Monday, July 26, 2010

In Brightest Day...

I hurt the feelings of my friends' seven-year-old son. Not intentionally, of course, but I answered a question blithely that perhaps would have been better served with a moment's reflection. Asked who is the best superhero, I admitted my favorite is Green Lantern. Thinking it would for sure be Spider Man, the little guy's spirits were crushed to learn that I don't put the friendly neighborhood webslinger at the top of the list. It's not like I hate Spidey, I told him, trying to soften the blow, but it was too late. I may have lost a friend.

The cover image above (drawn by Joe Staton) coincides with my childhood discovery of Green Lantern. It features the hero's oath, recited when he has to recharge his power ring every twenty-four hours. Ryan Reynolds, starring in next summer's film adaptation, spoke the oath this weekend at the San Diego Comic Con in response to a kid in the audience:

Goosebumps? I just about hit the roof with a throaty yowp.

Now, let's be reasonable. The movie could be utter crap. For all we know, it will be another special effects disaster like most superhero movies are these days. As a friend recently commented, they look cheaply made. Green Lantern could fall on this very same path oh so very easily, and chances are good that it will. You know what? It doesn't matter one bit. We can always go back to the source material. For all the haters against, say, the Lord of the Rings films, the only thing you have to do is point at the bookshelf: we'll always have the original.

Nevertheless, I'm a die-hard optimist. I've got huge hopes for this movie, that it will be high adventure along the lines of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a big dose of space opera to honor Green Lantern's science-fiction roots. His oath was penned by none other than Alfred Bester himself, one of the genre's finest writers. From such beginnings Green Lantern has awesome potential. When you consider that it's only in the last several years that the comic itself has become readable -for decades the Green Lantern comic was pure dreck- this could be the moment when our hero achieves his zenith.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Shall Joan d'Arc bless the flame, Gandhi the assassin's bullet, Dietrich Bonhoeffer the gallow's noose? Sebastian, saint of archers and no stranger to untimely demise, thinks they should. Sebastian blesses the very agency of his martyrdom... his first martyrdom. Unique among the venerated, he is the saint who was martyred twice.

Imagine being filled with arrows enough to make hedgehogs envious. Diocletian thought these sufficient steps to dispose of a Christ-loving Praetorian captain. He was mistaken. As the Legenda Aurea would have it, he commanded (Sebastian) to be led to the field and there to be bounden to a stake for to be shot at. And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin. But Sebastian recovered and went on to mock the emperor in public places. This wouldn't do, so Diocletian had the man beaten to a pulp and tossed into a toilet to die. Apparently this method stuck, as Sebastian is next heard from as a ghost, telling his friends where to find his corpse. Whether he warned them to mind the smell is unrecorded by any of his hagiographers.

His image is proof against plague, popularized with altars in the Medieval era that staved Black Death. That's neat. What really strikes a chord, however, is Sebastian's patronage: he is the saint of his presumed executioners. He is the saint of archers.

I wear his image on a medallion, not because I'm catholic or out of belief that it will deflect projectiles-not physical ones, at least-but as a reminder to love our persecutors. Love them with laughter. Sebastian's harangue is an inspiration. Not the sort to attribute saintliness to humans, I appreciate those whose actions are dictated by love. It goes against all reason, but to do otherwise is folly.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spoiler-Free Inception Review

A film about dreams would be incomplete if it did not include the most beautiful woman on the planet; as in so many other things, Inception gets this part right. Marion Cotillard provides a beating heart to both us and the film, like that first songbird greeting the new dawn.

Actually, it's hard to fault anything about the film. It continues writer/director Christopher Nolan's unbroken streak of complicated thrillers; his deft handling of what seems a dozen layers of plot is by now old hand, and Inception is his best work to date. Even so, at risk of losing my geek cred, I'd love to see him wait before making the third Batman movie and do a comedy instead. Maybe he could revitalize John Cusack's career. Like that's going to happen, but this is a movie about dreams, after all.

Anyone who has seen the trailer knows walking in what they are in store for. You'll go in expecting The Matrix (with which this will be compared ad nauseam, not entirely justified) and exit with something similar but by the same token entirely unique. The nature of dreams rather than reality is the big question. Inception also has a stronger emotional through-line that makes, you ask me, a far more satisfying finish than The Matrix.

I've totally alienated my geek audience.

When you go (and you know you will), don't forget the old thinking cap. As in his other films, Nolan comes hard and fast with wild concepts. If you don't pay attention it's easy to get lost in the details. Don't worry, he's one of the best storytellers we have: the information is there, you just have to pay attention. It's worth the effort. Hoo doggies, is it worth it. You know how finicky I am, and I've not been this satisfied walking out of the theater in many a moon.

And hey, it has Marion Cotillard. You can't go wrong.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Speechless Tuesday

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday Song

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

(Mostly) Speechless Tuesday

In Star Trek and other like-minded entertainments, the status quo is always reaffirmed at the end of an episode after some regretful violence and misunderstandings between alien races. The president's meeting with Israel's prime minister in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident reminds me of that.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Red, White, & Blargh

By now you've chosen sides in the Wonder Woman Pants Debate. It's not a complicated subject; you're either for the pants or against them. You like her with cape and thighs...

-or you prefer your favorite Amazon looking like she's ready to slalom race against evil and never go to the bathroom again.
It's like being asked if you favor ketchup or mustard on a Greek salad. I'll take neither. Wonder Woman is a great hero and there have been glimmers, not least when Lynda Carter played her on television, that the character would finally get her due. Pants a hero do not make, not least they make you look like Wanda Jackson's worst nightmare.

Illustrator Darwyn Cooke has captured my ideal Wonder Woman, a kick-ass princess who smashes bullets with her bracelets and looks like Xena's big sister.

All the hullabaloo surrounding Princess Diana this week is connected to the publication of an anniversary issue of her comic. Lynda Carter wrote the intro, which bears repeating in its entirety. Unless you go out and buy the comic, you'll miss out on what is a wonderful essay on the meaning of the female superhero archetype -and why Wonder Woman's roots go back to Greek mythology. Read on...

“Did you bring your Lasso of Truth?” people ask me, and I have to laugh.

But it’s true—Wonder Woman accessorizes. She is, after all, a very savvy woman. But as we all know, form follows function. Everything she wears has a purpose: Her golden bracelets deflect bullets, her Venus Girdle endows her with superhuman strength, her tiara boomerangs and her lasso holds others to the truth that she, herself, lives by. And that’s just what we can see. Wonder Woman’s intellect is her real power. She’s honest and disarming, and she kicks butt.

I was like every other little girl who loved to read Wonder Woman comics. At the time, there weren’t many strong female role models. There was Archie’s Betty and Veronica, and then there was Wonder Woman. And they actually offered to pay me to play her on television. Imagine that! I would have done it for free. I’d been in Hollywood studying acting and was a fresh-faced innocent in that town. I was just 24, and putting on that costume—the American flag high-cut bathing suit—was the thrill of a lifetime.

That said, her costume and accessories don’t define the essence of Wonder Woman. She is the “Secret Self” inside every woman—the beautiful, unafraid, tenacious and powerful woman we know resides within us. She is the antithesis of “victim.” She is the single mother working multiple jobs, the unsung heroine, the supportive sister, the devoted daughter, the loving wife. She is the archetype of the Liberated Feminine, and that part of us is not confined by any societal role.

Wonder Woman stood apart from every woman of her time. She was always looking for—yearning for—a connection to others in this new world. To whom could she turn? Not only was she separated from her family and her roots, but she also had her alias to protect. It’s this need to connect that, in my mind, has always made her a human, likeable and complex character.

I never tried to dumb her down or treat her as a two-dimensional comic book character; I had too much respect for her to do that. I played her for real. She had two faces she showed the world, but she’s one person. Diana Prince is Wonder Woman. They’re different aspects of the same individual.

In truth, I never played “Wonder Woman”—I played Princess Diana (Diana, a.k.a. Artemis, goddess of the hunt and of wild things). She came from an island of women where she wasn’t necessarily the prettiest or the strongest. She wasn’t overly impressed with herself. She was intrigued by Steve Trevor and fought for the chance to be the one to take him home. When she found herself in this other world, the America of the 1940s, her heroic reactions flowed naturally from her values and her powers.

While I am forever indentified with the role, Wonder Woman belongs to us all. She lives inside us. She’s the symbol of the extraordinary possibilities that inhabit us, hidden though they may be—that, I think, is the important gift Wonder Woman offers women. Perhaps our real challenge in the 21st century is to strive to reach our potential while embracing her values. Wonder Woman is fearless. She sees the good in everyone, convinced they are capable of change, compassion and generosity. She’s kindhearted and hopeful, and she has a great sense of humor. These are just some of the important gifts the Adaptable Empowered Feminine has to offer. In an age when femininity is casting off restraints around the world, Wonder Woman remains an important archetype.

I loved Wonder Woman as a kid, I loved Wonder Woman when I played the role, and I love Wonder Woman to this day. She is the goddess within us all.

If Einstein is right, and imagination is more important than knowledge, then maybe what we need is to “wonder”…to open our minds and our hearts, to believe in what we cannot see.

Who knows? Maybe Wonder Woman can save the world.

Fourth of July bonus pic: in Wonder Woman's tv series they gave her a little sister, Drusilla, who was played by the then-unknown actress, Debra Winger. I'd completely forgotten this factoid until stumbling across this pic. She looks like a real spitfire, don't she?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The City of Roses

...if only in name. What we smelled straight off the train was exhaust, hot tar, cooking grease, and Willamette River's curious chemical admixture. If you love the smell of napalm in the morning, Portland is the town for you.

If on the other hand you prefer the smell of victory, the City of Books should top your list.

Calling Powell's a city falls short somehow; with multiple locations and enormous of breadth and width, it certainly assumes civic dimension, but what leaps to mind is something more sacrosanct than a place governed by mere humanity. Lofty phrases and ideals are evoked and the temptation to call it a temple or monastery is, dare I say, nigh irresistible.

As a treasure vault, there is little to disappoint. You cross the threshold and limits are gone. Ordinarily frugal with discretionary funds -when they are available -all bets were off once inside the many rooms of Powell's. We came away with a righteous haul.

Making a beeline from Union Station, the gal and I fairly sprinted through the bright morning streets to reach our destination. Kids on Christmas morning doesn't begin to describe our excitement. The passing years have removed the uncertainty that lent those storied mornings a nervous edge of not knowing whether your parents got you exactly what you wanted. Now we could be confident. Now we could be sure. The power was in our hands.

Both of us SF aficionados, it was only natural we hit that section first. There might have been some maniacal laughter in the aisles, but it wasn't us, I swear. We kept our happy noises to a minimum; it's not like we were in the Madhouse of Books. Self-control under these circumstances is a challenge, but we persevered. The selection, as expected, was divine. Where else but Powell's can you find multiple copies of all the best books of your favorite authors? A bit spendy in the end result, admittedly, but worth every penny. It's like giving money to your favorite charity, it really is.

You would think we spent the entire weekend roaming Powell's, and don't believe for a second that the temptation didn't nearly got the better of us. I caught myself eyeing paperbacks for their value as pillows. Resisted that little urge. We visited other smelly, happy places.

Perfection is achieved by paradox. A flaw is needed to create contrast and remind us why we love something so much, and it can take many forms. To know the perfect happiness of this weekend meant that there was a not-so-happy part. That note of sadness was the US team's World Cup loss.

In extra time Ghana took them to school and outclassed our talented players at every turn. That was the end of a long morning spent watching the game at Bakery Bar, a wonderful cafe with killer eats. The salad of the day had strawberries in it: pure yum! And pictured here you can see their scrumptious banana bread lathered in chocolate, an earthly delight beyond compare.

Speaking of dessert, it was the smell of vegan audacity that lured us to Voodoo Doughnuts. But for our bibliophilic adventure, this would have been the highlight. I seek out holes-in-the-wall like this, even when they have been featured on Man vs Food, and the range of crazy in this find alone is worth the wait in a line snaking around the corner. Not only that, our lives were also at risk. A monster wasp harried those of us waiting outside and got one woman so worked up that she threw her car keys at it. Sadly her accuracy wasn't that good and she only managed to hit the sidewalk. No Kabul sniper duty for her. Next thing we knew, this poor woman in her pink flower dress was lifted in the air and carried off by the winged beast to an unknown fate.

Okay, the last thing didn't happen. Just seeing if you're still awake.

The donut selection at Voodoo is awesome, and confronts you with a major decision of which to choose. Would you prefer a bacon-covered maple bar or perhaps the Voodoo Doll, a "raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake" is more to your liking; the gal went with the latter.

Standing in line, which I imagine only grows longer when the sun goes down, is painless. Knick knacks cover the walls, and overhead is the wildest chandelier on the planet. Very entertaining. You almost want the line to go slower so you can take it all in -almost.