The TRESE universe (click image for a larger version)
It was only late last year that I was introduced to the world of TRESE (sad, I know) by one of my good friends V. Lately I’ve been too caught up with my readings from foreign writers both in novel and comic book form that I failed to see the thriving local talent here *guilty*. TRESE, a comic book series by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, truly opened my eyes to what I was missing out on in my own backyard. All at once from the first book in this comic book series, I found myself on an awesomely thrilling and engaging reading adventure that went through the mysterious and supernatural cases in the inner bowels of Metro Manila and it just left me wanting more and more of that enchanting action.
The comic book series focuses on Alexandra Trese, who is best described as an occult detective figure, and her investigations of supernatural crime in the modern day Metro Manila. Working in league with the local police department, Alexandra Trese acts as a ‘consulting detective’ when seemingly normal crimes around the Metro take a turn for the odd, fantastic and supernatural. The stories or in this case, ‘cases’ in TRESE used Filipino mythological and horror icons and themes with a contemporary twist (aswangs working in meat shops and I would very much love to learn how to summon a santelmo through a cellphone whenever I want some company or someone to chat with).
We have to note that the premise doesn’t focus on the sudden eruption of the supernatural/underworld into the human realm but that the supernatural is ever-present among us in society. They aren’t considered anomalies but they are “hidden” and continue to thrive in society, whether through a supernatural criminal underworld (with the kaluluwa smuggling operations) or as contributors to the society in general (a tikbalang clan allied with a prominent family residing in Makati).
With this, it is Alexandra’s responsibility as the babaylan (healer) and mangdirigma (warrior) of the city to bring balance whenever the balance of the human and supernatural realm is disrupted and to keep one from spilling over the other. Unlike other comic book witches/mages/etc., Alexandra has no superpowers. The power she manifests derives from magical skill and know-how. And yet, she is one of the most dynamic heroines I’ve ever encountered and the how she doesn’t take any aswang bullshit is commendable, and she became an instant favorite heroine.
There are currently five books in this series: Murder on Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, Mass Murders, Last Seen After Midnight, and the most recent Midnight Tribunal. TRESE clearly falls under the occult detective genre and explores supernatural themes similarly found in Hellblazer, Hellboy, American Gods and even folkore narratives found in Japanese manga and anime (XXXHolic).
What I love about TRESE is a new insight they put on age-old Philippine folklore, which gave me nostalgic feelings by remembering how the stories of the tikbalang, kapre, sirenas were told to me by my mom and lolo and now I get to revisit to stories in a new refreshing light which is pretty awesome. I have to admit that I’m not THAT familiar when it comes to Philippine mythology and folklore so it was a very educational read for me as well (duwendes can be bribed with Chocnut and the true nature of the bangungot) Also, I have to give an approving nod how they incorporated some local urban legends in the stories (a tenant of the basement of Robertson’s Mall is a dragon boy who’s fond of young girls and sometimes helps Alex with her cases) and Pinoy popular culture (the story that features Mars Ravelo’s Darna is one of my favorites in the series).
Another thing I love is the narrative of how Alexandra’s approach to resolving these conflict between good and evil on Philippine soil puts the unique Philippine culture in perspective. Alexandra’s adventures on solving crimes also take us through a realistic portrayal of culture and life in Metro Manila, which made me think again what if the whole supernatural thing was happening right under our noses. The specific road map of the crime scene that appears before each case is presented, which are actually real places in Metro Manila, is a wonderful touch to the narrative and adds to the imagination of the reader and it’s something that really takes me there inside the story (it also helps that I’ve been to almost all of the locations where the “cases” happened).
For the art, I have to say Kajo Baldisimo’s clean and dynamic black-and-white style makes the comic truly unique and the effective rendition of shadows, chiaroscuro and clear details adds to the over all eerie urban-jungle-after-dark feel of the stories. It doesn’t need those shocking splashes of color, overemphasized details and exaggerated lines found in most graphic heavy-comics these days and I love it that way.
After storming through all five books within three days, I also found myself in a storm of emotions for all that happened so far. My particular favorites was the gripping tale of the warrior deity Talagbusao manifesting and wrecking havoc in Mass Murders and ‘The Fight of the Year’ which presents Manuel—the counterpart of the boxing champion Manny Pacquiao in the TRESE universe—and an alternate origin of his success in boxing. It is true that there is no crime presented in ‘The Fight of the Year’ but it features one of the strongest dialogue in the series between Manuel and Alexandra and what it means to be a hero protecting your territory, whether it’s Manila, GenSan, the whole Philippines or anywhere for that matter.
On a random note I’m proud to say that Ana Micaela Chua, one of the people I admire most and my high school Arts Club’s former (and beloved) president, was one of the esteemed members of the Philippines’ panel sent to The 1st Global Conference: The Graphic Novel held at Mansfield College in Oxford last Sept. 7 to 9, 2012 to discuss the various angles of Philippine komiks. It was during their panel that she presented her paper on TRESE entitled ‘Enabling Mythologies: Specificity and Myth-making in TRESE’. It’s an amazing and incredible feat to be able to represent and introduce pinoy komiks in a global discourse and TRESE truly deserves to be shared to an international audience. You can read more about it here.
All in all, TRESE is an awesome and rewarding regarding experience and I totally recommend it to everyone, whether you’re a comic book fan or not, to check it out. It’s impossible not to get yourself immersed in this series and the stories just hit close to home (no pun intended). The best part is that it’s written in English instead of Tagalog so everyone (Tagalog native, Filipino or not) can actually enjoy it.
Regrettably, I don’t own copies of the first five books of the series but once the 6thbook comes out, I won’t hesitate to grab myself a copy to experience that amazing forgetting-everything-around-you and just-wanting-to-know-what-happens-next feeling again.
For sure, I know I won’t be alone thinking Sy Tan’s hoard is lurking somewhere ready to attack GenSan whenever
Manny Manuel loses a fight or wishing that they had Alexandra’s babaylan skills to utilize the healing powers found in the plastic bag of Mercury Drug to cure an illness.
Until the next book guys!