Paolo Fabregas’ “Filipino Heroes League” is the latest Visprint acquisition from the world of independent komiks. The back copy does a good job of describing the central concept of the work: “Undermanned and under-funded, the Filipino Heroes League does what it can to fight against injustice. It’s tough being a superhero, but it’s even tougher being a third-world superhero.” This low budget angle immediately sets it apart from the more traditional take on super heroes found in komiks such as “Bayan Knights“, as does the fact that FHL is not meant to be a launching pad for a universe of spin-offs, a fact which allows it to concentrate on telling a more focused story.
On a thematic level, the story benefits from this. As Gerry Alanguilan points out in his blurb, (referencing his blog post on “The Difficulty of Doing Superheroes in the Philippines“) our country’s socio-economic reality means that simply transposing the Marvel/DC super-heroic paradigm to the Philippines stretches the bounds of credulity. FHL deals with this issue multiple ways, the most effective of which is the idea that superheroes simply can’t make a living here, so most become “Overseas Workers”, either because of the money or because the ideal of success for many, even superheroes, is to be seen as having “made it” in America. Another tactic FHL employs is to show how poor the remaining local heroes are–this would have been more effective, however, if it was made more clear why these heroes were unable to use their celebrity status to acquire higher levels of income. (Very, very few celebrities in the Philippines are poor, even those without any talents to speak of.) Non-compliance with a law against secret identities may help explain this (ala Spider-Man post One More Day) but without more in the way of context, we’re left guessing.
Nevertheless, the dirt poor status of (most of) our heroes leads to another of the book’s strengths: let’s call it the tragicomedy of poverty. The image of Kidlat Kid and Invisiboy on the pedicab at the back of the cover (which, to my mind, should have been the front) encapsulates the style of FHL’s humor best. Other winning scenes include the revelation of the real FHL headquarters, the obsolete supercomputer, and the last line of dialogue during the Payatas recruitment. The book’s light hearted sense of humor is its best quality, but not its sole selling point.
FHL is paced well–with the exception of the superhero staple of “briefings in front of the big screen”, which go on for too long–and the action scenes are, in general, well choreographed. Add a vague, yet unambiguous, narrative conflict, and you get a comic that is an enjoyable and easy read, in spite of its flaws.
[Spoilers from here on out.]
There are several areas where FHL comes up short. The art, while generally adequate, can be rough to the point of confusion–visual clarity is important in a black and white comic, since we don’t have color cues to help differentiate objects. Another setback is the repetition of panels in certain scenes–it’s a trick that has its uses (to show shock, for instance), but I don’t think it was employed well here. (I’m giving the Charmaine Riviera look-alike thing a pass because I assume it will be important later–given how much time is devoted to her, it better be.)
The writing is generally solid, but the dialogue becomes too wordy during expository sections (the briefings). There are also a few instances where the writing leaves the realm of the genre trope and ventures into the cliché, but this the exception rather than the rule.
While the story holds together well on a macro level, it has several issues when examined under the microscope–which, let’s face it, comics fans have a tendency to do. Some of it could simply be in the execution: during the escape scene, the way that Flashlight’s movement was broken into panels (which give the appearance of slow action) made me feel like the assembled police should have easily been able to perforate the three heroes before the maneuver could be completed. (Just think of how long it would take to say his dialogue, as opposed to how long it would take to squeeze a trigger.) Invisiboy breaking into the library, Hulk-style, was also strange.
Several tactical decisions made me scratch my head–Invisiboy “announcing” when he went invisible, the use of Maker to scout the school when they have a member whose power lends itself exceptionally well to reconnaissance– and while these could have been funny had the story drawn attention to them, as it stands, they just seem like oversights. The strategy the team decides to adopt in the end also puzzled me, in that the argument given to justify kidnapping the President (that he must be the real victim of the attacks on his enemies because it made him appear evil) is very weak, without more evidence. (Think of applying the same argument to the Ninoy Aquino assassination.)
At the end of the day, however, what makes these issues so irritating to me is that they hold back such a promising product. FHL embraces the “Filipino” in its title, and while the world it presents could use a bit more coherence, it’s a recognizably Filipino (well, Manil-enyo) setting, from the start of the book to the very last page. While FHL–like its heroes–could use more refinement, more care, and perhaps a better wardrobe, it is rife with potential, and embraces its origins with gusto.
135-pages, Colored Covers, Black and White Interiors
It’s about… Undermanned and under-funded, the new roster of the venerable Filipino Heroes League is implicated in a murder spree. They must regroup and find out who is behind the murders.
The language is… English
It tastes like… “Kingdom Come” via “Formerly Known as the Justice League” infused with modern day Manila.