Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cindy Lee really digs pyramids!

It's the summer of that Bicentennial year, 1976, and high school student Cindy Lee is much like her classmates.  The other girls at Larkspur High adore America, their families and friends, Leif Garrett, the "Wings Over America" concert tour and Welcome Back, Kotter.  Cindy's friend Belinda is confused by her own day-dreamy fascination with Kristy McNichol ("She's just so... so... NEAT!"), but she never misses an episode of ABC's Family.  An outgoing, involved student and all-around nice person, Cindy shares her friends' love for all the mundane cultural clutter so common in this, the final year of the Gerald Ford presidency, the year of the first Ramones album, punk rock and malaise still months away.  But there's another not-so-little something that makes Cindy's youthful heart quicken.  Something that thrills her apart from all the pop stars and TV shows that otherwise occupy her friends and dominate as topic of lunch time conversation in the Larkspur cafeteria.

Something she is not shy about sharing with anyone and everyone within earshot.

Pyramids!  Specifically, Egyptian pyramids rather than the Aztec versions (although she approves of those in a diffused sort of way).  Cindy Lee is absolutely nuts about Egyptian pyramids.  She goes for them majorly.  The kid can't get enough.

It started in kindergarten after she read an article in National Geographic magazine about the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza.  She began dreaming of them, of the powers of the pharaohs who commissioned them, their inner passageways and burial chambers, the heavy limestone blocks making up their outer shells.  While she finds each charming, Cindy has her favorite.  She imagines most would prefer the largest of the pyramids, the one commissioned by the Pharaoh Khufu.  But Cindy, unpretentious herself, favors the Red Pyramid of Pharaoh Snefru.  Its smaller size and sleek acute angles appeal to her, this girl without ostentation, who keeps her hair in simple ponytails.

But just as Snefru and his builders had to struggle with geometry before achieving perfection, Cindy's faced her own resistance.  Not the difficulties of experimentation with new forms of architecture and construction techniques:  the concern and disapproval of authority figures and loved ones.  At one point in third grade, Cindy wrote so many reports about pyramids her teachers had to call a special meeting with her parents to find out if their daughter hadn't cracked from academic stress.  No, they discovered to their amazement, she was just a fan of pyramids.  Declaring it to be just a passing phase in need of a small push out the door-- although her mother expressed the hope Cindy might grow up to become an archaeologist-- the adults asked her occasionally to write about other topics.  Ever the dutiful scholar and daughter, Cindy reluctantly obeyed.  It made her a little sad, and her writing assignments more of a chore.  The well-intentioned adults had temporarily dampened the girl's enthusiasm for her studies and school was no longer quite so fun.  Her marks dipped, just a little.

Indomitably cheerful girl that she is, she could only contain her pro-pyramid exuberance for so long.  A few weeks later and her grades began to climb again.  As we can see in DC's The Mighty Isis #1 (October-November, 1976), as a teen, Cindy Lee allows it full flower and such is her enthusiasm for pyramids even the emergence of a dangerous magical freak calling himself Scarab from inside one can't dampen Cindy's spirits.

Pumped with adrenaline at having witnessed the magical attack in close proximity to an actual ancient pyramid that has somehow been stolen from its rightful place in the Egyptian desert in contravention of all international laws regarding the trafficking of valuable artifacts and architecture, Cindy runs to find her teacher, Andrea Thomas, the "dual person" also known as the goddess Isis, to share her excitement.

The dastardly Scarab attempts to conquer the United States and force its government to declare war on France and the United Kingdom to satisfy his lust for destruction, but the heroic Isis is having none of it.  Cindy Lee finds herself happily involved in the goddess' eventual triumph over evil by supplying her with informative books on magic and pyramid power, books Cindy herself has frequently checked out of the library as evidenced by the multiple stamps on the due date slip inside their front covers.  With Scarab dispatched by the very pyramid he arrived in, Isis returns to the school and resumes her civilian identity only to encounter a breathless Cindy Lee, who asks the deathless question, "You took the books to Isis, Andrea?"

Be not shocked by Cindy's casual familiarity with her elders!  She wouldn't dream of being cheeky or impertinent.  In the mid-1970s, teachers at Larkspur High used such relaxed relationships to build trust with their students, to "rap" with them and learn what "made them tick," to use the vernacular of youth.  Cindy, as Ms. Thomas's protege and favored pupil, certainly would warrant such privilege.

Throughout the story, Cindy functions as a kind of Greek chorus, popping up here and there to comment on the action and provide much-needed expository dialogue and such random questions for which the answers should be obvious to all.  This is a vital function for one so young to fulfill.  But don't think of Cindy Lee as merely a pyramid-minded teen with the uncanny ability to show up wherever her sideline commentary may be necessary.  No, that would be a grave mistake.  The Scarab has already suffered from such assumptions, though he may never know of it.  Because, as we learn from The Mighty Isis #6 (August-September, 1977), she's also an expert on affairs of the heart.

It may be strange to you to think of one so young and ostensibly inexperienced providing advice to Rick Mason, decades her senior, yet another teacher who permits Cindy to address him by his given name.  But the faculty and staff at Larkspur High, being somewhat naive in these things no matter their advanced years, have come to trust Cindy's superior insights and advice.  And if she gushes a bit more than is seemly about both Isis and pyramids-- the one black mark on her permanent record a reprimand for doing an impromptu dance move and loudly singing, "PYRAMID POWER-- YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!" coming out of the gym after P.E. class-- they're more than willing to put up with these quirks if it means smoothing the path to true love.

Pyramids and love advice.  And also The Banana Splits Adventure Hour show.  These are the things Cindy Lee adores.  Cubes and Greco-Roman architecture.  These are the things that fill her with disgust.  She once abruptly ended a date with Lee Webster when he made the mistake of praising the Parthenon.  Poor guy foolishly, yet understandably, thought it would impress her.

This is all we know of Cindy Lee, and some of it has been extrapolated from partial records.  Further information is difficult to glean.  But I have learned the following:  Cindy (portrayed winningly by the completely awesome Joanna Pang)  has her origins in the Filmation-produced Isis and/or The Secrets of Isis live-action Saturday morning TV show.  Filmation introduced in the series' premiere episode, "The Lights of Mystery Mountain," which aired in the fall of 1975.  A full year later, DC brought the character into their comic narrative via a crossover in Shazam, vol. 1 #25 (October, 1976), where she was menaced by falling building materials on both the comic's cover and interior story.  For some reason, artist Kurt Schaffenberger and the anonymous cover colorist have white-washed her into a generic strawberry blonde.

Jeez.  Right on the cover!  She makes the cover for her inaugural adventure and they botch it.  I'm guessing at the time DC considered her too insignificant to bother consulting the source material for a more accurate portrayal.  Fortunately, the later, more conscientious writers and artists of The Mighty Isis #1-- none other than legendary talents Denny O'Neil(!!), Ric Estrada and Wally Wood(!!!)-- made incredibly precise efforts to match their comic book version with Pang's video appearance and performance, thus giving DC a show-accurate Cindy subsequent creative teams were contractually obligated to match under pain of immediate dismissal and blacklisting from the industry for life.  I assume.  No, that's too harsh.  They probably wouldn't have been allowed the last jelly doughnut in the DC break room.  Sadly, later developments consigned Cindy, her world along with everyone she ever knew and loved to non-existence following the Crisis on Infinite Earths series... and she hasn't been heard of in comics since.

If you Cindy Lee fans out there would like to see her in the New 52 universe, perhaps you should send model pyramids to Dan Didio.  But leave my name out of it.  I like Cindy Lee a lot, but I ain't starting no revolution over this.  Plus I have no desire to see what horrors they'd force this wholesome minor character to endure in the name of appealing to today's audience of jaded hipsters and people who scorn pyramids.

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