didn’t finish his makeup before the match.
    • This three-way garbage match is embarrassing. They’re spending all this time on this awful chair-tape-tacks scene and nothing is really going right. Allin and Janella both appear to have never used tape before. Havoc kept his thumbtack-filled mouth taped shut for like 10 minutes until he needed the opportunity to spit tacks.
    • Ok, so I wonder if maybe I’ve just never watched good garbage matches; I actually ended up finding myself enjoying that and getting into the finish. In spite of that, I would still rather never see another of these matches ever.
    • (more…)



    Non-Doomino Effect: Savage Avengers #1-4 and Daredevil #6-10

    Because of work trips and other general busyness, I fell behind on virtually every comics series I was buying, which then impeded my ability to get back on a weekly schedule. These Non-Doomino Effect entries will be an attempt to chip away at the stack so I can get back to the normal routine. Today, it’s Savage Avengers 1-4 and Daredevil 6-10.

    Much like DCeased, I’m not really sure why I picked up Savage Avengers in the first place. As someone who lived through, read comics during, and gave up comics during the worst excesses of the ‘90s, I do not experience ‘90s nostalgia. Yet a book called Savage Avengers that features not only Wolverine, but Venom (!) and The Punisher (!!) just reeks of the worst type of ‘90s nostalgia for over-the-top violence and grittiness for grittiness’ sake.

    Oh yeah, and David Finch covers! David Finch obviously didn’t make his career in the ‘90s, but his overly-muscled, overly-hatched Kubert-esque (and not even Adam or Joe, but Andy!) style harkens back to the indulgences of the Image days. I mean just look at the size of the Punisher’s gun on the cover to issue #1 (but in fairness to Finch, he’s at least consistently getting better at what he strives to be good at).

    Oh you know what? I now remember exactly why I took a chance on this — Mike Deodato, Jr. He’s evolved into the one of the best artists in comics today, and I would probably read anything he illustrated. Here’s proof!

    In spite of the clear call-backs to those ‘90s excesses, though, I’ve found this series pretty enjoyable so far. It’s got a plot that — while making room for violence and slashing and shooting — has its own purpose and doesn’t feel like it exists just for those excesses. Circumstances have drawn this otherwise unrelated hackers, slashers and shooters to the Savage (hence the name) Land, where a cosmic cult attempts to summon a being from the outer edges of the solar system. It’s nothing too special, but the weaving of each character’s path — including the bad guys — is believable enough to feel like the characters are part of the story vs. the story just being there to see Wolverine stab and the Punisher shoot.

    The one thing I really don’t care for are the contrived attempts at humor. Fish-out-of-water character contrasts can make for natural laughs, but Duggan’s attempts to leverage Conan for those situations do not work at all. I appreciate the effort to make this something other than dark, gloomy violence, but it’s not working.

    Speaking of ‘90s comics, that leads me to Daredevil #6-10, the “No Devils, Only God” arc that follows the supposed death of Daredevil.

    There is absolutely nothing overtly ‘90s about this series, but whereas Savage Avengers adopts some overtly ‘90s elements for this otherwise timeless story, this arc of Daredevil reminds me of some of my favorite elements of the less-flashy comics of the ‘90s — somewhat bright and mismatched art adorning earnestly gloomy stories. The inability to really hit the mark on the gloom — in spite of trying so hard to be heavy — sometimes comes off as charming, and this is one of those times.

    Matt Murdock is grappling with what it means to leave Daredevil behind, and consequently, so is Mayor Fisk. The parallels are interesting, with much of the action and drama revolving around the story of how _the police_ are reacting and adapting. It’s sort of pulpy but just so committed to telling its story — even though the story just isn’t all that great — and I really admire it for it.

    Coming up with new stories for Daredevil has got to be so hard; really since Frank Miller deconstructed the guy, I feel like every writer has had to essentially react to “Born Again,” either by embracing it (Bendis, Brubaker) or pushing hard against it (Waid, and to an extent, Diggle). Zdarsky’s take manages to be familiar without feeling overly constrained by what came before, and I respect it for that.



    Non-Doomino Effect: DCeased 1-4

    Because of work trips and other general busyness, I fell behind on virtually every comics series I was buying, which then impeded my ability to get back on a weekly schedule. These Non-Doomino Effect entries will be an attempt to chip away at the stack so I can get back to the normal routine. Up next, DCeased 1-4.

    I hate zombie stuff.

    I used to be sort of indifferent to it, but then there was that phase in the 2000s where Marvel zombified everything, and it just let me to hate the stuff. So I have honestly no idea why I even took a chance on DCeased. Maybe it was a slow week?

    But I’m loving DCeased. For the uninitiated, DC’s take on zombies is based on the idea that the anti-life equation is unleashed on humanity, and it spreads through blood and screens. Funny enough, I also tend to really hate things related to Darkseid and the New Gods. Maybe these things are canceling each other out?

    I’ve honestly been giving some thought to why on earth I am enjoying this, in spite of my previously stated inclinations against precisely the things this story is about, and I suspect that it’s all about the underlying hope in this series. Don’t get me wrong — this is as bleak, terrifying and gut-wrenching as you would expect from a zombie story, as loved ones turn, families are torn apart, and lives are irrevocably changed by tragic moments.

    But there’s an underlying “Ok, things are terrible — so what are we going to do about it?” that propels the story forward and that I find engaging.

    I don’t want to get too spoilery on this, but if you’re like me and find yourself typically staying away from a genre that seemed tired 10-15 years ago, this is a surprisingly fun series so far.