Book: The Grinning Niño of Barang (The Dark Colony Clasificado)

"The Grinning Niño of Barang"

In the oppressive midnight of Martial Law, a band of knights investigate a religious artifact in the festive town of Barang, Bulacan…

…Where, beneath the banderitas, an ancient evil awaits.

For the past couple of years, I haven’t been keeping up with the local literary releases outside of the Romance Class publications–so I was pleasantly surprised to find this title at the last Komikon. To be honest, I kind of gave up that The Dark Colony was going to have a second book, since it’s been four years since the first one came out.

Now, I didn’t pick this book up because of the synopsis. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t a comic book until I started reading it. All I knew, going into it, is that it’s from Budjette Tan, creator of Trese. And I have to give major props to JB Tapia because I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t Tan writing until I got to the Afterword. (Although, in hind sight, I should have. Tapia also wrote the first Dark Colony book. Tan just helped create the world. But the world-building is similar to Trese‘s, and it is exemplary.)

That aside, I thought The Grinning Niño of Barang was a more solid story compared to the first installment of The Dark Colony. The plot is straightforward, the objectives are clear, and the villain is fully realized. I wish I can say the same thing for the heroes though.

Don’t get me wrong. The protagonists aren’t stereotypes nor are they cardboard cutouts, but we see more of their weaknesses that they don’t feel balanced. I wanted to root for them. Badly. But as I reached the midway point, I feel like I only want to root for them because I didn’t want the villain to win.

On other other books, I would rave about the humanity of these characters. How they weren’t just heroes who come in and save the world. But when you’re reading a book about the supernatural, about good versus evil, you do want a bit of goodness in your heroes. Just a little bit of goodness can go a long way. And save for the narrator, none of the characters feel like someone you would want to root for in a fight. They’re real, yes, but not the heroes we would want.

Which is unfortunate, because I feel like The Grinning Niño of Barang succeeds where the first Dark Colony story failed: it gave us a clear story, a clear origin, and a fight to champion. It made us want to know more about this world, and the war that the good guys are fighting. Unfortunately, it also failed where Mikey Recio failed–it still didn’t give us a likeable character whose story we would want to follow.

Book: Mikey Recio and the Secret of The Demon Dungeon

"Mikey Recio and the Secret of the Demon Dungeon"

Mikey had other plans for his Holy Week holiday. Driving for his grandfather was not part of it.

Nor did it involve running into a very unholy secret.

Why did I not see this during the last Komikon?

Oh, wait. I didn’t actually stay, did I? It works out anyway, since I was able to get the last copy from Fully Booked at the Block.

So, Mikey Recio and the Secret of the Demon Dungeon. Title’s a bit wordy, but it gets its job done. There’s something very proud about using the main character’s name in the title. It inspires confidence.

Confidence, that it turns out, the reader will need for the material.

The comic book is the first issue off a series, and it’s mainly an origin story. Actually, not even that. It’s the beginning for Mikey Recio, yes, but the mythos is already a fully developed thing. One would hope. It seems the people behind the title know where it’s going anyway; after all, they also included a short story of sorts that deal with the priests, the demons, and the–yes, mythos.

Having read the title, I must say I’m not completely impressed. As I said, it’s an origin story of sorts for Mikey Recio, but it’s really hard to care for a character you barely know. Comparing this to Trese and Zombinoy, two titles I’m very fond of, this one fails in setting up the stakes to keep readers reading.

Yes, we have a hero out for revenge. Yes, we have a formidable foe. But, no, we don’t have a cause we want to stand behind in yet. And, no, we don’t have a bigger mystery to solve. We just have one boy who’s taking up the mantle of a protector against evil because his grandfather and father were killed by the same demon. The demon who is, by issue’s end, also dead.

What are we supposed to stick around for again?

I have faith in Budjette Tan, so I trust that the follow-up will be better. That the story will go somewhere. I just hope that this trust, that this confidence, will pay off.

Now, let’s see what other people have to say about the book:
Jessica Rules the Universe
Culture Connoisseur sa Kanto