Greetings, programs! Here’s a one-two blast of update-worthy news I thought I’d illumine you with:
1. Biggest Loser 5k
Saturday morning found Audrey Wilson, Kristin and me convening at Davis Park at the unwholesome hour of 6:20 a.m. for the Biggest Loser 5k Run/Walk. Kristin’s dad dropped us off a block away from the park and slipped away with Owen to find a parking spot significantly farther away. About 2.500 participants- some buoyant, others too cool to be happy or hopeful- bedecked in the event’s official maroon t-shirts (now soaked by the rain I had not been counting on) huddled in shivering clusters about the grassy assembly area, while I, in my black polo and crimson necktie, felt the first quivers of anxiety tremble through my body. Kristin had been faithfully training for this three times a week for over two months, while I had been… well, not so faithful. No, that caramelizes the truth: I came to a dead halt three weeks in, not even making it to the second training period of that week, so yeah- my initial ebullience was steadily draining as we approached 7:00. The arrival of my boy Josh Lawrenz lifted my flagging spirits some, but as the t-minus 10 mark came and he wanted to start with the 11 minute mile group my fears solidified once more.
T-minus 6: holy crap, this is about to go down. Josh wonders aloud how many people gathered here with us ate eggs for breakfast (I downed a large coffee from McDonald’s and felt it coursing through my veins and elsewhere about this time) and how many shot up controlled substances before arriving. He’s a bro, but he can be crazy random like that…
7 a.m. A former contestant from The Biggest Loser sings “The Star Spangled Banner” and I point out to Josh that they did in fact lower the flag during the night and then raise it again in the morning. Francis Scott never noticed, so it’s not that he’s a liar, he’s just mistaken. Sounds great in a song, though. The event’s MC makes a self-referentially true statement: “You’ve all begun and when you start you can’t not begin!” Josh squints with disapproval at the faux-positivity attempted in that shipwreck of a sentence, and then surges forward- the race has swept us up. We launch down Main Street then veer out to the right across the bridge before arcing back to the riverfront. I am surprised to find that I’m still running after what must have been ten minutes already. The longest continuous run I’d made up to that point in my training was a minute and a half, so that was more than moderately insane.
The course bends right along beside several crews of kayakers plowing against the tide. The poetry of it excites me and Josh and I keep on battling our way onward. We pass an official encourager who shouts tracts of Law at runners-by (“This is about achievement! You need this and you can do this! Reach down inside and make this happen!“); we take hold of grace and laugh contemptuously at the bad news being broadcast as good news. The halfway point is in Sinnissippi Park and we slow to a walk just before we catch a glimpse of it. A clock is posted and shows us we’ve run for 21 minutes straight. We take it easy and connect things we see to episodes of Seinfeld and sure enough, as previously predicted, Kristin hits the button and goes Mach 5, leaving us in her wake. We re-engage Beast mode and run another leg of the way back before deciding to take a breather and remember the episode where Kramer wears an eyepatch because he wants to update his look. Reenergized, we book it the rest of the way back and finish with a time of 40:47. Dang, son! I ran 2 1/2 miles that morning, about 6 times as much as I had imagined I’d be able to! Kristin smoked us with a finish time of 38:07 and ran every last inch (millimeter?) of the thing. Flush with success and soaked with early morning precipitation we took off for Potato Shak to celebrate and earn back all the calories we had burnt.
Spiraling out tangentially from there…
2. The Ultimates
I just finished The Ultimates: Ultimate Collection, the trade paperback which collects The Ultimates #1-13, the comic miniseries the The Avengers film is most indebted to. Back in 2000 Marvel Comics launched Ultimate Marvel, an imprint which rebooted their comic universe with certain key characters and teams such as the X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. The result was a new slice of the Marvel Multiverse with new origins, slightly more mature textures and themes, and no continuity baggage from the previous forty years. The Ultimates serve as the imprint’s equivalent of the Avengers, and it’s here that we get the reimagined, Samuel L. Jackson-lookalike Nick Fury (who, hilariously enough, opines that Samuel L. Jackson would be the perfect actor to portray him in a movie!), the Chitauri, and the streamlined functionality of the costumes you see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In a more twisted comedic vein we also get the Hulk wrecking Manhattan as he hunts down Freddie Prinzie Jr. who’s on a date with his ex-fiancee. Not only is Bruce Banner ticked off about Betty going out with this clown, the Ultimates have not yet undertaken a mission that would justify the hype S.H.I.E.L.D. has flooded the media with or the enormous budget they’ve appropriated for themselves and Bruce sees his rampage as potentially good PR if the Ultimates have to round him up and save the day. Of course, he’s the Hulk and constitutionally unhinged when he goes into that mode, more a wind-up toy of carnage that can only be aimed in one direction than anything, so it isn’t that simple and the Ultimates’ first mission, though successful, ends in massive carnage and a large body count. Not a great start for Earth’s Mightiest…
What I loved about the comic was the bristly exteriors of and tempestuous interplay between each of the team’s members, each of whom the reader is able to identify with without necessarily sympathizing all that much, much like many of Flannery O’Connor’s characters in her fiction. You frequently feel the shame of the book’s characters as well as ashamed of them- our heroes can be awfully abhorrent sometimes. Grim portrayals of humanity as frightened, weak-willed, self-absorbed and cruel aren’t new in the comics world, so The Ultimates isn’t innovative in that regard but then again, it isn’t necessary that it be. Instead, the portrayals ring true as full-blooded human beings tainted with fallenness, negotiating that agonizing tension between heroic ideals and the fractured barbarism of existence. Mark Millar’s writing is crisp and knows when to sling out rapid fire comedy and went to knock the wind out of your chest with direct-from-life trauma. Bryan Hitch’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous and I can’t believe I’m only now discovering his work. Every panel is a tour-de-force, but one set piece in particular stands out for me: a double page splash depicting Thor and Iron Man taking on a fleet of Chitauri warships in the skies above Phoenix, Arizona that’ll make your heart stop. Whoa.
I’ve said as much before, but the Ultimates (read: the Avengers) is a study in ecclesiology, and this book pulls no punches in sketching the uncomfortable complexity of identifying with others and working together in what should, by all rights, amount to a catastrophic failure, i.e. it’s a lot like the Church. The parallels are there- just go read it. These individuals, alienated from themselves and others, afraid of being known fully as all that they are, only begin to even remotely make sense within the volatility of life shared together. Tim Kreider sounds out the idea in the June 15th New York Times and even works in a wink at the Hulk (or maybe She-Hulk, I guess?) along the way:
The operative fallacy here is that we believe that unconditional love means not seeing anything negative about someone, when it really means pretty much the opposite: loving someone despite their infuriating flaws and essential absurdity. “Do I want to be loved in spite of?” Donald Barthelme writes in his story “Rebecca” about a woman with green skin. “Do you? Does anyone? But aren’t we all, to some degree?”
We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.
(Tim Kreider, “I Know What You Think Of Me”)
In spite of every valid fact that can be brought to bear against them, the impossible task of belonging and fulfilling the mission is accomplished in The Ultimates. It isn’t pretty, but then again, the Church usually isn’t here on the ground, either.
My favorite single line comes at the climax of the story arc. Cap is duking it out with a Chitauri senior officer who has shape shifted (they do that) to take on the appearance of a Nazi foe from way back. The Chitauri-disguised-as-Herr-Kleiser mocks Cap and tells him to surrender. “Surrender?” Cap shouts. “SURRENDER? You think this letter on my head stands for France?” Zing!
So, anywho: I highly recommend you get your mits on this book and digest every last panel. Along with all of the aforementioned, it helps me appreciate the look of The Avengers even more. My favorite single shot of that movie (a grim look shared between Cap and Iron Man after discovering Coulson is dead) looks like it manifested direct to celluloid from the imagination of Bryan Hitch. (I’m sorry the pic is kinda small, but seriously, study it. Every element is so beautiful: the angle, the lighting, the shocked visages of our heroes themselves as it sinks in that the man they hadn’t quite realized up until now was a friend is gone. Fantastic stuff.)
So there you go, true believers! Stay gold and get ready for the Iron Man 3 piece coming up soon!