Festival of Fiendishness Day 5: MICHAEL MYERS

I’ve never really been a fan of the slasher flick. Aside from never being able to see myself in those situations, the entire thing seemed like too much work—killers would come up with newer and more inventive ways to kill stupid teenagers. They’re stupid, horny teenagers—how much effort do you really need to kill them? Crossbows and bear traps and razor gloves…I mean, come on! But there was one guy who figured it out, who kept it simple, stupid: the most straightforward cinematic serial killer ever—and today’s villain du jour—Michael Myers.

If you haven’t seen Halloween by now, I’m not giving you a spoiler alert, I’m passing out tardy slips. Study up, Poindexter, we’re going to school. Skip the Saw, Hills Have Eyes, Hostel, Human Centipede nonsense (though that last one is REALLY fucked up), Michael Myers is the pinnacle of the faceless slaughterer of frisky teenagers. He isn’t part of the genre; he is the genre. He started it. And he sets the bar pretty freaking high: the movie starts with this kid grabbing a butcher knife out the kitchen, going upstairs to watch his sister screw her boyfriend, then hacking her naked body to pieces while wearing a clown costume. The boy was 6. Six. That’s our introduction to Mike. This cat ain’t right.

The next time we see Mike, he’s busting out of the mental institution, stealing cars from his own therapist (who spends the entire movie ignoring police, trying to get his patient back), jacking truck drivers for jumpsuits. He heads back to Haddonfield, intent on killing Jamie Lee Curtis, and happens to off EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO CROSSES HIS PATH. Mike killed dogs, dug up his mother’s grave, strangled the cop’s daughter in the car. He dressed up like a ghost and pretended to be a girl’s boyfriend just so he could look at her naked before he killed her.

Mike has problems.

Like real problems. But Michael Myers is a G: he got stabbed in the neck with a knitting needle, stabbed in the eye with a coat hanger (Mommie Dearest would be furious! NO WIRE HANGERS!), took six shots to the chest and fell of the balcony. AND GOT UP AND WALKED AWAY. They had to stick him in a hospital room and blow it up and he still stomped his flaming ass down the hallway after Jamie. I’ve written about focus before but you gotta give Mike credit on this one—he was the original Terminator.

But here’s what I really like about Michael Myers: stripped down to his basic elements, he’s just a guy in a jumpsuit with a knife, chasing a girl for no reason at all. He has no face. He doesn’t run. He doesn’t say shit—in fact, he’s been in like 8 or 9 movies and has never said a word. You might get some heavy breathing, but Mike has nothing to say. Skip the Rob Zombie remake, go back to the source material. Michael Myers never says anything. To anybody.

Halloween came out in 1978. Less than 10 years after Manson and the Zodiac Killer. But those horrible things happened far away, right? In California somewhere, not the Midwest. Not Haddonfield, Illinois. Not in our backyards. We didn’t even have kids on milk cartons then. Halloween puts this horror right in our communities, chasing after the people who watch our children, killing the children of police officers. But what truly makes Michael Myers terrifying, what makes him one of the most incredible villains to grace the screen is there is no “why” to him. No rationale. You never know why he does what he does. He simply is. Like a tornado.

Michael Myers made fear a suburban reality and he did it with a William Shatner mask, a jumpsuit and a butcher knife. And that, my friends, is what makes him awesome.

Tomorrow, tomorrow we’ll look at the dude who stomped a mudhole in Superman’s red and blue tights: DOOMSDAY!

Festival of Fiendishness – DAY 1: ERIC CARTMAN

In 1997 I kept hearing about this cartoon that had these “foul-mouthed third-graders.” Reviewers would talk about how one of the kids would die every episode, only to be brought back again like nothing happened. Critics lambasted the content, the irreverence of the characters, the low budget quality of the animation. I couldn’t get my mind around it.

Until I saw it.

The first time I saw South Park was probably the hardest I have laughed. Ever. In those 30 minutes I met Stan, Kyle, Kenny (who is my favorite), Chef (played by Isaac Hayes), their closet gay teacher, Mr. Garrison (who later had a sex change but was still bald), and the most warped child on TV, Eric Cartman. The boy was yelling at his cat about a potpie, farting fire, then farted and set the cat on fire. Yes, I am aware of how juvenile that sounds. Yes, I realize I am damn near 40 years old. Yes, it truly was that freaking funny.

I think I peed myself that day.

Now everybody may not agree with my sense of humor and be slightly unfamiliar with South Park in general and Eric Cartman specifically. Fine. For you squares, here’s the rundown: Eric Cartman is the overweight (I’m not fat, I’m big-boned) “friend” of Stan Marsh and Kenny McCormick—he hates Kyle—and is decidedly South Park’s most consistent villain. And this is a show that gave us Man-Bear-Pig, Scuzzlebutt (who has Patrick Duffy as a leg), the succubus, a piece of poop as a Christmas character, and Barbara Streisand as Mecha-Godzilla. Cartman is a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, xenophobic, spoiled, little fat child and one of the funniest characters to ever grace my TV. He’s Archie Bunker—if Archie didn’t have to worry about the FCC, the laws of physics, child welfare, and was in elementary school.

Cartman’s antics are prolific, horrible and hilarious—here are some highlights:

  • He intentionally gave Kyle AIDS after contracting it through a blood transfusion.
  • He locked Butters in a bomb shelter and made his parents think Butters was missing just so he could go Casa Bonita.
  • In a 2-part episode, Cartman turned himself into a Batman-style superhero and summoned the demon Chthulu as his sidekick.
  • He made a show tune out of calling Kyle’s mom a bitch (at least he was accurate).
  • He led an anti-Ginger movement to kill all red-headed kids (because they have no souls)—until he turned into one and then led a Hitler-style Ginger Rebellion.
  • One of my favorites is when he faked having Tourette’s syndrome just so he could curse in public. Cartman singing “I’ve got a golden ticket!” will forever be in my head.

But these are the antics of a misguided youth—when a 9th grader named Scott Tenorman tricked Cartman into buying his pubes so he could reach puberty, Cartman exacted his revenge: he had Scott’s parents killed, ground into chili and tricked Scott into eating them. And then licked his “tears of unfathomable sadness.”

He killed this boy’s parents, made him eat them and then licked up his tears. I don’t know what else to say. I wrote a book about Lucifer; at no point did I conceive of something that messed up. Truth is, this cat is NUTS! And that’s why he’s a fantastic villain. Cartman is out his fucking mind, knows it, and doesn’t care. This is a psychopath without a doubt, a ten-year-old construction paper psychopath.

And he’s hilarious!

Tomorrow, the Festival continues! They don’t like bright light; sunlight will kill them. Don’t get them wet; don’t even give them water. And what ever you do, no matter how much they beg, never, ever feed them after midnight. Tomorrow, the Gremlins are tearing up my blog!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 30B: GENERAL ZOD

I already told you that I’m no fan of DC Comics (they have continuity issues I cannot wrap my head around) and everybody is named Something-Man, This-Power-Girl. There’s even a Something-Lad—Lad? Seriously? In 2012? Can’t do it. But that’s beside the point. I am a fan of General Zod as portrayed in the magnificent Superman II by Terence MF Stamp.

No matter how you slice it, Zod’s been pissed for a while: whether you go with the comic version of him leading Krypton’s military and committing atrocities; or him having issues with how the Council did Non…and then committing atrocities; or Smallville’s genetically engineered, then sent back in time nonsensical portrayal—it all ends with Zod doing foul stuff on Krypton, getting imprisoned in the Phantom Zone (which is like the cornfield for you Twilight Zone aficionados—ha! I got to use the word aficionado), escaping the Phantom Zone, making his way to Earth where he gets Superman’s powers with none of the truth, justice and American Way jazz. And then he wrecks shop.

Now, I already told you, I’m looking at the Zod who screamed at Marlon Brando, “You will bow down before me! Both you, and one day, your heirs!” and then made good on it. I’m talking about the Zod who came to Earth and walked on water in front of Buford T. Justice (“Did that son’bitch just give me an order?”) I’m talking about the Zod who got on the news and called Superman out and then proceeded to whoop his ass through downtown Metropolis—which looks an awful lot like Gotham City. And New York. That Zod. He was an awesome Zod.

Here’s why he’s impressive: Zod is the most horrid version of Superman we can consider. He was even too bad for Lex Luthor—and Lex wants to kill Superman. He’s a direct affront to everything that makes us love Superman: Zod has all the powers with none of the humanity. See, that’s what Zod is really about: taking away that thing that makes Kal-El into Clark Kent, into one of us. Because beneath the cape, behind the S, is an individual who was orphaned, different and alone. Alone. There’s nothing else like Superman, not on Earth. Not in the universe. His planet is gone. His people are gone. He clings to the closest thing he can: us. And then only vestige of who he might be, what he could be, is a bulletproof megalomaniac clad in deep V’s and puffy sleeves. It’s only a matter of time before people—human beings—put two and two together and turn on Superman.

Zod isn’t about power (but he uses his so effectively); he’s about alienation. He’s about attacking the core of the Man of Steel. Think about it. He brings out the worst in Superman. Zod makes the world think Superman has abandoned them (when he was just getting some nookie); he beats the living shit outta Superman with powers humans worship him for having; there are instances in the comics where Superman has killed Zod (and the movie implies it). Zod takes this superhero and shows him a horrible mirror—turns a savior into a killer at worst, an apathetic god at best. Anything but human. Anything but one of us. When the dust settles, Superman is still different and alone. And now we all know it.

And one more thing, Zod had this amazing line: “Why do you say these things to me, when you know I will kill you for it?” That’s always been my favorite.

That’s it for the Celebration, at least for this volume. Its been a blast, ladies and gents, Sith and Jedi, wizards and muggles.

Catch ya later!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 30A: Ernst Stavro Blofeld #atozchallenge

I gotta stop this sleep deprivation thing. It’s really cramping my style. And it makes me FORGET TO POST ON ENTIRE DAYS.

Sorry about that. And welcome back to the final day of the Celebration of Wickedness, place where we celebrate the best of the worst. I am your host, the incredibly sleepy—but still spunky—Christopher Starr. Since my body decided rest was more important than posting yesterday, you get one more Two-Fer. First up is the most iconic of Bond villains—Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Blofeld is the head of SPECTRE, a global organization bent on world domination—wait, that sounds like Cobra. And Hydra. And MAD. And Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. And Al Qaeda. Know why? Blofeld was that awesome. This guy was the villain in six different Bond films—two of them he didn’t even appear in and was still the villain. He bothered three different Bonds: he screwed with Sean “The Original” Connery in three movies; George Lazenby (who? Oh, the dude that only played in one James Bond movie…yeah, that guy); and Roger “Smooth As Silk” Moore. In any series that ain’t about the villain (like Friday the 13th, Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street), no one appears six times. No one. Except Blofeld. And he’s raw enough to be rumored to appear in the upcoming Bond flick. You never know with this guy.

Ok, so let’s give him his due: Blofeld runs this global terrorist organization, right? He speaks about everybody in terms of numbers—he’s Number One (like Nelly), so on and so forth. He runs his shit like a business, making his folks do financial reports and shit. He kills his own people when they don’t act right—years before Darth Vader made it cool. His schemes are devilishly complex: he likes the “I got you hanging over a shark tank with bloody drawers and a rope that’s being burnt by a candle on the other side of the room, let’s see you get outta this shit” variety. He undergoes repeated plastic surgeries so you never get a good look at his face. He makes stunt doubles CONSTANTLY so, provided you can find him, you never know if you got the right guy. He won’t freaking die. EVER. Like a roach. And he made stroking a white cat cool.

Oh yeah, and he killed James Bond’s wife. Right after he married her. And drove the getaway car.

Ernst Blofeld is not just impressive because he’s persistent, smart, cold-hearted, calculating, diabolical, or because he has a beautiful shaved noggin. It’s because he’s an icon. You don’t hear that about villains often but it’s true. Villains from GI Joe to Inspector Gadget to Austin Powers to Ceelo Green on the Voice have taken bits and pieces of Blofeld to add to their own legend. They said imitation is the sincerely form of flattery. Blofeld must be truly flattered.

In every other instance of a villain we’ve looked at in the Celebration, there has been an emotional attachment to the work at hand. They care about it. They’re invested in the success of their diabolical schemes or their revenge or their power play or the destruction of their hero. But Blofeld is cold. He is surgical in his approach. Like Spock as a killer. No rage. No anger. The level of his evil is delivered by his icy monotone and it only makes him more sinister. That he does it all stroking that damn cat is what makes him iconic.

And now, for your finale of the Celebration of Wickedness Volume 1, and the Letter Z for the A to Z Blog Challenge: General Zod!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 20: VOLDEMORT #atozchallenge

Welcome back boys and girls, ladies and gents, wizards and muggles, the villain for today’s Designated Day of Misery (I stole that) is Tom Marvolo Riddle, known to his friends as Lord Voldemort.

Unless you can’t see, read or understand braille, you know who Voldemort is—he’s THE villain in the Harry Potter series. I’m gonna say now, I’ve only read four of them (but I have seen all the movies—does that count?). He attends Hogwarts, learns that you can become immortal by committing murder, splitting your soul and putting it into other objects. He begins this campaign of conquest, slaughtering all those who get in his way until he meets a lil boy named Harry who, when Voldemort dispenses the Killing Curse, reflects it off his noggin and wishes Voldy to the cornfield. And all this is before the books get started. For the rest of the series, he is trying to restore his power and exact revenge on the rugrat who ruined it in the first place.

The entire series is spent on Harry learning his powers and Voldemort regaining his. The noseless wonder spends his time living out the back of somebody’s head, messing with young girls from the pages of a tawdry diary, and killing Edward Cullen (thank you, God!) until he can finally get his body back and exact revenge on the kid who screwed up his plans.

Voldemort is the anti-bullying poster child. You remember that creepy kid with the greasy hair in junior high that nobody wanted to have lunch with? Or that weird guy in the third cubicle on the left at your work? You know who I’m talking about. What’s his name—Eric? (“You invited Eric? You said he gave you the creeps!”) Yeah, that guy. Leave his ass alone: for all you know, he’s trying to split his soul in half so he can live forever. Ain’t no telling what he’ll do to you.

To date, there have been millions of words written about Voldemort, his impact on literature, the threat he poses to good Christians. Whatever. I’m not intent on dissecting those. Here’s why he’s awesome: Voldemort spends the entire Harry Potter series—7 years—working to regain his powers, to achieve his greatness solely so he can destroy Harry Potter and get back to business. This cat is driven. He is focused.

He’s so focused that even when defeated, the victors are too scared to speak his name. There is not another soul in history, real or imagined, who inspired so much fear people wouldn’t even say his name. Because they knew he was driven enough to come back. Think about that. Not even Jesus’ disciples where wholly convinced he’d be coming back. And he was the Son of God. Voldemort’s people know he’ll be back, they know he’s gonna pick up where he left off so they keep the band together, maintain the Deatheaters, and make a little kid’s life miserable, all at the whim of a guy who’s a Kuatu stunt double. (For you uninitiated, Kuatu is the tiny Siamese twin leading the Martian resistance in Total Recall.)

My point here is this, Voldemort is awesome as a villain because he is going to get what he wants. Period. There’s no stopping him, not even death. Not even his soul. Think about that: Voldemort risks his soul—he splits it—for the sake of being immortal. He commits the unthinkable—or tries to—so he can live forever. There are few characters in literature who are willing to go to the lengths Voldemort does and that willingness is attractive. People join him because they realize that he cannot be stopped, because they know that he’s going to achieve what he wants. They’re scared of that kind of focus. They know it is better to be on the side of inevitability than against it.

Take a look at Voldemort. Learn from him. Give your villains and your heroes that clarity of purpose, that focus. Make their aims so basic and ensure they are wholeheartedly committed to their cause. Even if it means their very souls. That is how you make an enduring character.

Tune in tomorrow for my favorite Disney villain, Scar. Be Prepared!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 19: THE EVIL QUEEN

This woman tried to kill her stepdaughter because the child was prettier than she was! I can’t even give you a good, “Welcome to the Wickedness” intro because today’s villain takes the cake on fuckedupedness. We’re talking about the Evil Queen from Snow White and she takes villainy to unprecedented heights.

Let’s face it, there are often good reasons to kill someone (and I’m marginally serious here): they stepped on your brand new kicks, they put your baby in the back in the ballet recital, they cancelled Friday Night Lights. Look, no matter how seriously or insignificantly you value life, I’m certain you never really considered killing someone because they looked better than you, right? Have you? Oh dear God, you have…we’ll talk about this later…

We all know the Snow White story by now. Snow White is a beautiful maiden with pale skin and a short bob who can sing to the animals and make them clean up for her. Her stepmother is the Queen—and is not a bad looker at all—who has a magic mirror that she consults to feed her fragile ego. When the mirror suggests that Snow actually has a little something something on her stepmother, the Queen sets about killing her. She took the word of some RANDOM DUDE and decided murder was best. Doesn’t this sound like an episode of Snapped? The Queen hires a guy to do the vile deed; he takes Show White out to do the deed but, once he beholds her beauty, can’t bring himself to kill her so he sets her free. Snow White stumbles upon Little People, Big World and hangs out with the dwarves until the queen disguises herself as an old woman and brings a poison apple. Apparently the queen hadn’t dusted off her magic skills in a little while because the apple doesn’t kill Snow, just puts her in a coma and the dwarves end up killing the Queen.

Now, I’m no fan of this movie—I think I’ve seen it once because my daughter loves it. I don’t actually care if the Queen kills Snow White or not. The whole singing to the animals thing just bugs me. But something has to be said for the fact that Disney—America’s family film studio—Disney decided a shallow, cruel, vindictive, narcissistic woman that tried to kill the protagonist for being prettier than her was the best way to launch the first full-length animated feature EVER. This woman set the bar and NO ONE can touch it.

I like to imagine my villains talking as though they were in a prison yard, sharing those “what are you in for?” stories. “I’m here for killing puppies and turning them into coats,” says Cruella. Nice opening. “I bite women, suck their blood and turn them into immortal zombie creatures,” Dracula counters. Impressive. “There’s this guy from another world, and he’s stronger and faster than the rest of us and, even though he says he’s a good guy, I don’t trust him. I’m trying to kill him,” and Lex Luthor enters the fray. “I tried to kill my stepdaughter,” says the Queen, “because she’s prettier than me.” And we have a winner!

In the end, the Evil Queen is one of the most incredible villains because no one has a reason for villainy as shallow as hers. That’s it. Her rationale for murder is one of the most callous and inhumane we’ve seen, and we’ve looked at puppy-killers, child-eating clowns, and a child-molester turned nightmare. I don’t even know what to say to take from her as a writer: my imagination isn’t that cold.

So that’s my letter Q. Tomorrow, we’re bringing out one the most popular villains in literature and film: He Who Shall Not Be Named—Tom Riddle AKA Lord Voldemort!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 18: POLTERGEIST

There are a number of things no parent ever wants to hear about their children’s friends but I have to say, this is probably pretty high on the list:

“It lies to her. It tells her things only a child would understand. It’s using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the beast.”

Yes, my little readers, Poltergeist, the scariest movie made for children, is your serving of wickedness for the day. You know I’m right. I don’t think I know a single adult who saw this movie as an adult; everyone saw this as a kid and has been sleeping with their closet doors shut ever since. This movie did more damage to the clown industry than the Simpsons and Pennywise combined. On the upside, we all learned a new German word to be terrified of.

Poltergeist hit theatres in 1982 and that was a pretty pivotal year for me. I was 9, my parents got divorced that year and my siblings and I were staying with my grandmother that summer (yes, the same one who took us to see Jaws 2 and then turned around and took us the beach). In that summer, in that season of uncertainty, I got to the experience both the wonder and the terror of my childhood: literally in one seven-day period, I saw both E.T. and Poltergeist. I remember my brother and I sleeping head to foot in the same bed because my room had a closet and the door to the attic. I think I peed myself that night. I have not been the same since.

Before I go any further, since this film falls into the “Hey, dummy, your house is haunted, can’t you tell?” category, I have to deliver a short Public Service Announcement. Imagine me speaking as the authoritative black guy from the Allstate commercials: If you turn your back to wash dishes, turn around and your chairs are stacked on the kitchen table like a jenga tower and the only folks in the house are you, your 4-year-old daughter and the dog, LEAVE. If you can put a football helmet on your child and have them scoot inexplicably across the floor, pulled some unseen force, LEAVE. If the tree in the backyard tries to eat your son—and he is not DMFRH—LEAVE. That’s Christopher Starr’s stand.

That said, Poltergeist was an amazing movie. It taught us not to eat that uncovered chicken in the fridge, don’t pick at that thing on your face, and do not ignore the fact that your child is having a conversation with a staticy TV. And we learned that you should never buy a house on land that was once a cemetery—there’s a good chance you’ll end up having this conversation: “You sonofabitch! You moved the cemetery but you left the bodies, didn’t you?! You only moved the headstones!”

Pound for pound, Poltergeist ranks as one of the scariest movies and the ghost itself as one of the greatest villains because it touched on everything we were frightened of in the 80s: clowns, ghosts, child abduction, too much TV (remember, MTV was out at that point), thunderstorms, the monster under our beds. The suburbs were supposed to the safe place, the haven for white flight, the realization of the American dream. We were supposed to be safe out there. Poltergeist shows us that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, how much you make, there are things that can reach out and touch you anywhere. That can get you anywhere. That can take what is important to you. That shit is scary.

Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s time for me to go! Tomorrow we’re gonna look at the coldest broad to ever grace a fairytale: my letter Q is the Evil Queen from Snow White.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 16: KHAN NOONIEN SINGH

Ricardo Montalban was a sexy man. He was hand-crafted from fine Corinthian leather. He could put on a white suit, grab a little person and make all your fantasies come true. I once saw him, as Mr. Rourke, go toe to toe with the Devil. And win. So who else could sport feathered bangs and a vest with no shirt and still be the most memorable villain in the 23rd century?

But this ain’t about Ricardo Montalban, it’s about Khan Noonien Singh (truth be told, I didn’t even know he had a middle or last name until I got ready for this post). Khan is the antagonist from Star Trek II, as in The Wrath Of, and easily the most recognizable villain from Star Trek (like I would choose the tribbles).

We meet Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series. Khan is a genetically engineered human being with the “superior intellect.” He used his powers to conquer about a quarter of the earth during the 1990s (don’t you remember that?) When the unwashed masses rose against him, he and about 80 folks fled earth, got stuck in suspended animation until they were found 400 years later by the Enterprise. Kirk does Khan a solid and thaws him out; Khan thanks him by taking over his ship. Khan and his folks are exiled to a planet in the middle of nothing to serve out their sentence.

The end, right? Nope.

When we see Khan again, the planet he was exiled too is knocked off course and becomes a barren wasteland with only the 80 humans and these desert rock lobsters whose babies can make you “weak-minded” if you stick them in your ears. I have no idea how you figure that out…Anyway, a routine mission becomes a hijacking and suddenly Khan is back on the scene with a Federation starship and an eagerness to beat the shit out of James T Kirk. Khan’s return brings us numerous bad haircuts, William Shatner’s obvious toupee, introduces Kirstie Alley, and Spock’s death.

Khan has 23rd century street cred. This is what makes him so cool. For all the superior intellect, genetic enhancement bullshit, Khan is simply a thug from the future. And he’s good at it! This is why he’s Star Trek’s most memorable villain—he’s actually something and someone we can understand. He’s a criminal in fine clothing, surrounded by advanced technology, but a criminal nonetheless.

And this is why Khan Noonien Singh makes the cut as a fantastic villain: Khan is gangster. Put your phasers on stun; hear me out. Khan carjacked the both Enterprise and the Reliant, does a drive-by on the Enterprise first chance he gets, steals the Genesis device, and kills Kirk’s boy. Every time he walks on the screen, I swear I can hear 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P.: “I don’t know what you heard about me…”

Tomorrow, we continue with the A to Z Challenge with O for the Overlook Hotel—the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. “All work and no play…”

Celebration of Wickedness Day 15: LEX LUTHOR

It’s Lex, baby! That’s right, our sample of sinister savagery is Superman’s nemesis premier, the chrome dome himself.

Now, I’m admittedly not a DC comics fan; I’ve read two Superman comics in my lifetime—the one where they changed Supes’ costume and the one where Doomsday beat the bulletproof shit outta Superman. I don’t know Lex from the pages of comics: I know him from the Christopher Reeve masterpieces, the sub-standard Superman Returns, and all 687 episodes of Smallville (I cannot be only one who thought it took forever for Superman to learn HOW TO FREAKING FLY!).

Most of us have seen the 1978 Richard Donner pic with Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando and if you haven’t, stop, go out and watch it. Come back when you’re better prepared for class. And while you’re at it, watch Superman II—it was just cool. In that movie, we are introduced to a villain who wants to start an earthquake to make the entire western seaboard of the United States fall into the ocean just so he can make money on a brand new coastline. And he launches a domestic nuclear attack to give Superman something to do while his other plan is in motion.

Impressive, right? But wait, there’s more.

There are 2 human beings who know about Superman’s “aversion” to kryptonite. Both of them know who Superman is. Both of them are billionaires. One of them is Superman’s friend. The other one wants to kill him. In the movies, Lex discovers what kryptonite does, obtains it, then gives Superman a pendant made of it and tries to drown him. But that’s not all: he finds the Fortress of Solitude, turns it on, uses its information against Superman and makes Superman destroy his own home. We’ve even seen Lex shank Supe and stomp him like they were on D-block. And Superman is BULLETPROOF.

Here’s what it comes down to: Lex has balls.

That’s what makes him such a fantastic villain. Lex Luthor has balls. I know it sounds crass but think about it. Push aside his routine disdain for all manners of law enforcement. Ignore his idle willingness to sacrifice billions of human lives to achieve his aims. Brush away the fact that he teamed up with General Zod to take over the world. Consider this: Lex Luthor fought a god. On purpose. And figured out how to beat him.

When we think of heroes and villains, especially the super-powered variety, we often imagine a match in power and capability. Batman and the Joker, Spiderman and the Green Goblin, Harry Potter and Voldemort. Usually two sides of the same coin. But think about Superman. He can fly, shoot lasers out his eyes, live in space, lift full continents with his bare hands, turn the world backwards—you’d have a better chance listing the things he can’t do, right? But Lex is just a dude. A regular guy. Flesh and blood and addicted to gravity. And yet he is still willing, wholeheartedly, to tumble with the Man of Steel. And sometimes gains the upper hand. Who does that? A man with balls.

And that is why Lex Luthor deserves entry into the pantheon of great villains.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, we get the only Star Trek villain I know: KHAN! KHANNN! KHANNN!!! (that’s my version of the echo from Star Trek II)

Celebration of Wickedness Day 8: PENNYWISE THE CLOWN #30daysofmadness

While the rest of the Christian world is celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Happy Easter, everybody!), we’re still celebrating the darker side of life. Today’s villain du jour is Pennywise, the child-killing clown from It.

I don’t know a single soul that has read the book—it’s longer than the Bible. But I know a whole bunch of people who saw the miniseries. If you weren’t one of them, it’s the story of a giant inter-dimensional spider-thing that terrorizes a small town in Massachusetts or Rhode Island or any one of the other 78 states in New England. The spider-thing takes the form of a clown, Pennywise, to lure kids into the sewers to dine on them.

I have a couple confessions to make: first, I didn’t see It until I was an adult in my 30s so the terror was lost on me—the dated hairstyles and poor special effects made me think it was just an extra long episode of Cheers; second, I actually didn’t think It was that good, I just remember what my friends kept saying:

“Dude, the clown…the clown really freaked me out.”

The problem with this is it was college students talking. I’d graduated from high school the summer before and was working on my first attempt at a college degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. For whatever reason, I didn’t see it. I don’t know, I didn’t have a TV, the ratio of women to men was 14 to 1 and there were better things to watch, or I was sleep. I missed it.

But the thing is, all those other people didn’t.

These were grown men sleeping with the lights on, lamenting about this damn clown and, even though I hadn’t seen it, I was genuinely interested in this character. Or rather, in his impact. In light of what we’ve learned so far, what makes Pennywise so effective, so frightening is that he is something so malevolent in such innocuous trappings. Pennywise is a clown, with fanged teeth, but a clown nonetheless. And until It graced our television screens, the creepiest things about clowns was that they hung out with nondescript purple guys named Grimace, known Hamburglars, and traveled in those itty-bitty cars.

We used to look forward to clowns. How many of us grew up watching Bozo the Clown before school? We’ve all had Happy Meals. And I know hundreds of my peers watched the clowns at the Shrine Circus. They were good, clean fun. And that’s the thing, that’s the rub. Clowns are supposed to be harmless (John Wayne Gacy aside) and Pennywise uses that inherent trust to kill children. Remember when I said Cruella DeVille was just mean? You gotta admit, posing as a clown to catch a snack is pretty f’d up.

I added Pennywise to the list as a fantastic villain because of his MO: he takes something that generally engenders happy feelings and uses it as bait for something sinister. And, in the process, changes the way we look at clowns.

I could talk about that this is a common trait among Stephen King’s villains, about how he finds something to fear in those things we hold dear: our faithful companions become ravenous hellhounds in Cujo; our pretty little girls become telekinetic she-devils in Carrie or walking flamethrowers in Firestarter; a car literally becomes a deathtrap in Christine and Maximum Overdrive. Pennywise is simply another example of a villain made incredible in the hands of a master.

UPDATE: I do know a soul who has read It–My Wife! She publicly informed me of this little tidbit. She actually read it 3 times. 3! I can’t decide how concerned I should be…

The A to Z Blog Challenge starts up again tomorrow with letter H. We’ll be talking about something truly terrifying: the House from the Amityville Horror.