Thursday, November 02, 2017

My Wife, My Hero

I’m not a runner. Unless there is some sort of goal to distract me, I don’t like putting my right foot in front of my left very fast for long stretches of time. It’s just not my thing. There are people who enjoy the endorphin rush and have the ability to clear their head after a long run, but that’s not me.

Prior to meeting my wife, Alyson Magrane, if you were to ask me about how one completes a marathon, I’d tell you it was a magic trick. Like sawing a person in half or pulling a quarter from behind a child’s ear. I’d say that running a marathon is a skill that certain people just have. Some folks are born marathoners, other people are born to marathon “Breaking Bad”.

But I’d have been wrong. Eleven years ago, my wife ran her first marathon and I witnessed first-hand the grueling determination that was needed to finish the race. You’re not born into marathoning, you train. A lot. Aly was a sprinter in high school, she never ran long distances. But one day she decided to just do it. The training took a lot of time and effort and focus. The biggest thing that I learned: race day is the “easiest” (might not be the right word) part. Okay, it wasn’t the easiest, but runners are jacked up and look forward to the actual marathon because all of their hard work culminates on this day. It’s just 26.2 miles to go and you’re done training.

Done with your toe nails falling off. Done with waking up with aches and pains in every muscle in your body. Done falling asleep in the middle of a movie because you ran 20 miles that morning and you just can’t keep your eyes open. Done with all of the hurt both physically and emotionally. If you can just get through a few hours, you’ll be done with this stuff forever.

Or until you do it again.

Once she finished the Boston Marathon in 2006, Aly told me that she’d never, ever, EVER do something like this again. Training sucks enough, but training alone—in the New England winter—is the worst. This was it. She did her marathon, checked off the bucket list box and that’s it. Never again.

All of the above was true. Then my lovely, beautiful wife hit 40-years-old. She was starting to experience what I’ve been telling her for the last three years: your body gets sore after doing seemingly easy things, you get tired quicker, you just can’t do what you used to do anymore. “It’s a fact of life, honey,” I said. “Turning 40 sucks and you just have to accept it.”

Aly had two words for me, “Fuck 40.”

And that’s why Aly is my hero. While I retreated into a woe-is-me, Mick Jagger what-a-drag-it-is-getting-old, sort of state; Aly raged against that aging machine. Not only did she tell 40 to piss off, but she was telling the ghosts of marathon past to piss off too. In the early summer, she informed me that her and her two friends, Nicole DiPentima Herman and Christine Boermeester, were running the New York City Marathon in November.

There was nothing that I could do about it, Aly’s mind was made up. I sighed and thought, “She doesn’t know what 40 is like. Forty is a tough dude. You can’t beat 40.” I prepared for picking up the pieces of the inevitable body breakdown. I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I can do stuff and I have trouble playing pickup hoops. A marathon? Are you kidding? At our age? Aly hasn’t trained for a marathon in more than a decade and, by the way, had two children.

I should know never to bet against Alyson Manasso Magrane because again, she showed me what she’s really made of. It wasn’t easy—these things never are—but she stuck with it. She ran through the heat of one of the hottest New England summers in history. She ran through all sorts of muscle pain. She ran through guilt (truth be told, I didn’t always cover myself in glory during this training) and training depression, through anger and frustration. She often came home, declared that her run just “sucked” and that she was done.

But I knew that she wasn’t done. Aly has an incredibly will and an uncanny ability to grit her teeth and grind out whatever goal she’s trying to accomplish.

Unlike 11 years ago, Aly also had a tremendous support group. If she got down, Christine or Nicole would pick her up—and she did the same for them. They provided inspiration, if Christine was going to train at 8:30 am, Aly wasn’t going to stay in bed. If Nicole was going for a run at 6:30 pm, Aly was going to get herself up from the couch and go with. This was a different type of training than the last time, I don’t know if anyone ever really looks forward to running 18 miles on a blazing hot Sunday, but when you’re running with your friends and you all have the same goal and each other’s backs, it’s not so bad.

Easy for me to say.

I don’t know if Aly would agree with me if I described this marathon’s training as “fun”, but I think that she would concur that it “sucked much less” and maybe if you gave her a margarita or two, she might even say it was “enjoyable”. The only reason for that attitude toward marathon training is because of Christine and Nicole.

During my life, I’ve been on enough sports teams to know who the good teammates are—Aly, Nicole and Christine are the best teammates that I’ve ever seen. Running may be a solitary sport, but these three made it a total team effort. All three women have children and I hope that the kids all realize what can be done once you put your mind to something. Never say die, never let anyone—especially age—dictate what you can and cannot do. By running this marathon and sticking to a tough training schedule, Aly, Christine and Nicole are imparting a more powerful lesson than I’ll ever be able to teach.

On Sunday, Aly and her friends are going to lace up their shoes and run through the five boroughs of the greatest city in the world. If you’re like me, during this time you might throw an iPad at your kids while you watch football elbow-deep in sour cream and onion dip. But for a few seconds, put the chip down, pause the game and stop and think about Aly and Christine and Nicole running the streets of New York. Right foot in front of left, infinitum. I know that they would really appreciate it.


Friday, October 06, 2017

The Evil that is Cast …

And so this is how the end of the Champions begins, with a smug Warren Worthington III aka the Angel, lounging around in a Speedo watching TV. It’s reminiscent of how Champions 3 started off, only there’s no Black Widow in a bikini. He gets a call from his buddy, Bobby Drake (Ice Man) telling him that he’s still in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and they want to hang out.

(I was maxin' and relaxin' sippin' a tequila, when Walter Cronkite popped up and said, "Hi, my name is Shelia!")

I guess the Ice Man who we last saw telling Angel and Spider-man that he was going to wander around America looking for himself didn’t work out so well. Angel gives Bobby shit about finally finding a girlfriend, tells him to grab the Champion-car and then informs his girlfriend that they only have 17 hours to fuck before these two people come to New Mexico for a visit.

Since I wrote “New Mexico” I guess I should say that this isn’t a Champions book, but Incredible Hulk Annual number 7, and we quickly move from the Angel’s love nest to a Gamma Base where Doc Samson is showing a news reporter around the base. The run into the Hulk, who is kind of chill but gets angry enough to bunch the gamma-radiated psychiatrist in the head a few times.

That was kind of funny. Doc Samson has never been one of my favorite characters and it’s nice to see him get his ass kicked every once in a while.

The next day Bobby and Teresa Sue Bottoms (the fuck kind of name is that?) show up and Terri Sue seems to have a thing for the Angel. She stares at him, she can’t stop talking to him and she makes him put on his Angel costume all while ignoring Bobby. See, Terri Sue gets hot for heroes and Bobby hasn’t let her know who he is. This puts Ice Man into mopey man mode but it doesn’t last because an intruder has shown up, but he’s no ordinary stranger.

("Wings? Oh yeah, but really, I want you to stare at my hairy chest, m'lady.")

(I have to say, Candy is pretty cool about her boyfriend blatantly hitting on his best friend's girl right in front of her. "Oh that? Yeah, Warren is a prick. No big deal.")

Terri Sue and Candy Southern (Angel’s girl) get into the house, which is good because this guy is a Sentinel. And he’s no ordinary Sentinel, for one thing, he’s a bit of a wise-ass and for another, he’s the Master Mold which means that he’s the top dog. The Sentinel that makes other Sentinels. Ice Man tries something kind cool (no pun) by absorbing all of the heat out of the air, turning everything around him cold but keeping him hot. The Sentinel knows what he’s doing, so he nails him with a Frigi-Blast, and Ice Man is down for the count.

The Angel knows that he can’t beat a Sentinel by himself, so he bolts. As he does, Terri Sue let’s a pretty slick burn on Ice Man.

(Terri Sue, I think I love you.)

The good thing about Angel is that he’s not geographically challenged and knows where he is. He starts flying towards Gamma Base—which is 100 miles away and that seems awfully far for him to fly at top speed while trying to out maneuver a Sentinel, but I guess he does it. Because the Sentinel runs into Doc Samson who punches it and then gets his ass kicked.

This angers the Hulk, not because the long-haired Samson is a friend, but because he just wants it to be quiet (dude, I hear you). He comes out of his room, really pissed off and starts punching the robot, who kicks him.

Now Hulk is really mad and as the Sentinel tries flying away, he jumps on to his boot. Samson tries to help Bruce Banner but miss times his leap and ends up on the ground. He’s useless. Where is the robot flying to? To a meteor base just outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Being in outer space makes the Hulk pass out and when he wakes up he finds himself in a tube that was made for the Blob.

The Hulk freaks, punches his way out and busts Angel and Ice Man out too. He’s really angry now and wants to completely destroy the robot. So he goes looking for him, despite the protests of WW III and Bobby Drake. They both think that they should just silently get the fuck out of there. Which, I mean, way to be heroes, guys. Jeez.

Angel tells the two that he’s going to look for an escape pod – they both realize that they’re in space – and the Hulk says he’s looking for some payback. Ice Man tags along and when the Hulk finds the Sentinel, he starts kicking the crap out of him. Finally, the Sentinel is able to knock Hulk out by frying him with extreme voltage.

Ice Man actually does something smart and tricks the robot into telling them his plan. The Sentinel says that he’s a robot but has the brain of crazy old Steven Lang who you may remember from trying to kill the X-Men in X-Men 100. This is the issue where Jean Grey turns into the Phoenix, so it was a pretty big deal.

The Angel shows up, hearing all of this exposition and tells the Sentinel that he’s not Lang at all. Lang is a vegetable in some hospital back on Earth. This completely confuses the robot who hasn’t noticed that the Hulk has woken up. Oh yeah, the Hulk is even angrier than he was before and literally tears the Sentinel in half. He’s just lying there with his circuits and stuff all over the place.

Angel finds an escape pod and tries to get the Hulk to join him and Ice Man, but Hulk is like, “yeah I’m okay.” Despite being torn in half, the Sentinel is not quite dead though and he overrode the programming so that the pod won’t launch. The Hulk is super angry now and wants to rip the robot to even smaller pieces. Ice Man hits the Hulk with a snowball who retaliates by kicking the pod out of the space station.

The vacuum of space sucks the Hulk out and he splashes down in the ocean next to the two mutants. The Hulk tells them it was nice hanging with them, but he has to go. Ice Man and the Angel are left on an ice raft, with the Angel saying, “We better get back before my girlfriend kills yours.” All Ice Man can think is, “Why me, Lord? Why me?”

I like watching the Hulk punch things, it’s one of my most favorite things about comics. He’s a complete lunatic and he just beats the crap out of everything in sight. That is just great. But I think that I like something else a little better: watching Ice Man get the shaft from the ladies. There were a few times where I actually laughed out loud at Bobby’s bad luck. What’s weird to me is that this girl loves the supes but she doesn’t think that it’s weird that Bobby flies a Champions jet to his friend’s house, who is the world-famous X-Man the Angel and then gets kidnapped by a giant robot.

That’s three pretty huge clues that your boyfriend may have an alter ego. But Terri Sue Bottoms doesn’t get context clues, man.

I liked this issue a lot, writer Roger Stern has a great handle on the Angel and Ice Man’s personalities, which is refreshing. He makes Bobby seem like a guy who’s really unlucky with the ladies rather than a loser, the way Bill Mantlo did. And another cool thing was when TSB was mooning over WWIII, Bobby didn’t act like a baby. He kinda complained about it (which is what I would have done if I was in his shoes) to the Angel’s girlfriend, but he didn’t make an ice razor and try to cut his ice veins.

Also, the Angel wasn’t a prick either, which was a nice change of events.

The art was by John Byrne and it was pretty great. But that’s par for the course for him.

All-in-all, I give this four out of five Hulk babies. This kid looks like my nephew, which makes me laugh even more. 

BTW, I have not given my final synopsis on the Champions as a series. I will do that sometime very soon. Also, there is one Champions book that I have left to read: Godzilla 3, but I have to find it. Don’t worry true believers, I will!

Friday, September 29, 2017

My Friend, My Foe!

This issue of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man opens up with the Angel in a lot of trouble. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned over these last four months is that the Angel is ALWAYS in a lot of trouble. He’s trouble so much, he could be a Disney Princess. There are a few differences this time:

He’s AND Spider-Man are in trouble
The guy causing the trouble is his best buddy, Bobby Drake AKA Ice Man
It’s not an X-Men or Champions book, it’s a Spidey book

In any event a mind-controlled Ice Man is chasing the Angel and the Spider and he’s actually using his powers to their utmost abilities. He’s chucking ice daggers at them, he’s cooled the entire building so that the two heroes are freezing and using more energy to keep them warm (thus slowing them down and making them easier targets) and he chucked a giant, spiked ice ball at them.

And to make matters better, he’s not whining. Like at all!

This means that crippled super villain and second-rate Tony Stark, Stuart Clarke (his name rhymes with Tony’s!), who has had zero training as Ice Man AND is in fact unconscious right now, is a better Ice Man than un-hypnotized Bobby Drake. In fact, Ice Man should sing, “Clarke-y, Clarke-y, Clarke-y can’t you see? Sometimes it’s better when you hypnotize me!”

Maybe not. But he probably should.

As the fight is going on, we get a couple of flashbacks as to how this all happened. Immediately after the Champions broke up, Ice Man heads to the hospital (as Ice Man, BTW; not Bobby Drake) to Clarke’s hospital room where he’s bandaged, paralyzed and in a coma. For days, Ice Man stays there soliloquizing about how sorry he is for what happened and how it sucks for Clarke to be all messed up. If you’ve forgotten, in order to get rid of the Champions (after he was knocked out by Black Widow’s dad, Ivan [remember him?]), Clarke (as Rampage) presses the self-destruct button on his costume, which blew him up. So while, I’m usually up for an Ice Man beatdown, this isn’t his fault at all. Nor is it the Champions’ fault either.

So, Ice Man is sitting there, feeling sorry for himself when the bandaged Clarke tells him to come closer. He then blows hypnotizing gas in the icy mutant’s face and Bobby is his slave. I have no idea how Clarke was physically able to get the chemicals that he needed to do that, but he did – it was explained that these chemicals were found in the hospital, which okay. But how did he stand up and get them. They’ve made a pretty large point of saying that Clarke is a cripple. Again, I don’t know.

After the flashback, Ice Man is really kicking these heroes’ collective asses. At one point he calls Angel “Daddy Warbucks” again and grabs him by the throat. As he’s doing this to his best buddy, he’s freezing him at the same time, which is a pretty bad ass move. I’ve read probably about 20 comics with Ice Man in them over the last four months and this is the most ruthless I’ve ever seen him. And it’s not like it’s a new writer at the helm, this is still Bill Mantlo who has been writing the character for over two years.

Spider-Man isn’t about to watch the Angel die (awwwww, mannnnnn) so he tackles Ice Man out a 35th story window. As they’re falling, they’re still fighting and Spidey manages to bring the duo into a car wash. The “scalding hot steam” melts Ice Man and snaps him out of his stupor. And this is why Spider-Man is so awesome, after he kicks Bobby’s ass he thinks, “Oh yeah, people might not know who he is” and he webs up a mask so that Ice Man can keep his secret identity!

Peter Parker puts the “friendly” in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

(Spider-Man is my hero!)

As the two were fighting, three businessmen burst into the Champions building – seriously, you guys, you didn’t see the donnybrook going on here – to talk to the Angel about the building. They actually represent the construction company that screwed the Champions over and they want to reach an understanding. We don’t hear what they say to him, but the Angel flips out and starts flapping his wings creating a mini-hurricane which tussles papers, glasses fall off and ties are askew.

It’s a bad scene.

The businessmen are so freaked out that they tell the Angel his debts are cancelled, the property is rented and the place will be repaired, free of charge. I guess business was done differently in the late 1970s.

(I'm glad Trump doesn't have wings! Wocka, wocka!)

The three talk about getting Clarke back to the hospital and Ice Man tells the others that he has a lot of thinking to do, but he’s going out on his own. I guess he’s going to wander around a bit like Caine from the TV show “Kung-Fu”. And that’s about it.

There are two buttons to the story:

The camera that the Angel gave to Spider-Man is broken after he took it through the carwash. So he doesn’t get the camera or his fight with Ice Man.

Flash Thompson is walking around campus with his new girlfriend that he got while in Vietnam (“I went to Vietnam and all I got was this lousy girlfriend!”). They’re so in love that they almost get smashed in the back of the head by a Frisbee. Good thing that Hector Ayala is there to save them both. You remember Hector Ayala right? He’s the White Tiger!

This was another really good issue. I think that when Spidey is part of the crew, things work really well. Angel isn’t as much of an ass and even though Bobby was hypnotized through much of these two issues, he was cool (HA!) too. Plus Ice Man actually used his imagination and jammed his feet on the accelerator when it came to his powers. He was really fucking shit up. Too bad he can’t do that all the time. The Clarke story was pretty lame, but what are you going to do? I’ve read much worse.

Sal Buscema did another great job with his art, though the cover was a little sketchy (he didn’t do that). I do like how someone is still holding out hope that the Champions are going to be a thing again, with the bubble, "A Champion Gone Mad!" Stop trying to make the Champions happen, Gretchen! It's not going to happen! 

All-in-all, I’d give this story four bullied half-Peter, half-Spider-Man, Spidey Senses! (Pretty sick burn by Flash Thompson, BTW. "This is a bowling alley! Not a knitting parlor!" Eat that, Puny Parker!)


Jesus, Parker's practically Bobby Drake in that panel. "Oooh, I'll punch you one day, Flash! You just wait and see!" Spoiler Alert: he doesn't!