Saturday, March 24, 2012

Top 10 Fictional Spooks

For the sake of those who aren’t familiar with the term, “spook” is a slang that pertains to a spy, secret agent, or any operative of the intelligence/espionage/black ops community.  In fiction, just like detectives, spooks are heavily romanticized.  They seem to have exciting and secretive everyday lives.  Sometimes, they have double lives – their friends and family don’t know what they really do as a living.  They can coolly think and act under intense pressure.  They can endure horrific tortures.  They are one-man armies, extremely proficient in weaponry and close combat.  They enjoy the use of high-tech gadgets in their trades.  Fiction presented them as the “best of the best” people having the most badass and kickass jobs in the world.  Among these cool spies in fiction, here are my ten picks…


When I was drafting this list, the tenth spot was meant for Evelyn Salt (the Angelina Jolie-portrayed sleeper agent in the movie “Salt”).  And then I saw the movie “The Double”.  In that movie, Richard Geere plays retired CIA operative Paul Shepherdson.  Shepherdson was a legend in the Company, making his reputation by taking down Cassius Seven – an infamous and very deadly Soviet assassin squad trained and led by a faceless man codenamed “Cassius”.  When an assassination of a US senator was committed a la Cassius, he was brought out of retirement to help out in capturing the assassin who was presumed to be Cassius.  However, Shepherdson refused to acknowledge that it was Cassius, insisting that Cassius was dead and that the assassin was a copycat.  Later on, in a twist revealed early on the movie, we learned that Shepherdson was actually “Cassius” and had been a double agent while working for the Company.  However, he decided to turn against his Soviet comrades after they decided to kill the family that Cassius secretly started (he fell in love).  Thus, his last kills as “Cassius” were on those involved with the killing of his family (and, probably, those who know his true identity).  “The Double” might be a mediocre movie at most, but I really liked Geere’s character here.  I like the character’s background and buildup (though, I had to agree with most critics’ observations, that the twist’s revelation was early).  I like how he adopted his fabricated Paul Shepherdson identity to become his actual life, and then using this identity to kill two birds with one stone: establishing the Shepherdson identity’s authenticity and legend and exacting and executing revenge.  The best thing about this character is his main method of killing, he has a wire hidden in his watch which he can quickly pull out to garrote his targets swiftly.  He can do it in such fast fluid motion that he can even kill someone in broad daylight on a sidewalk without anyone noticing, his target just falls to the ground with throat already slit.


Natalia "Natasha" Alianovna Romanova, a.k.a. Black Widow was a Soviet agent but defected and joined the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.  Though she is not my most favorite superheroine, I find her the most interesting among “femme fatale” comic book superheroines.  She is a graceful and athletic combatant, having the skills of a gymnast and ballerina along with her extensive martial arts knowledge.  Her main weapons are pistols and bracelet-gadgets, which fires “Widow’s Bite” (an electro-static energy blast), “Widow’s Kiss” (knockout gas), “Widow’s Line” (grappling hooks with lines), and others.  She also has micro-suction caps in her gloves’ fingers and boots that allow her to stick on walls and ceiling a la Spider-Man.  Black Widow is a real hottie, and being played by Scarlett Johansson in the big screen increases this reputation.


Solid Snake is the video game icon from the stealth game “Metal Gear”.  He is described as a combination of spy, special operations soldier and mercenary commando of FOXHOUND (a fictional black ops and espionage unit).  By this description alone, we can presume that Snake is one hell of a badass and highly-skilled spook.  The main gameplay of “Metal Gear”, being a stealth game, is to creep on opponents and take them out quietly.  This had been Snake’s bread and butter for most of the game and is his main charm.  His kickass costume is a bonus point, too.


John Clark is one of the main characters in Tom Clancy’s “Ryanverse” (Jack Ryan books).  Clark is a former Navy Seal and was a Vietnam veteran.  After his stint from the military, he was hired by the CIA to be an operative and would eventually become one of the best in the business.  Jack Ryan trusts John Clark so much that whenever there are operations his hands are directly involved in, his first choice to send is John Clark, along with his protégé and eventual son-in-law Domingo “Ding” Chavez, to ensure success.  Clark has been both decorated by the military and by Langley, with plenty of successes under his belt.  He’s an excellent field operative, and his experiences allow him to be smart and knowledgeable on what to do in given situations.  Though they both have principles, John Clark is grittier and more ready to “break the rules” than Jack Ryan.  Tom Clancy even stated that John Clark is the “dark side” of the Jack Ryan.  He was played by Willem Dafoe in the “Clear and Present Danger” movie.


The first time I encountered the term “super-spy” was with Nick Fury.  He is best known as having been the leader of Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate or S.H.I.E.L.D, Marvel Universe’s fictional super espionage agency.  He was a WWII war hero, but due to a medication called Infinity Formula, his aging halted.  Thus, he can still function in a high level even though he’s about a century old.  Fury is in this list because he is one of the premier leader figures in the superhero community (in Marvel Comics) even though, technically, he’s not a superhero.  Oh, also, again, “super-spy”. ‘Nuff said.


Liam Neeson has a knack on playing interesting and badass characters, or, at least, picking such roles.  One of Neeson’s best characters is Bryan Mills, the protagonist in “Taken”.  Bryan Mills decided to retire from being a CIA field operative to build a closer relationship with his teenage daughter, Kim.  When Kim went on an unchaperoned trip with a friend to France to follow a tour of the band U2, they were targeted by kidnappers who sell girls to a sex slave ring.  While Kim was talking to the phone with her father, the kidnappers broke in the house she and her friend were staying.  Kim panicked, but Bryan coolly gave her instructions on what to do while recording the conversation to gather as much data as possible so it will be easier for him to come after them and rescue Kim.  After Kim was abducted, one of the kidnappers picked up the cell phone, to whom Bryan Mills delivered this memorable badass line which summarized the badassery of the character: “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”


Portrayed by the talented actor Johnny Depp in the movie “Once Upon A Time in Mexico”, Jeffrey Sands is a CIA agent in Mexico.  He is portrayed as having the wit and charm that goes with the typical coldness of a spook.  He can switch from charming to ruthless as situation demands, and can kill without hesitation.  He is a brilliant planner and manipulator.  But the most special thing about him is his general coolness and detachment, which is not dependent on a situation but it’s actually his usual character.  Maybe he has this kind of coolness and detachment because of being a borderline sociopath.  This characteristic of his was perfectly displayed when the bad guys gorged out his eyes, living him blind.  But Sands never lost a beat.  Usually, the loss of a body part or function – especially the eyes and sight – will depress somebody.  But not Sands.  He maintained his usual demeanor.  He never lost his cool along with his eyes.  It’s as if losing his eyesight was merely a minor annoyance to him.  Such display of badass coolness puts him at this high spot on this list.


I’ve never read the books yet, but have watched the Bourne Trilogy.  I don’t know if which Jason Bourne is better, the movie’s or the book’s.  Nonetheless, I found the movie Jason Bourne awesome enough for this spot.  The amnesiac assassin with the cool lethal fighting skills, know-how, field craft, and rich trade skills is – hands down – among the top fictional spooks ever created.  Even if the character is played by a non-badass dude like Matt Damon in the movie, the badassery and coolness of the character overflows.


Jack Ryan is the hero of several popular novels by Tom Clancy.  As a contrast with John Clark (discussed earlier in this list) and all of the other spooks in this list, Jack Ryan is a “desk job” spook rather than a hands-on field operative (though he had experienced and was successful in some important field work, too).  He’s very smart and vey accomplished and successful in his life.  After graduating from college with a degree in economics (and minoring in history), he joined the Marines but left after an injury.  He would make his fortune in the stock market, earn a doctorate, and would become a historian and professor in a naval academy.  He was even knighted after saving the Prince of Wales and his family from assassins.  He would mightily impress the Deputy Director – Intelligence (DDI) of the CIA after he did some consultancy for the Company, and eventually, he would be recruited.  He would prove to be a very sharp and intelligent analyst for the Company and his career rise was swift.  As a spook, he would be instrumental in several successful operations and missions including major coups against the Soviet Union.  He would eventually become the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) of CIA.  Then, he became the National Security Advisor after retiring from the CIA.  Finally, he would become Vice-President, but only for a short while, since he would immediately become the President of the United States just after being sworn as Vice-President due to the death of the incumbent president.  He would serve a second term afterwards.  On the big screen, Jack Ryan has been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck.

1.) JAMES BOND (007)

Was there any doubt?  This is a no-brainer.  No other fictional spook has come close of being as iconic as 007.  There are different characterizations of 007.  Aside from being played by different actors, there are also different authors who wrote Bond stories aside from the creator Ian Fleming.  Thus, each interpretation of Bond by the various actors and authors adds different facets to the character.  My favorite characterizations are of Pierce Brosnan and, of course, the original Bond in Ian Fleming’s novels.  In Fleming’s novels, being the original, the core of most of the 007 identity – the cold, womanizing, pleasure loving, talented, and effective spook – is established by this characterization of Bond.  Moreover, the book Bond is grittier and more prone to commit mistakes than the movie interpretation, making him more human and easier for the audience/readers to like and feel a connection with the character.  As for movie Bonds, for me, the best is Pierce Brosnan.  Aside from the fact that the Pierce Brosnan 007, being a movie Bond, carries the Bond movie tradition of enjoying high-tech gadgets (this element lacks in the original books), this Bond is also the freshest, most suave, and most “superhero  perfect” among all the Bonds.  Though plenty will say that Sean Connery is the best Bond ever, and there are valid arguments for this, still, for me, Brosnan is the best.  Because he was the Bond of my time and the Bond that made me love the character.      

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