Let me begin by saying that I don’t read much comic-books. It’s not that I don’t like them; come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure why I never bought more. Archie was a staple during my elementary days. After that, our housekeeper somehow got me to read Pupung, a local comic-book. The humor was simple enough for my 10-year old self to enjoy. There are some popular local comic-books and strips that are very much a part of Philippine culture (like Pugad Baboy), but I never got to pursue reading them until recently. My current favorites are Kikomachine Komix by Manix Abrera and, the subject of this post, Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo.
I first came across Trese in the anthology Manila Noir (Trese: Thirteen Stations) and I was immediately hooked! As of today, I have only read Trese: Murder on Balete Drive (Cases 1-4) and Trese: Last Seen After Midnight. The enigmatic Alexandra Trese is a consultant/detective (consulting detective??) specializing in supernatural cases that seem to plague Captain Guerrero, who is kinda like Gotham’s Commissioner Gordon, except Guerrero and Trese have a better working relationship (hehe). She is a BAMF, I tell you, and all this bad assery brings up so many questions about her past — who exactly was her father Anton Trese? And grandfather Trese? And how about her immense knowledge of the supernatural and her ability to communicate with their kind? Where and how did she learn to fight? She is accompanied by her ever dependable and extremely witty personal body guards, the Kambal. I honestly have no idea what they are at this point, but they appear human in some parts, and something else in other parts, donning diamond-shaped masks of a happy face and a sad face when they unleash their powers. They have the best lines in the book. Just this afternoon I was reading Last Seen After Midnight at McDonald’s and the Kambal made me chuckle out loud. I was by myself. I don’t how that might have seemed to my neighboring tables, but they provide comic relief to an otherwise gripping case.
What really got me hooked, though, was the way Tan and Baldisimo used Philippine folklore in the story lines. Stories that were told by our grandmothers or housekeepers, the aswangs, manananggals, tikbalangs, nunos, the Santelmo, demons and other creatures that lurk in the dark, were so cleverly presented and integrated in the Manila (and other Philippine cities) of today, I couldn’t help but devour two books in one afternoon. I’m not only enjoying, I am also learning more about our culture.
The illustrations are incredibly striking as well. The books are in black and white. I’m not talking about gray scale, mind. I’m talking about pitch black against white. Being a fan of anything black and white, the art was one of the first things that caught my attention. It definitely adds intensity to the stories, making things seem darker and more ominous. It would be interesting to see them in full color, though. I read that the main character was supposed to be male, but they decided to make her female, and kept the devil’s hair cut which begs the question: Who are you really, Alexandra Trese?
I highly recommend the Trese comic-books as they have topnotch material. This concept of humans and supernaturals has been touched upon by other authors and writers in different media (I am a huge fan of the television series Supernatural), but having the peculiarities of local monsters, and the intensity of the illustrations, make Trese such a unique and exciting experience.
Find out more about Trese here!