Jan 31, 2012

[Comics] Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakang Maynila #1 (of 3)

There's a lot to be said about the local comic book industry. Despite the seemingly overwhelming popularity of foreign comic book lines from companies like DC Comics and Marvel, the local comic book writers and artists continue to churn out new titles as best as they can. And quite frankly, they could use all the support that they can get.

And it's not just because they're locally-grown titles, but more because they do a stellar job of trying to capture more Filipino stories within their pages. This goes beyond just setting stories in the Philippines as a location but also tapping into our local myths, our folk tales, our unique brand of humor and a whole lot more.

In that regard, Zsazsa Zaturnnah remains a highly unique addition to the comic book world since not only is she a Filipino superhero, but she's one that represents the LGBT community. This gender-bending hero first came into creation in 2002 and it's nice to finally see her back in action with this long-awaited sequel to the original story.

Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakang Maynila (roughly Zsazsa Zaturnnah in the City of Manila) is the Filipino comic book sequel to the original story began in Ang Kagilasgilas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah (The Amazing Adventures of Zsazsa Zaturnnah). This sequel remains the work of Carlo Vergara and has just started to hit local bookstores for P175.

The story begins with Ada (the queer alternate identity of Zsazsa Zaturnnah) and her now-boyfriend Dodong on their way to Manila. Since the last book they've become a couple and they have not seen nor heard from the mysterious stone that had given her super powers in the previous books. Now they're just trying to start a new life together in the city, including all the mundane stuff like looking for a place to stay and getting jobs. Dodong insists that Ada shouldn't have to work and instead should focus on managing the budget.

Zsazsa Zaturnnah
Image via Wikipedia
But in another inspired bout of singing the Zaturnnah stone falls from the heavens (and severely damaging the truck Dodong had borrowed). The two ponder what the return of the stone could mean including the prospect of the Amazonistas, the villains in the previous book, somehow returning to Earth to terrorize the planet. All this as Dodong starts working while Ada's friend Gwyneth, who has agreed to give them a place to stay, continually distrusts Dodong and suspects he will break Ada's heart eventually.

One of the more noticeable changes between this sequel and the originals series is how much Carlo Vergara really stepped up his panels. A lot of his larger scenes depicting the various locations in Manila are visually impressive with an attention to detail that is something that deserves special mention. Plus a lot of times he makes very creative use of panel separations to show movement across a single scene. As is to be expected, the visual style is a lot cleaner for some of the characters, even those outside the core cast.

Dodong fans are really going to get a lot out of this comic as he's become a lot more than a vague love interest to be admired in the distance. He's a lot more fleshed out - both visually and in terms of his character persona. He has a sly sense of humor that has obvious queer touches that makes for a delight to read. In many ways, it's surprising how much more forward he is in this regard compared to Ada - but either way it works. And yes, there's a lot of gratuitous shirtlessness too, so that's a big YAY factor indeed.

The humor has definitely stepped up a bit as well, and the reminder about this being only for mature readers holds true. And it's not because there's a lot of explicit sexual references - that would be overly shallow. Instead, Carlo Vergara has really pulled out all the stops in terms of more subtle references and euphemisms that add a lot of color and flair to things. Naturally the humor works most if you're familiar with gay culture and fair amount of local pop culture references, but that's part of its truly Filipino appeal as a creative work.

I'm definitely part of the fan camp that's wondering what the heck happened to Didi. As much as she was a big supporting character in the original story arc, we've yet to hear from her in the book so far. Given Ada and Dodong did migrate from the provinces all the way to Manila, I'm sure we're all expecting her to make an appearance soon. And given how a lot of the characters keep making references to her, I get a feeling she's going to have quite the grand entrance in a latter book.

Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakang Maynila is a most welcome return of everyone's favorite gay Filipino superhero. It has a lot of action, a lot of romance and a lot of Dodong, so what more can you ask for? This title gets a solid 5 crazy costumes for Ada to choose from out of a possible 5.

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