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.

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Book: Maktan 1521

"Maktan 1521"

Ano ba itong mga Kastila? Espanya? Kristiyanismo? Bakit tayo ang kailangang magbigay-alay sa kanila? Wala silang karapatan dito sa ating isla dahil atin ito. Itinayo pa ng ating mga ninuno para sa atin at hindi para sa mga dayuhan.

Any kind of history is revisionist; with winners dictating how they are colored, with how they are preserved. How does that line from that one Wicked song go? “It’s all in which label is able to persist.” So if you think about it, historical fiction as a genre actually applies to the history lessons they teach at school. They just drop the ‘fiction’ part.

Well, in Tepai Pascual’s Maktan 1521, the artist does not pretend that this version of history is completely accurate–even though it has historical data to back it up. That’s because she has already added elements to the story that is based on speculation–and in trying to make logical sense of what had happened, and how things played out. And I’m glad that artist Pascual didn’t attempt a blow-by-blow account of what had happened. I liked that she gave the story her own spin–Maktan 1521 works because she made the characters relatable. She made them into people–and not just names on the pages of a history book.

This being a graphic novel, I feel like I should write about the art as well. But I’m not an artist, and I won’t pretend to know the first thing about art. For me, as a reader, the art did its job. It got the story’s points across, and that’s all that matters.

I do, however, want to point out that some of the colors are too dark. I don’t know if it’s because of the printing, or if the panels were painted that way. What I do know is that there were sequences that I had to go over a few times to understand what was happening, because the colors were too dark and I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be on the look out for. But hey, maybe it was the printing. Maybe Visprint made the colors too dark and the colors bled.

Whatever the reason, I hope that in future reprints, the art is made a little sharper.

Yes, future reprints. I did say that. Because Maktan 1521 is something I want to succeed. I want it to sell all of its copies, requiring Visprint to have a second printing, and a third one, and a fourth one. Because these are the types of Filipino books that I want to become popular, to become bestsellers, to have more kinds of.

Let’s make Maktan 1521 successful so we can have more books like this… Books with substance.

So, if you’re reading this and you don’t have a copy yet, please go out and buy yourself one.

Support local books with quality and value.

Book: Mythspace

What if creatures from Philippine folklore — the tikbalangs, nuno, kapre — were inspired by actual alien races? That’s the question that fuels the Mythspace stories.

"Lift Off!"

Lift Off! wraps up its story with the third issue, ending with a promise of more adventures. But before we get to the end, let’s talk about the journey going there.

This is still not my favorite story off the Mythspace lot. But having read this final issue of Lift Off!, I can now say that I don’t hate it. In fact, I can even admit that it is a good story. If only it came out all at once.

Honestly: the story took way too long. Couple that with the fact that I found it hard to like the protagonist? The title really dragged for me.

But now that it’s over, I see the potential in the title. As a prequel to other stories, Lift Off! is great. Hopefully though, when it does get a follow-up, the pacing will be better.

"Uncommon Ground"

Uncommon Ground is a solid noir story. So solid that you can actually have it take place in a different milieu and the story would still stand.

Unfortunately, that’s also my main complaint about the story: the characters are interchangeable. This could happen anywhere, any time. The main selling point of Mythspace is not integral to the actual story.

But it is good. I just wish it were more.

And now, I’ve saved the best for last:

"Unfurling of Wings"

Unfurling of Wings is the story I’ve been looking forward to since first being exposed to Mythspace a couple of years before now. And it does not disappoint.

If you’re looking for something to introduce people to the world of Mythspace, you’d do no wrong by giving them this title. The characters are interesting, the milieu is important to the story, and although it feels like a prequel of bigger stories to come, it’s an origin story that can stand on its own.

And the art? I normally don’t talk about the art as that would only draw attention to the fact that I know nothing about it, but I want to commend the artist here. It’s clean, easy to follow, and you can distinguish the characters even when they’re surrounded by creatures that look like them.

Unfurling of Wings is awesome.

Book: Zombinoy #5

"Zombinoy #5"

Just like the biblical apocalypse, nothing can stop the zombie end-of-the-world event. Everyone will be equal: rich and poor, genius and uneducated, handsome and ugly–Lakers and Miami fans.

Okay, so it doesn’t actually say that at the back of Zombinoy‘s latest issue. But it was long and it was in Filipino, so I translated it and shortened it. Yes, the part about the Lakers and the Miami fans really were there.

Now. About the latest issue.

I don’t like it.

After the stellar fourth issue of Zombinoy, the writers of the comics seems to have lost interest in the world they created. And I wouldn’t have gotten this idea if it weren’t for the note at the back of the issue where they say that they’re wrapping up the story in the next issue.

I’m saying issue a lot. Then again, I have a lot of issues with this installment.

Number one; the characters. We have, by now, established a connection with leads Clara and Paolo. They barely appear here. And most of their panels are accompanied with lyrics to a song. Paolo’s brother gets relegated to a fool’s mission of getting survivors off a ferry and to safety. I think. But they just get swarmed and shot at. And let’s not even go to the mostly absent president.

Number two; the lack of content. I was pleased when I first saw the thick issue. And then I realized that it was thick because it had a lot of panels for action. Mindless action. Action that don’t really propel the story forward. And then I was miffed.

Number three; the lack of direction. We get teased with a cure. We get teased with a conspiracy. Neither one goes anywhere. We get really cheap thrills instead.

So what are we supposed to do with Zombinoy? It’s ending in the next issue. But with a penultimate issue like this, would we even want to know where the creators plan to take this disaster?

Well, I have until May to figure out my answer.

In the meantime, check out the photos I took from last November 16’s Komikon at the newly made Facebook fan page for Taking a Break!

Book: Pinoy Old School Komiks

"Pinoy Old School Komiks"

I wouldn’t really know about this if a friend hadn’t started looking for Combatron.

Wait, who’s Combatron? If you’re a Filipino kid in the 90’s, he needs no introduction. For everyone else, he’s an interstellar alien who crash lands on Earth after a fatal wound makes him realize that he needs to look for someone to take up his mantle–someone to pretend that Combatron lives.

Sounds like Green Lantern’s origins? I didn’t know that when I started reading Combatron back when I was a kid. Now I do. And my allegiance to the 90s komiks costumed heroes has shifted to the once-annoying Tinay Pinay.

But before I get to that, let me talk about Pinoy Old School Komiks first.

I applaud the Dayos for publishing Pinoy komiks again. And in color too! I just wish that the komiks had actual substance. I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled by Trese and Filipino Heroes League, heck, even by Zombinoy! But when I started reading the first issue, I thought I would be blown away.

Pinoy Old School Komiks had intrigue and nostalgia working for it–but lost me at once with The Brown Dragon. From the one issue alone, we are shown a world oppressed by a ruler akin to Roman emperors. Our hero is a gladiator, fighting for his life. Obviously, he wins by the next issue. And then, suddenly, he’s in Manila–attending the filming of an action movie.

I don’t remember komiks being this… disjointed. Buying komiks every Friday was something I looked forward to. And I read all the stories. All of them. I devoured them like there was no tomorrow. And I wanted to do the same here. But the first two pages of The Brown Dragon already drained me.

And then I moved on to Tinay Pinay. If you’re going by the first two issues, Tinay Pinay is worthless crap. The third issue though puts some balls of steel into the story. Suddenly, Tinay Pinay is very interesting. And I’m actually looking forward now to the next issue.

I just wish I could say the same for the other titles like: Planet Opdi Eyps, Twinkee Exhor (yes, it’s as gay as it sounds–and I’m apologizing if I offend any gay people with the comparison), and the aforementioned Combatron.

Planet Opdi Eyps is a brain-draining exercise in stupidity. Twinkee Exhor is a weird hybrid of Superman’s origins and the Wonder Twins. And Combatron is a carbon-copy of Green Lantern sans the personality and actual story.

It’s self-published so I don’t have to ask how these stories saw the light of day. All I’m wishing now is that the Dayos get their act together. It’s one thing to resurrect Funny Komiks, but with the number of independent komiks nowadays, they have to step up. Readers of komiks are more discriminating now, and if they’re going to buy independently produced komiks, they’re going to pick the best titles. And no amount of nostalgia will change that fact.

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
GeekMatic!