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).