McGuire’s Mondays: If AEW’s Devil disappoints, it won’t be the first or last masked attacker to drop the ball


By Colin McGuire, Staffer

The year was 1990 and the month was August. Something called The Black Scorpion debuted for WCW. Whoever it was had eyes for Sting, who also served as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. When The Black Scorpion spoke, the voice was muddied. When he/she/it appeared, he/she/it appeared strong. It was a menacing gimmick. Ominous. Clues were dropped along the way. The Black Scorpion was a former friend of Sting, some announcers suggested. When a match finally commenced between Sting and The Black Scorpion in September of that year, a dueling Black Scorpion appeared.

I was six years old. I was transfixed.

And yet despite that young age, even I was a bit disappointed when the spooky character merely turned out to be Ric Flair under a hood. We had seen Sting vs. Flair a lot. This wasn’t new, nor was it particularly interesting. The story lasted some four months before the unmasking and by the time we got to Starrcade, I was ready to run through walls to figure out how it would end. The whole thing had my mind in knots. The reveal wasn’t just mildly cheesy; it was deflating as hell.

Fast-forward nearly 30 years to the day. On August 6, 2020, something called Retribution debuted on a Monday Night Raw, live from the WWE Performance Center and smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic. The masked marauders lit a generator on fire. On the ensuing episode of Smackdown, they attacked announcers and took a chainsaw to the ring ropes. It wasn’t wildly inventive, but it did add a desperately needed dose of intrigue into fans’ lives as they sat at home, doing all they could to stay safe from COVID-19.

The payoff was … well, not ideal. The group was essentially billed as a faction from NXT that featured Dio Maddin, Dijak, Shane Thorne, Mia Yim and Mercedes Martinez. Then came the name changes. God bless the ghosts of T-Bar, Slapjack, Mace, Reckoning and Retaliation. By the beginning of October, we were finally alerted to the fact that Mustafa Ali was the leader of it all. Though he didn’t get a name change for his character, he also couldn’t save the dead Retribution idea as doctors operated on it through the weeks.

I was 36 years old. I officially gave up on the notion of masked attackers in pro wrestling.

Why bring this up now? Well, if the promo teasers have been true and the graphics don’t lie, then we’re going to see some masked mystery attackers wrestle a match on Wednesday’s edition of AEW Dynamite. For weeks, we’ve seen sporadic appearances from what fans affectionately call “The Devil” along with his (or her) purported minions and perhaps we are getting close to figuring out who exactly The Devil is, considering how we’re a few days away from The Devil’s buds hopping into a wrestling ring.

And you want to know what? While I said I officially gave up on the notion of masked attackers in pro wrestling some three years ago, The Devil almost got me again. When the entity first appeared and attacked Jay White, I was curious. Then, when AEW didn’t immediately follow up on it, I was less curious. Then, when AEW did eventually follow up on it, I was annoyed. And now, I’m just … I’m just … yeah, there’s no way this ends in any type of satisfying way.

Don’t get me wrong. I want it to. I want it a lot. Threading the needle on weeks and weeks of a story like this is hard and as I outlined earlier, you’d be hard pressed to find one in the history of pro wrestling where it actually worked (the NWO is probably the best “What is going on?” story ever told on American pro wrestling TV, but nobody was under a hood for any of that). And yet, my faith for this thing culminating in a great payoff has dissipated to nearly nothing.

Why? Because it’s such a thin line to walk in long-form. Unless you have three or four major moves planned out going into the beginning of the story – and those three or four major moves aren’t extended over two or three months – it’s a thankless proposition. And it’s not just about our fleeting attention spans as fans these days; it’s more about how easy it is to accidentally wade into campy waters when you elongate the reveal of stuff like this.

God bless the announcers on last week’s Dynamite. They tried to explain why the lights went on and off as The Devil and The Devil’s Buds showed up – and they even did an admirable job at that – but come on, guys. Nobody is buying into the idea that they took over the production truck for about eight minutes in the middle of a show, only to not be heard from at any other point. The Devil don’t mess around. MJF or no MJF, The Devil would figure out a way to make the entire show about The Devil, even if that meant playing Angelico’s theme music once Timeless Toni Storm stepped through the curtain. I don’t know what’s worse: Trying to justify the lights flickering in a realistic way or just ignoring what’s behind it altogether. Retribution tried the latter and was mocked for it. The Devil did the former and it wasn’t much better.

It’s all to say that drawing out stories like these only accentuate the holes in them. I know that every creative mind in every pro wrestling company wants to sell us on the idea that pro wrestling is a serialized drama with plot twists on par with the best television programs, but that’s simply not true. Pro wrestling is its own genre. The illusion of reality looms over everything that’s done and fans love it most when that illusion straddles reality so well that we can’t tell truth from fiction. Plus, people half-fight in various states of undress and an elderly lady once gave birth to a hand. You can’t classify this stuff.

And because of as much, you shouldn’t think that you could introduce masked intruders, stretch their reveal out over months, and expect fans to legitimately buy into it on most any level. These days, fans know the free agents, the injury reports, the contract renewals, the releases and everything in between. Kevin Nash ain’t walking through that door, either under a mask or with a fanny pack on. There isn’t a single wrestler that exists that would make the Devil reveal feel important or interesting at this point. If it’s not because of the Information Age in which we live, then it’s the mere reality that it’s as hard as ever to successfully follow through on things like these to begin with.

Making matters worse is that AEW could really stand to not have to endure a disappointing moment these days. The critics are out there and they are loud when it comes to the CM Punk stuff, low TV ratings, subpar attendance figures and more. If anything, it would probably be best if AEW kept its head down, focused on the Continental Classic and put out weekly TV that had very good-to-great matches in the way Saturday’s Collision felt no-nonsense and wrestling-heavy. Be the alternative. Be for the match-loving fan. Don’t test the waters of sports entertainment with a trope that doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to the history of the medium. In any other time, it’d be OK to not stick the landing on something like this. These days? There’s blood in the water and the sharks can smell it.

So, now what? Hindsight suggests a quicker reveal may have had a better shot at working – Chris Jericho showing up as Penta at the original All In most definitely worked and I was in a GCW crowd when Jon Moxley walked to the ring as a druid and sent Chicago to another realm when he revealed his face – but we’re far too deep into this for something like that to be an option. Perhaps the social media rumblings from Britt Baker, Jack Perry and Sammy Guevara toward MJF last week weren’t actually a sign of real life frustrations and they could combine to play into however this story evolves. But even then … would you be impressed? How about shocked? Would it move the needle for you? I can’t say it would for me.

All I can really say is that I hope AEW finds a way to make this work in some way, shape or fashion. I say that as a wrestling fan for a few reasons. One, it’s not fun when WWE or AEW fall on their faces and the wrestling fan world goes to war in petulant ways. Two, AEW needs a win these days and there’s that thing about high tide rising all ships, you know. And three … well, wouldn’t that be neat if at least one wrestling company in the history of forever actually came up with a way to end a months long masked attacker story that didn’t suck? I’d raise a Woooo! Energy Drink to that.

For now, though, we wait as the ghosts of T-Bar, The Black Scorpion and others loom over the resolution for all this. And while the devil might be in the details, here’s hoping those details are still worth discussing after everything is said and done.


Readers Comments (3)

  1. I agree with all of this, though I do want to say while it wasn’t PERFECT and I get there was a lot of “NWO Ripoff” to it, the Aces & 8s thing in TNA wasn’t terrible.

    • Aces & Eights started out terrible though. I mean when D-Lo Brown was the first big reveal, that angle couldn’t go any lower.

  2. No matter who “The Devil” turns out to be, McGuire will say it’s not good, as well anyone who HAS to consistently say negative crap about AEW. And yet, he keeps getting to write a column that is 90% negatively slanted about anything AEW (feel free to go back and check, I’m totally accurate).

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