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 In it, celebrities have been replaced by tiers of super-powered individuals who are working to help innocents against… well… villains.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.

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Book: I Am Number Four The Lost Files, Secret Histories

"Secret Histories"

You know our stories are true. You know why we fight. You must discover their secrets. You must learn from our mistakes. They are hiding, just like us. They plan to destroy your planet. They destroyed ours. We cannot let this happen again.

The last time I wrote about the collected novellas of the I Am Number Four series, I said the novellas were good but, if you’ve already read the main books, were unnecessary. But that was because two of the three novellas were back stories for characters we’ve met in the main series. And those back stories were already shared in said main series.

Fortunately, the second set of novellas focus on expanding the universe that I Am Number Four is creating–and not expounding on stories we already know from the main books.

In “The Search for Sam,” we pick up where we last see Adam–the Mogadorian traitor we meet in “The Lost Legacies” from the first set of novellas. Continuing as a companion series for the main story, “The Search for Sam” shows us what’s going on in the Mogadorain camp while John Smith and his new-found allies travel to find the other Garde members–and save their allies.

Out of the three, this is the only novella I have a problem with… Because this is where we see Malcolm Goode first.

Malcolm is a character we already know of in the main story. He is Sam’s dad, and he has been missing for around a decade. My main beef with this novella is that this is where we find out what happened to Malcolm, and this is where he rejoins the fight against the Mogadorians.

I know he’s not as important a character as the Garde are–but I felt it was disrespectful to the Sam character that we meet his dad here–and not in the main story–when he is one of the major arcs of the I Am Number Four series.

Other than this complaint though, I loved “The Search for Sam” because of its excellent pacing. Adam’s journey from the death of Three, to his acceptance of One’s fate–and his eventual mission to help the Garde was exhilarating. I think there was even a point, during the time I was reading, when I found myself liking Adam’s characterization more than I do any of the main Garde characters.

And then “The Last Days of Lorien” started. And I loved this novella too. I loved getting to know Sandor, the unorthodox Cepan who chose to hide in plain sight. I loved discovering the reasons why he was unconventional. And I loved how we got to see the society of Lorien–what was taken away from our main characters.

But before I could love Sandor more than Adam, our erstwhile Mogadorian makes a return in “The Forgotten Ones” where he finds himself a new mission: to save the Chimaeras who were captured by the Mogadorians.

In the main series, Adam made his debut with the arrival of the Chimaera at the base of our heroes. And although this is another case of having the main action take place in the companion series instead of the main books, I couldn’t fault the authors for not including this story in the books.

Adam’s mission to save the Chimaera is a side story–one that will slow down the action of the main story. And it’s not like their arrival in the main story causes the tide to turn in their favor anyway. They’re still outnumbered and in over their heads. They’re more supplementary than the second coming of a savior.

And this is where we see that the novellas are finally finding their place in the I Am Number Four continuity. As expansions of the main series told through episodic stand-alone stories. And I can’t wait to see where the writers of the I Am Number Four series take us in the next set.

Theater: Manhid

"Manhid"

What price is our freedom? MANHID is set in an alternate present day Philippines where the EDSA revolution failed; this musical features heroes and villains with superpowers, and a people sick with Kamanhiran (Apathy).

I want to heap accolades for Manhid. Mostly because it’s rock opera musical accompanied by ballet. Also because it creates superheroes out of characters from Filipino epics. And because of its history of being conceived by Aureaus Solito, with music from Eraserheads. The whole thing screams epic. And it is epic.

Unfortunately, so was its running time.

This is my biggest bone to pick with Ballet Philippines’ production of Manhid. It was trying to match the length of an epic, complete with side stories and interludes–turning it into a hodgepodge musical confused on whether it wants to speak out against injustice, or if it’s a juxtaposition of two love stories set against the backdrop of a revolution. In a time where short-form social media is king, you would’ve thought the creative forces of Manhid would’ve taken one look at the script and realized that at more than two-hours long, the musical was just too long. And too long not because characters are being developed, and are being loved. It was too long because each now plot twist needed explanation. Each new plot twist needed a backing musical number that tells instead of shows what the story wants to say.

Manhid is a gem–but one that needs to be polished. Just because this is how it was written more than two decades ago doesn’t mean you have to hold the true to the book. Stories like that of Manhid is supposed to reflect the times. And while most of the musical is still relevant today, important devices are visibly outdated now. Like, for example, lead character Bantugan’s job as a writer for a local tabloid. Decked out in a white sleeveless zip-up with headphones and a wrist-mounted computer, Bantugan’s entire personality screams techno-savvy individual. So why is he working as a reporter for a tabloid? No, I’m not looking down on tabloids, but they’ve been passe for some years now. Broadsheets are the new tabloids, and their online presence is way more visible now than ever before. Broadsheets online are the new mass-friendly tabloids with their clickbait headlines. If Ballet Philippines could update Bantugan’s look, why couldn’t they have updated his devices too? You’re not changing the musical, just the way the audience can relate to the characters.

Which, to be quite honest, was a hard thing to do. One, because there were too many characters. Two, because we get thrust into the story of Manhid with barely a brief of what world we’re about to enter. We get a spoken word introduction, and suddenly our lead characters are singing and dancing on stage and we have no idea what’s going on. It wasn’t until halfway through the second song before I realized that factions were being formed, that good guys were being hunted down by bad guys. And I only realized this because lead character Lam-Ang tells supporting character Dilim that the government attacked the club she was working at because they wanted to get to her.

Had the world been established better in the opening number, we wouldn’t have needed the clunky dialogue between Lam-Ang and Dilim. We would’ve just squirmed in our seats as we awaited their fate. As the villains closed in to the heroes. Instead, we scratched our heads at the action unfolding in front of us. The ministry of humanity was enjoying a show when a woman suddenly shows up to disrupt the peace. A fight ensues. And then the woman takes the lead singer of the show. If the dialogue didn’t say that Lam-Ang was saving Dilim, you can spin this off as an insurgent attack on the safety of the government.

And that could’ve been played with. But, obviously, the creative forces wanted people to relate to the insurgents. They want us to feel. Not to be numb. Hence the show’s main title and theme. But how can you care about heroes you know nothing about? Superman started with a destroyed planet. Spider-man had a dead Uncle Ben. Zsazsa Zaturnnah had a love interest whose safety was being threatened by colorful dominatrix aliens. We care about their fight because we know what they’re fighting for. In Manhid, we learn about our lead character’s fight as the first act wraps up. And that is the only time we see actual motivation from our heroes. When, during a musical number on how there came to be super-powered human beings, they fall in love with each other.

I don’t know how important the love story is to the main story arc. I know it’s important for one of the characters, for Allunsina, who you can say is the audience surrogate. But in the grand scheme of things, the love story of Bantugan and Lam-Ang felt shoe-horned. It felt like the creative forces just wanted to give heft to something that just wasn’t working out.

But, to be fair, as the first act wraps up, so does my complaints. Acts two and three had better pacing, and it also had a better grip on showing instead of telling. It also has a better love story between hero Urduja and the villain Radya Indarapata. It was still incredibly long, but time starts to fly faster because the story is now succeeding in absorbing the audience. I mean, there were still times when a break on stage becomes jarring, but overall, the last two thirds of the musical was more phenomenal than its beginning.

Ballet Philippines found a stellar cast to bring to life the characters of Manhid. I’m not completely sold on Lam-Ang, but I have to blame the material more than the actress. Bantugan’s vocals kept getting overpowered by the band, but he was serviceable. Apolaki’s forced conyo accent was funny, and I hope that that was intentional. And Dilim’s voice? Wow. The actors that shone the brightest though was Urduja’s, with vulnerability lacing her every word, even as she shows how strong her powers are; Radya Indarapata’s gray moral compass was conveyed majestically, and was most heartbreaking in his final moments; and Mamalahim-ma. There’s nothing I can say about Mamalahim-ma that will do justice to the power she brings on stage–which is an irony since she’s the only lead actor without an actual power.

And then there’s Allunsina. Played by Gold Villar with a fun abandon, Allunsina captures attention immediately even during the less-than-wonderful first act. I don’t know if some of her lines were just ad-lib, but everything out of her mouth feels natural, feels true to her character, and even at her most scathing, she was the most relatable and lovable in the cast of characters. Probably because her character felt the most true.

Allunsina is the star of Manhid.

Now, I could continue to go on and go on about Manhid, but the bottom line is this: it’s a great musical. It is. It just didn’t live up to the hype, and to my expectations.

But I have to commend Ballet Philippines (and Tanghalang Pilipino) for taking a risk in bringing back this rock opera musical. I hope next time they do, they don’t just update the costume, I wish they’d update the material too.

Movie: X-Men’s Days of Future Past

"X-Men: Days of Future Past"

The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The characters from the original X-Men film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class in an epic battle that must change the past – to save our future.

It wasn’t the mess I was expecting it to be, that’s for sure. I guess it helped that my expectations were low. It might have also helped that it follows X-Men First Class more than it does the original cinematic series. Or it might be because, although Wolverine features very heavily in the promotional materials, the movie is more about Xavier, Erik, and Raven.

Oh, and I must warn you: there will be spoilers here.

We begin in the future, with a few mutants we’re familiar with from the original series and some new ones. But getting to know them isn’t important. What’s important is that they’re being hunted. And that the fight scenes are glorious and not needless. And then we plunge into the story, where they send Wolverine’s consciousness back into his 70s body so he could stop an assassination that would begin the sentinel program.

Yes, the sentinel program. The big ass robots that hunt down mutants and those who sympathize with them.

And getting Wolverine to stop this point in time isn’t going to be easy. Because the assassination will be done by Raven who, last time, sided with Erik. And the only person he can find easily when he arrives in the 70s is Charles. Who isn’t exactly the hopeful professor we left at the end of X-Men: First Class.

In fact, Charles isn’t the only one who has changed. Erik isn’t exactly sweeping the nation with his grand plans for the brotherhood of mutants. And Raven has cut off communication with the two important men in her lives. They’re all in darker places than when we last saw them, and it is this drama, this conflict, this turmoil, that makes X-Men: Days of Future Past a gripping thriller more than just another superhero film.

Well, it isn’t a superhero film at all, if you think about it. The X-Men are fighting for survival. And Wolverine, along with Charles, Erik, and Raven, are trying to right a wrong the only way they know how: by trying peace, by raising fear, and by assassination. But which one survives?

This is not the Days of Future Past that I loved in the 90s. And I wouldn’t say that this is better, because I really loved the comic story that sent Kitty Pride hurling through the past to try and stop a future that happens anyway. But this wasn’t the mess I was expecting after the clusterfuck that was X3: The Last Stand.

Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy and Ian McKellen slays in their performances. Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence were awesome too. But it is Michael Fassbender who really shines in this film–especially during the part in the film where you want to hate him. So much. But you also understand where he is coming from because the actor has put so much nuance in how he delivered the lines that’s supposed to make you angry. And vice versa. At a critical point in the film, where you can see that peace might be an option, Fassbender plays his Erik with a darkness that makes you believe how he becomes the X-Men’s main enemy in the years that will follow.

X-Men: Days of Future Past will never be my favorite Marvel movie. But I commend it for not being a mess, and for staying rooted to the emotions. Four slow claps for you, Days of Future Past.

Book: The Fall of Five

"The Fall of Five"

They brought in their leader. They thought they could defeat us. They thought they had won. They were wrong.

We have finally come together. We will be more powerful than ever. We have lost battles. We will not lose this war.

Lorien will rise again.

What do you do when the title of the book you’re reading is a giant spoiler? You choose to ignore the fact that you know where the story is going, that’s what. And then, you just enjoy the ride.

At least, that’s what I did when I read The Fall of Five.

In the latest release from the Lorien Legacies series, we finally meet all of the Gardes. And we get a new Cepan in the form of… well, that’s a spoiler I think I can hold off on. Because unlike the first two books of the series, the fourth book holds up well in terms of quality. And I really would want for you to read it. And be surprised by it.

Well, be surprised if you haven’t read any of the novellas. Which you can live without anyway. They’re supplementary reading at best.

But this is not about that. This is about The Fall of Five, and the writer’s (or writers’?) amazing ability to give a different voice for each one of the ten characters. Eleven if you count the cameos of… Oh, wait. That’s a spoiler too.

What isn’t a spoiler though is the bad-ass action sequences we get in the book. Seriously. Action sequences that take you into the heat of the battle. In a book. Who needs 3D when you can be right in the middle of the action? Oh, wait, you need an active imagination to do that. Fortunately, it’s not prerequisite for The Fall of Five. The descriptions, the whole lot of them, paint very vivid pictures. That move.

If there’s one thing you can really sell about The Fall of Five is that it never wants in the description department. But it doesn’t go overboard with it too–which is great. Come to think of it, this series is basically a script for a movie that’s just waiting to be made.

There are a bunch of lessons about confidence, team work, and treating people right–but they take on the after-school special approach, and they’re not really mind-blowingly original. But they’re there, and they don’t detract from the overall experience. Adds to it, maybe.

The only thing I don’t like is the fact that we have to wait for the next book. I want it now.

I can’t believe that, after being ambivalent about the first two books, I’m actually looking forward now to when the next book’s going to drop. Excited even. This further cements my learning that you never should judge a series by its first book.

And seeing as I completely lost it, not really saying anything much of import, I’ll turn you over to other book blogs who’ve already written their piece on The Fall of Five. Enjoy!

My Book Musings
TF Geek Girl
Book Probe

Book: Light

"Light"

All eyes are on Perdido Beach. The barrier wall is now as clear as glass and life in the FAYZ is visible for the entire outside world to see. Life inside the dome remains a constant battle and the Darkness, away from watchful eyes, grows and grows…

The society that Sam and Astrid have struggled so hard to build is about to be shattered for good. Who will survive to see the light of day?

I liked the Aftermath chapters more than the ones leading up to it, to be quite honest. But overall, I’m just really happy that this series is finally done with, and that I can finally start forgetting about the characters.

Which is sad, really. I started this series with such high hopes. I liked the characters in Gone, more so because of their flaws. But when their flaws became too overpowering, and when there became too many characters, well, I sort of just gave up on it. Well, not really. Had I actually given up, I would have probably stopped reading by the third book.

Now, I don’t discount the fact that the book was engaging. It is. It’s just also really frustrating, because you feel like the characters are not growing at all. And the characters you’ve been told to care for, the ones who you have been following, are suddenly disposable. (Yes, I am talking about Connie Temple, and Dahra, and the Artful Roger. And yes, I also know that only one died from the three people I mentioned. That doesn’t mean they weren’t treated distastefully. Disrespectfully.)

I guess Michael Grant has done his job well, because he’s getting this kind of ire from me. But I didn’t want to feel ire. I wanted escape. I wanted a good story. I wanted characters to care for.

At the end of it all, the only character I cared about was Edilio. Maybe Lana. Maybe Diana. But Edilio is the only one who you can truly call a well-written character.

The problem really, and I’ve been saying this since the third book, is that there are way too many characters. You cannot root for a group of kids, unless you treat them as one unit. And I think the author didn’t want to do that, because that wouldn’t be true. Which is true. A group of kids as a unit would mean they are all on one side. When they aren’t. Which would be fine, if there weren’t two all-powerful almost-deities also fighting for control.

Had I been writing this series, there probably wouldn’t be six books. Just four. Book one was good as it is. Books two and three could have been combined, ending with the two sides of moofs joining forces to fight against the Darkness. Books four and five would’ve also joined together as the Darkness used the non-powered humans against the empowered ones. Ending with the birth of Gaia. The last book would start with the fight against Gaia, but would deal with the actual repercussions of what happened more. The Aftermath chapters would be longer, for sure.

We’ve seen a lot of useless characters take up pages and time when characters that needed development could have been given their due.

Connie Temple should have been a bigger character, the disintegration of her relationship with Sam deserved page space, and should not have been a throwaway line.

With the haphazard way the book was ended, I felt disrespected. As if, after spoon-feeding me information, the writer didn’t trust that I would be able to understand why so-and-so happened. That I wouldn’t be able to accept why this happened and that didn’t.

Damn right, I didn’t. Because I was not shown why. I was just told that it happened. That’s very lazy writing, if you ask me. And after sticking with this series for six books, I feel like I deserve better.

So as I close the last page of this book, I say good bye. And may I forget that I ever laid eyes on this series. That I ever started reading it.

Book: Fear

"Fear"

Despite the hunger, despite the lies, even despite the plague, the kids of Perdido Beach are determined to survive. Creeping into the tenuous new world they’ve built, though, is perhaps the worst incarnation yet of the enemy known as the Darkness: fear.

Within the FAYZ, life breaks down while the Darkness takes over, literally–turning the dome-world of the FAYZ entirely black. A will to survive and a desire to take care of those they love endures in this ravage band, even in the bleakest moments. But in darkness, the worst fears of all emerge, and the cruelest of intentions are carried out. After so many months, is all about to be lost in the FAYZ?

To be quite honest, the only reason I’m even finishing this series is because I’ve already invested in it. That said, I do think Fear is better than the last three books. Which would make Gone (the first book) and Fear, the only decent ones in the series.

Not that any of my previous problems with the series actually goes away. I’m still annoyed that we keep getting introduced to new characters who ups and dies anyway. I get that there’s a need for death, because it’s dystopian on speed. But it doesn’t really have much of an emotional impact if the characters that get killed off are characters you’ve only just met.

The ensemble cast still doesn’t gel. And by that, I mean we’re still following way too many stories–even though it’s the second the last book and things need to get tidied up soon.

And the characters still flip flop from between being a good guy and a bad guy. Which is really frustrating. You can’t even trust your heroes to do what you expect them to do. Every book, they do something so out of character that it’s actually starting to become a trait now.

What worked for the book though was the new elements: the countdown made sense again, as by the end of the book, a major thing does happen to the world our characters inhabit. and then, there’s the outside world where we finally see what happened to all the other people who were ejected by the FAYZ.

It really helps the book that the end game is upon it. There’s really no need to stretch storyline anymore.

Little Pete is still being an annoying jackass, more so now that he’s an omniscient presence. And I still don’t get, three days in, what his deal is with the avatars and his meddling with people’s DNA. It doesn’t move the story along, aside from add to the fear factor, and after the couple of victims die, you don’t even fear for any of the main characters’ life as they’re obviously safe from whatever the author would think of next.

Which brings me to a point of consternation.

Does Michael Grant love his characters too much? Because there are times when a writer really should learn to let go. And really, if he’s going for emotional deaths, nothings crushes a heart more than a beloved character dying.

Just ask Joss Whedon.

Having said all that, let’s go ’round the ‘net to find out what other people have said about this book:
The Book Smugglers
Realm of Fiction
Cuddlebuggery