In the Philippines, the Christmas season starts early and ends late. The popular saying is that it starts as soon as the "-ber" months come in, meaninIn the Philippines, the Christmas season starts early and ends late. The popular saying is that it starts as soon as the "-ber" months come in, meaning it begins in September, and continues from then all the way until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings' Day. Others like to argue it's technically Christmas until February 14, Valentine's Day. This explains the puzzling phenomenon (to foreigners, anyway) of Christmas songs being played on some local radio stations or on mall sound systems as soon as September 1 rolls in, and why they sometimes continue to play for a few weeks after New Year's. This should come as no surprise: Filipinos have a great affection for the holiday, and many sentimental memories are attached to it, too. This is especially true for overseas workers, who come home during Christmas, and not during any other time of the year, because most other cultures, even the Middle Eastern ones, understand the importance of Christmas as a holiday.
But as for myself, I don't consider it Christmas just because September's arrived. The days are too long still, during September, and I always associate Christmas with shorter days and longer nights. The air isn't quite as cool, either, and Christmas is always about that little nip in the air that sends me towards a tin of tea in search of something warm to drink. Moreover, there's one more important holiday between the first of September and Christmas, and that's Halloween.
I suppose the reason why Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day aren't quite so popular (unlike in Mexico) is because Filipino culture as a whole doesn't like to put too much focus on death. The dead are dead, after all, and while they will never be forgotten, the living are still here, and still around us. But the concept of Halloween - the scary stories, the ghosts and the ghouls and other such things - are appealing to many Filipinos, and there are more than a few of us who do appreciate it if only for that. (Of course, there's a large contingent of Filipinos who view Halloween as a chance for some costumed debauchery, but that's their thing.) And since Komikon 2012 happened the week before the long Halloween weekend, it made perfect sense to pick up something horror-themed in time for the holiday, which meant only one thing: the latest installment in Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo's Trese series.
Now, I've been following this series for a while now, since i was first introduced to them by a colleague at the university. At the time I was neck-deep in Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and to read something similar to it but set in the Philippines was very exciting. That first book got me hooked, and I got the second one as soon as I could, followed by the third and fourth when they came out. Of the four, it was the third book that I felt was the best. The first two were pretty episodic in nature, and while that was acceptable, I was very happy when the third book built itself around a cohesive storyline, one that explored the Trese family's past and laid down the groundwork for a possible future. Volume Four, titled Last Seen After Midnight, was something of a response to that, but it went back to the episodic feel of the first book, which was rather disappointing, to say the least. I had hoped for a cohesive storyline, one that felt more like a novel or a novella, creating one unified story arc that could be continued in the next volume.
That's precisely what I got in Trese Vol. 5: Midnight Tribunal. Ever since Volume Three (Mass Murders) so many questions had been raised - some were about Trese's family and her past; while others were about her future. Volume Four did not quite answer those questions, leaving readers eagerly awaiting the next installment. Fortunately, Midnight Tribunal does answer some of those questions. For instance, it's become clear that, (view spoiler)[contrary to popular belief, Trese's brothers were not all killed - if any were killed at all - in one of the central events of Mass Murders. Many of them have, instead, gone out into the world in their own way: one is a professor at the University of the Philippines; another is a priest; and yet another moves in and out of the underworld, returning every so often when he gets into too much trouble and needs help from his siblings. (hide spoiler)] There's also a peek into the interactions between the different supernatural entities. It's easy to assume from earlier volumes that the supernatural creatures of Manila tend to keep to themselves, with Trese interceding of them as necessary, but that's apparently not the case, since (view spoiler)[the Higante (Giants) and Tikbalang clans do come together every so often at the Manila Polo Club for friendly games of football - or sipa, the Philippine version of sepak takraw, since the ball in play looks like the woven balls used for both sports (hide spoiler)].
It is these two things, along with the fact that the entire volume is one cohesive story arc, that I loved the most about Midnight Tribunal. They help to expand the universe in a way that Last Seen After Midnight didn't, providing insight into Trese's personal life, as well as laying the groundwork for possible future interactions, alliances,and even potential enemies.
But those things, unfortunately, are possibly the only things I found positive about Midnight Tribunal. It's clear to see that the whole thing had potential, that it was a great way to expand the Trese universe and lay the groundwork for something bigger down the line, but there was something lacking in execution.
My first issue is with the narration. There is a lot of "telling, not showing" going on throughout the issue, such as (view spoiler)[when Trese uses a small plastic bag showing the logo of a very well-known drugstore in this country as a focus to channel healing energies into another important character (hide spoiler)] - something she'd already done in a previous issue, and which had already been explained. Also notable - and rather irritating - were the frequent explanations of the action "onscreen," as it were, (view spoiler)[such as when Trese pays a visit to the Manila Polo Club to speak to the Tikbalang and Higante (hide spoiler)]. The art already shows what' going on quite clearly; there's no need for a mysterious narrator to inform the reader what's going on. It doesn't help that sometimes the narrator appears to sound like Trese herself is narrating - which would be okay, if the scenario called for it, but more often than not the art was good enough to do the speaking on its own.
My second issue is with the dialogue: something was off with it, especially when characters were code-switching. Most of the characters speak English, but occasionally a Filipino word will slip in there from time to time - and no, Trese's spell-casting doesn't count. Unfortunately, the code-switching tends to feel very awkward, something made obvious if one reads it aloud to oneself, or can actually "hear" it being read in one's head. This is especially true in one particular conversation between the Kambal, when they're calling each other gago, or stupid (though "stupid" doesn't quite encompass the nuance behind the word gago, truth be told). For some odd reason, the use of gago doesn't ring true through the entirety of the conversation - and the use of "gago-er", to indicate greater stupidity, made me cringe. I'm not entirely sure if there was a specific reason for this effect; if there was, I'm not quite seeing the point of it (or maybe I am and I'm not sure I like it); if there was no specific reason for that effect, then there's definitely something wrong with the dialogue, and that code-switching needs to be ironed-out. Sometimes it feels like the Filipino words (again, outside of Trese's spell-casting) merely serve a decorative purpose, placed there as a reminder to the reader of where the action is taking place and who these characters are. I'm not opposed to the incorporation of Filipino in a work that's mostly written in English, but I feel there should be a reason for that word to be there - such as when one single word can succinctly describe a concept that would, in English, take an entire paragraph to explain; or which has no equivalent concept in English; or whose nuances are better encompassed by the use of a Filipino word compared to the English equivalent.
My third issue isn't really an issue per se, but simply something that had me raising my eyebrow when it was first put out in the course of the story. (view spoiler)[For all this time Trese has been single - something that comes as no surprise, given the nature of her job. But in Midnight Tribunal, it's implied that Maliksi, a Tikbalang known from previous volumes, may - or rather does - outright have a crush on her, likely acquired after she busted his chops on illegal street racing some volumes back. While I have nothing against Trese being romantically involved with any other characters, human or otherwise, I just found it odd that this element to the plot should be introduced now. To be fair, it's early days yet in this new, developing storyline introduced in Midnight Tribunal (which includes a possible arch-nemesis for Trese), but I'm not entirely sure. Of course this could just be me, reacting to the way the concept was introduced in this particular volume, with minimal set-up from previous issues. Honestly, if I was asked to talk pairings and ships here I would say that there's far more evidence for Trese being paired up with one of the Kambal, but that's only because I've seen them work and grow together as characters for the last four volumes. Given time, perhaps, Maliksi's interest in Trese will be integrated more smoothly into the storyline in future volumes (hide spoiler)].
Overall, Trese Vol. 5: Midnight Tribunal, is a so-so addition to the Trese series. It does expand the universe some, and it does add more depth to Trese's personal history, but other issues, mostly pertaining to dialogue and narration may hamper personal enjoyment of the story. If approached with caution, and by a loyal fan, this may prove an enjoyable read, but it's not quite the best in the series so far, either. Hopefully, though, that will change with Volume Six. ...more
I love shopping with my friends. There's something to be said about the enabling nature of being in the company of people who like buying the same thiI love shopping with my friends. There's something to be said about the enabling nature of being in the company of people who like buying the same things as oneself, and weighing pros and cons before spending one's money (or not weighing them at all) is more enjoyable when you have a friend to consult with.
A few days ago my friend Hope and I decided to browse a local bookstore, not really expecting to find anything - except when we got to the graphic novels section, we found ourselves reaching for our wallets to make a purchase. Since we couldn't decide between the three graphic novels, we agreed that she'd buy the two cheaper ones, the prices of which, when added up, were comparable to the price of the one I bought, which we agreed was fair enough. We would just trade the three around when one of us was finished so we would both get to read all three.
The graphic novel I bought was titled Big Questions by Anders Nilsen. In a classic case of judging a book by its cover, Hope and I both thought it would be a worthwhile purchase because the cover is, to be honest, quite pretty: mostly white with a colored picture of a baby bird hatching out of a fighter jet pilot's helmet in a frame of intricately laced gray lines. And, okay, the blurbs on the back were quite interesting too, describing Nilsen's work as "unforgettable" and "subtle," with one blurb describing Nilsen himself as "a genius." High praise, and though normally I'm not swayed by blurbs that are placed there precisely because they praise a book to high heavens, I decided to just go with the flow and take a gamble.
In a way, that gamble has proven worthwhile. Big Questions is an interesting read, and though it looks simple on the surface, that simplicity masks something deeper, something that will likely take more than one reading of the book in order to truly understand and appreciate.
The closest comparison I can come up with for Big Questions is Craig Thompson's Habibi, which I have already reviewed. Both are long, involved reads, which, due to the nature of graphic novels, can conceivably be read in one sitting, but which the reader might not want to because the content is so rich that to read it in one sitting would be to do it an injustice. Visually, the art of both Big Questions and Habibi is done solely in black and white, though Nilsen's art is much simpler and more cartoony than Thompson's. The quality of the storytelling, however, is almost comparable, as long as the reader realizes that the story Nilsen is trying to tell in Big Questions is very different from the story Thompson tells in Habibi.
Actually, using the word "story" in the sense of it having a coherent beginning, middle, and end to describe what Nilsen does is to use the word a bit loosely. Big Questions is actually better described as a set of vignettes of varying sizes, initially distinct from each other until they gradually come together at the climax. The story - again used loosely - deals with a group of finches living in some unidentifiable stretch of meadow, which also has a few trees scattered here and there, an adjacent forest and a stream running through the forest. In the middle of the meadow lives an old woman and her mentally-challenged son, who supplies the finches with doughnut crumbs every so often. One day, though, a mysterious black egg drops from the sky, and pretty much changes everything.
The general feel of this book is that it's very surreal and dreamlike. Nilsen's art contributes to that: the bird characters (because there are others besides the finches, though the finches might be considered the protagonists) are practically indistinguishable from one another - the only way the reader can tell them apart is through dialogue and the titles of the individual vignettes. The human characters don't have names, and the only one that does might be viewed as being more than a little loopy so it's hard to say if that's even said character's name at all. The apparent lack of connection between the vignettes also contributes to the surreality of the entire thing. The art is also very simple, as I have already mentioned, but that simplicity makes everything rather stark and sharp in a way that a very vivid dream can be stark and sharp.
Another interesting point is the choice of title. It's hard to imagine what finches and humans have to do with big questions, after all. And what are those big questions, anyway? In truth, the title is as straightforward as it gets (and is probably the only really straightforward thing about the whole book): Big Questions is about the "big questions" we all face throughout our lives. Why is faith so important? Why do we constantly seek to give our lives meaning? Is that even possible? Why does death happen? How should we confront it? What is sanity?
Initially the asking of these questions is a bit heavy-handed, because one of the finches, Leroy, pretty much asks them all the time. Eventually Leroy is dealt with(in what I think is a funny, if brutal, illustration of how basic instinct can trump even the most cerebral of pursuits), and the asking of the big questions gets a bit more subtle from that point. It's a good thing Leroy is dealt with in the early parts of the book, so that his incessant questioning doesn't get in the way of the reader's own attempt to understand and give meaning to what's going on in the rest of the book.
The book also describes how one addresses the big questions is always different depending on what has just happened in one's life. Initially, most of the finches except for Leroy couldn't really care less about them - until the black egg drops out from the sky. Then the reader begins to see a crucial shift in some of the finches - the not-so-subtly-named Charlotte Evangelista, for instance. It pretty much goes downhill (in a rather good way) from there, because the black egg - and what it does later - is a catalyst for a whole lot of other, more interesting and thought-provoking things.
And now that I speak of the thought-provoking, there are two vignettes which appear in sequence that I enjoyed the most: the one titled "The Snake and the Owl" and "The Deep Hole." The first one deals with death, and whether one should "rage against the dying of the light" or just "go gentle into that good night," to quote Dylan Thomas. I find it intriguing that this discussion should be between two predators, whom one would think would most definitely not want to just roll over and give up while they still could, but it is interesting that one of them, at least, might prefer that particular option after a life of doing nothing but surviving.
"The Deep Hole" is also related to "The Snake and the Owl," and not just because it comes after that vignette. "The Deep Hole" continues the theme of death begun in the other vignette, except this time it's a riff on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, with some minor differences. It takes having read the other vignettes to understand why, but even the story of Orpheus and Eurydice had some bit of hope in it. It's possible to cross one's fingers and hope that Orpheus gets Eurydice out. "The Deep Hole" does not have that sense of hope. Even before the Orpheus figure finds his Eurydice, the reader already knows that she's not coming back with him, that he's going to climb out of that hole without her. On the other hand, though, there is a sense of relief, that now that the Orpheus figure knows he can't get his Eurydice out, he can only move forward in his life - even if he has to do it without her.
There are many, many other vignettes, of course, that ask a variety of interesting questions. For instance, the one titled "Betty's Soliloquy" is about questioning one's purpose in life: if it's the right one, if it's one imposed on oneself by others, or if it's something one has chosen. The character Curtis is in himself a walking (or flying) passel of questions, because he is pretty much The Skeptic of the entire book.
Big Questions is not the kind of book that one breezes through, as I said earlier. There is so much going on in it, so much that one can potentially dig through and discover, that it might take two, three, maybe four or more readings to truly appreciate what is going on in the story. The art might seem simple, but that simplicity only serves to highlight a very complex, very rich story. Does it answer the "big questions"? No, but it isn't supposed to. All it's meant to do is make the reader ask them, and attempt to suggest possible answers. And really, that's far more than a lot of other books attempt to do. ...more
One of the great monuments of storytelling is The 1,001 Nights, or The 1,001 Arabian Nights, as it has come to be known in the West. It is a collectioOne of the great monuments of storytelling is The 1,001 Nights, or The 1,001 Arabian Nights, as it has come to be known in the West. It is a collection of stories from various Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African cultures, gathered together over century upon century into the collection familiar to readers today. The first English translation of the stories first appeared in 1706, when it was known by the title The Arabian Nights' Entertainment.
The collection of stories contained within varies, depending on region and translator, but the frame story is almost always the same: a Persian king, traumatized by his wife's adultery, decides that all women must be like her, and weds a succession of virgins whom he executes the following morning, believing that doing so will prevent them from ever dishonoring him ever again. But when the realm runs out of virgins, the vizier's daughter, Scheherazade, volunteers herself as the next bride, and on the night of their marriage, she begins to tell the king a story, but ends it on a cliffhanger at dawn so that the king is forced to stall her execution until she finishes the story. She does so, but continues with another story, and on and on, for a few hundred nights or the literal one thousand and one, depending on the version one reads. Whatever the case, Scheherazade is spared the executioner's block, and she and the king live happily ever after.
The tales themselves are richly varied in their content: tragedies, comedies, romances, historical tales, poetry, even erotica. Sometimes these stories themselves form the frames for even more stories, so that, like Russian matryoshka dolls or Chinese nested boxes, the stories are layered, one within the other, forming a rich tapestry of narratives one could easily compare to the intricate latticework so common in Arabic decorative motifs.
Craig Thompson's latest work, Habibi, is easily compared to The 1,001 Nights, albeit the comparison is rather loose. True, there is a beautiful storyteller, and there is a king somewhere along the way, and the settings are strange and exotic, but this is absolutely not The 1,001 Nights. Habibi is about other things, things that are as timeless as The 1,001 Nights, but which are still valuable - and maybe more valuable - to contemporary readers.
On the most obvious level, Habibi is a story about two people: Dodola and Zam. Their first meeting in a slave market, with Zam still a very young child and Dodola just marked as a slave after her husband's murder, is not only fortuitous, but also fated. For several years after that first meeting and their subsequent escape from the slave market, they live together out in the desert, in a boat that has somehow been left behind in the middle of all that sand. But then things go terribly wrong when Dodola is captured by the sultan's men and brought to his harem, where she remains for several more years before a chance encounter with Zam - now a eunuch - brings the two of them back together again, never to be parted.
The novel is, of course, more than just that. With a page count in the upper 600s, there is more to Habibi than a simple love story, and yet love is one of, if not the most, important themes. The title itself, Habibi, is Arabic for "my beloved." But the love story is not so simple as the summary above might make it. It is far more complex than that, and is not only about romantic love. Like the layered stories in The 1,001 Arabian Nights, love as described and tackled in Habibi is layered and multifaceted, as complex as Arabian latticework. The love shared between Dodola and Zam is just one facet, one aspect: there is so much more said about love in the novel, so much that when the reader reaches that final page, one ends the story with a weight in one's heart and a tear in one's eye for all the love that has been found, lost, and found again.
Habibi also speaks of religion, and more importantly, of faith. The wars in the Middle East in the early 2000s, and the rise of the Arab Spring movement, make Habibi an incredibly timely book when one thinks of how prominent Islam has become in the world's consciousness. Some might be leery of reading Habibi, thinking it a Westerner's take on Islam and thus flawed. Perhaps this might be true, but as far as I can tell, Thompson does not write of anything that might be construed as insulting to any religion. He quotes from the Qur'an, and the hadiths, and the great poets of Islam, but he leaves it up to the reader to come to his or her own decision regarding the material. This is why I say this book is about faith and not religion, per se. That is not the point. Whatever one's religion might be, faith is by far more important. One can call God anything one wants, but this matters little in the long run, or in the end. Faith is what counts, and Habibi emphasizes this - a powerful reminder that, in the 21st century, what one calls one's God really shouldn't be as important as it was in the 10th to 11th centuries.
Another powerful and timely theme explored in the novel is that of humanity's relationship to nature. Over and over again ,the world that Dodola and Zam inhabit is described as "dead" or "dying." There is a water crisis going on, one that leaves the rich even richer and the poor even poorer, and those who cannot get clean water die from waterborne diseases, or starvation, or dehydration, or all or some combination of the above. Humanity has struggled to control nature, and while this has some immediate, short-term benefits, it has done far, far more harm than good. Again, this will resonate powerfully with readers who are aware of the possibility of such a crisis occurring in the world, or those who may have first-hand experience of such a crisis. One thing is clear in Habibi: if the earth dies, then it is most certainly humanity's fault for allowing greed to triumph.
And then there are the stories Dodola tells. A majority of them appear to be drawn from the Qur'an, and oftentimes Dodola includes a comparable Bible narrative, just to show how similar the primary books of Christianity and Islam are in reality. Given the source of these stories, any experience reading the Qur'an will help in appreciating both Dodola's stories and the main story itself, but it is not absolutely necessary. But this comparison between the Qur'an and the Bible is important in highlighting that the differences between Islam and Christianity - and indeed, in the races that subscribe to one or the other, or even to other faiths entirely - is so minor as to be unimportant. As Dodola realizes in a crucial moment towards the end ofthe novel: "There are no separations."
All of what has been mentioned so far is well and good, but what makes Habibi unique from all the other novels and books that tackle the same themes, whether separately or together, is Thompson's art. Using Islamic art and calligraphy as the basis for the art of Habibi, Thompson tells a story, already beautiful on its own, using some of the most beautiful and intricate artwork to have appeared outside of the most elaborately-decorated Qur'ans and mosques. While some might like to argue that coloring the entire thing would heighten the beauty of the artwork, I believe that the stark black-and-white brushstrokes that are Thompson's trademark are beautiful enough precisely because they are so sharp and crisp. Part of the beauty of Islamic artwork is that it is based on the precise, mathematical lines of geometry, but softened by the elaborate arabesques and labyrinthine curlicues evolved through the Islamic artists' love of natural forms. This creates an intricate, layered imagery that draws the reader in, creating a fairytale-like sense of the story being told. This style, when applied to the main storyline, Dodola's stories, and then built up by the inclusion of Arabic calligraphy (not all of which is Thompson's; this is clarified in the endnotes), creates the feeling of having stepped into a dream, as it were: an exotic, beautiful dream, but also savage and uncomfortable for the truths it reveals to the reader.
Habibi is simple, and yet complex. It is a love story, and yet so, so much more than just that. It explores many things, both simple and complex, but more often than not, what seems simple is far more complicated and multilayered than what might appear on the surface, and what appears complex is really quite simple, when one gets down to it. Just like the Arabic latticework designs that constantly appear throughout the novel, and just like the examples of calligraphy scattered all throughout, Habibi is a beautiful and heartbreaking exploration of how the simplest things are always the most important, and provide the foundations of everything that is great and enormous in the world....more
I was first introduced to the Trese series by a colleague of mine at the university I'm teaching at, who chose to discuss the comics as part of her clI was first introduced to the Trese series by a colleague of mine at the university I'm teaching at, who chose to discuss the comics as part of her class. She encouraged me to read them, and I was immediately hooked. I love mythology and folktales and horror, especially local ones. And I also love Mike Mignola's Hellboy, so falling in love with Trese really wasn't so hard.
But to call Trese a "Filipino Hellboy" would be doing a great disservice to its creator and writer, Budjette Tan, and its artist, KaJo Baldisimo. For one, the stories told and the way those stories are told are simply not in Mignola's style, or anyone else's for that matter. As I mentioned in another review, Tan's storytelling is very Filipino. There is a cadence, a rhythm, in the way he tells the stories that is rather unique to the way people tell stories in the Philippines, particularly the scary ones. And Baldisimo's art, while somewhat similar to Mignola's in that he also relies on chiaroscuro to create a specific look for Trese, his art is more fluid, less blocky, with fine, delicate lines adding and highlighting movement. To reiterate something I mentioned in the other review, Baldisimo's art looks like the city of Manila under the light of streetlamps, where those streetlamps exist. It's a very unique look, and Baldisimo captures it perfectly.
Three collections come before Last Seen After Midnight: Murder at Balete Drive, which introduced the world to Alexandra Trese, the Kambal, and the Manila they inhabit; Unreported Murders, which expanded on what was presented in Murders at Balete Drive and created set-up for what promised to be a collection full of revelations regarding the Kambal and Alexandra herself; and then Mass Murders, which did indeed prove to be very revelatory, explaining the Kambal's origins, as well as how Alexandra became Manila's newest protector.
With such excellent stories already told, it went without saying that readers wanted to know what happened next. Mass Murders raised many questions: where is Alexandra's grandfather? What happened to her brothers? Will any of them be showing up anytime soon? Is the Talagbusao gone for good or will he be making a comeback? Those were just some of the questions raised after Mass Murders, and many - or rather, I - was hoping I would get some answers.
Last Seen After Midnight turned out to be something else entirely, more like Murder at Balete Drive: a collection of cases with no connection to each other or to any greater story arc - or at least, a previously written story arc. While this is rather disappointing, the stories themselves are well-told, and fascinating all on their own.
Part of the reason why these stories are so interesting is that Tan draws upon Filipino pop culture and history - both past and recent - to form a basis for his stories, blending them with the eerie, shadowy creatures from myth and folklore for a world that is easy to get lost in. For instance, in the first story, "Cadena de Amor," Tan references incidents as reported in the news, as well as the ancient, older folklore about engkantos, sets it in a familiar place (in this case, Luneta Park and the Bay area), and throws in a popular song by the Eraserheads as the cherry on top of all that goodness. This is classic Trese at its finest, and it's a very strong way to open the collection.
The next story, "A Private Collection," did not prove as strong as the first one, mostly because it's central antagonist is not exactly a figure that's common in Filipino pop culture or folklore. (view spoiler)[The concept of a hunter who hunts for the next thrill, and is willing to do anything and everything to get that thrill, isn't one that's firmly embedded yet in the folkloric and pop culture memory of Filipinos. Sure, it's been featured often enough in TV and movies for it to be recognizable (the movie Predators will certainly ring more than a few bells), but it's not as interesting as the other Trese stories, which draw primarily from Philippine events, history, and folklore, and resorting only minimally to Western concepts or folklore. Had there been a similar kind of figure in the news, then perhaps it would have been more interesting, more relevant, but so far there has been no such thing reported.
Despite that, however, the hunter in "A Private Collection" is interesting because he is not the typical sort of opponent Alexandra encounters. Alexandra fights ghouls, ghosts, demons, engkanto and aswang, but rarely does she fight humans - and if she does, usually those humans are controlled by something supernatural, as was the case in the Talagbusao storyline in Mass Murders. For Alexandra to fight a fully-human, non-supernaturally-aided opponent is extremely intriguing, and is hopefully something Tan and Baldisimo will keep in mind, for a better story later on. (hide spoiler)]
Fortunately, the third story, "Wanted: Bedspacer," returns to more familiar ground: the concept of the bangungot, known to science as Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome, or SUNDS for short. Just like in "Cadena de Amor" and other Trese stories, the locations are familiar (especially to college students, who form a large bulk of the readership of Trese), and almost everybody knows what bangungot is. This is all well and good, and very familiar, but the way Tan has conceptualized the bangungot is a clear echo of Asian horror movies - something which might raise a few eyebrows. (view spoiler)[The idea that a bangungot is a spirit that clings to the brokenhearted (not necessarily brokenhearted from love), and essentially kills them by clinging to them and squeezing their heart until it stops beating, seems a bit like the Thai movie Shutter. Traditionally it is the batibat that causes bangungot by sitting on its victims, and Alexandra does mention this in the story, but then draws a distinction between the batibat and the bangungot. (hide spoiler)]
Despite this similarity, however, "Wanted: Bedspacer" might be viewed as a more direct continuation of the events in Mass Murders than the other three stories in the collection. (view spoiler)[When curing the inadvertent victims of the bangungot, Alexandra chants a song she learned "while up in the balete tree" - a direct reference to the events of her rite-of-passage in Mass Murders. Also, the final discussion she has with the doctor who was treating the patients, a discussion about letting go and moving on, seems to be a reference back to the events in Mass Murders where Alexandra's brothers, save one, all disappeared into the underworld to continue the fight there, while her own father died protecting the balete tree she was in. (hide spoiler)] If only for this link, any similarities to Thai horror movies might be forgiven.
But the intertextuality of Trese, already made clear in each and every story up until this point, reaches a peak with the last story in Last Seen After Midnight, titled "The Fight of the Year." This story is unique in that it is set outside of Manila, in General Santos City - and the location should already give the reader a very good idea as to who the main character (aside from Alexandra, of course) is in this story. (view spoiler)[While the idea of selling your soul to the devil is nothing new, and has already been used in previous Trese stories, what sets "The Fight of the Year" apart from all the rest is its reference to Manny Pacquiao, playing on the commonly-held belief that, like heroes in epics and folktales, whenever he fights, he is doing something good for the nation - the reason why he is called the "Kamao ng Bayan," the "Fist of the Nation." With every fight he wins, Pacquiao saves his country - and his equivalent in "The Fight of the Year" does just that on a more literal level. (hide spoiler)]
The level of intertextuality in "The Fight of the Year" - and indeed, in the Trese series as a whole - is the main reason why this series is so entertaining. Teasing out the references, reading the implied threads of meaning, is all part of the fun - and all part of why this series is as good as it is. To understand Trese, one has to understand, at least in part, the Philippines as it is today, but one also has to understand the Philippines as it was in the past. The reader can only see and appreciate the hidden threads of thought and reference in Tan's stories and Baldisimo's delicate black and white images if they are familiar with the Philippines - Manila, more specifically - as it was then, and now. And if the reader does not, then they are missing something great and wonderful indeed....more