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Wizards more awesome than Harry Potter

By the time you read this, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" has no doubt made enough cash at multiplexes across the country to float another government bailout of the financial industry.

I'm not a Potter hater, but he ranks rather low on my list of the all-time greatest wizards in history.

In fact, it took me a total of five minutes to think of 10 wizards more deserving of respect than one Harold Potter, he of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and whiny emo disposition.

Let's get started.

10. Gargamel.

Admit it. You secretly rooted for Gargamel to lay fiery waste to that miniature hippie commune that was the Smurf village.

I know I did.

Disgruntled sorcerer Gargamel was the one bit of levity brought to the sexless, conformist apology wrapped in cheap counter-culture tenets that was the "Smurfs" cartoon.

Clad in a black nightgown with his murderous kitty Azrael always at his side, Gargamel was the last hope for the self-determining human in a world gone mad.

Sure, he wasn't the most skilled wizard out there, as his deviant potions would more likely blow up in his face than turn Smurfs into gold, but we have to give him accolades for trying.

9. Ganon

Ganon was the mean hog with magical powers awaiting you at the end of "The Legend of Zelda."

He is, to my mind, one of the great video game characters of all time.

Through the sheer force of his will, Ganon overwhelmed the land of Hyrule and claimed the Triforce of Power for his own.

Playing as Link, you had to chop and spell-cast your way though Ganon's monstrous army to conquer the "Zelda" series of games and achieve glory among your geeky friends.

And unlike most video game final bosses, Ganon always lived up to his billing. Fighting him was like going 12 rounds with Jake LaMotta, and no matter the pounding you delivered on his swine face, Ganon would keep coming back for more.

And for that, old enemy, you are cooler than Harry Potter.

8. The wizard in the Black Sabbath song "The Wizard"

This creation by Ozzy Osbourne (who fancied himself a warlock during the cocaine '80s) is a model of simplicity.

In the song, the narrator is just hanging out on some boring suburban street outside Manchester when the eponymous wizard walks by.

At first those in his path are frightened, as you should be when a wizard's in the area. Never know what those bastards might do.

However, this wizard chooses to turn "tears into joy" and leaves "all the people feeling so fine."

Is the whole thing a metaphor for drug use? Of course. But after metal's finest harmonica intro and one of the sleaziest power riffs of all time, I'm ready to follow this wizard anywhere he goes.

7. Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi

What is a Jedi but a galactic wizard with a light saber instead of a staff?

I give the nod to Kenobi over Darth Vader because of his portrayal in the "Star Wars" prequels.

While Anakin Skywalker, who would become Vader, was grumbling about being left back at the Jedi clubhouse and pining for his monotone lover with the terrible Geisha get-up, Kenobi was riding giant lizards and slaying 12-armed robots single-handedly.

Kenobi's skill with the light saber was matched by his mind-control powers, including convincing millions of geeks to shell out billions of dollars on plastic crap filling WalMart toy shelves throughout the world.

6. Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)

How could you not include the man who mastered the art of "sex magick" in the pantheon of great wizards?

And when he wasn't exploring the mystical pleasures of the flesh, Crowley was tripping on every form of hallucinogen available to man of the late 19th century.

Born Edward Alexander Crowley, the man who would later become the world's most famous occultist left behind an impressive library of books on everything from mountaineering to chess.

His tumultuous life would influence a range of artists in several genres. Rockers Mick Jagger, Ozzy, The Beatles, comic scribe Alan Moore (see below), filmmaker Kenneth Anger and writer Neil Gaiman all have written songs and stories featuring Crowley.

How's your sex magick these days, Harry Potter? Yeah, I thought so.

5. Merlin

Was Merlin the first wizard? Classical historians say probably not, but he might as well have been.

For me, the most notable representation of Merlin is featured in John Boorman's blood-soaked and beautiful 1981 film "Excalibur."

In it, the venerable wizard is played to perfection by British actor Nicol Williamson. He infuses Merlin with weird ticks and tremors, giving the wizard a playful edge not seen on celluloid before or since.

As a kid, rarely a day went by that I did not wear a long purple blanket around my neck that signified Merlin's flowing cape. I no doubt drove my parents insane bellowing long stretches of Merlin's dialogue, my favorite being, "A dream to some. A NIGHTMARE TO OTHERS!"

I still own that blanket. I no longer wear it. Promise.

4. Wizard of Oz

For the ultimate God complex, look no further than the Wizard or Oz, or Oz the Great and Powerful.

And as great as "The Wizard of Oz" film was, it holds not a candle to the phantasmagoric wonder that is L. Frank Baum's book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

Our heroes, led by Dorothy, seek out the Wizard because they believe he holds the solution to all their problems. In the book he appears as a terrifying ball of fire, a monster and a floating head that hurls insults at anyone seeking his audience.

Turns out, the Wizard is little more than a weak old man from Omaha who floated away from a county fair or something and ended up in the magical land.

So what did he do? Well, he decided to take up shop as the head honcho and live his domination dreams, via a complex system of smoke and mirrors.

One could argue that the Wizard could easily have been the villain in Orwell's "1984."

And for that reason alone, he is the fourth coolest wizard of all time.

3. Alan Moore

When the story of comic books in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is written, there will be a single, long chapter dedicated to the life and work of England's Alan Moore.

Moore has become a pop culture institution all his own in recent years, as Hollywood has come calling after ignoring his creations for nearly three decades.

Moore would just as well have had it remain that way.

"Watchmen," "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "V for Vendetta," "From Hell" — all are taken from comic books written by Moore, all were butchered in numerous ways from page to screen.

The secret to understanding Moore's work comes in taking him at his word when he professes himself to be a magician.

He really believes this. And I believe him.

The act of creating a comic is one of magic, Moore says. In comics, words and pictures intertwine in a way that transcends time and place.

Only in a comic can a narrative make a 12,000-year jump between images and still make sense. Try this in a film and see what happens.

Also, Moore worships a 2,000-year-old Roman snake god named Glycon. That has to account for something.

2. Saruman the White (see next)

1. Gandalf

You saw this coming. The "Lord of the Rings" tag team of Gandalf and Saruman is unmatched in the Wizard Hall of Fame.

They didn't have time to spend as adjunct professors at magical colleges. Oh no. Gandalf and Saruman were too busy battling balrogs, amassing hordes of orcs and going at each other's throats for the fate of Middle Earth.

Saruman is the ultimate villain, who would wipe the mat with Voldemort any day of the week.

Give Harry the Ring to safeguard and he'd most likely break out in tears and scream "That's rubbish!" like a girl before running off to hide behind Hermione's dress.

Gandalf wouldn't have time for that business. More than anything, he was a master motivator. Though Gandalf lacks the nurturing disposition of Dumbledore, he was able to get Frodo's stumpy arse going in the right direction when the going got tough.

And after it was all done, Gandalf was happy to chill out with the Hobbits, smoke hits of pipe weed and get drunk on Middle Earth's finest microbrews.

When the Harry Potter series fades away into pop culture oblivion, J.R.R. Tolkien's creations will stand alone as the true measure by which all future wizards will be judged.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.