Tagged: Mystery

Trese, Vol. 2: Unreported Murders by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldismo
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Trese, Vol. 2: Unreported Murders by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldismo

I feel like I did this already, but that was a decade ago, so maybe I need to do it again.

Also, and probably more importantly, the last time I talked about this book, it wasn’t actually available at my end of the Pacific at all, which made my praise slightly beside the point for most people. But, luckily, the Trese books are now coming out from Ablaze: the third volume hit in January and the fourth (which is beyond where I saw the first time around) is coming in May. 

But, here we are with Trese 2: Unreported Murders , collecting what were four issues of the floppy-comics series of the same name, originally published in the Philippines sometime in the mid-Aughts. (See also my post from last year on the first book in its Ablaze edition.) Trese is our main character: Alexandra Trese, who runs a bar in Manilla and also is called in by the police on “weird” cases.

This is an urban fantasy, of the common subset that assumes every folkloric or imagined creature is real – they’re all out there somewhere, and they interact with each other and mankind in complicated and often violent ways. Sometimes they need to be dealt with, or just figured out. That’s what Trese does, and what – as we get some hints in these stories – her father did before her.

On a base level, Trese is just good urban fantasy: taut, exciting, full of action and mystery and strangeness. For Filipinos, there’s the added frisson that the fantasy creatures are all part of their folklore – this isn’t yet another story full of the same old boring werewolves and vampires and tedious brain-eating zombies. For non-Filipinos, I think that’s an even better point: these are strange creatures. I don’t know what they are, what they might do, how they connect to the world, what their powers and concerns are. Fantasy all too often falls into the familiar; Trese has no truck with that.

And even more than that, Trese has the secret weapon of KaJo Baldismo’s art. Writer Budjette Tan gives him a lot to work with, true – all of those strange and frightening creatures, all of the odd corners of urban life where they lurk – but Baldismo’s pages, more often with black backgrounds than white, are gloriously detailed and atmospheric, moving from sketchy figures obscured by mist to tight close-ups on detailed faces quickly and confidently. And don’t get me started on the creatures he draws: Baldismo draws the details of horror as well as anyone since Swamp Thing-era Steve Bissette, and has a similar taste for both small things crawling and damp things flying.

As I said, this book collects four stories, four cases. They all have a similar structure: something bad is happening, Trese is called in, and it all gets worse before she fixes it, with the aid of her two bodyguards (not explained here, though they’re clearly something folklorically specific, like all of the other supernatural elements), her connections, and her knowledge. They’re good stories, creepy and specific and dark and ominous and startling. And, these days, they’re easy to find in the USA, so there’s no excuse not to read them.

kupbezrecepty.com

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Young Shadow by Ben Sears

Sometimes a creator’s different instincts and plans don’t always play nice with each other. For example, a costumed-hero story has certain standard tropes: the hero can always leave the bad guys tied up with a nice note for the authorities and the reader knows that means justice has and will be done.

But if the same creator wants to do a story about corrupt cops in what seems to be a deeply corrupt city, tying up those cops will not have the same expected result: it just means their compatriots will untie them, maybe make fun of them, maybe get angry on their behalf. Frankly, it would just annoy Certain People even more: that’s an event for the middle of the story, not the end.

So I’m not as happy with Ben Sears’s new graphic novel Young Shadow  as I was with the last book of his I read, House of the Black Spot . Black Spot had villains who could be dealt with by mostly offstage Forces of Justice, and heroes whose modus operandi was a bit more complex and nuanced than the costumed-hero standard of “run around the city at night

Menopauze – Behandeling online

, asking people if there’s any trouble, and then get into fights with people whose look you don’t like.” That’s very close to Young Shadow’s exact words: he’s the hero, so the book says he’s right to do so, but his actions are exactly those of a bully or criminal gang: find someone doing something you object to (in this case, “rebel against your rich parents by drinking in the park and not bathing”), use violence on him.

If I were being reductionist, I’d say Young Shadow is “the Jason Todd Robin in an ACAB world.” We don’t know what Young Shadow’s real name is, or his history: we meet him on patrol, in Bolt City. He’s in tactical gear, with a domino mask, and he’s good at violence but signposted to be on the side of righteousness – the first time we see him fight, it’s to help a maltreated dog. Sears’s rounded, clean art style isn’t great at communicating this, though: Shadow says the dog is malnourished and dehydrated, but Sears draws him exactly the same then as later in the story, or like any other dog, just with his eyes closed most of the time.

Shadow doesn’t appear to have any real home. Maybe a bolt hole or three where he sleeps, or stashes gear, or keeps whatever other stuff he has. It’s not a “this guy is homeless” situation; it’s just not important. What he does is patrol as Young Shadow. What he does is protect the city. Anything else he does is not even secondary.

Shadow has a network of friends, or maybe informants. They’re the people of this neighborhood, or maybe multiple Bolt City neighborhoods. A number seem to be the owners of small businesses: a “lantern shop,” places that look a lot like bodegas, an animal shelter. They would tell Shadow about miscreants in their areas, we think – but, in this book, they don’t talk about nuts dressed up like wombats planning elaborate wombat-themed crimes, but instead about the night shift of the Bolt City Police Department. Those cops are acting suspicious, searching for things in a more furtive way than usual for cops. It’s not super-clear if there are elements of the BCPD, or any aspect of Bolt City governance, that is generally trusted by the populace. My guess is no. There is definitely some generalized “never talk to the cops about anything” advice, as with similar communities in the real world.

We do get some scenes from outside Shadow’s point of view, to learn that there are Sinister Forces, and that they encompass both the young malcontents Shadow beat up in the early pages and those crooked cops. (Well, maybe not crooked: they’re not soliciting bribes. We don’t even see them beat up or harass anyone. It’s just that Young Shadow is set in a world with people who totally mistrust cops for reasons which are too fundamental to even be mentioned.) There is an Evil Corporation, as there must be, and both a villain with a face and a higher-up Faceless Villain. Their goals are pretty penny-ante for an Evil Corporation: get back a big cache of crowd-control weapons and tools, get some more pollution done quickly before the law changes.

Shadow spends a lot of time wandering around looking for these people. I’m not sure if Sears is trying to make the point that this is not a useful tactic, or that Shadow is good at the violence stuff, but not so much at the finding-appropriate-avenues-for-violence stuff. I thought he did make those points, deliberately or not. Eventually, another vigilante appears: Spiral Scratch. (At first in a closed helmet, which I was sure meant it would be a character we’d seen before. But nope.) The flap copy calls SS the sidekick of Shadow, but the opposite is closer to the truth: Scratch is more organized and planful, and Shadow wouldn’t get much done alone.

In the end, our two forces of righteous violence find the thing the Forces of Evil are searching for, and dispose of it with the aid of an order of robot nuns. (I do enjoy the odd bits of Sears’s worldbuilding.) And they tie up some of the henchmen, which, as I mentioned way up top, will probably not lead to anything like punishment for them.

So I’m left wondering if there’s going to be a sequel: it feels like this story isn’t really over, that our vigilante heroes haven’t actually solved any underlying problem by punching a few people. And I also think I like Sears when his characters are detecting and talking rather than punching. But I like that in general, so that’s no surprise. People who like more punching in their comics may have a different opinion, and God knows they’re very common – if you’re one of them, give Young Shadow a look.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Trese, Vol. 1: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan & KaJo Baldisimo

Thirteen years ago, I saw this book for the first time (in an earlier edition). I was fairly late: it was published in comics form several years before that, but I did have the slight disadvantage of being on the other side of the world.

I was impressed then; I’m equally impressed now. The Trese stories are great urban fantasy in comics form: taking a lot of the standard furniture of the genre (attractive young female protagonist with a mysterious past, powerful protectors, and a complicated relationship with the local supernatural powers, plus a lot of the mystery-plot aspects) and using them well, while also centering on very specific supernatural elements that we non-Filipinos are unfamiliar with. (See also my post on the third volume ; that’s as far as I’ve seen so far.)

It didn’t have to be Philippine mythology: there are probably dozens of places in the world that could support a similarly new and energetic series, from Vietnam to Nigeria to Chile to Nunavut. (Not the Lake District or Transylvania or Bavaria.) But these creators were Filipino, so that was the world they knew, and they have been making great use of it.

The good news is that you can find Trese now, which you mostly couldn’t for the last decade. (After I lost my copies in the flood of 2011, I didn’t have them, either.) The American comics company Ablaze published an edition of this first collection, Murder on Balete Drive , late last year, and the second one is scheduled for June. There’s an animated series on Netflix, though some googling hasn’t gotten me to any solid information on the date it will be (or was?) released. With any luck, the rest of the eight books published in the Philippines will come here (and the rest of the world) as well, and creators Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo can spend more time making these stories and less time being high-powered global advertising guys.

Balete Drive collects what were the original first four issues, all standalone stories. Baldisimo has redrawn the art, so it’s even stronger than it originally was: stunningly inky and atmospheric, in a style immediately accessible to Americans but still inherently Filipino. (Remembering how many Filipinos have done great work in American comics for the past six or seven decades, this should not be a surprise.) Tan has added short sections after each story to give a little more background on the supernatural entities in each section – these aren’t necessary, but they’re useful for us non-Filipinos. So this is the best possible edition of these stories: possibly annoying to Filipinos who have been supporting it for a decade, but gratifying to those of us elsewhere in the world who finally get to see it for ourselves.

All of the stories are about Alexandra Trese. She’s young, she’s called in when the Manila police have a weird case that they don’t know what to do with, she has skills and knowledge and contacts that can solve those problems – usually in ways that at least do not add more violence. But the supernatural is a dark and dangerous place, for anyone caught up in it and and possibly even for Trese. Her father, Anton, was respected and powerful but does not seem to be around now – and she’s very clear she is not her father. So there are story hooks for later, set carefully and with skill.

These are the first four cases of hers we know about. They clearly were not the first cases of her life: Tan and Baldisimo may some day go back and tell those stories. (They may already have.) They are dark and dangerous cases, with various monsters causing trouble and relationships that need to be carefully talked back into place. Luckily, Manila has Alexandra Trese to do that for them.

And, luckily, you have the stories of Alexandra Trese to look forward to.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Maria M. by Gilbert Hernandez

If you are me, you will have noticed that this post is not tagged “I Love (And Rockets) Mondays,” and that it is not appearing on a Monday. If you are not me, you did not notice and do not care.

But that tiny, silly issue of nomenclature is at very central to this book — Gilbert Hernandez’s full-length graphic novel Maria M.  is not a “Love and Rockets” story. But it is a meta-Love and Rockets story, a comics version of a movie from his L&R world, like his previous stories Chance in Hell and The Troublemakers  and Love from the Shadows . (And then there’s Speak of the Devil, which is really weird — supposedly the “true story” of the events that inspired a movie of the same name within the L&R world, so the true fictional version of something that we previously half-saw a fictionalized fictional version of.)

So this is a version of the story we’ve already seen part of in Poison River  – but Hernandez is specifically telling us it is a packaged story, designed for a purpose, turned into fiction and cleaned up for a particular audience. I think it’s meant to be a ’90s movie set mostly in the ’60s, something from the Goodfellas era, in a world where that gangster era was more Latin than Italiano.

And, of course, all of Hernandez’s graphic novels are fictions. But the level of fiction in them is clearly important to him: that some are the “real” story and some are the sensationalized movie version. This one is a movie version, but Maria M. looks to be a relatively big-budget, moderately prestigious picture – probably not made with serious expectations of Oscars, but one that would be reviewed well and remembered fondly, that was a strong stepping-stone for its cast and crew and a sturdy, dependable, engrossing piece of entertainment for its era.

It is is that: Hernandez is good at making fictions that resemble other fictions. (Though, this time out, he isn’t deliberately trying to ape wide-screen images with his panels, the way he mostly did with the earlier movie-books; Maria M. is laid out like a “normal” Hernandez comic, with standard panel progressions and lots of variations in size.)

And the story itself? We are somewhere unclear. From Poison River, we know it’s an unnamed Latin American country, but here it’s left entirely unspecified. It’s probably that same country; it’s probably not the US. We begin in the late ’50s; Maria is a voluptuous eighteen and has no daughters. Unlike Hernandez’s Palomar and Luba stories, Maria M. is not about family – not about that kind of family, not about Maria’s family. It is about family in the way that all gangster stories are.

Over the course of the next couple of decades, she weaves in and out of the lives of a group of pornographers and gangsters, many of whom become obsessed with her. She never accomplishes much, never gets rich and famous the way she wants to be, never really gets out. But she does come to be happy with what she gets, as far as we see, which is not nothing.

The later parts of the story are largely about her relationship with the fictional version of Gorgo – I won’t spoil any of that, but I mean “relationship” in an expansive sense that is not at all equivalent to sitting-around-talking-about-our-feelings. This is a Hernandez book about gangsters, and a crime movie presented on the page: there will be gunplay and ambushes and torture and various horrors along the way. But Hernandez means this to be a movie, and he knows how movies are supposed to be structured: he knows how audiences want movies to end.

Maria M. is the most successful of the Hernandez movie-books, which is unsurprising. It was designed to be the capstone of them to begin with: the book that was actually based on a good, successful movie, with the biggest dramatic sweep and the strongest story. We should not be surprised that Gilbert Hernandez can make a strong, crowd-pleasing story when he sets out to do it; we should remember that he usually sets out to do different things each time.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.