Here’s the thing. The novels I intended for the next review deal with super-heavy themes. The first book alone took me three months to finish, and I admit it was a difficult read. Who knows when I’ll finish the other two — they’re all thick, mind-boggling, and time-intensive.
To decompress, I needed easy reading material with familiar characters and fresh stories. The answer: comics and graphic novels.
I’ve done this before with The Sandman series, Watchmen, Sin City, Calvin & Hobbes, and other popular titles in ’90s and ’00s. Recent awesome reads include the Saga series, these Filipino-made komiks, and Sex Criminals. I love that comics and graphic novels showcase darker, more varied, and unconventional stories. I’m not a fan of the usual Marvel/DC fare, and the smaller word count and gorgeous artwork keep me coming back.
For today’s bulk review, I’ll talk about two beloved local series and an acclaimed international franchise. Trese Book 6: High Tide at Midnight, Mythspace Volume 1, and Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book One are connected in several ways — and work on making sure that the story continues.
Welcome to the new age
The most obvious similarity between these series is that the they take known myths into modern times. It’s always fun to see major deviations from generations-old tales, and how the characters adapt to present and future times.
Trese 6 continues the story of Alexandra Trese (the Guardian of Manila) and her supernatural sidekicks, the Kambal. And like the prior books, High Tide at Midnight deftly combines present-day Manila and the creatures hiding in plain sight.
For this installment, Tan and Baldisimo abandon the usual case-of-the-week format (similar to single-arc Books 3 and 5) and take readers from land to water. The villainous taga-dagat regularly pop pills (called Shift) that give them the desired capabilities of previously established supernaturals like the aswang and tikbalang. Add the bloodlust that comes with the increase in physical size, power, and influence, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for trouble.
Mythspace — through six short stories by Paolo Chikiamco, illustrated in black and white by six different artists — brings feared Filipino supernaturals like the tikbalang, aswang, and kapre where they’ve never been before: outer space. Hello, Pinoy-style space opera! (We’re not alone, all right.) This new series gives us spaceships, inter-species conflict, and even the destruction of an entire planet and race. #harsh
Fables brings popular bedtime-story mainstays and puts them all in two places, with a common predicament. Evicted from their Homelands by The Adversary, they must now fight back while keeping their true selves hidden from us humans (or “mundies”). In this Giant Fairy-Tale Mashup, there is no Happily Ever After, and not everything is resolved within a few pages.
If Fables‘ overarching theme sounds familiar, remember this: the series is (or OK, may be) the inspiration behind popular TV shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time.
Something new, something old
One could say that stories follow general templates and themes. Introduction, progression, climax, end. Heroes, villains, sidekicks, throwaways. Motivations and moral lessons. Highs and lows, happiness and sadness, joy and heartbreak, life and death. Good versus evil. You get the drill.
Thing is, that can get boring real quick. Authors who experiment, throw curveballs, stretch their boundaries, and do new things get better results, IMO.
For Trese 6, the biggest change I saw was Alex Trese and the Kambal having a bit of a time out, and her other allies and friends taking charge. There’s more focus on characters like Hank the bartender, and the playboy tikbalang Maliksi. We’re also introduced to more of them heroes: Carlos Trese (Primero the Hunter, or the Verdugo), Seepul, the cute water-loving couple Ting and Dolfie, and longtime Trese family allies Bantay and the Metalero. New folks such as Tomas the aswang prince, Mr. Sorbetero, and the new Storm Lord Bagyon Yente get enough page time. Professor Enrique Trese, Manang Muning, the PNP’s Captain Beau Guerrero, Amang Paso and the Laman Lupa, and the Madame also make splashy comebacks.
Yep, the party’s getting a bit crowded, making me think at times that it’s the komiks equivalent of Avengers: Age of Ultron or the upcoming Captain America: Civil War — there are too many side characters and plots. Indeed, some parts focus more on Carlos Trese and his new group than the actual heroine and her group. Halfway through, I found myself wishing the new guys didn’t completely take over the story the way Alex and the Kambal took over Skyworld.
But thankfully, it all worked out fine in the end. Shifting (hah!) part of the story to Verdugo & Friends led to a new perspective; and reinforced the fact that for all her talent and badassery, Alexandra can’t do everything all the time. The inclusion of the new characters also made for wicked climactic scenes, where everyone had to work together despite their differences to defeat the Big Baddies.
Mythspace‘s first volume is another good example. It offers an interesting combination of space and myth, with creatures looking like they’re as at home out there as here on Earth. Chikiamco builds a separate universe with his stories, and clearly draws from other space operas and epic sci-fi films without the stories reading like ripoffs. It’s hard to achieve that balance, especially if you’re heavily influenced by previous works.
I also like that Mythspace‘s stories are drawn by different artists. It makes me imagine multiple worlds instead of one, thanks to the illustrators’ varying styles. The “feel” can be different, too: one installment’s rounded and spare style reminded me of ’90s newspaper strips, while another brought to mind Man of Steel‘s extreme doom and gloom. Some stories could’ve been better by being in color, but otherwise I’m down with the whole muted treatment.
Fables stays inside our planet, but that doesn’t mean Bill Willingham & Co. aren’t taking their own storytelling liberties. In this world, Snow White is the de facto mayor of Fabletown, New York, where most of the human-looking characters have settled. (Those who can’t take on a human form live upstate, at The Farm.) She’s joined by the Big Bad Wolf (a.k.a. Bigby Wolf), Prince Charming, Rose Red, Jack Frost, Beauty, Beast, Little Boy Blue, and other characters not limited by copyright. It’s great to see beloved story characters outside their worlds, interacting with one another and experiencing much more than the Meet Cute + Obstacle + Resolution + Happily Ever After formula.
The Deluxe Edition: Volume One also plays with narrative styles, from missing-person/mystery story to tense sibling road trip to straight-up coup attempt. It also establishes the heroes and villains early on, but leaves enough room for them to maybe shift to the other side if required.
While the three comics series serve up new things, they also have their own clichés and tropes — unavoidable for any story, I think. For Alexandra Trese, the Action Girl trope has always been apt, but her recent semikindasorta pairing with Maliksi also puts those two in position for the Battle Couple trope. Mythspace is full of space-opera tropes, from staple characters to technology to epic battle scenes (perfect example: the three-part Lift Off), and is quite unabashed about it. And the entire Fables series has so many tropes, there’s a separate wiki for them.
Brace for impact
There are several sections in Trese 6, Mythspace and Fables that stood out for me. Of course, the big and watery Barangay Pacifica battle in Trese 6 is the highlight; I’m a sucker for well-made fight sequences. The taga-dagat attack on the neighborhood mixed in with Verdugo’s hero recruitment was nicely done, too. And any panel with the Kambal or the Madame in it, I immediately love.
As for Mythspace, I found Humanity (Chikiamco/Cristina Chua) the saddest in the compilation, and Devourers of Light (Chikiamco/Jules Gregorio), the most action-packed and most beautifully drawn. The latter showcases an entire imaginary world only in white, black and different greys (no, not Fifty Shades, smartass). For me, it has more oomph in these hues than if it were rendered in color. And Black Mark… oh, damn onions. sniff sniff
Some of Fables‘ themes and characterizations also stuck with me, months after reading the first volume. The feud between Snow White and Rose Red remind me of my own with an annoying and meddlesome blood relation. Rose Red’s murder mystery has that whole Cluedo vibe to it. Prince Charming isn’t always that charming — or good, for that matter. Even a wolf can be reformed into a badass investigator (an occupation he coincidentally shares with Haskra the Kapre of Mythspace‘s Uncommon Ground).
Even with new characters and subplots, Trese 6 employs efficient storytelling, and remains a fun series to read. Like the previous Trese books, you’re done with the whole thing in one sitting or two. You can also expect fine and detailed black-and-white artwork from Baldisimo — I suggest comparing the first Trese books and this one to see how the artwork evolved through the years.
Mythspace definitely brings something new to Filipino komiks; I don’t think anyone has ever done a mythical space opera before (or I haven’t read that many local comics). It takes on a variety of themes, and does a great job of reimagining the creatures we love and fear. It’s a thick tome, but you can still read it in one go if you want.
Again, it’s amazing to see beloved fairy-tale characters have their own separate arcs in Fables. Having them think, speak and behave more like relatable people than strictly good-and-bad personalities with sealed fates is refreshing, and it’s amusing that even fairy-tale characters don’t get fairy-tale endings. Can’t wait to meet The Adversary!
A few minor complaints:
- No “love team” for Trese and Maliksi, please! I’m interested in seeing where this goes, but I also feel conflicted. I don’t think Trese needs a love interest to move her story along. And we’re not even getting into all the ways this could get majorly messed up (ahem, Black Widow). Then again, it could showcase a side of Trese we haven’t seen before, give her more character development, and sidestep all the usual tropes and disappointments. Eh. Too early to tell.
- Mythspace‘s glossary of myth figures should be at the beginning of the book — this would help readers figure out the creatures’ differing names and why they change in some stories (e.g., TBLNG for tikbalang). Guessing while reading is never a good thing.
- Fables now has 10 Deluxe Editions, with the 11th coming out in November. I know it’s going to take me years, like the Sandman series. And… Fables has ended as of issue #150, released last week. WAIT WHAT NOOOOOO!
Fables, The Deluxe Edition: Book One, Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Craig Hamilton
Hardbound, Vertigo Comics
Buy: Planet X Comics | Comic Odyssey | Filbar’s | National Book Store | Amazon