Book: Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat

"Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat"

A world that’s full of mystery and wonder. This is the world of Andong Agimat.

Yeah, the book synopsis doesn’t really give much away–but then again, Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a graphic novel. If it had a normal synopsis, it might have given the whole story away.

Yes, that’s a dig on how very short Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is (and most other local graphic novels).

The thing about Arnold Arre is that he is a master at creating these fascinating worlds based on what we know and on what is real, mixing the two to produce something that’s familiar yet new, shockingly present yet timeless. It was apparent in Mythology Class and in Trip to Tagaytay, but it’s on a completely different level here in Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat.

For something that was produced in 2006, this book still holds up really well. I credit this to the fact that Arnold Arre’s works are always grounded on human emotions. The new edition’s foreword has a lot to say about the author being unsatisfied, and how that underlines the story that the book is telling. But I would beg to differ. I think Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is all about fear: The fear of power. The fear of loss. The fear of excelling. The fear of being ordinary.

The fear of the inability to change.

Our main character, Ando, has a very checkered past; one that he’s trying to atone for, and feels that he will never leave behind. His past is what pushes him to be a hero–but it’s also what haunts his every moment, waking or otherwise.

Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a study on that fear–of never being more than what one has already become. Even after all the heroics, Ando never feels he is worthy to be a hero. So he doesn’t try to be one. That is, until he’s forced to.

This is where my complaint comes in. Arnold Arre creates this world with a very rich mythology: you have people yearning to be special, and being given the opportunity to do so at the risk of losing their innocence; you have an epic romance that spans lifetimes–and one that is more recent and more hurting; you have villains that have layers upon layers… And we get one rescue story out of this very rich world that the author created.

I don’t know if it’s the soap opera writer in me talking, but I felt cheated off the possible growth and development the characters could’ve had. I felt like the layers he gave the villains could have been explored more, while going into the backgrounds and drive of the protagonists at the same time.

I felt unsatisfied, to borrow a word from the book’s foreword. And it’s not something I want to feel after reading an exceptionally good book. Because Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a very good book–

It’s just also frustratingly short. It ends as quickly as it begins, leaving you wanting for more. And you will want more. So I guess that means I will only recommend this book to people who like getting hurt by their favorite books. Because this book will hurt you. And it will also quickly become a favorite. So if you’re a fan of being left wanting, then pick this book up. If you’re not… you might still want to pick the book up, and then join me in trying to find a way to get Arnold Arre to revisit this world again.

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Book: Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)

"Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)"

Akala ni Janus, pangkaraniwang laro lang ang TALA Online.

Sunod-sunod ang pagbabago sa buhay niya matapos ang kahindik-hindik na pangyayari sa RPG tournament na sinalihan niya.

Pero nang matuklasan niya ang tunay na kaugnayan ng larong ito sa alamat ng Tiyanak ng Tabon, wala na siyang magawa kundi ipagpatuloy ang paglalaro!

[English Translation: Janus thought TALA Online was just an ordinary game. But after the horrifying events of an RPG tournament he joined, his life was never the same again. Now privy to the truth behind the game and its connection to the Demon Spawn of Tabon, he has no choice but to continue playing!]

That’s not a perfect translation, but neither is Janus Silang’s first foray into the world of comics.

On the plus side, the graphic novel iteration of Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon does cut out a lot of unnecessary exposition, and the really lengthy first act of the novel isn’t dragged out in comics form. On the not so good side? This version also cuts out a lot of the stuff from the source material that I feel were important.

Let’s be clear, I have no idea what went on behind the scenes to produce this comic book. I don’t know what decisions were made, and why they thought it was a good idea to condense a very exposition-heavy book into one very short graphic novel. So I’m judging this based solely on what I have in hand… Which is a really bad interpretation of the first Janus Silang novel.

I mean, just look at the inconsistency of the art. You have the wonderfully detailed world of TALA Online–and then you have the very bland pages of Janus’s life. I get symbolism, I do. But when things in Janus’s life started becoming crazy, shouldn’t that reflect as well on the art?

Never mind the fact that Janus doesn’t look like a teenager. Nor the fact that all the children look the same. (Heck, aside from a select few, almost all the characters look the same as well.) The biggest problem of the book is this:

It’s not friendly to those who are not familiar to the Janus Silang novels. None of the characters feel real. Your main protagonist lost all personality and doesn’t even develop. And the exposition suddenly cuts out and you’re supposed to glean information from art that, let’s be honest, doesn’t really convey its message very well. Had I not read the original material, I would have been lost as to what was happening, who were the good guys, and why the protagonist was so easy to persuade about things.

I feel like Anino Comics and Adarna House dropped the ball on this one. They shouldn’t have hurried this release because the source novel isn’t even old yet. They shouldn’t have limited the entirety of the first novel in just one comic book. And given the chance to reach a new audience with a different medium, they should have adapted the story to fit the new form of the story.

Is it too late to ask Adarna House to take back this graphic novel version and have them redo it? Properly, this time?

Book: Kingsman, the Secret Service

"Kingsman"

Around the globe, pop-culture celebrities are being abducted, and no one knows why. Jack London–superspy–is on the case.

But Jack has problems of his own: a deadbeat sister and her out-of-control son. Young Eggsy has fallen in with the wrong crowd, and his life is circling the drain. Only Jack stands between his nephew and a jail cell. But seeing something of himself in Eggsy, Jack offers him one last chance for a future–in spy school. Out of his element, surrounded by the best and the brightest, are Eggsy’s street smarts enough for him to make it as a secret agent? Does he have what it takes to help his uncle find the celebrities and save the world?

Confession: I only picked this up because I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film version–which while pretty different, still retains the main plot of the graphic novel. That said, I still don’t think I can pick a version I liked better.

The graphic novel, oddly enough, feels more realistic than the film. You can see how Eggsy would have a tougher time at spy school–while in and out of the academy. And he feels a little more grounded. And I really liked how Eggsy actually has a lot of classmates in spy school who ends up doing something, who aren’t just personality-less drones to fill up space like in the film. I also appreciated that most of the action aren’t very clean without feeling like it’s only there for the purpose of shock value.

What I didn’t really like though was how there was a lack of strong women in the graphic novel. That’s one of the things I liked about the film–how there was a strong female counterpoint to Eggsy–who wasn’t a love interest.

The film, which is again strange, is more visual than the graphic novel though. There’s a certain romanticism to espionage too, that isn’t as felt in the graphic novel.

Where the film trumps the graphic novel though is in how Uncle Jack dies. He might’ve gone out with a bang in the graphic novel, but the film had him explode. Not literally.

So, yeah, I really don’t know which version I liked best–but I liked both well enough that I have nothing bad to say about Kingsman.

In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing more adventures from Eggsy once the sequel comes out in theaters.

Book: iZombie

"iZombie"

Gwen Dylan’s got a dead-end job and a best friend who’s barely there. The dude she hangs out with is kind of a dog, her town’s social scene sucks the life right out of you, and it seems like any time she meets an eligible guy, his job gets in the way.

But Gwen’s not the girl she used to be.

She’s a zombie.

Her best friend Ellie is a ghost. Her buddy Scott is a were-terrier. Her town’s a feeding ground for a pack of beautiful but bitchy vampires. Her new crush belongs to a centuries-old secret society of monster-hunters. And her dead-end job? Digging graves by day…and digging them up for a snack at night.

See, Gwen’s got to eat at least one brain a month or she turns into a shambling monster straight out of a midnight movie. But every brain she eats contains a lifetime of memories–and her latest meal came with a side order of unsolved murder.

Now Gwen and her friends have to find the killer before they, too, fall victim to a fate worse than un-death…

It took a year, and a television adaptation, to get me to decide that I do want to read iZombie. And after another month of waiting (because I had to order through Amazon)… I devoured the whole series in one sitting.

iZombie, the graphic novel series, is exceptional. And I can’t believe I waited so long before I read it. It’s very different to the witty television series that Rob Thomas created off the material though. Because once you’ve read the books and watched the series? You would know that they are two completely separate beings. Two very amazing things. But we’re here to talk about the graphic novels. And I must say:

I absolutely hate the fact that there are no more stories about Gwen, Ellie, and Spot. The three are such fun characters that, from the get go, you know you’re going to enjoy hanging out with them–and that you’re going to root for them to survive the craziness the series immediately promises.

And iZombie really doesn’t hold back on the crazy.

From zombies who have lived for thousands of years, spirits who become trapped in the bodies of animals, vampires who have a no-kill policy, and a legendary hero that comes back to life–the series has them all. And the best part? You don’t even question them, because they’re part of the fabric that creators Chris Roberson and Michael Allred weaves beginning in their first issue.

But, I feel like getting into the iZombie bandwagon late worked out well for me as a reader because I was able to devour the story in one sitting. I don’t think I would have liked it as much had I been forced to wait for issue after issue–because the crazy that made it so fun to read, spread through time? It would have also infuriated me to no end.

With all that said though, what I really just want to say is: if you haven’t read the iZombie graphic novels yet–go find them. Read them. Enjoy them.

Book: Kick-Ass 3

"Kick-Ass 3"

Teenager David Lizewski loved comic books and superheroes. So why couldn’t he be the hero?

He tried. Lacking training and armed only with a pair of batons, Lizewski foolishly donned a costume of his own design and took to the streets to stop crime. His reward for taking on a gang of thugs? A trip to intensive care after he got his ass kicked.

But after intense training from the black belt tween prodigy Hit-Girl, David became the hero known as Kick-Ass. And Kick-Ass went viral in the public consciousness. Overnight, seemingly everyone wanted to be a superhero.

And of course, every superhero needs and archenemy. Chris Genovese, mafia son and the super-villain known as Red Mist, raised an army and tried to raze New York’s Times Square. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took them down…barely. But there were consequences: Superheroes were outlawed and Hit-Girl went to prison.

Now Dave must step up and lead the superhero team known as Justice Forever, just as a major threat appears on the horizon. Rocco Genovese, an old-school don whose weapon of choice is a golden pickaxe. He’s got 99 kill-notches on that axe. And he’s saving the 100th notch for someone very special.

I thought I was going to be able to predict the ending… I thought wrong. For a grim and gritty comic book series about the pratfalls of being a superhero in the real world, the series sure ended on a whimsical note. Not that I’m complaining. I like that the series ended on hope, even if not all the characters we’ve grown to know survived to the end.

But isn’t that what Kick-Ass has been about since it started? Superhero stories make it seem like everything will always be all right in the end. Even when the odds are obviously not in the hero’s favor. I mean, just take a look at the Superior Spider-Man title. Peter Parker died. Doctor Octopus took over his life. Thirty odd issues later and Peter’s back in his body, and the whole thing is about to get swept under a rug. So long as people need superheroes, they will always prevail. They will always get back up from their graves. Or, if they’re a DC title, they get rebooted for the nth time.

The best thing about Kick-Ass is that his creators, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., granted him something no other superheroes have: an expiration date. David Lizewski gets an actual ending. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why Kick-Ass will live on in fans’ hearts as a great work. Because the plots didn’t need stretching. Because the characters were allowed to grow, and to keep growing until they reached their natural end. And because no weird subplot had to be introduced just to keep the title alive.

There really isn’t a lot to say about Kick-Ass’s final foray into superheroics. It kicked ass. Spectacularly. And I will remember it fondly.

Book: Bakemono High 2

"Bakemono High 2"

Love is in the air at Bakemono High: from love potions to puppy love, this one has it all! COntinuing from the pages of K-Zone Magazine, these are the adventures of Max, Chuck, and Amy, best friends who are too ghoul for school!

If you’re in need for a dose of cute, then you’re in luck–because Bakemono High continues to deliver that in spades. In the title’s second independent collection, creator Elbert Or tackles the intricacies of love…in the high school age. I would argue that the characters sometimes read as grade schoolers, but who knows? Maybe they are. Just because a school is called Blah-blah “High,” it doesn’t automatically mean that all students there are high school students, right?

But I’m getting away from the topic at hand–

Bakemono High delivers what readers continue to expect from the title: light-hearted fun, with a small dose of geekery. And this title, just like the first one, is perfect for casual readers who just want to pass the time in between things to do.

In a perfect world, we can get a longer Bakemono High serial. The characters are way too three-dimensional for them not to have one. But you can’t argue with the winning formula of short and sweet either.

That said, after reading this particular Bakemono High collection, I kinda missed one of Elbert’s older works–the one where he collaborated with Jamie Bautista. Cast. It’s also set in high school, it has romance, and it was one of the best comics serials at the time.

I continue to hold out hope that the Cast characters would be brought to life again. Until then, I’ll content myself with Bakemono High for my dose of the comics-induced warm fuzzies.

Book: Abangan – The Best Philippine Komiks 2014

"Abangan 2014"

What is Abangan: The Best Philippine Komiks 2014? It’s an attempt from comic creators Rob Cham, Adam David, Carljoe Javier, and Elber Or to collect some of the best works to come from the local comics industry–and introduce it to people who aren’t aware that there is still a local comics industry. Oddly enough, most of the people who are interested in the book are those who already know most of the contents inside.

On the one hand, I applaud the effort. Really. I discovered a liking for a few titles within the pages of this book that I normally wouldn’t have looked at whilst browsing through the many, many, many wares being sold during the bi-annual comic convention held at the Bayanihan Center in Pasig. The book isn’t trying to hit a single target market/demographic–it really is just a collection of what the editors thought were the best that the comics industry is offering for the year. But I’m not a fan.

See, when I saw the title of the book, I was expecting excerpts for works that have yet to be published. Or works that have just been published, since the book came out in the fourth month of 2014 already. I wasn’t expecting to find a Trese story that already appeared in Manila Noir. I wasn’t expecting a reprint of a chapter from the second Filipino Heroes League. If there were no new works to be published, why include them at all? Or, you know, why not just put in teasers for their upcoming releases?

Curation-wise, I have nothing to say. The collection is a mix of stuff I like, don’t care for after one reading, and stuff that I skipped over. I’m not a prolific reviewer of comics to say which ones are bad and which ones are good. I’m just a reader who, as I was closing the book, thought that the book could’ve been better, but I don’t regret spending the dough for it.

Hopefully though, next year’s would be better. And would be more accessible for people who might enjoy reading comics again–but are not aware of the industry’s resurgence.