Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cindy Lee loves parties, boating alone in storms and scavenger hunts!

Now for some comic book history.  Cindy Lee fans were devastated when they bought Isis #2 (December-January, 1976-1977) and discovered she's barely in the lead story, "The Creature from Dimension X."   

"Say, what's the rumpus?" they asked of DC, using then-current vernacular.  "Give us the scoop, the low-down, the straight dope, and none of the high hat, ya palookas."  DC's official answer:  "Creative decision."

 Writer Steve Skeates conjures up in her place a clever lad named Roger who uses Rick Mason's high school science equipment to create a pocket black hole that turns out to be a doorway into another dimension.  Instead of earning himself a Nobel Prize for creating a limitless energy source from what's essentially an overgrown Erector set, Roger allows some kind of red monster to lurch out of it into our reality.  Isis chases the destructive bugger back home, but Roger's friend Gini-- who looks a lot like Jan Smithers as Bailey Quarters from the early episodes WKRP in Cincinnati, by the way-- makes a special visit to the junior genius' hospital room so she can scoff at his wild monster story.  Gini (who really should have been Cindy) vows to continue the experiment, this time with Mr. Mason supervising.

Nothing can possibly go wrong recreating the exact circumstances that unleashed a destructive creature on our world, right?  Within minutes Isis has to contend with four of these monsters.  John, Paul, George and It's Only Ringo.  She defeats them simply by activating the school's sprinkler system, then turning off the machine.  Gini admits her empiricism was a mistake, and Andrea Thomas tells her a scientist should always keep an open mind.  And yet Cindy Lee isn't involved in the action in any way.  She doesn't rush into a room to raise the alarm, doesn't bear witness to the wonders of science. She's not even menaced by the extra-dimensional creatures and doesn't get to help Isis deliver the moral.  Instead, in an almost-criminal act of story self-sabotage, Skeates confines Cindy to two measly panels, with no dialogue.  Name checked by Gini, some star-student-come-lately, then forgotten.

While they do give us a psweetly psychedelic Isis transformation, artists Mike Vosburg and Vince Colletta manage further the injury by whitewashing Dr. Barnes.  Skeates strips him of his advanced degree and calls him mister instead of doctor, too.  Why, it's almost as if no one working on this book had never seen a single episode of the show and merely relied on Shazam! #25 (Sept.-Oct. 1976) and Isis #1 (Oct.-Nov. 1976), and possible a couple of flippant remarks at an editorial meeting as their reference sources for all the characters.  But that would be artistically irresponsible, right?

Hundreds of fans read this story, then tore their comics in disappointment and despair (ready to wait 20-odd years until the invention of the Internet and comic book blogging to vent their rage more fully), the remnants fluttering to the shag carpet like so many colorful autumn leaves—but wait! On a tattered shred from somewhere in the back of the comic.  Could it be?  Yes!  It’s Cindy Lee!  And what kind of trouble has she gotten herself into this time?  Let's find out!

That torn panel is from "Lost and Found," the back-up story, which is much more Cindy-centric.  It begins with bad weather and the heroic Isis doing that thing she does so well: rescuing young people from danger.  In this case, shes saves two teens who went boating in the storm, only to capsize.  Isis lectures them, takes them home, changes back into science teacher Andrea Thomas and heads to a swingin’ party…

Where the main topic of conversation is none other than Cindy Lee herself.  She's not there.  It's almost a meta-commentary on the lead story.  Thomas is surprised and immediately asks about her, because she of all people Cindy “likes a party.”  School, her teachers, pyramids, danger, parties.  These are the things Cindy Lee loves so well.  

From what we now know of Cindy it's obvious would never miss a chance to hang out at school with her favorite teachers barring earthquake or death itself.  In her DVD interview, actor Joanna Pang confirms at least some of my more rational Cindy Lee theories-- she's the kind of girl who always volunteers to stay after school, has her permission slips signed first and is unfailingly positive and go-getting.  She's into anything and everything about school life, whether it's academics or just spending all day there soaking up the atmosphere and offering to help out wherever she can.  So it's pretty believable people would remark on her absence from a school event.

But what about everyone else?  Another unrecognizable Mr. Barnes, apparently drunk to the point of hallucination (although he seems rational enough) insists he organized a scavenger hunt, then cancelled it due to the bad weather.  But there's no sign of would-be scavenger hunters.  Truth, alcohol-induced daydream or is Mr. Barnes just making this all up so Ms. Thomas won't think he and Rick Mason are pathetically hanging out by themselves?  

Maybe Skeates didn't specify a lavish attendance of students and faculty, but the very least art team Mike Nasser and Frank Giacoia could have done was infer from the dialogue more than three people in the room so Barnes doesn't look like either the saddest clown in the circus or a complete madman.  We know the Filmation TV show was low-budget, but I'm pretty sure they had a few scenes with more than three people.  After all, they created a fairly convincing school picnic for the "Bigfoot" episode.  What was the budget DC allowed this comic for extras and supporting characters?  Did Skeates and company blow it all on the science experiments in the lead story and have to skimp here?

We could ask Rick Mason, but he refuses to speak for most of this story.

Mr. Barnes (he's a PhD on the TV show, by the way) must have convinced Cindy, at least, because the only explanation anyone can come up with for her absence is she's off trying to win the scavenger hunt.  And yet they still expected to call her up and tell her the event was off.  This is Cindy Lee in the era before cell phones.  You send her on an errand, don't expect to ring her at home and find her there.  If you even float the vaguest idea for a school activity, before you can say, "Nah, on second thought," she's organized the decorating and refreshments committees, nominated herself for vice-president of both, requisitioned petty cash from the school's general fund, bought five miles of colorful bunting and booked REO Speedwagon as the entertainment.

Of course you're not going to reach her, Mr. Barnes.  She's Cindy Lee and you sent her looking for item number three, "a shell from the beach of No-Man's Island," you fool!  Thank Isis you didn't think it would be funny to add "a golden apple from the Garden of the Hesperides" as item number two.

Perhaps in an editorial meeting with Denny O'Neil, Skeates learned it's not an Isis story unless Cindy Lee finds herself facing death.  No-Man's Island is on the same lake where those other kids nearly came to grief.  Worried that her star pupil is even now intrepidly sailing to her doom, Ms. Thomas dashes out into the rain and transforms.  Isis confirms her alter-ego's suspicions when she flies back over the storm-tossed lake only to find Cindy Lee clinging desperately to a tiny rock.  Cindy is thinking to herself going boating alone in a gale might not have been the wisest of decisions, even had she possessed the nautical skills of Popeye himself.  

In terms of Cindy Dilemmas, where do we rank this?  Somewhat worse than jumping a junkyard fence to spy on car thieves?   Not as rash as using Rick Mason's car to chase coin thieves?  On my patented Cindy Dilemma Scale, with one being the least dangerous and ten being the most, I give this an eight. 

Over the waterfall she goes, our little daredevil, but Isis uses her Egyptian goddess magic to conjure up a life-saving waterspout.  Anyone else would be traumatized, but all the resilient Cindy can think of is getting to that sparsely-attended party.  What school spirit!  What joie de vivre!  Is there extra credit involved, or perhaps a letter of recommendation to go in her records?

Once at the school and thoroughly dried-- although she's wearing the same outfit-- Cindy regales the party-goers (Rick Mason, Mr. Barnes and Andrea Thomas, again) with the hair-raising tale of her brush with death.  Andrea Thomas makes a veiled allusion to being Isis, Cindy responds in confusion, Thomas somehow intuits Cindy's boating mishap had something to do with her desperation at winning the scavenger hunt which I'm still not convinced hasn't taken place solely within the confines of Mr. Barnes's mind.

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