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: Manila Noir

"Manila Noir"

Manila’s a city of survivors, schemers, and dreamers… A city of extremes. Where the rich live in posh enclaves, guarded by men with guns. Where the poor improvise homes out of wood, tin, and cardboard and live by their wits. Where five-star hotels and luxury malls selling Prada and Louis Vuitton coexist with toxic garbage dumps and sprawling ‘informal settlements’ (a.k.a. squatter settlements), where religious zeal coexists with superstition, where ‘hospitality’ might be another word for prostitution, where sports and show business can be the first step to politics, where politics can be synonymous with nepotism, cronyism, and corruption, where violence is nothing out of the ordinary, and pretty much anything can be had for a price–if you have the money and/or the connection, that is…

To be perfectly honest, I have a very vague notion of what noir is. So whatever I was expecting Manila Noir to be, it definitely wasn’t what I got when I read the stories contained in the anthology. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Except when it is.

I liked some of the stories. I loved the Trese short. And a couple of the stories bored me to the point of putting me to sleep. Thrice. Yes, three times. In the span of a dozen pages. More or less.

And at the end of the day, I have nothing to take away from reading said book. Except, maybe a question.

How do editors decide on which writers to invite for collections such as Manila Noir?

There’s usually a foreword written by the editor to introduce the writers included in the anthology. I don’t remember if this had one. Not that it should matter. Right? But there’s a couple of writers who I have already read outside of this book… And I was surprised that I didn’t care much for the stories they wrote for Manila Noir, when I enjoyed their separate work.

Maybe the collection was limiting? Or maybe it was too expansive? I don’t know. All I know is that, while reading the book, my enjoyment levels fluctuated. I would enjoy one story, only for it to be followed by one I wouldn’t enjoy as much, before it would be followed by another I wouldn’t like at all.

Maybe I should stop reading books like this, since you never really know what you’re going to get. And I actually wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for the Trese short.

It’s a good thing that the Trese story alone was worth the price of the book.

Book: Dark Side

"Dark Side"

Whenever a case that seemingly involves supernatural reaches NBI, it is automatically assigned to Agents Roddy, Nick and Janet. Cases from the Dark Side, they call them.

And the three were known as ‘The Shadowcatchers’ because they chases suspects that, just like shadows, could not be arrested.

I think I’ve put off reading (and writing about) this series long enough. But can you blame a guy? Dark Side takes a very solid premise and turns it into a bland melodrama with the suspense of a television ad for a detergent. And that might even be an insult to the detergent ad.

But, to be fair, Dark Side isn’t completely bad. It’s just bland. The melodrama, if pushed into the right way, could’ve worked for the story. Unfortunately, I guess due to the length of the graphic novel, there’s not enough time for the drama to be pushed–the right way, or otherwise.

And then there are the characters: two men and one woman who seem to have the same base personality, with little to no difference between them. Which is a feat, considering one of them is a girl. Now, I know what I said about the length. This is actually one of the reasons why I put off writing about the series. I waited until I’ve read the second book as I might be able to judge the characters better if I already had an idea of who they were. I still didn’t, but heck, I thought, let’s still give this book a chance.

A sixth of the way through, I assigned voices to the characters. I read their lines out loud. I wanted to see if delivery could differentiate them. On the pages where it’s not clear where the dialogue is stemming from? I kept giving the lines the wrong voice, and not even realizing that I was doing it wrong until I finally realized how the dialogues were pointing at the characters speaking. Our three protagonists had no personality of their own! How are we supposed to root for a group whose members we can’t even recognize!

And then, there’s the actual cases. Whereas in Trese, each reveal feels like a treat while pushing the plot to new and unexpected places; the same cannot be said for Dark Side. When twists happen, you’re either left confused, or you’re congratulating yourself on successfully guessing where the story is going.

It’s one thing to be a smartly written story, it’s a completely different thing to try outsmarting your readers. And it’s really annoying when a story tries to outsmart a reader by cheating, by suddenly introducing a new rule, a new character, a new concept.

And that’s what I felt after reading the two Dark Side stories: cheated.

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: Skyworld, Volume Two

"Skyworld, Volume Two"

The Queen of the Asuang and her legion have taken over the country.

Alexandra Trese leads the resistance along-side Makabo, a Tikbalang warrior, and Kaio, a Duwende trickster.

Trapped in their epic battle is Andoy, a teenage boy tasked with uniting an army of Tikbalang, Enkanto, Kapre and Duwende against the Asuang.

But before he can lead them, he must first recover a mystical sword that was once part of the fabled Yamashita Treasure.

And so ends Skyworld.

Ultimately, I’m not a fan. The story is sound, the structure is good–but the overall product is not something I’d gush about. I’m not saying it’s not good. It is. But the story doesn’t deliver on the promise of the premise. As I feared.

My main problem with the story is its length. Because the whole thing is so short, we never really connect with any of the characters we’re supposed to care about. Maybe Alexandra, but that’s because we know her from another series. A better series. The others?

I’ve already finished the book and I still know nothing about main character Andoy–save for the fact that he’s the chosen one. Makabo and Kaio are supporting characters in the most basic sense. They support Andoy, and that’s pretty much it. There’s a hint of something more for Makabo, but that’s nipped in the bud even before it completely takes off.

And I’m not a fan of the ten-year time jump in between the two volumes. Number one, because it feels like a cop out–not knowing how to deal with a giant sea dragon rampaging across Metro Manila. Number two, because of Alexandra. Don’t tell me she never aged in the ten years between volumes.

To end, there are better re-imaginings and re-tellings of Filipino folklore availalbe out there. There’s the Trese series, there’s Naermyth, or maybe you know of another novel/comic series that I don’t.

But, to be fair, here are links to what other people have written about the series:
The Birth of Damnation
The Comics Cube