In commemoration of the late, great Mars Ravelo's birthday (just one day after mine!), I thought I'd talk about one of his many popular creations...
Most Filipinos assume that Captain Barbell is the Philippine version of Superman. To be more accurate, though, he's actually more influenced by Captain Marvel (the Shazam version). Now, I say "influence" rather than "rip-off" because CB, at least as he was originally envisioned by creator Ravelo, has enough unique elements that make him his own character.
Let's take his origin, for instance. Most of us know the story of a skinny weakling who met an old hermit that gave him a magical golden barbell, which gave him the power to become a muscle-bound superhero. On the other hand, younger fans might be more familiar with the baby from the future whose time machine crash lands to the present, is raised by a kindly old farmer and his wife, and grows up to discover he possesses superhuman abilities (yeah, I know, WTF?!). But as I've been learning more about the character in recent years, I came to realize--
EVERYTHING WE KNOW IS WRONG!!!
The fact of the matter is, Captain Barbell's true origin story is way different from how we've remembered it. And not only that, but there have actually been more than one person to assume the hero's identity throughout the years.
Art by Jim Fernandez, courtesy of Unang Labas
The first and most well-known of Captain Barbell's alter-egos, Tenteng is the name that we identify with the hero to this very day. However, we've been getting his story wrong all along.
As he appeared in the very first Captain Barbell serial (Pinoy Komiks, 1963-64), written by Ravelo and illustrated by Jim Fernandez, Tenteng was a thin, asthmatic young man who was constantly abused by his 4 thuggish half-brothers. Admiring the bodybuilders in his neighborhood, he longs for nothing more than to be strong and muscular himself so he can stand up for himself against his bullying brothers and impress the girl of his dreams. Naturally, Tenteng's fortunes change dramatically when he finds the magic barbell that transforms him into "Captain Barbell" (spelled with quotation marks back then). But here's where the story differs from the one we've known all this time. Because Tenteng doesn't get the barbell from an old hermit; he gets it from a genie! (spelled in the story as "Genii")
The original stories also established that Captain Barbell's power would remain with its host for as long as he was oppressed and in need of justice. At the end of the first series, CB seperates himself from Tenteng once his personal issues were resolved, and the barbell is sent to the bottom of the sea, where it awaits the next person worthy of wielding its power.
You can read the first chapter of the original Captain Barbell serial onVideo 48.
Read 2 further chapters at Unang Labas:
The Final Chapter
In the second serial Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal (Pinoy Komiks, 1964-65), by Ravelo and Fernandez, we meet Dario, a polio-stricken lad confined by his illness to a makeshift wheelchair (which looks more like a skateboard). Despite his condition, he works as a sweepstakes vendor, getting into various trouble on the mean streets in the process. Somewhere along the line, Dario gets thrown into the ocean, where he makes contact with the lost barbell and becomes the second person to turn into Captain Barbell. He goes on to battle the villain of the title, the robotic Captain Bakal ("Captain Iron" or "Captain Metal").
To see the kind of trouble Dario had to put up with, read the second chapter of the serial on Unang Labas.
The third series, Captain Barbell Versus Flash Fifita, began in Liwayway in 1966. Set around the fishing village Baryo Dagundong, the protagonist this time around was Gomer, a crippled fisherman who had to take care of his 5 younger siblings.
You can view this serial's first chapter posted at Unang Labas.
There had been a few more Captain Barbell serials that followed, the last one running in the pages of Pilipino Komiks from 1985-86. Still written by Ravelo with art by Clem Rivera, this was my first introduction to the character, and it formed much of what the public knows about the character today. First of all, this version originated the familiar yellow costume that would be associated with CB for years to come. And then there's the title logo, whose basic design has been prominently used in filmed incarnations and merchandising up to now (except maybe for Panday, who used pretty much the same logo in his komiks serial and first few movies, I can't recall any other classic Pinoy character who has had a more lasting logo design). And of course, it was here where the origin that everyone has come to know actually came from. We are introduced to a Tenteng analogue named Enteng, who receives the mystic barbell from a mysterious old man (I'd like to think it was one of the previous CB's. Tenteng perhaps?).
Art by Gilbert Monsanto, courtesy of santomon's name
Captain Barbell has since been absent from the komiks pages-- or at least, from the printed komiks pages. But from 2005, CB reappeared in Gilbert Monsanto's online fan-comic Digmaan ("War"), which featured him fighting alongside several classic and modern Pinoy comic book characters.
This interpretation is much closer in design to the original 1960's incarnation, but writer/artist Monsanto adds a new and unexpected twist to the character. I don't want to spoil it here, but you're not going to believe who Captain Barbell's new alter-ego turns out to be.
To find out the new CB's secret, read Digmaan at Gilbert Monsanto's blog, santomon's name.
The first few Captain Barbell movies were faithful to the original comics. Captain Barbell was adapted to film in 1964, starring Dolphy as Tenteng and Bob Soler as CB. Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal was filmed in 1965, this time with Willie Sotelo as the Captain and Carlos Padilla, Jr. as Dario. Even the first colored remake in 1973, Captain Barbell Boom! (with Dolphy playing both Tenteng AND CB), used the "genie" origin from the first serial (this version was also made into an animated TV show during the late 1980's).
The 1986 Captain Barbell movie (starring Edu Manzano in the title role) wasn't a direct adaptation of the series then-running in Pilipino Komiks, but it did incorporate the costume and the "old hermit" version of the origin established in those issues. CB's alter-ego in this film, however, was named Tenteng (played by Herbert Bautista) after the original. A fondly-remembered film up to now, this is most probably where the popular misconceptions about the character's origin story began.
Captain Barbell returned to the big screen in the person of Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr. in 2003. His alter-ego this time around was given the name Enteng (portrayed by Ogie Alcasid), but his origin story is completely new. Basically, Enteng finds the magic barbell in the most appropriate of places; in a gym, where he works as a janitor.
No explanation is given as to how it got there in the first place, but the barbell itself is said to have been forged from a magic stone that fell from space and embedded itself deep into the earth. During times of great crisis, the barbell is expelled to the surface to seek out one who would use its powers for good. Though not actually stated, the way the barbell's origin is explained seems to imply that this has all happened before, and that Enteng is only the latest person to become Captain Barbell (I'd like to think of it this way. It gives it a sense of continuity with past versions). Indeed, prior to Enteng finding the barbell, CB is already established in the film as a well-known comic book character.
THAT DAMN TV SHOW
Sigh. Yes, we have to talk about this.
Okay, following the success of the 2005 Darna television series, GMA 7 produced their own adaptation of Captain Barbell. Starring Richard Gutierrez as both Captain Barbell and his alter-ego (named here as simply Teng), it was broadcast 5 days a week from May 29, 2006 to January 12, 2007.
Now, let me be brutally frank about this: I hate this show. I LOATHE THIS SHOW WITH A PASSION. Beyond the wanton disregard for the source material (Mars Ravelo must be suffering from vertigo right now), there were simply a million things wrong with it. It's badly written, the action sucked, characters were stupid (and I'm talking intellectual capacity here), the plots were illogical, and the concepts, I kid you not, WERE STOLEN FROM EVERY MAJOR SUPERHERO MOVIE AND TV SHOW MADE IN THE LAST 4 DECADES. (I should know, I've seen 'em all. I could enumerate every single thing they ripped-off, but maybe some other time). This is very evident in the revised origin, which takes its cues from Superman/Smallville (strange alien from another world/timeline, adopted by a farmer and his wife, saves his future arch-foe from a car crash, fights meteor freaks), Spider-Man (adopted father gets murdered, learns that with great power-- you know the rest...), and frickin' Wolverine (he's got a metal skeleton?!)!
Oh, and the barbell? The excuse is that Teng can only use his natural powers for a short period of time before he gets exhausted (sissy). The "barbell" is actually a power battery that grants him unlimited strength, the ability to fly, and that big yellow muscle suit he wears. On the positive side, I did like the new costume design. It's just too bad he could hardly move in it.
Personally, since the character was originally conceived as an everyman who becomes a hero, I think making him special from the start robs him of his appeal. Anyway, a second Captain Barbell TV series is currently in production, still under GMA and once again to star Richard Gutierrez. And as disastrous as their first effort may have been, believe it or not--
I'm actually looking forward to it.
As a fan, I'm always excited whenever a new Pinoy superhero movie or show is being made. And I rarely pass judgment on anything without seeing it first. Maybe they've learned from their mistakes and they'll actually deliver something good. Maybe they'll respect Mars Ravelo's legacy this time and really do justice to the character. I guess we'll have to wait and see. Until then, I remain optimistic.
But if they do screw this up again, you can bet I'll be bitching like hell about it.
So there you have it; the many names, faces and origins of Captain Barbell. As I've mentioned above, the character, when done right, should be able to retain that everyman appeal. And as Mars Ravelo himself originally wrote him, he quite literally was every man.
Fan Art by Aris B. Panganiban