Caught in the Ropes – Super-Cena? Dude Can’t Even Fly (Cena, WWE)

Well, Capital Punishment was…a show, I’ll give it that. It could have just as easily been a three-hour episode of Raw, but that’s what happens when there are so many Pay-Per-Views a year. And my somewhat negative response to the show is not due to the fact that I went a measly three-for-seven on my Roundtable picks…at least completely. It had some good matches, it had some mediocre matches, it had some bad matches; overall, it was mediocre. Guess we’ll see what the ‘E has up their sleeves for Raw, or up their sleeveless t-shirts as it were. And on that note, you can also see me put on my “10 Thoughts…” cap for this week’s Raw while Rhett is out of town.

It goes without saying that John Cena’s “Super-Cena” act is stale. While it probably started out unintentionally, it has reached the point where even Cena and the WWE refer to the character as “Super-Cena”, which is something of a damning admission. But it’s easy to understand why; on the surface, the parallels between the Cena character and Superman are pretty obvious. They are both characters who were more reckless and dangerous in their early incarnations, but have developed into “Boy Scout” characters who follow a very strict moral code, and both are notorious for always finding a way to win the day. But are they all that similar, and is it even a good thing for the ‘E to have a super-hero-like character in the first place? A word of warning, first: this is about to get nerdy.

Here’s the first issue: Superman can be defeated. He might usually, if not always, win the war, but he does lose battles. There was of course the Death of Superman mini-series in 1992 where “The Man of Steel” died battling the villain Doomsday, but there was also the recent series Last Stand of New Krypton where Superman died, albeit briefly, in the explosion of Brainiac’s ship. While Superman did come back to help save the day in Superman: War of the Supermen, he did so after failing to help save thousands of New Kryptonians who suffocated in the vacuum of space, which leads into the next point.

Superman almost always has help from various heroes in the DC universe. To go back to the War of the Supermen, Superman’s powers are crippled by the actions of Lex Luthor and Rao, who turn the Sun red. If you aren’t familiar with how the big blue Boy Scout’s powers work, they are activated by the rays of a yellow sun. It’s up to Nightwing and Flamebird to rectify the situation; Superman is helpless without them.

Now think hard about this: how often do you see Cena flat-out lose a match? I mean a clean loss, without any outside interference? And how often do you see Cena need the help of other Superstars in a storyline? There was the feud with the Nexus, but even in the Summerslam elimination tag match Cena won what had become a 2-on-1 handicap match. And we’re not even talking about all the other times Cena got the best of the Nexus, including the period when he was “fired” from the WWE but didn’t even miss a single taping of Raw. Rarely do fans believe that Cena even needs outside help, such is the degree of the Super-Cena persona.

But, Superman has equals, or at least those who can go toe-to-toe with him. Brainiac and Lex Luthor might thwart Superman on a regular basis via some form of underhanded trickery, but Doomsday, General Zod, Parallax, and even the goddamn Batman can take it to him. The ‘E has done a piss-poor job of portraying the heels within their company, with the possible exception of Sheamus, as an equal to Cena. And every time Cena makes a miraculous last-second recovery in a match, it erodes the legitimacy of his opponents that much more. When Superman takes a serious beating, he doesn’t just magically hop back to his feet like his villainous counterpart was assaulting him with a wiffle-bat. Superman bleeds and bruises; his come-backs are due to quick thinking and outside assistance rather than his supernatural stamina.

And that’s a basic problem; Superman has a weakness. Cena does not. There is no kryptonite equivalent for Cena. His comic book-esque powers know absolutely no limits, which is a huge issue with the Super-Cena character. Superman’s writers over the years have tweaked and adjusted his powers and increased the strengths of his enemies in order to make their battles more dramatic. The 1986 Superman re-boot The Man of Steel went to great lengths to scale back on his powers and flesh out his background in order to reap greater drama out of his adventures. There has been no re-boot for the Cena character; no point where he truly seems vulnerable.

So the Cena/Superman parallel isn’t perfect, so what? Well, here’s the biggest issue: the superhero character doesn’t fit into modern wrestling anymore. Hell, the type of character Cena portrays isn’t that common in comics anymore, either. Since the ’80’s, the drama for comic book characters comes from ethical and personal conflicts as much as physical combat. And while Cena being forced to become a member of the Nexus seemed like it might have been a golden opportunity to have Cena question his own moral code, the ‘E instead took the easy way out.

Superman has had to question his duty to America versus the rest of the world, his status as an illegal alien–in the most literal use of the word, according to some versions of his back-story–his love of Lois Lane, and the loneliness that comes with being the last man of Krypton. He has strained relations with fellow DC heroes, specifically Batman, but has questioned the benefits of his promise to never kill a villain, no matter how dangerous.

With the time restrictions limiting the kind of storytelling the ‘E’s creative team can engage in, they are either incapable or unwilling to tell this kind of story with Cena. If Cena’s victories are inevitable, then drama has to come from somewhere else, otherwise his character needs to change. These aren’t the days of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior anymore. The ‘E has seemingly treated the Attitude Era like it was a historical anomaly instead of a shift in the tastes of wrestling fans.

And I’m not advocating a return to a PG-13 product, just to be clear. The real legacy of the Attitude Era is an evolution of characters from the larger-than-life super-heroes of the ’80’s to the more human action-hero. Stone Cold was the beer-swilling everyman stickin’ it to the boss. The Rock was chest-thumping machismo personified. Mankind was the off-kilter lunatic. But they could all be bloodied, battered, and, most importantly, beaten. It has been said, and I believe it’s true, that the Rock lost more matches than any other legend…ever. And the crowd still loves him. Maybe it’s time for Cena and the WWE to take a page from their own playbook and bring Super-Cena down to Earth.

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