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: 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: Stories from the Diabolical

Filipino Friday is back! And I’m not participating in the first topic discussion. Not because I don’t think it’s a topic I want to discuss, but more because I don’t really know how to define myself as a book reader. Instead, I’m going to write about Stories from the Diabolical.

"Stories from the Diabolical"

Welcome to The Diabolical! My name is Hank. I’ll be your bartender for tonight. What will it be? Don’t tell me. I know exactly what you want to drink.

So, what’s on your mind? You have a story to tell? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve got some interesting stories as well.

Have you heard the one about the ghost who walked in the bar? The one who kept coming back, waiting for the arrival of that certain someone?

What about the guy who had coffee with his dead girlfriend? Or the story of the spectral Christmas carolers?

And then there’s that strange tale of all those senior citizens who watched the last full show and never came out.

No? Haven’t heard those? Well, have another drink and I’ll tell you all about it.

I liked it. To a point. I mean, I love how the team of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo continue to build the world of Trese. But at the same time… There’s something missing from this collection of stories. I don’t know how… but it lacks the spark of a Trese release.

Obviously, this judgement is colored by the fact that I’m a fan of the Trese series. On its own, the stories here are exceptional and original. They’re properly creepy… and sometimes poignant. But they’re not very exciting. And that’s something we’ve come to expect from each Trese release. The anticipation for something bigger at work. The thrill of the chase. And those aren’t present here.

For me, Stories From the Diabolical suffers from its connection with Trese. Because I’m expecting something akin to Trese, I’m disappointed after I realize that I’m not getting it. And I understand that this release really isn’t supposed to feel like a Trese book–that’s why it doesn’t have her name on the cover. But because she is in the stories, and it takes place in the same universe, I can’t help but associate.

And that’s a bad thing for the anthology. As I said, I think the stories are exceptional and original. They would just work better if they weren’t related to Trese.

I don’t know if I’m still making sense here. I guess you’ll just have to grab a copy of the release to make your own mind up about it.

To the Trese fans, tell me if you feel the same way as I do. To those who’ve never picked a copy of Trese up, tell me if you liked the stories without a backgrounder on what the world they’re inhabiting is like.

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

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.