Thursday, December 31, 2009

Where there's a whip, there's a way

I've been rereading "Lord of the Rings" over the past week or so, and something occurred to me that I don't think anybody else has ever talked about. I had just finished the chapter at the beginning of "The Two Towers" were Merry and Pippin were taken prisoner by the mixed band of Isengard and Mordor Orcs.

To me at least, the Orcs are easily the most likeable race on Middle-Earth. Their dialogue is snappy, punchy and to the point, and they have a lot of humor. When the Orcs complain about having to move through sunlight, their leader urges them with, "oh, don't worry, you'll move fast enough with me behind you." There's another sequence where one of them asks if they should stop to rest while in the territory of the Riders of Rohan, and one of them says, "Oh, of course! Then let's invite those cursed horse-boys to a picnic afterward, while we're at it?"

After all the rhymed poetry and poncy speeches...someone actually used sarcasm in "Lord of the Rings!" It was such a breath of fresh air. Maybe the reason I respond so well to the Orcs is because they sound so American. It's interesting how in Hollywood, an English accent adds to your villainy, whereas Brits make their evil forces sound and talk like Yanks.

Anyway, it's hard not to find amusing a song like "Where there's a whip, there's a way."

The Orcs are tough, skinny and capable of sudden, stabby violence for very little reason. They remind me a little of the Nazi villains from "Inglorious Basterds," who were werewolves in human form.

Incidentally, speaking of Rohan, you know who Peter Jackson originally wanted for Eowyn? Allison Doody, best known as the Nazi double-agent from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you were to ask me what her nationality is, the list would be very, very, very long before it gets anywhere near Irish.

I don't know the circumstances, but shoot...if you look like that, and you can't get a part as a Scandinavian warrior princess, it's time to give up acting forever.

The one and only thing that I think Peter Jackson's otherwise extraordinary film version did wrong was that it explicitly made a character as grandiose and terrible as Saruman a mere puppet of Sauron. Saruman and Isengard was more like a very dangerous third factor at play, a second deadly enemy that wanted the power of the Ring for himself, who, perhaps because the characters actually interacted with him, was actually a more dangerous and interesting figure than even the otherwise dull Big Bad Sauron himself. Saruman was the closest these movies got to a "Doctor Doom."

As a consequence, some scenes just don't make sense. For instance, in the book version of Fellowship, when Saruman offers to use the One Ring together with Gandalf, that "together we can be the Lords of the Ring," Gandalf rebuffs him by saying "there can be only one Lord of the Rings, and he would not share power" (referring to the innate evil, jealousy and corruption of the Ring that makes it impossible for more than one to possess it).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Steve Gerber Loves Cubans

The only time most North Americans think about Cubans or Cuban Americans is if they like cigars or baseball, so it's something of a rarity to see Miami or Cuban culture portrayed in the broader culture...usually by Miami novelists like Dave Barry (who has a Cuban wife) or Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen must look so weird and surrealistic to people from other parts of the country, but yes, Miami really is like that. I think that may be why film versions of Hiaasen's stuff are such creative disasters, notably Striptease.

I am constantly surprised by Dave Barry's national popularity, especially since his humor is of such a local character that I have trouble understanding why other people "get it."

It's even more fascinating to see Miami and Cuban-Americans in adventure comics. The one and only exception is Steve Gerber, who if his work is anything to go by, is as interested in Cuban culture as much as Englehart was interested in Native American stuff.

Steve Gerber created El Gato, the mind-control villain of Omega the Unknown #4-5, as a brujo of Santeria - explicitly stated in those very terms. Gerber didn't exactly do his homework on Santeria: for instance, brujo is a term most Santeria practicioners consider denigrating, though it may be possible El Gato called himself that out of self-conscious irony. Likewise, animal totemism is as out of place in Santeria as Norse runes are. Black cats are traditionally used for sacrifice to the Orishas, though, which is why a lot of civic ordinances in (where else?) Hialeah had to be removed to make it possible. Jesus Christ, only in Hialeah.

It's worth noting that this is light-years ahead of how embarassingly Hollywood Gerber portrayed Voodoo in Tales of the Zombie.

When Gerber, arguably adventure comics's greatest writer alongside Englehart, died painfully and senselessly last year, no one mentioned that Gerber created superhero comics's first and to date only mainstream Cuban-American superhero, Poison, in Web of Spider Man Annual #4.

Poison was one of those supernatural horror characters Gerber loved to write, ever since his time on Man-Thing. If the two Steves had a weakness, it was their embarassing fascination with the supernatural, something more obvious with Englehart than Gerber. Stainless was fascinated by acid, astrology, and Native Americans to the point it verged on sheer Cherhonkeeism.

To Gerber's credit, Poison made a superpower as traditional as flying seem new: she didn't soar or swoop but instead eerily levitated while standing up, Exorcist-style.

Poison's origin was that she was in the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, immortalized by Brian de Palma's Scarface. Amusingly, she was rescued at sea when her boat sank in a way that was creepily reminiscent of the weird folklore that later came up around Elian Gonzalez, who was saved by either the Orisha Yemaya-Olokun, or dolphins, or both.

She is also one of the few single mother heroines I can think of, the other being the title hero's girlfriend in Star-Brand. I was always amused that this bit of male chauvanism was never pointed out by the always-wrong "grrrrls" at Women in Refrigerators, the absence of single mothers. Ask any guy you like: the one great unjust prejudice in the dating world isn't against age or weight but against women that already have kids.

Poison showed up in a Web of Spider-Man annual set in Miami, during the eighties, the cocaine cowboy days when this sleazy, corrupt, decadent and compelling town brought in a trillion dollars of drug money...yes, you read that right, a trillion, not a typo. The villain of the piece was a grotesque Miami druglord called the Slug, who was so fat that he executed people by choking them in the folds of his body.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Female of the Species is Worse Than the Male

When it comes to science fiction fans, the female of the species is far more irritating than the male, and the website Fandom Secrets proves it.

Visit it here. Work-unsafe and sanity-unsafe.

From the sexual fixation with Doctor Who and Heath Ledger's Joker, the worst element has to be the hot man-on-man action. Not because gay stuff is icky, but because of the irritating insistence on out of character pairings.

As weird as fanboys can be sometimes, at least most will admit to wanting a good old fashoined shag with Jessica Rabbit or Talia from Batman comics. Fangirls, though? They're often too hypocritical to admit sexual desire. The way they idealize their objects of affection to a crazy degree gets under my skin. I had the experience of meeting one girl that insisted that "Jason Behr from Roswell doesn't smoke!" (He does.)

If you've ever been a guy that wanted a girl that could talk with you about Dungeons and Dragons, Tron, or the collected works of L. Sprague de Camp, this sort of website will sharply disabuse you of that notion forever. "Fandom Secrets" performs the valid public service of scaring men straight into (once again) dating shallow, bosomy blondes that like John Hughes movies.

I will admit, there is one that actually did catch my eye as being quite wonderful and charming: