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.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

TRESE: Super(natural) Heroine

As the blog description puts it, this site covers Filipino comic book heroes from the 1980's, the 90's and beyond, and this is where the beyond part comes in-- in more ways than one. This also marks our 13th post, so it is perhaps only fitting to shine the spotlight on that darker corner of the Pinoy Superheroes Universe, where stalks...

Trese is a black-and-white indie comic book begun in 2005 by writer Ferdinand-Benedict G. "Budjette" Tan and artist Jonathan A. "KaJo" Baldisimo, and released under the Alamat Comics imprint.

The criminal underworld meets the supernatural one in this horror-crime series, which adapts elements of Philippine mythology and folklore, updating them to a gritty contemporary urban setting.

As stated on the back cover of each issue:
"When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don't you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese."

The daughter of famed paranormal expert Anton Trese, Alexandra works as a private investigator, taking on criminal cases with ties to the realm of the supernatural.

Apart from her intimate knowledge of the occult, she is also a very formidable fighter, particularly proficient with her mystical kris, the Sinag.


Trese is aided by her two masked enforcers, known only as the Kambal ("The Twins"). Armed with guns whose bullets prove fatal to supernatural beings, the mysterious twins also possess supernatural powers of their own, such as the ability to fly.

This is my favorite Kambal moment, for some reason...

An acquaintance of Anton Trese, Police Captain Guerrero typically calls in his old friend's daughter whenever an out-of-the-ordinary case (to put it mildly) baffles the Manila Police.


When not out solving bizarre crimes, Trese runs The Diabolical, a popular Malate nightclub haunted by both mortals and malignos alike.

While Trese may not be your typical comic book superheroine, the series does make a number of superhero references. This is most notable in its third issue, Our Secret Constellation (March 2006), which is a dark and tragic homage to a classic Pinoy komiks character...

In the fourth issue, The Tragic Case of Dr. Burgos (May 2006), Trese faces an adversary inspired by a character from the Golden Age of American comics...

In that same issue, Trese makes a phone call to a man known as The Metalero, who resembles another iconic Pinoy hero...

And the story ends with a cameo from an earlier Budjette Tan creation, the superhero rock band Batch 72.

The series' initial 13-issue run has been collected in three graphic novel volumes (Murder on Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, and Mass Murders) published by Visual Print Enterprises. Its third volume has recently been announced as a finalist for the Graphic Literature category of the 29th National Book Awards.

Read a review of Trese volumes 1-3 on The Comics Cube!
For news and info on the series (as well as the first few issues posted online), visit the official Trese website.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Magic Man was a mainstay of Pilipino Superheroes Pocketkomiks (published weekly by Adventures Illustrated Magazines, Inc.) from 1985 to 1988. This metamorphic manhunter was created by writer Vic J. Poblete and artist Mar T. Santana (who, along with Mars Ravelo, co-created that other shape-shifting superhero Lastikman).


Despite his name, Magic Man's powers aren't actually magical in nature. In fact, that wasn't even his original name. When he debuted in the then-titled Superheroes Pocketkomiks #1 (November 28, 1985), he was initially known as Transformer Man.

It should be plainly obvious where the creators drew their inspiration from. As the character's former name indicates, he has the ability to transform into any object he wishes (vehicles, animals, other people, anything).

When Superheroes Pocketkomiks changed its name to Pilipino Superheroes with its 13th issue (February 21, 1986, just before the original EDSA Revolution), the strip was likewise re-titled as Magic Man, though the hero himself wasn't called by that name until issue 15 (March 6, 1986). There was no in-story explanation for the name change, they just carried on as though he had always been known by that name.

Personally, I always liked the name Transformer Man better. It just made more sense to me, I guess.


Mann was an extra-terrestrial police officer from the planet Altera. In pursuit of the Alteran criminal Kil-Ar, Mann chases his quarry into a black hole that leads them to our galaxy.

Crash landing on the planet Earth, Mann and Kil-Ar continue their struggle, which takes them to the surface of an exploding volcano. As volcanic tremors cause the ground below them to crack open, Kil-Ar falls to his apparent death (or so it seemed)...

... While Mann manages to escape the erupting volcano.

Stranded on Earth, Mann decides to make himself at home. Using his natural shape-shifting abilities in the fight for justice, he assumes the dual identities of police detective Elmer Manzano and the convertible costumed crimefighter Magic Man.



Streetwise kid, Magic Man's pal and Detective Manzano's informant.


A schoolteacher who falls in love with Magic Man after he rescues her from a hostage-taker. She's not too crazy about his alter-ego, though.


The chief of police, he suspects that his top detective Elmer and Magic Man are one and the same.



A renowned illusionist and hypnotist who has an amorous obsession towards Ms. Jenny Serrano.

('Throw your hands in the air!')

A mysterious serial murderer with a vendetta against police officers.


As it turns out, Kil-Ar had indeed survived their previous encounter, but had suffered from amnesia for a number of years. Possessing the same powers that Magic Man does, he disguises himself as his arch-nemesis in order to discredit him.

('It's like looking in a mirror, only not.')

And besides, evil twin plots never get old. And neither do alien invasion plots...


A spaceship-full of freaky-looking aliens try to take over the Earth by taking over the bodies of an entire army platoon.

('Look, up in the sky!')

The leader of a Satanic cult and kidnapping ring.