Book: Tabi Po, Isyu 2

"Tabi Po, Isyu 2"

When I read Tabi Po the first time, I was amazed by the art that I didn’t really give the story a lot of thought. The story entertained me, and made me think–and that was enough because the drawing and the colors evoked emotions–and horror–splendidly.

But I don’t think it will be fair for the second issue of Tabi Po for me to continue waxing poetics about the art. Especially since this time, we finally see that the story does plan on going somewhere; and the destination looks good.

In “Isyu 2” of the series, we don’t immediately start with Elias–the main character we met in the previous issue. Instead, we are introduced to a different monster; a monster familiar to a lot of people, whether they believe in the supernatural or not. And, for the first time, we get to see Elias as something other than just an Aswang.

Elias continues to be a monster, but he is not THE monster in this story. That role falls to new characters who are a little familiar to anyone who has had to read Jose Rizal’s works: Pade Damaso, Padre Salvi, and even Quiroga. Characters from Noli Me Tangere.

Now, I don’t know what writer/artist Malonzo’s reasons were in deciding to use these characters, but it does ground the story in a very specific timeline–with a very specific political air. And putting the three Aswang we got to know in the first issue smack dab into a familiar tale, is very intriguing for me. Especially since they’re starting to have different views on how they should survive–without turning their backs to who they really are.

I am definitely very curious to see where Malonzo takes this story from here, but I’m sure that the road there will be very interesting.

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Book: High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)

"High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)"

The unceasing rain muffles the screams of the victims being pulled down, down into the murky flood waterse.

In the places too high to be reached by teh flood, the party continues for the priviledged, who indulge in a new designer drug which grants them the supernatural abilities of enkanto and aswang.

These are the murders and mysteries Alexandra Trese needs to solve as the tide continues to rise at the stroke of midnight.

I subscribe to the belief that rain washes away the past and affords us new beginnings. And what better way to start a new beginning here at the blog than with a book that revolves around rainfall–and the things that come with it? Trese‘s sixth installment: High Tide at Midnight.

In this collection, the Trese siblings and their allies face off against the growing threat of evolved monsters–and paves the way for an actual big bad that sets out to make the world of Trese more complicated. And engrossing.

Now, I am not blind to the dissatisfaction some readers are feeling from the recent releases of Trese. Some readers feel like the novelty has worn off, and that the stories are too fast-paced. Rushed, even. Personally, I like the no-time-to-breathe storytelling that Trese employs. But I do see why there might be unrest with other readers.

Because as fast-paced as Trese is, there is still that unshakable feeling of statis. That no matter how dire things become, the status quo will remain the same. One, because the main characters are too invincible. And two, because you do not actually care about said main characters. Especially the titular one.

Alexandra Trese can die and you’ll only feel sad because it means Trese is probably done as a series.

Trese stories are fun because of how writer Budjette Tan and artist KaJO Baldisimo bring to life old mythological creatures in our modern world. But if the novelty is no longer enough for a reader, then I think the series has nothing else to offer.

Yes, I really mean that.

Trese, six installments in, is about the adventure and the action. It is not about the characters. If it were, our heroine Alexandra Trese wouldn’t be as one-note as she is. There would be more peripheral characters whose lives would actually be changed by the supernatural goings-on. And you will actually fear for the lives of said characters. Because we do not have these, any development that happens will be plot-related, and everything continues to feel… unmoving. Static. But fun. And thrilling. And still.

The sixth book is no exception. I love the introduction of the new one-note characters: the gruff guardian, the chaotic-good husband-and-wife team, the metal smith, and even Manang Muning. It all feels exciting. Especially when they fight with the flurry of sea monsters who want to take over the mortal world. But at the end of the book, there was no lesson to be learned. There was no emotion to be felt. Just exhilaration. And the desire to see what happens next, not because I cared, but because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. How will the creators end the story? How else are they going to twist the world of Filipino mythology?

But I could care less if Trese 7 completely revolves around Maliksi and the Kambal. Or Hank defending the Diabolical while the Trese siblings take care of the action off-frame. I will still feel the adrenaline regardless of who is in the pages. The Trese siblings don’t make the Trese books. The modernized mythologies do. And while I continue to love it, I know and accept that I will also lose my interest in the series eventually.

Yes, I worry that if the creators don’t push the story beyond the plot twists and the big bad, then there will come a time when I will stop feeling excited for the new releases. And like with some of my friends, Trese will become just one of the comics I used to read.

Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon

"Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon"

Sa tournament ng TALA Online sa bayan ng Balanga, namatay ang lahat ng manlalaro maliban kay Janus.

Sunud-sunod pa ang naging kaso ng pagkamatay ng mga kabataan sa computer shops sa iba’t ibang panig ng bansa. Kinontak si Janus ng nagpakilalang Joey, isa rin umano sa mga nakaligtas sa paglalaro ng TALA na gaya niya. Hindi inasahan ni Janus ang mga matutuklasan niya mula rito na mag-uugnay sa kaniya sa misteryo ng kinahuhumalingan niyang RPG–at sa alamat ng Tiyanak mula sa Tabon!

For my non-Filipino readers, the synopsis is as follows: during a tournament for an online role-playing game, all the participants mysteriously died–save for Janus. Similar cases continues to pop up throughout the country. Janus was then contacted by someone named Joey, who claims that he survived the tournament like Janus did. But what Janus discovers about the online game is something he never expected–that he is linked to it–and to the legend of the Demon of Tabon.

It’s an interesting premise, and is the most promising Filipino Young Adult book I’ve read so far. It has an interesting take on local folklore, it’s easy to read, and it’s very engaging… But it takes so long for readers to finally get to that interesting part. Half the book, actually.

My main problem with Janus Silang is that it takes so long to set everything up, there’s barely any pages left for things to actually happen. Halfway through the book, I started wondering if there was any point to the anecdotes and digressions. And there is. But they come off as distractions more than anything else. Probably because the first few chapters details every single thing in Janus’s life. From the interesting to the mundane. So much so that by the time we actually get to the anecdotes that will pay off? We’re tired of them.

And there’s also the synopsis itself. It sets things up very nicely with Janus surviving an event. And then it talks about a fellow survivor. And then it delivers the punchline of Janus’s connection to the game that killed gamers. When you read the book, the first line happens immediately. The second happens midway. By the time the third line rolls about, you’re already two-thirds into the book. And it’s not a very long book to begin with. So what you get is a very bottom-heavy book that’s doesn’t present a very interesting top.

Obviously, you can’t take the book back from readers now, but there is one simple solution to the whole non-interesting top concern– Have Janus discover the fellow survivor by the second chapter. The way he deals with is feels rushed anyway, so why not put it at the very beginning, so he can deal with it as he deals with his world being torn asunder? Why not use the fact that his world is being torn asunder to become the catalyst for him to actually meet with his fellow survivor?

But, as I said, it’s too late to take the book back now. The book is still interesting anyway. I just hope readers didn’t give up before they got to said interesting part first.

All that said though, I am looking forward to what happens next. Hopefully, the second book wouldn’t need as long a set-up as this first book did.

Now, if you don’t agree with my assessment of the novel, here are a few other thoughts on the book from other book bloggers:
Brewed Thoughts
Teacher’s Pet
Some Thoughts

Book: Tabi Po

"Tabi Po"

Isang lalake ang bigla na lamang nagising sa loob ng isang puno sa gitna ng kagubatan na walang alaala kung sino siya at saan siya nagmula. Ang tanging alaala lang niya ay isang imahe ng babae na nakikita niya sa kaniyang panaginip, at ang tanging nararamdaman niya ay isang matinding gutom na mabilis na namumuo sa kaniyang walang pusod na sikmura. Isang gutom na mapapawi lamang ng laman…at dugo.

To translate, the synopsis says “A man wakes up inside a tree in the middle of a jungle, with no marry of who he is or where he comes from. The only thing he remembers is the image of a woman he dreamed of; and the only thing he feels is an insatiable hunger forming in his bellybutton-less gut. A hunger than can only be appeased by flesh…and blood.

It’s Good Friday in this part of the world, but I’m going to be a deviant and write about a graphic novel that’s not exactly Lenten friendly. No, I’m not trying to make a statement. It’s just that, out of my loot from this year’s Summer Komikon, this is the one I wanted to write about first.

Obviously, because it’s good. It’s so good.

Most of the time, when I write about comics, I write more about the story than the art. That can’t be the case for this book though. That’s because the art tells just as much of the story as the text does.

A few days ago, I wrote about how text necessitates history and time to let readers familiarize themselves with characters. That’s not the case with comic book stories because it’s as much a visual medium as it is a text-based one. A good artist would take the writer’s words and build a world through them. An exemplary artist would take it a step further, developing a universe with those words. That is, of course, if there’s harmony between the two minds. So imagine what happens when the writer and the artist is one and the same?

Tabi Po is an exceptional work of art that also happens to tell a story. But it can also be the other way around: it’s a masterful telling of a mythological creature’s origins that also happens to be a magnum opus.  It cannot be one or the other though, because when the dialogue stops, the art continues the story. Not that any of the dialogue are superfluous. The lines delivered underlines the story that the art is trying to tell.

Am I starting to sound like a douche? Apologies. That’s how much I am affected by this book. It is stellar, it is groundbreaking… well, maybe not groundbreaking… But it is awesome.

And I implore you to pick up a copy. You will not regret reading Tabi Po.

If you’re too cheap to buy the printed copy though, check the story out online.

Book: Lola, a Ghost Story

"Lola: A Ghost Story"

Jesse sees dead people, monsters, demons, and lots of other things that go bump in the night. Things that no one else can see. No one except his ailing grandmother — a woman who used her visions to help those living in her small town. The same rural community in all the scary stories Jesse’s heard as a child. Man-eating ogres in trees. Farmhouses haunted by wraiths. Even pigs possessed by the devil. Upon his grandmother’s passing, Jesse has no choice but to face his demons… and whatever else might be awaiting him at Lola’s house.

If one was to judge a book by its cover, you would say that this book isn’t scary at all. And you would be right. Because I don’t think the intent behind this book was to scare. At any capacity. Which makes me wonder–what exactly was the purpose behind Lola: A Ghost Story?

The story is nice. Unfortunately, it’s just that– Nice. It’s not groundbreaking in any way. Nor is it very original.

It’s a story designed to pull at the heartstrings, but only manages a few tugs before giving up.

It’s a story that sets up a world it has no intention of visiting again.

But it’s very likeable. Which, I think, has more to do with the art than the actual story. Because looking back at it now, asking myself what I liked in the book… I’m drawing a blank.

Well, that’s not true. I really liked the art. The story though, I feel, was a wasted opportunity.

Writer Torres sets out to tell one story, a visit to the Philippines mitigated by the death of the title character: the grandmother. It weaves stories about said grandmother to tell the reader how special she was. But the actual story happens at present, at the wake her grandson from Canada is forced to attend. And his story doesn’t really connect with the grandmother save for the fact that they share the same gift: the ability to see visions–and talk to dead people.

Something we don’t really get to explore much.

We get teases of it, sure. And the actual story does deal with one ghost. But juxtaposed with the more fantastical stories about the grandmother–the main plot falls flat.

And then we get to the ending with its vision of the future.

Closing the book, I had to ask–what was the point of the ending? And then, as I type this, I followed this up with, what was the point of the whole story? Is it about acceptance? About destiny? About faith?

Whatever the story may be about, it remained unclear and unrealized.

But the art was really nice.

Of course, I could be looking at this the wrong way. Someone out there might have been able to discern why this book is good. So let’s see what other people said about the book:
One Metal
Comic Book Resources
Kat in Books

Book: Trese, Midnight Tribunal

"Midnight Tribunal"

The past couple of months have been hard on my online life as I’ve only logged on for matters of utmost importance. Meaning, I check my e-mail once in a while, but when there’s no work coming in, I log back out and do work offline. This helps with focusing and not procrastinating, yes. But it also, quite successfully, took me out of the online loop.

So yesterday, when I went to Komikon 2012 at the Bayanihan Center in Pasig, it was a complete surprise to discover that the fifth volume of Trese is out!

In a city where the aswang control everything that is illegal and where ancient gods seek to control everything else, enforcing the law can be a very difficult task.

When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police normally call Alexandra Trese. Lately, it seems like others have been taking that call.

A mysterious racer has been breaking the speed limit, running after and capturing criminals.
A masked giant has been demolishing drug dens and breaking up gangs.

Trese must confront these supernatural crime-fighters and bring order back to the city, before the underworld attempts to seek balance in its own way.

This volume of Trese differs a lot from the previous four books in that it isn’t an anthology of the titular character’s cases. Sure, it’s still cut into chapters–but the whole book is one narrative that slowly unravels the bigger picture.

I must say, I really like this change.

While I completely love the previous volumes of Trese, there are times when I wish the stories were longer, that we get to spend more time with Trese in any which time so we could get to know her better in that point of time. The short stories are so stand-alone that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where in Trese’s timeline they happen. And so one of the biggest draws of a continuing title doesn’t work for Trese. We love the main character, we buy the books–but we are not emotionally attached to Alexandra Trese. Not in the way we are with, say, Ada and his superhero counterpart, Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Because in Ada’s case, we get it all: the highs, the lows, and the parts where nothing much is happening.

In Midnight Tribunal, we finally spend a good amount of time with Trese–and she’s as stoic as ever. Nothing still chinks her armor. But, on the plus side, we get more characterization for the Kambal, the twin Aswangs who are Trese’s right- and left-hand men. And even Maliksi, the Tikbalang bachelor we’ve met in one of the previous issues. He makes a return, and from what I can take off from the end panel, will be playing an even larger role in the coming stories.

The one thing I liked most about Midnight Tribunal though is that writer Budjette Tan was able to play with twists and red herrings. Because he’s not ending a story as soon as it starts, we get that Trese is not infallible, that not every case ends with her whipping out her kris and demanding katotohanan (truth) from whatever witness or piece of evidence is left behind. We see her do some actual grueling detective work.

Last Seen After Midnight, the fourth volume of the Trese series, was able to satiate the reader in me. Midnight Tribunal takes it a step further. Putting the book down, I already want to know what’s going to happen next. Especially with the introduction of new characters, ones that look like they’re staying for a good long while too.

According to the Trese blog, Midnight Tribunal should be out in local bookstores by mid-November.

Movie: Tiktik, the Aswang Chronicles

"Tiktik: the Aswang Chronicles"

This is the story of a proud man who wants to do right with the love of his life. And what happens when he crosses the wrong people in his journey to do so. Oh, and it has monsters.

Tiktik: the Aswang Chronicles is a return to horror films of old, and I am happy to say that it succeeded in that aspect.

Horror is most effective when it is rooted in reality, and when stakes are high. This is one of the things I gleaned from years and years of watching horror film. And this is also the reason why I’m not too fond of so-called horror films of late, with their emphasis on the twists and new takes, instead of on what’s important–the heart. Something Tiktik didn’t forget.

Heck, the movie tagline says it is a movie with heart–among other internal organs.

Which brings me to one of the main reasons why I think Tiktik is the horror film to beat this year: it’s funny.

Now, Tiktik is in no way a perfect film. The green-screen gimmick they employ works really well in some parts, and flounders in many scenes–but the real draw of the film should’ve been its story-telling, and its flawless supporting cast of characters.

Joey Marquez and Janice de Belen steal every scene they’re in, even during the parts where Marquez’s falters in his comic timing. Ramon Bautista’s character was better on page than on screen, but even he has good moments. And Lovi Poe, I think, would’ve been a greater screen presence if her character had been more consistently bad-ass.

Dingdong Dantes though, as the lead, is 50/50. He has a deft handle on the action, the drama–and how he played the douche-ness of his character. His comedy needs a lot of work though, with only a couple of his one-liners actually landing laughs during the screening I went to.

But my main gripe actually has to do with the effects of the film, which I felt detracted instead of added to the scare factor of the film.

The team behind the movie, from the way I understand it, spent a large amount of time and money on this. And having done that, I wonder why they couldn’t have delayed the movie a few months more to clean-up the effects on the film’s climax.

Let’s go back to what I said a few paragraphs ago; “the green-screen gimmick flounders in many scene.” That’s because for the most part, the computer-generated landscape and effects were flawless. Which makes the scenes where they’re not flawless all the more glaring. Like when the villains transform into actual monsters–and when said monsters attack.

And during the climactic battle, there were times when the effects were passable. And then you’d get a couple scenes that looked as if the effects editor forgot to replace it with the finished product, having put in placeholders instead. And the uneven color-grading which made the end part of the film look haphazardly put-together. Which, I think, really detracted from the film.

Which is too bad, because I feel like this is the best horror film I’ve seen in a good long while–and I’m including international horror films in that statement. Which makes me wish that the production outfits behind the movie had decided to just shoot the film as they normally would. Which physical effects mixed with the computer-generated ones.

All this said though, I’d still recommend Tiktik: the Aswang Chronicles to anyone who asks. Heck, I’d even recommend it to people who aren’t even asking about it.