Saturday, July 17, 2010

DARNA REBORN Part 2 - The Legend Continues

In the twilight of the 20th century (as well as the Philippine komiks industry), Darna was given an ill-advised reboot (new costume and powers, revised origin, the works) in the pages of the relaunched Super Action Komiks. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The character was quickly reverted back to her original incarnation, but the stories that she was placed in were a little on the dull side.

But when Super Action Vol.2 #12 came out in 1999, it appeared as if they were ready to experiment once more as they begged the question Paano Kung May 3 Darna? ("What If There Were 3 Darnas?")


The story begins with a retelling of Darna's origin, but with a twist. It turns out that the magic stone Narda saw fall from the sky that fateful night was only one of three. The second stone lands somewhere in Europe, where it is found by an orphaned street urchin named Carmi. The third stone falls into the hands of a strange reptile-like alien creature.


Imbued with the stone's power just as Narda had been, Carmi goes on to become Mirca, a heroine for hire who sells her services to the highest bidder. The alien who holds the third stone assumes the human guise of Oni Basilisk, head of the weapons manufacturing firm Kran Industries.


Darna, of course, needs no introduction. But it turns out that the stone in her possession is actually the weakest of the three. As always, she is assisted by her kid brother Ding, but this story breaks tradition by portraying him as a 17 year-old!


[Ding Trivia #1: It can be recalled that the 2005 Darna TV series starring Angel Locsin would also depict a teenaged Ding, as played by actor C.J. Muere. But years prior to that, the original script for the 1991 film version with Nanette Medved actually featured Ding as a teenager while a second younger brother named "Dingdong" took his place as Darna's sidekick. In the actual movie, Ding remains a young boy (played by child star Atong Redillas) while Narda's teen brother is named "Dong" instead (played by Tony Lambino of the singing group Smokey Mountain).]

With Ding "all growed-up," he couldn't ride on his sister's back like he used to anymore because... Well, it'd look weird. So they figured out a new way for him to go out flying with her...


Anyway, Oni has been using his stone's power to deplete the ozone layer in order to make the Earth habitable for his pollution-thriving reptilian race. At the same time, his company had also been escalating hostilities between the warring nations of Vlatvia and Sokoro by supplying arms to both sides.
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When he discovers that Mirca gets her powers from a stone similar to his, he decides to manipulate her to further his own sinister goals. He uses his handsome human form to seduce the mercenary heroine, who is easily turned on to the dark side.

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Meanwhile, Darna finds herself getting weaker and weaker over time, placing her life and crime-fighting career in jeopardy.



She is visited in her dreams by a being known as Inang Bughaw ("Blue Mother"), who is apparently the source of her powers (note the bag of stones hanging from her waist). She tells Narda about Oni and Mirca, and reveals that Darna will continue to weaken as long as the other two stones are being used for evil.

As part of Oni's plan, Mirca intensifies the conflict between Sokoro and Vlatvia, directing missiles against both sides as they continue to blame each other for the attacks. Other European countries soon get involved, threatening a devastating world war that could only prove destructive to the Earth's already fragile ecology.

(And I just love "Juan dla. Cruz's" opinion on the crisis.)

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Oni eventually learns of Darna's existence and schemes to bring her to his side as well. Mirca flies into a jealous rage and engages her perceived rival in fierce battle.

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Despite her weakened state, Darna manages to subdue Mirca and tries to convince her opponent that Oni is only taking advantage of her for his own purposes. Refusing to listen to reason, the confused anti-heroine storms off while Darna flies after her.
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Mirca realizes Oni's deception too late. Arriving at Kran Industries, she catches him prepping his newly-hatched alien brood for their impending invasion. Having no more further use for her, Oni manages to overpower Mirca and forces her to spit out her magic stone. It is at this moment that Darna enters the scene, backed-up by Ding and a helicopter gunship from Sokoro.
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I really love the scene below for some reason. I'd like to see a shot like this in a Darna movie sometime in the future.

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Out of desperation, Oni swallows his magic stone and transforms into the super-powered reptilian Ion, who proves much too powerful for our heroine, especially in her considerably weaker condition.
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Fortunately, Ding manages to get ahold of Mirca's stone. Swallowing it, he receives super powers as well and comes to his sister's rescue as... Kid Ngid!
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Um, need to work on that name, Ding.

[Ding Trivia #2: This is not the first time that Ding gets Darna powers. Most may recall Nino Muhlach briefly flying in the 1980 film Darna at Ding with Vilma Santos. There was also a dream sequence in 1979's Bira, Darna, Bira! where a young Romnick Sarmenta played Ding to Rio Locsin's Darna. But in the comics, I believe it was in Darna at ang Black Widow (serialized in Ravelo Magazine in 1980), Ding could turn into "Darno" by holding Narda's hand as she transformed into Darna. The name was even explained as an anagram of "Nardo" from Ding's real first name "Leonardo" (which I guess would make Narda "Leonarda"). Hmm... Leonardo-->Nardo-->Narding-->Ding. Makes sense.]

As Ngid, Ding manages to whiz past Ion and makes it to his fallen sister's side. He takes Mirca's stone from his mouth and feeds it to Darna. As a result, the heroine's power doubles, and she gets a slightly-modified costume out of it as well. She then proceeds to kick the holy living hell out of Ion, making him spit out his stone along with some of his teeth.

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Basically, this is how Darna should have been revamped in the first place. Rather than performing a radical makeover that pretty much ignores the popular concept of the character, this story introduced new elements while remaining faithful to the established Darna mythos. The plot had a lot more going for it than the uninspired adventures in the previous Super Action issues, and writer/artist Angelo Dazo's much more dynamic layouts were a marked improvement over those issues' comparatively bland artwork.
Really, does this scream cinematic or what?

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It would have been great if the series had carried on from this point. Unfortunately, the issues that followed went back to the status quo, and readers were once more treated to the same-old same-old.


Super Action Vol. 2 #14 had another misleading cover. While the title given up front is Darna at ang Mahiwagang Singsing ("Darna and the Magic Ring"), the actual story inside (written by Danny Marquez and again drawn by Angelo Dazo) was actually called Si Darna at ang Mahiwagang Kuwintas ("Darna and the Magic Pendant"). Also, the Spawn-like villain on the cover does not appear anywhere in the story (Apparently, he was in issue 15. Which I missed. Drat.). Instead, Darna fought Goko-Sura, a 15th century Japanese warrior who is brought to life by the titular magic pendant.

Pretty standard stuff, but at least we get some nice action scenes out of it.



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Veteran komiks writer Rico Bello Omagap scripted the Arnel S. Aquino-illustrated Nag-Santa Claus Si Darna ("Darna Turns Santa Claus") for Super Action Vol.2 #16.
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In this tale, Darna starts a Christmas charity drive for kids, while Ziva the witch and her kidnapping clowns try to ruin the holidays for everybody.
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Except for one brief moment of promise, it's kind of sad that Darna closed out the century with such mediocre stories. Still, coming as they did at the time of the Philippine comic book industry's decline, it is somewhat poetic that local comicdom's most beloved character made a last stand during those dark days.
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But while the old comic publishing regimes fell apart, the comic book form itself continues to endure. And even as dedicated artists have struggled to bring Filipino comics back to its former glory, Darna has been there along with them. In 2003, Mango Comics succesfully reintroduced the character to a whole new generation through a 3-part English-language mini-series.

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The legend of Darna has enjoyed great longevity throughout the years, transcending the very komiks medium that spawned her. She remains in the public consciousness thanks to the various film and television adaptations that have come and will no doubt continue. And as far as her comic career goes, if ever the Pinoy comic book industry recovers from its slump, we can be sure to see her come flying back to the printed page once again.

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To find out more about Darna, check out her absolutely epic official website!

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