Sunday, September 26, 2010

RENAISSANCE: Pinoy Superheroes Battle a Real-Life Crisis

It's almost hard to believe that one year ago today, the streets of Manila were submerged in floodwater.

It was said to be the worst flood in the Philippines in 40 years, but I can't help but think, was it really that bad? Looking back, it feels as if it just came and went, and we seem to have recovered pretty well from it.

But then, I was lucky enough not to have been affected much by typhoon Ondoy (known elsewhere in the world as Ketsana), so I may not be the best person to offer such an opinion. Meanwhile, there are countless more who still have not recovered from losing their homes, possessions and loved ones to the typhoon's wrath.

Darna, Lastikman and Captain Barbell vs. Mega-O

In the wake of Ondoy's onslaught, 60 Filipino artists based locally and abroad collaborated on a project to raise funds for the typhoon's victims. The result was Renaissance: Ang Muling Pagsilang ("Renaissance: The Rebirth"), a collection of artwork depicting Filipino superheroes from the past and present, as well as some never-before-seen characters, struggling to save the victims of the devastating deluge.

Not having suffered from the typhoon and having done nothing to alleviate the suffering of those that did (survivor's guilt?), I thought purchasing the book was the least I could do to make up for it. I got a copy during its book launch on February 21st of this year, and I got 2 things out of it: a free lunch (whoever said there was no such thing?) and a great book featuring art from some of the greatest artists this country has to offer.

There were, however, 2 things which I wished it could have been. First, I would have wanted it to have been in color, but then I do understand the limitations and besides, the artwork is no less powerful in black-and-white. Also, considering that crossovers in Philippine comics are very rare, it would have been cool if this was a proper comic book with an actual storyline behind the images. At any rate, that's how I prefer to view the book anyway. I don't see each piece of art as random drawings, but as individual scenes in a massive epic about the country's greatest heroes coming together to deal with a major national catastrophe. And while American crossovers normally dealt with alien invasions, infinite earths and what have you, the Crisis our heroes had to contend with was something that happened in the real world.

There were a couple of images that I found kind of odd, but not in a bad way; I just thought they were particularly intriguing. The one below features Darna villainesses Valentina and Babaeng Lawin helping save people from the floods. I thought it was neat, the message being that in the face of adversity, we're all in this together. Also, if one is familiar with their backstory in the original comics (or even their revised origins from the previous TV series, on which the versions in this drawing seem to be based on), using these particular characters may not be such a random decision. They are somewhat sympathetic characters, and I can see them setting aside their vengeful impulses to work for the greater good.

Val and Armida: When bad girls do good

And then there's this illustration of DC Comics' western hero Jonah Hex (who was co-created by veteran Filipino artist Tony de Zuniga). Well, he has had a bit of experience with time travel, so I guess this really isn't much of a stretch. And isn't it very nice of Mr. Hex to come all the way from the Old West just to lend a hand? I mean, really, what were all the modern DC heroes doing while this was going on? Fighting zombies? Oh, yeah, that's a good excuse!

Jonah Hex

I don't know if there's been any negative criticism out there regarding the book. I mean, I guess you have to be a real cynic to speak out against a benefit book. But let's play devil's advocate for a moment; wouldn't this book, which depicts superheroes magically saving the day from the bad typhoon, actually be somewhat disrespectful to the victims of this disaster that decimated hundreds of lives in reality? In a sense, wouldn't it be undermining the gravity of this tragedy?

The answer would be no. It's depressing enough to think of the death and destruction wrought by Ondoy; the book was meant to help, not just by raising funds for the affected, but also to come up with a product designed to uplift and inspire others to rise above the tragedy. Also, the "fantasy" depicted in its pages isn't that far off from the reality: because there were heroes during those stormy days and nights.

Amidst accounts of people stranded on the roofs of their houses or helplessly getting swept away by the raging flood, you'd still hear stories of others who went through great lengths, some at the cost of their very lives, to help those in need. There was one story I heard which stood out to me, about these guys who went around rescuing people on jet skis! Really! Now that's what I call superheroic!

Art by Edgar Tadeo
Ultimately, Renaissance: Ang Muling Pagsilang is not a reminder of tragedy, but a celebration of hope. Its title has a double meaning, representing the rebirth of the Philippine people in the wake of this terrible calamity, as well as the rebirth of the Philippine comic book industry that our talented artists continue to strive and hope for. And in both of these areas, may we all overcome.

I'm still finding it hard to believe that a typhoon devastated the country a year ago today. Maybe my memory's gone bad, or maybe I'm too complacent. Or maybe I'm just secure in the knowledge that this is a nation of heroes... real ones... and we can weather any storm that comes our way.

Renaissance: Ang Muling Pagsilang is published by Anvil Publishing, Inc.

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