Lately I have been consuming a lot of great pop culture offerings but for some reason I’ve been at a bit of a remove from most of them. This week I want to talk about the things that broke me out of my day-to-day funk and made me really feel something. Awe, happiness, shock, excitement, curiosity: these things gave me all of that and more.
In the 1980s, just after Crisis on Infinite Earths reset the continuity of the DC Universe, the person who had the responsibility of re-establishing Wonder Woman was George Perez. He wasn’t the only person involved in the book, but his influence on Wonder Woman at this time brands it firmly as the Perez Era. I finally finished the first twenty-four issues of this run, and while it definitely has its share of flaws, I also found it to be an enjoyable read and a tour-de-force for Perez’s layout and pencilling skills. In these issues Wonder Woman is young and curious, maybe even a little naive as she steps away from Paradise Island. This approach to the character gives a different tone to her adventures than I was used to; this Diana is unused to Patriarch’s World and all the injustices and disasters that befall it. She doesn’t relish being a warrior, though she won’t step away from a fight if one is inevitable. Rather, she’d rather see herself as a champion for human rights and a protector of the downtrodden, in a very different way than the Superman or Batman of the same eras. In fact. my favourite action sequence in the entire run wasn’t when she fought supervillains or struggled against Parademons, but rather when she saved the passengers of a doomed airplane. It was striking, both in the way that she approached the situation and in the way that Perez drew it. I actually got goosebumps while reading it, which is a rare thing for me. I might not love everything about Perez’s run on the Wonder Woman title, but that moment is a great example of how good the book can be, and for my money, it’s worth a read.
I came in late to The Good Place. It’s rare that I start watching a show seven episodes in; I’ll normally just wait for the series to be available so I can watch it from the beginning. But I decided to give it a shot and even though I was missing a half-dozen episodes worth of story and character development, it grabbed me hard enough that I figured I’d ride the rest of it out. For those that don’t know the pitch for The Good Place, it stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who dies and wakes up in the afterlife. But not just any afterlife. Eleanor has arrived in The Good Place, a magnificent utopia overseen and designed by Michael (Ted Danson). It’s got all the frozen yogurt you can eat, you’re provided with a soulmate who will stay with you forever, and you’re physically unable to swear. The catch is: Eleanor doesn’t actually belong in The Good Place. She took the place of a much more kind and saintly Eleanor Shellstrop, who volunteered getting innocent people off of death row. This Eleanor was the kind of person who sold worthless health supplements to desperate people and made everyone she knew miserable because being good wasn’t worth the effort. Through the first season she works hard to become a better person and earn her spot in The Good Place, with the help of her soulmate, former ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), but simply existing in a place she doesn’t belong causes all kinds of catastrophic effects on this afterlife. Even coming into the show halfway through I could tell it was quality; the dialogue was crisp and clever, the plots intricate without being messy, and brought to life by a talented ensemble of actors. Then I watched the season finale and I don’t want to spoil anything but MY MIND WAS BLOWN. It made me say “Oh NO!” aloud, alone in my apartment, twice in the last ten minutes. It elevated The Good Place from good to great and I can’t believe there are six or seven more months before Season Two premieres. So catch up if you can. I need more people to suffer through the interminable wait with.
If you’re the kind of person who likes the idea of reading extremely detailed books about epidemiology, then Spillover is the book for you. It’s a book about zoonoses, diseases that “spill over” from animals to humans; how they develop, how they’re studied, and how they can be treated. Author David Quammen analyzes this fascinating phenomenon by weaving together the stories a number of zoonotic diseases, including influenza, HIV, and Ebola. He writes about not just their effects on humans and animals, but also about his travels with scientists in the field and in the lab, digging deep into how these viruses and bacteria are housed and transmitted. It’s exhaustive in scope, but written in a conversational style that is easy to read without talking down to the reader. I found the book fascinating and every new chapter tickled my curiosity. I’d recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in scientific and medical writing, but perhaps hypochondriacs should steer clear.
I re-watched Dredd for the fifth or sixth time last week, and man, is that just a great movie. At first glance I didn’t think a low-budget sci-fi action movie adaptation of one of the greatest British comics of all time would have been any good, so I didn’t watch it until it made it to home video. And every time I watch it, I kick myself for waiting. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the law in Mega City One, a municipality of 80 million people living in the ruins of the East Coast of the United States. While delivering an assessment to the psychic and potential Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), they respond to a disturbance at a mega-apartment that just happens to be run by an amoral drug dealer named Ma-Ma (a horrifying Lena Headey). When she realizes that these two Judges could blow her entire operation, she seals the building and tells the residents she’ll open up again only once the two Judges are dead. That goes about as well as one would expect. It’s an adrenaline rush of a movie, loud and brash and exciting, and I just love it. If anyone out there has been putting off watching it: don’t. You’re making a terrible mistake.
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That’s all for me this week, my friends. Until next time, I hope you find something that breaks you out of your rut. And if you’re not in a rut, I hope you find something that helps to keep you out! I’ll see you in seven days.