Komik Review: Filipino Heroes League, Book 1

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On July - 5 - 2011

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.]

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Summer Komik Review Link Roundup

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 11 - 2011

With both the Metro Comic Con and Summer Komikon behind us, the two biggest komik-centric events of the summer (note that the Toycon, while larger, has had a small komiks presence in the past), a slew of reviews, long and short, have been popping up on the Internet, and I thought that now would be a good time to round them up:

EK Gonzales: Reviews of The Filipino Heroes League book 1 (paolo fabregas), Starchild and Jagannath (kevin ray valentino), Save (danny acuna) , Cadre (polyhedron) , Zombies in Manila issues 1-4 (scratch comics) , Gwapoman 2000 (obvious productions) , Kanto, Inc. issue 2 (point zero) , The Marvelous Mega Woman (ernest caritativo)Ang Morion issue 1 (nest comics) , Precinto 13 (alamat), Sagrado Teritoryo (pisara period)Kapitan Tog issue 1 (freely abrigo) , Cat’s Trail Rewind issue 2,3 (elmer & maria cornelio damaso), Work in Progress (hub pacheco/ted pavon), Callwork: A Call Center Life (hazel manzano) , Patintero issue 2, 3 (wallpush productions), Callous: Chocolate Chip Wishes and Caffeine Dreams (carlo san juan), Tokwa’t Baboy (cm) , Mark 9 verse 47 issue 1-4 compilation (meganon comics), Atomic Underground issue 1,2 (atomic underground collective), Force 8 issue 1 (tomokii), Only Ever After (bbqs, iNorth), Slash, Earthborne, MarsMag, Shorts, Mithril Group Anthology, Cat’s Trail Spotlight: Batang Airee at Polaris.


Joanah TC/Ika-Siyam: Reviews of Mukat #2, A Ride on the Call of Will, Hyper Comics – MARK’D, Rampage Comics/I-Rawwrr — Amoy ng Kupfal, Holly Hock, The Monkey and the Turtle (Director’s Cut), The Unwanted, Unos MUNDOS #5, Myth-tech, Fruitshake: Playmate, Fruitshake: Point Blank, Fruitshake: On top of the World, SKETCH #1, Magugunaw na ang Mundo, Nasa’n na ang Labs Ko?!, Ibalong, Patintero, Only Ever After, Pasko sa Pamilya, The Curfew (book 2 Chapter 1), Gatas ng Saging, Dino Shogun, Force 8, Atomic Underground and Full Upgrade, A Certain Comic Artist’s Journal Side A/B, Flipinas ’70

Behold the Geek: Bayan Knights: Gilas, Trese: A Private Collection, The Filipino Heroes League Book 1: Sticks and Stones

UNWANTED: The Komikero Artists Group Podcast #1: All By Myself: The new podcast has a segment where Gerry Alanguilan reviews Carlo Vergara’s ZsaZsa Zaturnnah: Sa Kalakhang Maynila: Special Preview, and Andrew Villar’s Hari.

RK Recommends: “Starve Better” by Nick Mamatas

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 4 - 2011

[New section time: I won't bother putting up reviews of non-Filipino books which I wouldn't recommend, or even those which are merely adequate, but now and then I'd like to recommend something worth reading, especially if there's a digital edition available. Hence, "RK Recommends"]

Nick Mamatas’ “Starve Better” (Kindle version) is a collection of essays focused on the craft and practice of being a writer–with an emphasis on practical advice (as opposed to theory) and shorter pieces of work (as opposed to novels)–and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it on the market. In part, I think this is because I don’t think anyone looks at the business and art of writing (or articulates those views) quite like Mamatas. The current editor of Haikasoru, Mamatas is a critically acclaimed writer and editor who combines a wealth of experience in freelance writing with the bedside manner of (to use a professional wrestling analogy that Mamatas might appreciate) of Bill DeMott (or, for those more familiar with non-wrestling TV dramas,  Dr. Gregory House). Mamatas’ irreverent tone and blunt opinions are part of what made the book so enjoyable (and useful) for me, but prospective readers unfamiliar with his style may want to read a few posts from his blog to see if they feel the same way. Make sure to find a post where Mamatas takes a stance that you don’t agree with (that shouldn’t be too hard) and see if you’re entertained, or at least given pause. (My suggestion: this post on his stance on the obligation to provide constructive criticism, which is, I think, the first post I ever read on his blog.)

Prospective readers (who, I assume, are also writers or writer-aspirants) will also get the most out of the book if “Starve Better” isn’t the first text of writing they’ve read: a few of the best essays in the book (“All Pistons Firing”; “Don’t Throw the Hook”) involve a closer look at common writing tips that may do more harm than good. Actually, a solid foundation in the “basics” of fiction provides the best context with which to enjoy most of the first part of the book, “The Book of Lies”. This part focuses on the craft of writing, particularly short fiction, and the essays provide a good counterweight to the sometimes homogenized writing advice you can find in the standard writing texts. Mamatas also excels at providing striking imagery that makes his uncommon take on issues all the more memorable: he illustrates his position that “There are no rules. Only results matter.” by using the (remarkably apt) analogy of a professional wrestling match; he explains how some bad writing can still manage to be riveting because it takes the point of view, not of a character, but of a movie camera; he compares scene breaks to 800-pound gongs… Like I said, there’s no one quite like Mamatas, and that means that even long-time students of the craft of writing will find something new to chew on–and, for a true student, that different and well-articulated perspective can be invaluable.

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Komik Review: Urban Animal #1 by John Amor

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 24 - 2011

John Amor’s “The Urban Animal #1″ tells the beginning of the story of a young man (apparently in college, although he looks like a high school kid) who crosses the wrong person and is placed under a monstrous curse–although, to be frank, none of that is evident from the cover, which does a poor job of giving the prospective reader any idea as to what the comic will be about. The cover also does little to showcase Amor’s stylized art, which is a shame, given that the art is the highlight of Urban Animal. Amor has a hyper-expressive, stubby-figured style that reminds me of the early work of Humberto Ramos. While there are some panels where the facial expression of the characters seems off, or where there were better angles from which to view the scene, the art in general is clean, bold and sufficiently detailed–though nowhere near as polished as Amor’s more recent  work (Urban Animal was drawn ten years ago, and the comic released by Super Debil Robot Comics contains the original art, touched up slightly). The artwork reaches its pinnacle toward the end of the issue, where the story takes a step toward horror, of the “creature feature” variety.

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I’ve got another review up on Filipiniana.net that may be of interest to readers and writers of Philippine speculative fiction–not that you’d know it from the title. “Over a Cup of Ginger Tea: Conversations on the Literary Narratives of Filipino Women” is a collection of essays/articles by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo that revolve around the written works of Filipino women. Two of these articles, “Released by the Story: Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s Modern Tales” and “Genre Fiction: Pinay Style” are great reads for those interested in non-realist (not necessarily speculative) and non-”literary” works of fiction by Filipino women writers. Hidalgo’s writing has a warmth that makes the book easy reading, and, as I say in the review, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in what Philippine literature is capable of, especially literature produced by women, as well as those curious about areas of literature which have been neglected in the local literary scene.

You can read the full review here.

Review of Dean Alfar’s “Salamanca” by Jay Lake

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On January - 20 - 2011

There’s a new review online for Dean Alfar’s award-winning spec fic novel “Salamanca”, this time by speculative fiction author Jay Lake (author of books such as Mainspring and Green). He seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the book, so give the review–and Salamanca of course–a read if you can. Congrats to Dean as well for another positive review.

Review: From Darna to Zsazsa Zaturnnah…

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On January - 11 - 2011

Few people are more keenly aware of the rift between “literary/realist” and “popular” than genre authors and komiks creators. For those who would like an overview of that debate within the Philippine context, from an academic perspective that is sympathetic to the possibilities inherent in non-realist forms, I recommend From “Darna to Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Desire and Fantasy” by Soledad S. Reyes. My review of this collection is up on Filipiniana.net, and I hope it leads more readers to Reyes’ essays–particularly the abovementioned genre authors and komiks creators.

[Image from Goodreads.]

Movie Review: RPG: Metanoia

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On December - 30 - 2010

There’s a lot to like in Thaumatrope Animation’s first film, RPG: Metanoia, the first full length computer generated animated film to be both created and commercially released in the Philippines. It’s also the first animated film to be produced in 3D, but since I only caught the 2D edition (not a huge 3D fan anyway), there’s not much I can say about that aspect of the film.

What I can say is that it’s a pretty good movie (note the absence of the patronizing “… for a Filipino film” addendum) that those of a specific target audience will enjoy–if they can get beyond the film’s implied message, but more on that later. You can find a plot synopsis at the Wikipedia page, so let  me jump straight into the review.

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The 2010 Philippine Spec Fic Review Roundup

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On December - 30 - 2010

This post continues my 2010 roundup of reviews that may be of interest to Rocket Kapre readers. A few days ago I posted my list of 2010 komiks reviews, whether or not the komiks were speculative in nature. Today I’m doing the same for reviews that came out this year for books by Filipinos in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres (regardless of the publication date of the book – it’s the date of the review that matters). The list is much shorter than that for komiks, but then, there are fewer works of prose speculative fiction than there are komiks. I do hope that this changes in the future, both in terms of content and commentary, but I’m heartened that we have a very active book blogging scene here, and Chachic over at Filipino Book Bloggers notes when someone has reviewed a local book. With due respect to Bob Ong, I believe that both reviews and critiques (two different things, really) play a part in both improving the quality of fiction and increasing public awareness of a book, something which is very helpful to writers who aren’t residents of the bestseller lists. All of the book bloggers and reviewers I’ve met do what they do out of love, and I agree with Marianne Villanueva when she says that every review is a service. I hope that those who provide these services, whether they be bloggers or academics, receive more respect in the future.

Now, on to the list. As always, if I missed anything, please let me know in the comments section.

Komik Review: Marco’s Delivery Service by John Carreon

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On December - 3 - 2010

EDIT: [March 2012] This is a review of the original, print edition. I subsequently worked with John “Koi” Carreon on revising the script of the digital edition.

Judging by “Marco’s Delivery Service”(written and illustrated by John Carreon) and its previous production, “My Falling Star Girlfriend”, Ravencage Studios (Facebook page) understands that while you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, it’s important to assume that many of us will do just that. The front and back cover of “Marco’s Delivery Service” (MDS from here on) are sturdy boards, which serve as the canvas for a colored front cover and a black-on-yellow logo at the back, both of which create a feeling of retro-fun. The front cover in particular calls to mind old school rebel-buddies-with-a-fast-ride shows, which is exactly the genre embraced by this stand alone komik, except in an anime influenced futuristic setting: think Outlaw Star or Cowboy Bebop.

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