In our look back at 2013 we wanted to celebrate some of the year’s media that didn’t quite fit into any of the basic categories we cover. The result: Deadshirt’s Random Top 5s of 2013! Enjoy.
Top 5 Professional Wrestling Matches of 2013
By Dominic Griffin
Professional wrestling is a consistently underrated pop cultural phenomenon, equal parts sporting spectacle and theatrical performance art. Somewhere between Pagliacci and pugilism, a veritable sweet spot of populist storytelling awaits anyone willing to suspend their disbelief and give the art of spandex clad men and women pretending to hurt one another a chance. These are my five favorite matches of the calendar year, particularly in terms of telling a coherent narrative within the confines of the squared circle’s ring ropes.
1. Daniel Bryan vs John Cena (C) – WWE Championship Match – WWE Summerslam (8/18/13)
The best “big match” feel bouts are often characterized by a strong dichotomy between the two opponents. On the one side of this match, we’ve got John Cena, a man who has been the top guy in the top wrestling promotion on Earth for going on a decade. Public appearances, promotional tie-ins, awful straight-to-DVD movie releases, Make-A-Wish galas, you name it, he has done it. He’s shouldered the burden of being pro wrestling’s Atlas longer than Hulk Hogan or The Rock ever had to, and he’s done it while being absolutely despised by a growing contingent of the fandom’s more hardcore, “smart” fans who tire of his unchanging character, propensity to cater towards younger fans, and his relentlessly friendly demeanor. John Cena is the Pre-Crisis Superman of pro wrestling, and people long for him to either be taken down several pegs or to become the dark, moody Zack Snyder, neck snapper they feel he should be.
On the other side of the ring, you’ve got Daniel Bryan, who is the best wrestler in the world. Other guys use that moniker, but pound for pound, move for move, there is not a human being performing on the level Bryan is, anywhere. This is less a personal opinion and more of an empirical fact. He and Cena have been in the business for about the same length of time, but Cena came up through the ranks of the big leagues, and Bryan worked his way throughout the indie circuit and wrestled from bingo halls in the Midwest to arenas in England, Japan and Germany. To have someone so supremely talented and universally lauded for his skills as a physical performer to finally have broken through this year in the mainstream was a big deal. Bryan’s always been criticized as being too “small” to be a main event player, and not interested enough on the microphone to get over in the world of “sports entertainment” where having a clever catchphrase is worth considerably more than a working knowledge of ring psychology.
Cena is known in the locker room for championing young talent and going to bat for guys he believes in, but rarely, if ever, is willing to put someone over in the ring. It’s a lot to go “this guy is great and will be the top guy someday” but it means nothing if the top guy can’t do him a solid and give that guy the win he’s going to need to be taken seriously by a mass audience. As Ric Flair was known to say, “to be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.” With an injury to his elbow that was going to require him to be out of action for up to six months, the WWE was going to need a new top babyface to fill the Cena-sized hole it was about to be saddled with, and we, the fans, were treated to a program for the WWE Title, at Summerslam, the company’s number two Pay-Per-View of the year (behind Wrestlemania.) To have the bearded, formerly vegan, Great Hipster Hope taking on a corporate-approved, merchandise-moving Titan wasn’t just about the rivalry between these two individual men, but between the two dividing lines of pro wrestling fans: the casual fan that just wants to see big dudes punching each other and the obsessive, lifelong nerds who care about things like “work-rate” and whether or not a guy is consistently selling a leg injury.
John Cena gets a lot of flack for possessing a limited tool set in the ring, and a small repertoire of actual moves, but the man knows how to construct a main event-tier match, and working with Daniel Bryan, a man who can get a great match out of a broomstick, the two really tore the roof off. There were exchanges and sequences that were direct, winking callbacks to a match the two had way back in 2003 on Velocity, when Cena was still a Thuganomics professor, and Bryan was a no name jobber getting a tryout match, something just to show how far these men had come in a decade.
A strong back and forth, consistently thrilling pacing and a feel like something special was waiting for us at the finish kept everyone on their toes. Cena is known to only lose matches under extenuating circumstances, ie, outside interference, or dirty tactics by his opponent, so no one in the world thought he was going to drop the title without some sort of overbooked shenanigans, but with one running knee to the face, Daniel Bryan put John Cena down for a three count.
No hooplah. No theatrics. Just one devastating blow and a giant being felled. David & Goliath for the pro graps set.
2. Antonio Cesaro vs William Regal – NXT, Episode 201 (12/25/13)
One man, a young, virile force of nature, and the other, an aging, fiendish, but noble veteran who helped train him. Antonio Cesaro, in addition to be a very well-rounded wrestler, well versed in the more technical, grappling side of the “sport,” is freakishly strong. Many wrestlers are presented as superhuman in their lifting abilities, and they look the part, juiced to the gills on anabolic steroids, but Cesaro is legitimately just really fucking strong, and his viciousness in the ring is palpable. William Regal, a mentor to an entire generation of up-and-comers, has been in the business for over thirty years and has slowly evolved from one of it’s greatest villains to a kingly sort of anti-hero. Defending the honor of a ring announcer Cesaro berated and attacked, Regal goes up against a man he knows is in better shape than he is, and who has a killer instinct he may not have been able to match even in his prime. What follows is a beautiful tragedy of a broken, withering man struggling to overcome insurmountable odds, and the last minute, heartbreaking change of heart his would be dispatcher undergoes as he looks on in regret at his teacher helpless, unable to stand up on his own two feet. He deploys his finisher in the closest thing I have seen to a loving mercy killing this year, and the two men share a moment of mutual respect that is hard not to be emotionally affected by.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax Day 4 (8/4/13)
The G1 Climax is a nine day singles tournament that New Japan Pro Wrestling puts on every year, in a double bracketed round robin style. You’re guaranteed an embarrassment of riches when it comes to amazing matches, but this year, one particular entry really stuck out for me. Shinsuke Nakamura, the most swagtastic man in Japanese wrestling, a well loved veteran whose unorthodox in ring style and legitimate MMA background makes him one of the toughest competitors around, comes face to face with Kota Ibushi, a junior heavyweight sensation punching a little above his status trying to take his career to the next level. Ibushi is a high flyer and dangerously charismatic, and plays the underdog role very well, proving one of my favorite truisms of pro wrestling: you don’t have to win to win. Nakamura tries to put Ibushi down with his Boma Ye running knee kick, one of the most entertaining and murderous looking strike finishers in wrestling, and Ibushi kicks out of the pin attempt at one, all sweaty survival instinct and fighting spirit. Nakamura bests Ibushi in the end, but the resilience and resolve Ibushi shows along the way make him look like a million bucks, and in the future, he’ll be able to hang with the big boys and look like he belongs there, because he fucking does.
4. Dolph Ziggler (C) vs Alberto Del Rio – World Heavyweight Championship Match – WWE Payback (6/16/13)
One of the hardest narrative tropes to execute in pro wrestling is the “double turn.” For simplicity’s sake, professional wrestling personas are split between “babyfaces,” generally do-gooder, rule-abiding heroes who cater to their fanbase and succeed by overcoming odds and winning in the face of adversity, and “heels,” cutthroat or cowardly villains who lie, cheat, and steal their way to the top, while pissing fans off by insulting their favorite sports teams. To keep a character fresh, it’s not uncommon for someone to make a face or heel turn, switching alignments to reposition themselves on the card, but to flip two characters, against each other, in the same match? It’s the hat trick. Dolph Ziggler has long played a cocky heel, dubbed “The Showoff” for his flamboyant theatrics and his Roy Batty ramen hair, but diehard fans love him because he’s extremely likable and is willing to take seriously cringe-inducing bumps in order to make the face he’s putting over look strong. Alberto Del Rio plays the role of a Mexican aristocrat, who had recently flipped from being an arrogant heel to being an oddly patriotic face. Ziggler wasn’t getting the angry heat from the audience he’s supposed to, and Del Rio was failing to really connect with middle Americans, so on their battle for the WWE’s secondary World title belt, their on-screen storyline took a lead from a real-life concussion Ziggler had recently experienced, and placed his vulnerability center stage. Del Rio spends the entire match directly attacking Ziggler’s head and neck area, vicious and unwavering, frightening even his lovable butler/companion Ricardo Rodriguez with his ruthless aggression. The crowd turns on Del Rio, because heroes don’t take advantage of such weaknesses, and begin to sympathize with Ziggler, for getting up again, over and over, only to be knocked back out mercilessly. That level of audience manipulation is on par with the moment in Psycho when Alfred Hitchcock makes us feel worried about Anthony Perkins as he watches that car refuse to sink.
5. KANA vs Arisa Nakajima (C) – JWP Openweight Championship Match – JWP Pure Slam 2013 (8/18/13)
Successful second acts are hard to sustain, particularly in professional wrestling, where an angle may get stretched out for as long as a year. Having a hero go through the paces is necessary, though. If you’re rooting for someone to overcome adversity and they do so with little to no difficulty, what is there to celebrate? One of the most fascinating feuds of the year has been between Joshi queens Kana and Arisa Nakajima. Kana was brought into the JWP promotion by Nakajima, despite Kana being a very divisive outsider figure, and the two seemed to get along swimmingly, until tensions mounted and the two brawled after a tag match in May. Kana slowly transformed herself into this frightening and powerful cross between Bull Nakano and Heath Ledger’s Joker, a wicked anarchist who was going to take on the entire Joshi world single handedly. Nakajima comfortably stepped into the role of the heroic crusader who would defend all that was good against this soulless interloper. When they finally met for the Openweight title in August, we were treated to the most brutal, Bane vs Batman takedown imaginable as Kana soundly destroyed Nakajima, took her title, and humiliated her in ring. A tense, deliberate flurry of passive kicks and strikes, counter for counter submission wrestling, and some truly spirited brawling, the match, while heartbreaking in the end, is so brilliant because it gives us four months of Kana, the world devourer, the unstoppable monster, a truly worthy villain. When Nakajima got her rematch and finally toppled her nemesis, it was a hard won victory that you could really sink your teeth into. Sometimes you have to delay the gratification to make it that much sweeter.
Top 5 Independent Web-Originals of 2013
By Dylan Roth
1. Welcome to Night Vale (Podcast, Commonplace Books)
While Welcome to Night Vale has been running since June 2012, 2013 was the year that saw this tiny independent podcast, the product of fewer than a half-dozen writers and performers, explode into an unprecedented Internet phenomenon. Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and performed almost completely by Cecil Baldwin, Night Vale is a truly unique work of fiction and is infamously difficult to describe. Put as simply as possible, it’s fictional community radio news show for a shady small town plagued with Lovecraftian horrors and mad conspiracies, but presented as if it’s all totally normal. Over the course of its first eighteen months and 38 half-hour episodes, Welcome to Night Vale has built a complex and fascinating mythology and an enormous, dedicated fan base.
Night Vale takes full advantage of its unique structure – with rare exception, the listeners’ only lens into the world of the show is through the voice of Cecil, the host of the community radio show. Listeners have grown to love and trust Cecil, but we only know what he tells us, and all other details have to be filled in by our own imaginations, and in a world where all fantasy and horror are real, no one can safely assume anything. Night Vale’s residents could all be three-eyed purple monsters and we’d have no way of knowing.
Now as the series enters its third year, with sold-out shows and a major book deal under their belts, it remains to be seen whether or not Welcome to Night Vale will remain the product of a half-dozen passionate individuals, but the success of such a modest but remarkable undertaking proves that despite major studios dipping their feet in web original content, the Internet can still be a place where young unknown creators can build dynasties.
2. Bee and PuppyCat (Animated Web Series, Cartoon Hangover)
Natasha Allegri & Larry Leichliter’s two-part webseries pilot Bee and PuppyCat (now available as one ten-minute video) is pure joy. Wacky and imaginative, Bee and PuppyCat is poised to become the next Adventure Time. The pitch: a broke, wisecracking slacker discovers her new pet is some sort of silent cosmic adventurer. A crowd-funded 6-episode season is coming this summer.
3. Valentin & The Widow (Podcast/Audiobook, Andrew Wheeler)
Author and ComicsAlliance contributor Andrew Wheeler chose an appropriately unconventional method for releasing his unconventional series adventure novels. Set in the 1920s, Valentin & The Widow is the story of a globe-trotting hero working to defeat a world-domination plot with the aid of her badass Russian valet/bodyguard. The first four books in the ongoing series were initially released as half-hour audio adventures, giving the story the period-appropriate feeling of an old radio drama.
4. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (Stand-Up Special, Mike Birbiglia)
Comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me) reaches heartbreaking levels of pathos and self-analysis in a stand-up routine that has more in common with a story from The Moth Radio Hour than an HBO special. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend stands as a shining example of how comedy can be a path to releasing a full palette of emotions. (It’s on Netflix. Check it out.)
5. Strip Search (Reality Series, Penny Arcade)
Mike Krahulik & Jerry Holkins, the Internet’s most financially successful comic creators, presented their own version of The Apprentice, where a dozen cartoonists competed to win the chance to quit their day jobs and create comics full-time for a year. While the competition and its resulting comics were entertaining, the best part of Strip Search was the way it eschewed the forced drama and confrontation of conventional reality shows and allowed every competitor to come across as a decent human being and build compelling friendships. Mike and Jerry even mocked this trope by making intentionally feeble efforts to turn the cartoonists against each other.
Top 5 Things to be Excited About in 2014
By Max Robinson
Look, I’ll level with you; There’s too many remakes of shit. Shit we don’t need. But if we’re going to get remakes, they might as well follow what appears to be the Robocop Remake Model; a strong cast with a director who has a proven track record that brings (most importantly) NEW IDEAS. The original Paul Verhooven Robocop is a deceptively smart science fiction film that parodies action movies while also simultaneously being a great action movie on its own. José Padilha looks to be bringing that same kind of intelligence to this new incarnation of Detroit’s part man-part machine-all cop while also making the concept his own; the trailers suggest a movie with something to say about free will and the very real possibility of drone warfare in American cities.
As with any trailer, who knows if it’ll actually hold up as a movie. It will almost certainly be better than Robocop 3, however.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Everyone seems on the same page as far as this looking like a clear winner. A sleek spy thriller that pits Captain America against SHIELD corruption? Sold.
3. Hannibal Season 2
Hannibal ended up being the prettiest/grossest new show of 2013 and props to NBC for giving us another season of Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Lecter tricking his friends into eating people via beautifully prepared table settings.
4. Game of Thrones Season 4
“Who will live and die on these crazy mixed up games of thrones next?” – everyone who hasn’t read the books (most people)
5. Wonder Woman: The Trial of Diana Prince
Grant Morrison’ & Yannick Paquette’s long-simmering original graphic novel that presents an out-of-continuity exploration of DC’s flagship heroine is set to come out this year. Assuming it does, it looks to be the kind of character reinvention/examination he excels at and that Wonder Woman’s been long overdue for.
Okay. That’s it for 2013. We promise. What are you most excited about for this new year? Comment below, if you’re so inclined.