Apr 16, 2013

[Comics] Trese 4: Last Seen After Midnight

Since I had managed to win a social media contest run by local book blog Ron Reads, I found myself with a copy of Trese 4: Last Seen After Midnight. I had been rather curious about the whole Trese series given how much attention it has gotten in local comics book circles but for one reason or another never got around to acquiring copies of any of the books. And while the 4th compilation in the series may not have been the most ideal starting point, but thankfully the independent story format of the whole series lends itself well to easy pick-ups.

Admittedly I was rather expecting that the comics would be in Filipino, but they're not. It's an English-language comic, but it's solidly set here in the Philippines. And there's always going to be something fun about seeing places that you know in a comic book, which is probably part of the overall appeal of the comic book series.

So did I actually like the comic? Well, not quite so much. I can see how it's fun and I appreciate the general value of the series. But I'm not sure if I'm the core audience in this case.


Synopsis: Trese 4: Last Seen After Midnightis a Philippine comic book series created by writer Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo. It was initially released independently by Alamat Comics and later gathered into graphic novels by Visual Print Enterprises.

This fourth volume collects 4 "cases" or stories set in the Trese world. These being Cadena De Amor, A Private Collection, Wanted: Bedspacer and Fight of the Year. All stories center around a young woman named Alexandra Trese, a sort of private detective who keeps the forces of the Underworld in line. She is joined by her two bodyguards of sorts known only as the Kambal, literally "twins" in Filpino.

To aid in her investigations, Trese has access to various supernatural abilities derived from the legacy of her father somehow. Thus she is able to speak to spirits, calm the restless dead and even summon other beings with her mobile phone. She primarily battles using guns and her distinct kris blade. I don't even know how to explain the abilities of the Kambal since they use guns, fly around and are generally able to shake off most injuries, At the very least, they're not human. Their sort of base of operations is a bar known as The Diabolical, another thing inherited from her family.

When I had first heard about Trese, it is often referred to being a horror comic of sorts. And while it does involve a lot of mythical creatures from Philippine folklore like tikbalangs, manananggals and kapres, the supernatural aspect to things feels a bit more like Hellblazer or perhaps Hellboy. Thus we have all these supernatural creatures living in the city like ordinary citizens but with their magical nature unseen by ordinary humans.

Trese, the character, feels like a heroine who is a bit too perfect. I won't even address her quirky Chinese-inspired outfit as a Filipino character, but all of her abilities seem to be without effort. She is a ridiculously good martial artist and a crackshot with her guns. She is able to cast spells of different kinds with little to no effort beyond just uttering the right Filipino term. In terms of this one book, she didn't even have to make offerings of blood or anything like that - a trope of the genre that you'd sort of expect given the nature of the magic she is trying to control.

The decision to involve modern technology like guns and mobile phones was interesting enough, but could have been better done. I mean come on, she can help exorcise a troubled spirit by dialing the appropriate dates into her phone? Plus she can summon that weird fire spirit / demon thing that she seems to have on speed dial? Come on! At least in one story she managed to get injured to some extent - not that it stopped her of course.

Trese is really more a superhero than a true paranormal investigator, in my mind. The power that she shares with the Kambal is the ability to be stereotypically cool and awesome.

The decision to use English as the medium was a good idea in order to expand the potential readership. But at the same time it felt like the English was either badly done (literal Filipino-to-English translations) or perhaps intentionally dumbed-down (in order not to alienate local audiences). I say this since a lot of the phrasing is awkward here and there and just doesn't quite flow right in my head. I appreciate the decision to have all of her spells in Filipino - that still made sense. But then you had the annoying tendency of the Kambal to address Trese as Bossing all the time.

Trese is a good attempt at creating a local comic set in the Philippines. I appreciate the rich history it's tapping into in terms of our mythology but at the same time I feel the stories could have been a lot darker. And Trese definitely needs greater limits imposed on her, if only to give her opponents a fighting chance. Otherwise, the stories get a little boring faster than I'd like. This 4th volume gets 3 machine gun wielding manananggals engaged in a gang war (I'm not kidding) out of a possible 5.

1 comment:

Ronald Lim said...

The third book was the best in the series, really.

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