(SPOT.ph) Lawyer and vlogger Regina Vanguardia spits truth bombs on the injustices ailing the fictional town of Nueva Esperanza, leaving viewers of the most recent iteration of Mars Ravelo's Darna baffled with how too often they find themselves nodding to a character whose alter ego is a classic super villain, the snake woman Valentina.
Played by actress Janella Salvador, Vanguardia draws parallels between on-screen and real-world strifes with her exposés that try to hold the corrupt into account, inspiring a growing wave of "Valentina apologism" as a result.
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"Mayor, ano sa tingin mo? Tingnan mo paligid mo. Ask yourself. Masaya ka ba sa nangyayari sa siyudad mo? Sino ba ang pinaglilingkuran mo? Ang mga simpleng mamayan na bumoto sa inyo? O ang mga kaibigan mo?," she said in a viral scene.
The Valentina origin story rewrites the mold of how villains are traditionally portrayed in films and teleseryes. This coincides with pop culture's recent embrace of anti-heroism, or the use of morally grey characters to inspire a more nuanced understanding of how good and evil permeate in real life.
Valentina Gen Z Version is no typical villain
Born a freak with her gorgon-like appearance in the comics , society's continued shunning of Valentina despite a need to live a normal life and integrate into the world is what drives her to madness and wreak havoc as a snake goddess with a mission to destroy mankind.
With her long black hair and pale skin, and a well-respected profession to match, Vanguardia in her human form is beautiful by convention and principled like Darna, the story's main protagonist.
"Very glamorous, right? Over time, ganon na naging portrayal niya in the latter incarnations of Valentina but if you choose to look back on the original depiction, Valentina is like most villains—isang tao na itinatwa ng lipunan kaya naging kontrabida," Star Cinema writer Hyro Aguinaldo, who has studied the Darna lore, told reportr.
Having gained access to the first edition, which had over 90 issues, Aguinaldo said he was surprised to know that issues #2 to #85 were basically just about Valentina's origin story.
"It seems to me that Mars Ravelo was interested about telling stories of villains, of people who were wronged. Origin story siya talaga ng isang villain, and pumasok nalang si Darna to save the day sa dulo," he said.
Though Valentina's recent depictions may be different from the original, Aguinaldo said it was Ravelo's efforts to humanize the character by affording her a story of her own at a time when villains were automatically branded as an "ultimate evil"—with no own goals and motivations—that gave its future iterations freedom to come up with nuanced portrayals.
"That kind of presentation was rare, and so kung meron mang innovation si Mars Ravelo when he made Darna, that may be it. When I got to talk to his heirs, they said may fascination daw talaga yung lolo nila with the downtrodden, 'yung mga taong inapi, and liked to question how they ended up the way they are," he said.
"And may feeling ako na para kay Mars Ravelo, ang may karapatan lang i-humanize ay 'yung mga taong totoong inapi. Kasi never niyang binigyan ng ganong treatment 'yung mga taong hindi naman naapi tapos gumawa ng masama," he added.
Salvador's Valentina is relatable
Villains have now evolved to serve a different purpose than just escalating a story's conflict, or advancing a protagonist's journey, says Aguinaldo, noting how this reinvention allowed even the most fundamentally unrelatable and morally questionnable characters to become relatable.
Traditionally, villains represent qualities that are frowned upon, misunderstood, or deemed taboo in society. Take DC Comics' The Joker, a supervillain with a plethora of mental illnesses.
But much as these characters serve as cautionary tales, they also exist as tools employed by writers to indulge the deviant, shame-infused aspects of human nature, essentially allowing audiences to transgress, if only through the content they consume.
"In a way, lahat tayo exposed to different conflicts and difficulties that sometimes, as part of human nature, you just want to scream and take revenge. It just so happens na 'di ganon nakaporma 'yung society so villains are that tool for audiences to vicariously live their darkest imaginations, fears, and desires. It's not acceptable to live that kind of life because it’s bad, but to just see them portayed by a villain on screen or on paper, for a time, they are afforded that opportunity to just imagine," said Aguinaldo, explaining how this is when a hero usually steps in to do its part as a mirror of villains.
Like Valentina, Darna also experienced injustice, which motivates her to pursue the kind of life she lives. Like Valentina, she is given a certain power, but it's in what they choose to do with it that their paths diverge.
"It’s the choices that make all the difference. And when you relate that to real life, ganon naman talaga. It’s not the lives that we live that ultimately divide us, but the kinds of choices we make," Aguinaldo said.
One thing constant about Valentina throughout many portrayals is how her depiction always adjusts to the kind of society Filipinos are living through, reflective of what they perceive to be a source of evil, or goodness in disguise.
In 1973, a time when modern science technology was starting to take hold and was inciting doubts among people, actress Celia Rodriguez in "Lipad, Darna, Lipad!" gave life to Dr. Valentina Vrandakapoor, a scientist specializing in Reptilian Zoology.
In the aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, the 1993 film, “Darna: Ang Pagbabalik!”, had the late "La Primera Contravida" Cherie Gil as Valentina's daughter Valentine, an evangelist presenting herself as a messiah to exploit people's despair for her own selfish good ("When people have no one to turn to, sa'n sila pumupunta?")
For the turn of Alessandra de Rossi, who starred opposite Angel Locsin, celebrity culture was peaking.
"When you craft stories for the screen, you really have to think of the social realities of your audiences. It will resonate if it has semblance—not necessarily exact—to something they know," Aguinaldo said, noting that ultimately, this is how Salvador is sustaining Valentina's tradition of being a well-liked villain, he said.
"Paano ka nga ba naman magagalit kay Valentina when her character is out here pointing out all the things wrong about society today?," he added.
This article by Ara Eugenio was originally published on Reportr.