Book: Revelations (Book Two of the Naermyth Series)

"Revelations"

It’s been six months after the events in Capiz. Athena fears her developing powers, knowing it’s only a matter of time before she loses control.

Meanwhile, the tension between Naermyth and humanity is growing. Macky believes Mamon is again engaged in shady operations. When Athena is sent to Intramuros to investigate, she triggers a chain of events that pit her against an entity far more malevolent than anything she’s ever encountered.

Full disclosure: I didn’t reread the first Naermyth book before cracking this book open. I wanted to see how this book holds up, considering it’s been a decade since Naermyth, the book it’s following, came out. That, and because I didn’t really have the time.

Good news: it’s easy to jump into the action. Although Revelations references a lot of events from the first book, it also provides enough context to make sure the readers understand what’s going on. I do have to admit that I got confused about how characters were related to everyone–but that was only in the beginning. Author Karen Francisco gave each character, especially the supporting ones, a broad enough stroke that you can pinpoint who they are in relation to our heroine.

And now comes the bad part–

Although my memory of Athena Dizon as she was in the first book is hazy, I still prefer her there than who she has become in Revelations. There’s a good chance this is nostalgia talking, but I thought Francisco handled Athena’s stoic nature better in Naermyth. In this book, I felt like the author relied a little too much on the reader being privy to Athena’s thoughts to justify her actions.

And speaking of being privy to Athena’s thoughts– I have a bone to pick with Revelations being in first-person. I admire how Francisco handled foreshadowing, and planting things to make certain twists not come left-of-field… But it made Athena’s character weak. We establish that she’s smart and savvy, that she notices a lot of things–and because the book is in first person, she takes note of Francisco’s planted plot devices too. So when the twists finally come, and Athena is taken aback, it makes her look stupid. She already noticed the discrepancies. Why wasn’t she able to put two and two together? (This was also my concern with Pierce Brown’s Morning Star.)

Athena’s character and the first-person perspective aside though, Revelations does show Karen Francisco’s growth as a writer. This book had better plotting and pacing, there’s a better sense of urgency and gravity, and most importantly, although this book is double the size of the first book–it’s an even faster read.

Francisco has improved exponentially as a story-teller. Her editors, on the other hand, might want to take another pass at the book, because some of the typos were jarring.

So was Revelations a good sequel to Naermyth? Yes. Was its release worth the wait? Yes. Does it end on another cliffhanger? Well… the fact that they’re calling it the second book off a series should answer your question.

All I’m hoping for now is that Francisco and Visprint don’t let another decade pass before the next book comes out.

(Disclaimer: A decade didn’t pass between the two books. I was exaggerating. But it has been almost eight years since Naermyth came out.)

Book: Bravos Manila and Bravos Cebu

"Bravos Manila/Cebu"

Superheroes are the norm in Studio Salimbal‘s two one-shots: Bravos Manila and Bravos Cebu. In it, celebrities have been replaced by tiers of super-powered individuals who are working to help innocents against… well… villains.

In Bravos Manila, a slacker hero named Kit Kamao finds himself in an impossible situation when he suddenly becomes the face of resistance against a giant dream-fueled monster. Meanwhile, Pedro Pilandok tries to recruit a new hero in the pages of Bravos Cebu.

Story-wise, both one-shots are awesome. I love this new superhero-filled world that the two comic books are establishing. But I found myself being drawn more into Bravos Cebu because of the art. It’s simple. Clean. Easy to understand.

The thing is, I think Bravos Cebu looks and feels simple because there isn’t a hundred and one things happening in every panel. I get that Bravos Manila is trying to set the tone of just how many heroes there are, but I thought it needed to scale down a little bit.

In the first few pages of Bravos Manila, I actually thought the whole world was filled with super-powered human beings. It wasn’t until later, when our hero tries to help kids that I realized there were non-powered beings as well.

That said, I do commend the artist for making the heroes not look a like. That’s a feat for someone who has to draw a thousand of them in every page. They all have personality, and you get a semblance of who they are or what they can do.

There’s just too many of them.

It does get better midway though, when we’re no longer scrambling through the peripheral heroes. Once the action sweeps our main protagonist up, the story and art becomes easier to follow.

And I really like how it ends.

I’m hoping though, that when the series Maharlika High does arrive, these two one-shots would still be canon. That they will actually have an impact on what happens in the series being set up.

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.

Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang

"Si Janus SIlang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang"

Apat na buwan na si Janus sa mansiyon nina Manong Joey sa Angono, pero naroon pa rin ang sakit ng dilang-karayom ng manananggal sa puso niya dahil sa pagkawala ng mga mahal sa buhay at sapilitang paglayo kay Mica.

Sumula ng Christmas break nang mawasak ang proteksiyon ng mansiyon laban sa Tiyanak at sa mga kampon nito. Matinding barang ba ito? Nawawala rin si Mira, ang isa sa kambal na baganing kasing-edad ni Janus at inampon din nina Manong Joey. Ipinagtapat naman ni Renzo kay Janus ang matagal na palang sinusundan ni Manong Isyo: bumalik sa mapa ng utak ng dalawang manong ang brain imprint ng Papa ni Janus at maaaring buhay pa pala ito!

If you don’t understand the Tagalog synopsis, it goes like this: time has passed since the events of the first book. Janus has already spent four months in Manong Joey’s mansion in Angono, but he can still feel the needle-tongue of a manananggal that was left in his heart by the loss of his loved ones and by him abandoning Mica. During the Christmas break, the protection around the mansion has been breached–and no one can explain why. Mira, one-half of the twins who are waiting for their powers to develop, has disappeared. And Janus finds out from Renzo that their elders are investigating the possibility that Janus’s father is still alive.

And now, the verdict:

Book 2 of Janus Silang is still very bottom-heavy. It took me three days to get through the first half of the book, and less than an hour to finish the last third. But unlike the first book where the bottom-heaviness could be fixed by a rearrangement of events that doesn’t change the plot structure at all, I don’t really know how to improve the second book.

Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang has a very solid plot structure. It makes sense why certain things happen when they happen. And although I disagree with some of the actions made by the main character, I can’t fault the reasons behind why Janus does what he does. My problem with the book actually stems from the digressions.

Teacher Cris, of the Teacher’s Pet blog, commented on my post for the first book about how the attention to detail contributes to the twist in the plot. And I agree to a certain extent. But I don’t think the same can be said for the digressions in this book.

Yes, certain events need to be set up. Yes, we need to learn more about the histories and background of familiar creatures because they are being remade into something different from what they were. But the digressions feel disjointed for me. Mostly because we are presented with pressing dangers, our characters are rightly alarmed, and yet none of them are acting like there is an emergency. They’re all so relaxed. That is, until the last third of the book, when the action finally picks up–and the exposition no longer feels like digressions, and flow organically from what is happening in the present.

I’m on the fence about this book. Unlike the first book that’s teeming with potential, Book 2 feels like a retread on a formula that was already problematic the first time. Which is a shame. Because, more than a year later, the first Janus Silang book is still the best local young adult novel I’ve read. And I was really looking forward to this one being better than the first book because we need less set-up than before. And yet…

And yet I will still pick up the third book when it comes out. Because I have to admit that I have higher expectations for Janus Silang than I do for other local published works. Because there is potential here. Because, although I am not completely in love with the second book, I can still say with confidence that this is better and more original than a lot of imported young adult series that I’ve been reading. And because I look up to the author in real life, and I believe he can churn out something better than this.

So I continue to look forward to the next book. And I’m crossing my fingers that the next book will, indeed, be better than the first two books in the Janus Silang series.

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: Animen 5-6

"Animen 6"

In the first four issues of Animen, we meet four of six plane crash survivors who suddenly gain superpowers–based on animals that they see just before they lost consciousness during the crash.

They find out that the lightning that caused their plane to crash, was also the source of their new-found powers. And that supernatural beings want to take the pieces of lightning embedded on their bodies to rid the world of humans.

Yes, it’s not the most original of plots–but at least it has one. And you can pretty much tell where the story is going.

Oh, wait. Were you looking for a synopsis? Well, I can’t really include the actual synopsis as it pretty much spoils whatever happens in the previous issues; so you’ll have to make do with the gist. Which is what I already gave. So let’s get one with it–

Whatever goodwill I had for the series is quickly dissipating. Not because the quality went down, it’s the same. It’s just that… I can’t believe I was taken in for a ride. I actually thought Animen was on to something okay, if not good. But as we get to know the characters better, I find myself not caring less and less about them. And, to be honest, I also find them a little grating.

On a good note, all the characters have distinct personalities. Unfortunately, you can’t relate to any one of them. One owns a chopper, one owns a yacht. Both of them don’t seem to have any family or work. And our one anchor to the crazy world that writer Ron Mendoza is relegated to the sidelines, while he tries to make a romantic move after killing– Oh, wait. Spoilers.

So, yeah. The characters of Animen, now that we know them, are shallow, self-absorbed, and kind of selfish. They don’t have redeeming qualities, and the only thing that’s keeping me from rooting against them is the fact that the villains are… well… more evil.

But I plan to stick with the series. It’s just a few issues now, anyway. Let’s see where the writer takes the plot. And I will read them without expectations. Or, at the very least, with less expectations than I had for the first six issues. Let’s just hope that whatever happens in the last issues would actually make sense.

Book: Animen 1-4

"Animen"

It was a terrible, horrible plane crash which left many people dead–but Lawrence and five other passengers inexplicably survived it unscathed. But soon after, things got creepy and weird. Angry mythical creatures started haunting Lawrence.

And to make things more complicated and bewildering, a pair of wings spring from his back. Had he become a possible circus attraction–or a winged superhero? What about his fellow survivors? Was the same thing happening to them? Had they become freaks like him?

I’ve only read the first four books so far, and I’m happy to have finally found a Black Ink title that I like. There is purpose in the story, in the events that transpire, and in the holding back of information. But, most importantly, there is a sense of gravity in the way writer Ron Mendoza is handling his characters. You can connect to them. You can relate to them. And you can actually feel the pain that they are going through. And this makes me happy.

No, I don’t mean the pain part. I mean I’m happy that Black Ink actually produced a title that can hold up.

That said, I do feel like Animen could use a good script doctor. Some of the dialogue are clunky, and the plotting is still a little off… But after My Midnight and Dark Side? I’m just happy that Animen exists. And hopefully, the storytelling will continue to improve in the following issues.