Review: 'Trese' a book of diabolical delights

Posted at 01/05/2014 5:18 PM | Updated as of 01/05/2014 7:49 PM

"Why is being the sixth so important?"
-- from "The Baptism of Alexandra Trese"

The sixth child of Anton Trese, the former guardian of Metro Manila against supernatural beings such as the tikbalang, aswang and wicked elementals, has the capacity to bring about a great age for the underworld or to become their scourge.

From the earliest of superhero comics, the stories have always been the reimagining of mythical characters in a heroic and modern setting. Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s Superman was inspired by Samson and Hercules. Soon after, fans were treated to Wonder Woman, an Amazon; and Flash, a character created with a nod towards the Greek god Mercury. And it has been pretty much the same formula since.

There have been many similar stories through the years in popular media where gods or mythical creatures live among modern man – Sandman, Aria, Fables, Neverwhere, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Underworld are but a few.

For Budjette Tan’s and KaJo Baldisimo’s "Trese," the writer-artist team bring together the mythical creatures from Philippine culture and place them in a modern setting. Not just in a modern urban setting but in Crime Scene Investigation manner.

So with Trese, think Kolchak The Night Stalker (probably the granddaddy of this particular genre as it ran on television from 1974-75 and is a show I keenly followed) and Joss Whedon’s Angel.

When I first read "Trese" during its initial release in late 2005, what first jumped into my mind was James Robinson’s and Paul Smith’s excellent “Leave It To Chance” where the daughter of Lucas Falconer, Chance, becomes Devil’s Echo’s protector against the supernatural.

“Leave It To Chance” produced 13 issues that were published irregularly by Image Comics from September of 1996 up to July 2002. It was discontinued after the 13th issue despite winning several awards including the Harvey Award for Best New Series and Eisner Awards for Best New Series and Best Title for Young Readers in 1997. A re-print collection of the first four issues was the top vote-getter for Comic Buyer’s Guide Fan Award for 1998.

Ironically, "Trese" is about Alexandra Trese, who takes over from her father Anton, as the protector of Manila from the weird and supernatural.

But maybe because Paul Smith’s bright and sunny artwork is intended for a younger audience, "Leave It To Chance: is like Nancy Drew.

"Trese" isn’t at all like that. It’s dark, moody, and terrifying. It is a creepier Night Stalker/Angel because what Filipino did not grow up hearing about all these supernatural beings? Even if you didn’t believe the nuno sa punso when you passed by one, you always said, "Tabi tabi po" just to be sure.

"Trese" isn’t for the weak. It’s violent yet the blood and gore never goes overboard just like every good horror story. The idea isn’t to make one squeamish but to feel the hair on your arms stand up.

Tan’s writing isn’t long and winded. In fact, the backstories of all the characters are seamlessly worked in without you realizing it.

And that’s the hallmark of a good story.

So…

Why is "Trese" important?
-- My question

"Trese" mines our rich culture for a terrific storyline that although owes its inspirations from our Western counterparts yet is at once our very own. I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first. But as a kid, I loved reading those reprinted "Tales of Lola Basyang" and that kid called Kangkong who fought supernatural creatures, and I’ve seen Budjette’s previous work so who am I not to give this a chance.

And the black and white artwork of Baldisimo fits the story just fine. It adds to the noir feel of the story. The line work isn’t too heavy and dark. Excellent use of white and dark spaces so you never feel like it’s muddled. Overall, the story has the feel of Mike Mignola’s "Hellboy" and "Blood: The Last Vampire" that means it keeps you on the edge as you know something wicked this way comes.

You’re engrossed not only in the story but you find yourself investing in the characters. You want to know more about Alexandra Trese, the Kambal (who certainly demand a story of their own), Captain Guerrero who is this book’s Commissioner Gordon, and all the supernatural beings that become a part of the book. The nuno sa manhole is frigging brilliant. Oscar the Grouch is officially out of business!

"Trese" unfolds like a casebook of crimes that takes the reader through different parts of Metro Manila with each issue introducing us to the spirits living in the material world and how they have integrated into society. You’ll have fun identifying names and how their lives have intertwined with urban legends from Balete Drive to the serpent that allegedly haunts the malls of a taipan.

I am not going to give away plotlines in this review. That is for you to find out. I am just telling you why "Trese" deserves your time and attention because I wouldn’t be surprised one day is this is optioned for a film or even a television series like "The Walking Dead."

You see "Trese" is that diabolically good.

Now don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly lit side of the metro.

"Trese: Book of Murders"
358 pages compiling Cases #1-13
Published by Visprint
P950