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Bring on the bad guys

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By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine I first encountered the phrase "Bring on the Bad Guys" in one of my favorite media: comic books. It was the title of a Marvel Comics compendium covering the Marvel Universe's top villains, the work of creators like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and the King Jack Kirby. It was irresistible, the idea of a book dedicated to the villains instead of the heroes, a novel concept back in the 1980s. Since then, it has become far more common to highlight the lowlifes as the bad guys, the black hats, the black hearts, are always cooler. We have our favorite TV foes, our top movie villains, so now let me indulge my inner reader by celebrating my top ten villains from written literature, in no particular order:
  1. Lord Voldemort: It's a little hard to be scared of Ralph Fiennes' movie version because, (a) It's Ralph Fiennes -- even his villains look handsome and (b) He has no nose; it's like being scared of someone from Sesame Street. But J.K. Rowling's resurrected font of evil -- the erstwhile Tom Riddle -- doesn't sweat possessing school girls, doesn't hesitate to sacrifice his own people if it serves his purpose and, gasp, was a good student. His is the never-spoken name of evil for an entirely new generation of youngsters who didn't think they liked reading.
  2. Baron Harkonnen: As vile as the screen versions of the baddie from Frank Herbert's desert epic "Dune" seem to be, it's nothing compared to the original version. In the book, Harkonnen is vile, disgusting, obese, perverse, and floats because he's too heavy. Yuck.
  3. Pennywise The Clown: Stephen King has uncorked an entire Pandora's Box of horrific things, but nothing matches the horror that is Pennywise the Clown from the novel "It." Yes, he can turn into pretty much anything you're scared of, but it is in the form of the actual Pennywise that he remembers the simple truth learned at birthday parties: Clowns are scary.
  4. Craddock: Joe Hill may sound like a relatively anonymous name, but Hill, a brilliant writer in his own right, is also the son of Stephen King. And early on, he has already unleashed a villain deserving of the pedigree: Craddock, the suit-wearing ghost from "Heart-Shaped Box." Who knew online auctions can be so dangerous?
  5. Mr. Harvey: He is the seemingly innocuous neighbor from Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones," and from the very first chapter, we know it was Harvey who raped and murdered the narrator, a young girl named Susie Salmon. That nobody else could seem to figure out that Harvey is a child-seeking serial killer only adds to the scare factor of this not-so-good neighbor.
  6. James: That he is immortal and fearless only adds to the danger represented by the thirsty vampire of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight." His companion Victoria seems scarier because she seems constantly on the verge of losing control, but James's smile and calculating nature makes him much, much more of a threat.
  7. Pumpkin: Most will point at the temperamental geisha Hatsumomo as the antagonist of Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha," but it was the homely Pumpkin's willful betrayal and resentment of the well-meaning Sayuri that left an impression on me. Nothing hurts or scares more than when someone you're helping actually resents you and wishes you ill because of it.
  8. Grendel: This is literally going old school, but the man-hating creature at the dark heart of "Beowulf" represents the antagonist as a force of nature. Though his mother avenges him effectively later on, it is the creature Grendel who first taught children the meaning of unnatural.
  9. The White Witch: The ice queen of C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" set the standard for beautifully wicked monarchs. Plus, she used Trukish Delight to ensnare one of the Pevensies. Now that's low.
  10. Padre Salvi: Have to admit, Ambeth Ocampo was right about this one. The entire time, we kept focusing on Padre Damaso and his conflict with Crisostomo Ibarra in Jose Rizal's "Noli me Tangere," but it was actually the malicious successor, Pade Salvi who did the real damage, all disguised by his clerical office. Yikes.

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This page contains a single entry by published on July 17, 2008 5:12 PM.

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