WWE Fastlane and a bad crowd

The road to Wrestlemania hits a speed bump thanks to a dodgy Fastlane crowd.

Following the, ahem, blur that was my 30th birthday night out on Saturday, I was far too hungover to stay up and watch WWE Fastlane on Sunday night, so fit in a viewing on Monday night with my lady.

It could have been the below-average quality of my WWE Network stream, it could’ve been my speakers, it could even be my imagination, but for me there were roughly 13,000 different reasons why the PPV didn’t deliver.

wwe fastlane bad crowd

The crowd at the event just didn’t seem to care.

Not even being in Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler’s neck of the woods could give the show a real fight night feel, because the Memphis audience just weren’t into it. Their reactions to the different wrestlers’ appearances were subdued at best, and just flat-out absent elsewhere.

I’ve never been at an event where he’s wrestled, but if there’s one sound effect that’s guaranteed to get a huge response, it’s the Undertaker’s gong. Then again, given that it was Bray Wyatt trolling the fans, and we would definitely have heard in advance if The Phenom was scheduled to appear, perhaps that explains the hushed response.

But Cena! Even John Cena couldn’t elicit the usual high-pitched response from the 13,000 in attendance. Ah, there’s probably a reason for that actually – everyone was confused as to why his music was playing so early on in the night (lol).

No, seriously though: I never like to get on my soapbox about these things – because it’s wrestling and I’m paying £9.99 a month to be patronised, not so I can patronise everyone myself – but the crowd’s low rate of interest throughout the night sort of detracted from my own enjoyment of the show. A live crowd really adds to the atmosphere of the show for those watching at home, and for the Memphis fans at Fastlane to seemingly care so little as came across on my TV (and as reported elsewhere after the fact) definitely bumped down the quality a notch.

I guess after watching the show I’ve got bigger issues than the live crowd; like the creative paper bag that Roman Reigns can’t get booked out of, or that Dolph Ziggler’s crusade against The Authority has taken him from sole survivor in November’s main event to losing in a six-man tag opener which featured Kane and The Big Show on the winning side.

Ah well. Four and a bit weeks until Wrestlemania. They can fix all this, right? They can make Roman Reigns a credible enough opponent in four and a bit weeks to knock off the Streak-ending, world champion, practically-a-babyface-by-now awesome powerhouse that is Lesnar, right?

The 30-Year Old Geek

My thoughts on turning 30 – good and bad.

This week I celebrated my 30th birthday. I’d been in two minds about it, but I’m now decided it’s fairly cool.

First of all, it’s a nice round number, and if there’s one thing us OCD maths fans appreciate, it’s a good round number.

But apart from that, I had a weird memory of something the other day.

30 years old and still taking selfies. To be fair though, I didn't really start doing them til last year.

30 years old and still taking selfies. To be fair though, I didn’t really start doing them til last year.

The year was…well, okay, let’s not get into that. But I was at college one time, listening to a Media Studies lecture, when I got to a weird thought.

In 2015, I’ll be 30 years old. But that’s absolutely miles away, why am I even thinking about it?

Well, it happened, and I don’t know why but I still remember myself thinking that thought and dismissing it. True enough, it really was that long ago, and even the year itself seemed all distant and practically science fiction. You know why they named the comic 2000AD when it was created in 1977? Because they didn’t think the comic would still be around by then, and it was some fantastical year that nobody dared dream about.

Just like that, I didn’t dare imagine where I’d be in the year 2015, when I would turn 30. In college I’d made a pretty decent music video for a project with my friends (think Jackass meets garage band performance…no, actually in a garage, the song was punk) and harboured some sort of thought that that was what I could do with my life. (I recently uncovered the video, and after getting ripped off at Max Spielmann’s, was able to get it converted to DVD. It definitely holds up.)

Joey Friends turning 30

It’s not so bad, Joey.

As it turns out, I’m still rather undecided what I really want to do with my life. It somehow involves the written word, though, and it’s partly through blogging that I’ve realised this. For once though I’m just glad that things have opened up for me, when for the longest time it’s just been about surviving the day.

30 is supposed to be some massive milestone isn’t it; time to stop dicking about and settle down, basically. But I don’t see why getting a year older should be the slap in the face you think it should. If you wanna heed it as a warning, that’s cool, but don’t let it stop you living your life, if that’s the live you wanna live.

(I should put that on a coaster or a t-shirt or something.)

There are a lot of things I’m thankful for this week as I start a new era in my life, and one of them is the fact that it’s a new era; I’ve got to say, the majority of my twenties was pretty bloody bleak, and it just so happens that I’m arriving out of that particularly dark tunnel just in time to start my thirties.

I’m actually excited about the future, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way. Between now and February 2025 I aim to absolutely destroy.

That particular destruction begins tomorrow with many drinks with many friends. If you see me at the bar, mine’s a pint of John Smiths. Here’s to thirty.

Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection

Oh yeah, I almost forgot – there’s a new edition of the classic Judge Dredd comics.

Those partwork collections are funny things, aren’t they? I remember as a kid collecting the entire Tree of Knowledge and Discovery partwork collections, separating the articles in each new issue out and adding them into massive binders. It was a hell of a financial commitment that I’m still so pleased my mum and dad were prepared to shell out for.

Throughout the years, publishers have still realised the value of the partwork, putting out exceedingly large collections in return for that weekly, fortnightly or monthly commitment from readers. And it isn’t just the reading material either; from knitting and sewing to modelling boats, planes and even starships, the chance to build up both your skills and your general knowledge is a valuable reason to stump up – provided the collection is affordable enough.

Judge Dredd Mega Collection

Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection raids almost forty years of prime Dredd archives to provide some of the biggest stories and hidden gems along with extra concept sketches, essays and follow-up stories. The promoters have been giving it some welly too; with TV adverts and strong social media and online outreach.

The most prominent batch of books in the line are some of my favourite stories; Necropolis and Day of Chaos are oft-mentioned among the elite in Dredd canon, while The Apocalypse War was one of my favourite collections, which I picked up in the early 90s and thoroughly enjoyed. Issue one (just £1.99) is America; another huge favourite of mine and definitely worth a read whether you intend to get the full set or not.

Priced at £9.99 per issue and released each fortnight, it’s certainly enough to put off all but the hardcore audience, especially as there are 80 issues planned for release – much more than a couple of shelves’ worth.

And that’s kind of the issue for me with this partwork; having read Dredd from a young age and throughout my teens I know there’s a great big chunk of Dredd stories to choose from, but for me, putting out as many as 80 hardback books might be pushing it – ten pounds twice a month would be a shade over three years; quite a commitment whether you’re a die-hard fan or just looking for a good regular read.

I’ll certainly keep an eye out for my favourite Judge Dredd stories though, and try to overcome my OCD for a collection which will invariably have a few gaps in the numbering.


Spider-Man comes home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Spider-Man to appear in MCU film and Marvel co-produced solo film in 2017.

My spider sense is tingling – and by that, I mean I actually give a toss about the character for once.

The way the Marvel announcement reads is a bit strangely phrased – Sony are bringing Marvel Studios into the amazing world of Spider-Man.

Marvel comics news

By that, they mean that head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, will co-produce the next attempt at a Spider-Man film, (which had better not be another bloody origin story).

July 2017 will see the release of a new Spider-Man film from Sony Pictures Entertainment – but more interestingly before then, the terms of the deal also dictate that your friendly neighbourhood arachnid boy will first appear in an entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

More than yet another standalone stab at a character which isn’t actually very high up on my personal preferences, I’m actually excited to see how he’ll fit into the unfolding MCU saga.

My money’s on the next instalment of Captain America; the previously announced Civil War title, in whose original comic form Spidey was one of the key players.

Given the previously confirmed date for Thor 3 also being July 2017, the Spider-Man feature’s new release date means a knock-on effect for Ragnarok and the next three films in line behind it – with Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Inhumans each getting knocked back by six months or so.

I think we can assume it’s the end of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, though I must admit I haven’t actually watched either of his efforts under the mask so am not sure whether he’ll be missed at this point.

My main questions lie in the motives behind the new deal. While Fox is doing a decent enough job of rebuilding their wavering X-Men empire – with Days of Future Past being by far my favourite entry so far – and the ability to throw a solo Wolverine out there to plug the holes in between, Sony can’t claim the same strong foundation and roster depth to build anything around Spider-Man; was anyone really that psyched for a Sinister Six spin-off?

On the other hand, I think Marvel really needed Spider-Man back in order to meet the full potential of Civil War, so this deal ought to benefit both parties.

I guess we’ll find out.


The Week in Geek: Steam’s employee of the month and more

This week, DC Comics decides on another reboot, and there’s a new depressing reminder of how old we’re getting.

week in geek culture news

Gabe Newell: Steam support worker

I’ve personally never had any issues with my Steam account, but given the relative few purchases I’ve actually made on it I’m sure there are serious Steamers out there who have had cause to contact Steam support. One fan took it upon himself to contact the head of Valve, Gabe Newell, to address a problem he’d been having and casually mention that Steam support was lacking.

Ever the hero that the internet has made him out to be, Kotaku reported that Newell himself got back in touch and offered to help resolve the issue personally – and a couple of hours later, the issue was resolved. Newell even gave permission to the user to tell of his experiences through screenshots and social media, replying to the query by saying “everyone here at Valve is in support” when it comes to helping their gamers get good service.

It’s a pretty amazing response but naturally, I’m wondering if he could do with a bit more resource in support so that he can get back to work on something else.


New 52 – Old 52? DC Comics to do…something.

I never know what’s happening with comics publishing any more. Universes created, destroyed, synced up, whatever – all seemingly an excuse to churn out a few more issues every month. The New 52 line from DC debuted in September 2011 – 52 new stories which replaced everything DC was putting on the shelves. Titles were cancelled and relaunched anew, and it was heralded as a great jumping-on point for new readers.

As is this. Business Wire has reported that in June, DC will launch 24 new titles to go alongside 25 existing books following the Convergence event which will see Brainiac, well, converge all universes into one. A good idea for anyone wondering why there are more than one version of any given character running about without regard for continuity, the ‘universes’ have long been a good way for publishers to branch their characters off down two dimensional forks of the same path.

Despite fans’ belief that the option remained for DC to go pre-52 by leaving little trapdoors open, we think that things will go on as they are, with an added element of inclusion by “publish[ing] something for everyone”, as co-publisher Dan DiDio said in the report. Sounds okay to me.


The Sims is 15

And in the nostalgia section this week, The Sims franchise turns 15 years old. Good god. First launched on February 4th, 2000, the first in the series was pretty groundbreaking in terms of minute detail and adding a personal attachment to both storytelling and ‘god mode’. It made my Influential 15 a few months ago and still holds some amazing memories for me from the first time I played. I even pop on the second game every now and then to see who I can upset by swearing at or burning the dinner. Knowing now it’s managed 15 hugely successful years is a double-edged sword of emotion for me; while it definitely deserves that level of achievement…man, it makes me feel old.

My January 2015 Reading

Geeky reads

– the books I read in January 2015. Three entire books! (Two, and a comic. (One, a miscellany and a comic.))

In what I hope will be a monthly update of the books I’m reading – and as an added bonus, means I’ll actually read more than one book per calendar month – I’ll start giving capsule reviews of the books I’ve had my head buried in.

Doctor Who – Who-ology by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright

A collection of weird and wonderful facts taken from fifty years of Doctor Who, this well-researched miscellany brings together the names, facts and figures of both storyline and behind-the-scenes production. Sadly it only goes up to about halfway through Matt Smith’s run, but it’s really well written and contains many interesting pieces of the lives of the Doctors and the careers of the men who played him.

There’s also loads of really nerdy tidbits about the Doctor’s greatest foes, like the Daleks, and how many different variants of them exist, as well as random lists like which actors from Corrie and Emmerdale have also appeared in the programme. It’s a bit of a hefty book but definitely worth a read for hardcore fans.

bryan lee o malley seconds

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I really, really enjoyed reading this graphic novel by the creator of Scott Pilgrim, dealing as it does with a subject matter that’s bound to have got fellow geeks thinking before – what if you could erase your past mistakes and start again?

Just like the Pilgrim books, Seconds is going to be one of those comics you can read again and again, and find something new, exciting and different each time. The artwork is just gorgeous – I love the halfway-to-realistic style as you can easily fill in the gaps yourself – while it’s also a very warm and funny story. I really liked the main character Katie; she’s just a resourceful woman who gets swept up in her own wants and needs. And there’s also a couple of Easter eggs in there for Pilgrim fans, which are a little bit eye-roll-y at first but will make you laugh with recognition.

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

First thing I thought of when I realised I was going to hate ‘Worst. Person. Ever’ was the similarly sinking feeling I got when I finished Generation A – but while that was more of a disappointing letdown, I actively disliked this one.

Understanding that there are no redeeming features whatsoever about our hero Raymond Gunt (and a quick tip – if you’re going to call a character by that name, then the rules of ‘Carry On’ wordplay apply: you can’t actually say the c-word at all in the entire book…certainly not twice a page), I’m not actually sure whether Coupland tried to humanise him more towards the end or not – if he didn’t, then why bother reading it? And if he did, then it didn’t bloody work.

I think it’s a problem I have with farce in general – or with the writers who try to pull it off and don’t succeed – but I just can’t suspend my disbelief for long enough to go with whatever ridiculous twist we’re being treated to. I get that Coupland has gone out of his comfort zone to deliver a cosmic trainwreck to an exceedingly unlikeable character, and I’m sure it has its fans, but at the end of the day, knowing what I know now, I would not have read this book if it weren’t written by one of my favourite authors.

Club Nintendo and Stars Catalogue to close in September

The Nintendo loyalty programme is to be replaced, details TBA.

Tonight me and my lady have gone diving through all our old Nintendo Wii, DS and 3DS games in an effort to register for Club Nintendo points to spend on a beautiful Yoshi backpack.

But If I’d known Club Nintendo was a thing, I’d have traded them in long ago for that beautiful Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack on CD.

In what has to be the most disappointing moment I’ve had all week (it’s been a very ‘First World Problems’ situation in our home office tonight), most of the codes we tried to convert were either not recognised or had expired.

club nintendo to close

That’s the sad state of affairs we’re facing right now, as Club Nintendo prepares to close its doors worldwide, going from a Nintendo announcement made this week.

Games purchased for the Wii, DS, 3DS and Wii U came with little scratchcards which contain codes, which are registered to an account along with additional consumer feedback about where and when they bought the game (very clever move), in order to get Stars which could be spent on Nintendo merchandise.

Having just taken my first ever proper look at the catalogue…well, I’m assuming that users in America and Japan get much better gear than this. A Pikmin keyring? Nah seriously, I’m good mate. It’s not all bad though, with ringtones and other little tchotchkes available, you’ve got to get your money’s worth.

As gaming trends get further away from a casual audience, and Nintendo keeps up its hit-and-miss attempts to get back in the game, I do worry that casualties like Club Nintendo happen because of a drop in overall brand awareness. Their games are amazing but they’re pretty expensive when up against another bloody Candy Crush clone downloaded on the cheap for a mobile rather than a dedicated gaming device.

Stars will no longer be packaged into games as of the 1st April, while the new 3DS systems will be released Starless in February. You’ve still got until the end of September to register those points though – that is, unless you feel like tweeting the codes to me. (I’m serious.)

But that backpack. And that CD. Oh well, eBay for one, torrent legal purchase elsewhere for another I guess.

Mulder, Scully and the Tracy Brothers

X-Files could return, Thunderbirds’ crap haircuts are go

I read with interest this weekend about the return of two iconic TV franchises, and one left me decidedly more excited than the other based on first impressions.

As reported by Hitfix in their coverage of the TCA winter press tour, FOX executives mentioned that they’ve had “some conversations” about bringing back extra-terrestrial TV thriller The X-Files to the network. This in addition to star Gillian Anderson’s recent comments on the Nerdist podcast that she’d be interested in returning for a short run as FBI agent Dana Scully and we could well be on for a 24: Live Another Day-style short-form resurrection.

x-files return 2015

I used to really enjoy watching The X-Files first time around on the BBC; the mix of spooky alien goings-on and the impressive cast (I always loved Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Skinner for no real reason) were always worth a watch.

But once the mythology/conspiracy started to add up, it was game over for the casual viewer; if you missed three episodes in a row for whatever reason (and all the rescheduling the BBC used to do didn’t help), you were screwed if you thought you’d be able to catch up.

That’s the beauty of what could be a mini-series, though; 8 or 10 episodes built up solely to blow another conspiracy wide open – and what with the mystery date fresh in viewers’ heads at the end of the original run having passed, it would be cool to see what, if anything, has happened since. Let’s be honest, with such a short run on the deck and the ability to catch up on everything these days via various devices and subscriptions, you’re hardly likely to miss out this time.

And while we’re here, let’s take a look at another TV favourite that’s soon to hit our screens, as Thunderbirds Are Go comes to ITV to celebrate the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

I was going to talk about my initial nerves about seeing this show, but then commend the ability of former Fonejacker Kayvan Novak to put on a great voice acting performance in whichever role he plays.

But then I saw a picture of the new-look Tracy Brothers, and decided not to bloody bother.

thunderbirds are go 2015

What I’ve watched on WWE Network UK so far

Finally, the WWE Network has come back to the UK.

I was pretty excited to read that the WWE Network was finally ready to launch here in the UK yesterday, following the announcement of its delay in November – mere minutes before it was set to go.

I was even happier to read on Digital Spy on Sunday that it was already a-go – only a couple of days early but still a good long weekend of viewing for viewers.

WWE Network UK launch details

Without hesitation I signed up on Sunday morning and enjoyed a full day’s viewing of old and new WWE programming, starting with the end of this week’s NXT which was definitely a revelation when I first saw it on Sky Sports a while back. I’ve got to say, the live PPV every month is all well and good – certainly better than paying twice the price for just the one event through Sky Box Office – but I’m more excited about being able to get into the archives, not just for the WWE/WWF but also WCW, to educate myself on the ratings juggernaut that was Nitro – and the mess that was 1999/2000 WCW live pay-per-views.

So here’s what I’ve enjoyed so far – I’ve yet to watch a full PPV event but the following have tided me over nicely.

The Monday Night War

The brand new documentary series examining the history of the two major wrestling companies as WCW Monday Nitro went into direct competition against Monday Night Raw.

While there are plenty of interesting tidbits and anecdotes from all the major players involved, there’s some seriously heavy bias running throughout which kinda taints the whole thing. I’ve watched a good few episodes so far, though I’m not at all interested in watching the antics of DX who appear to have their own episode, and am looking forward to seeing the rest.

Hulk Hogan v Sting – Starrcade 97

First brought to my attention by the Attitude Era Podcast, this match was nearly 18 months in the making, with Sting’s attempt to destroy nWo leader Hollywood Hulk Hogan signposted as a sure conclusion to the feud.

While fans rightly expected Sting to let out his pent-up rage on Hogan, what viewers got was actually a fairly one-sided match the other way round. Hogan even managed to deliver his leg-drop finisher and get a three count, though referee Nick Patrick was supposed to make it a crooked fast count (he didn’t). Whether Hogan was simply playing up his creative control or the bookers just did a horrible job of this blow-off match, the storyline was set to go on…and on…and on…

Royal Rumble match – Royal Rumble 1996 (link NGP post)

Thanks to my excellent sound syncing skills (and no thanks to my below-par internet connection) I was able to watch the ’96 Rumble match along with the commentary supplied by the New Generation Project podcast in their latest episode. The Rumble match is one of my favourite events and this one was pretty good too – though the work of the alternative commentary certainly added to the fun. It’s got me looking forward to this year’s match too – expected Reigns win aside.

Vince McMahon vs Shane McMahon – Wrestlemania 17

And finally just for the amazing move which concludes the match, I watched father and son go to war in a fondly-remembered highlight of what’s generally regarded as the greatest Wrestlemania of all time.

Oof, that bin shot.

I could do with your help here, fellow Network viewers – I’m looking for recommendations of good ECW and bad WCW shows from the archives. Let me know in the comments or by sending a tweet to @AlpSig5.

Call yourself a writer?

The secret of my success: writing for the love of writing.

I’ve been writing scripts and stories since I was 13. Well, that’s not strictly true; to say that would make it sound like I’ve churned out pages and pages of storylines and characters every week for the past 17 years, and that simply isn’t true. For one thing, it could have been even longer.

writing advice

A writer’s desk, this afternoon. Not pictured: legible handwriting.

But I certainly do remember writing an episode of a sitcom when I was at high school about two young men going on holiday and trying to meet women – the only problem was I’d never been on holiday anywhere except Bridlington for my entire life up to that point, and so had to resort to what I imagined young men would get up to on holiday in Brid.

Fortunately from my memories it was pretty much the same thing I’d been doing up until that point anyway – playing arcade games and staring at girls, the only key differences among the menfolk being the presence of booze and the absence of parents.

Much as I’d love to say those scripts were either amazing or completely rubbish, I don’t remember much more than a couple of cheeky references to bands I liked at the time (like the song on the radio being performed by The Ugly North – see what I did there?) I do clearly remember though how much I loved writing them from that young age.

I never really thought of myself as a writer until recently because I’ve never got any distinctive level of recognition from it. I always thought that, to be a writer, you had to be published. However, that only makes you a published writer. A writer writes, and through the years I’ve certainly saved enough drafts, binned enough printouts and published enough blog posts both in a personal and professional capacity to be able to call myself a writer.

I do have something of a list of achievements in my career so far, but nothing makes me feel prouder or more accomplished than putting in a good shift. Not only did I manage to finish a novel some years ago, I even got up the nerve to submit it to a couple of agents. And while those responses weren’t ideal, at least I did it.

And whenever I look back on all my half-finished scripts and half-started novels saved on my computer, I always take heart that although I don’t yet have the discipline to finish something I’ve started – or for that matter, the time to develop that discipline (the finished novel came about during a prolonged period of unemployment so I certainly had the time, if not the discipline due to that damn Playstation 2) – I’m rarely lacking for ideas. The fact that I’ve managed to keep up with maintaining a blog for over two years now definitely counts for something too.

And as such, that’s really the only advice I can give. If you want to be a writer, you should start by writing. The rest will follow.