Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hunting down the comics of my youth: The Raven Banner

Hunting down the comics of my youth: The Raven Banner
by rick olivares

Of late, I have been picking up a lot of the comic books that I enjoyed as a kid. Is that an indictment on the medium today? Somewhat.

There was a time when Marvel was not only producing terrific superhero comics but also mature and fantasy stories. In the 1980s, the House of Ideas came out with the Epic line and Epic Illustrated.

What was featured there? Arthur Suydam’s The Adventures of Cholly and Flytrap. Dean Motter’s and Ken Steacy’s The Sacred and the Profane. Dave Sim’s Cerberus. Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman. Chris Claremont’s and John Bolton’s Marada the She-Wolf. Michael Moorcock’s Elric. And there was Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar.  There was also J.M. DeMatteis’ and Jon J Muth’s Moonshadow.

Epic was so diverse that it was indie before indie was even a concept. In fact, they paved the way for Vertigo (as DC saw the success of Epic).

One original graphic novel that I loved was Alan Zelenetz’ and Charles Vess’ The Raven Banner that was a tale of Asgard.

In a nutshell, the story is about a young man who goes on a journey to retrieve the Asgardians gods’ enchanted Raven Banner that was stolen by some trolls after it was lost in battle. This Asgardian goes from an irresponsible son (his father was the bearer of the banner) to a noble warrior who loses his life at the end of the story during a battle with invading giants.

I have always loved Thor because of its mythological origins but what attracted me to The Raven Banner was largely Vess’ artwork. Along with P. Craig Russell who drew Elric as written by Roy Thomas, this was the closest I could get to the works of Frank Frazetta and Roger Dean whose works were so darn expensive.

If Frazetta was the epitome of high fantasy, and Dean, an architect of alien worlds and futuristic landscapes, Vess’ art was the first name in magical and mythological landscapes.

And Vess was the first – to my knowledge – to depict Asgard as something really out of myth instead of the gleaming spires of a futuristic city.

I became such a huge fan of Vess that I picked up his Marvel Fanfare #34-37 featuring The Warriors Three, Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth, The Books of Magic #3, Stardust, and hardcover collection, Drawing Down the Moon.

The Raven Banner could have been really good. The caveat there is the pacing by Zelenetz (who also wrote Alien Legion and Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu). The adventures of Greyval Grimson who seeks to redeem the stolen banner takes up a lot of story but when we arrive at the climax with the second battle on the plains of Ida, it is over in the space of two pages. It feels as if the ending was rushed.

But no matter. I loved this story as only a kid can.

I lost this graphic novel during Typhoon Ondoy along with many other cherished collections. In the years since, I have enjoyed the thrill and frustration of the hunt of tracking down my favorites books and issues. Many of the older issues have been collected in new hardcover novels or omnibus tomes. But The Raven Banner has been out of print.

I checked out my usual sources in the United States – Midtown Comics, The Strand, mycomicshop.com and milehighcomics.com but it is has been unavailable.

After a lengthy search, I was able to find it through the help of a stateside cousin in someone’s collection that was sold for the princely sum of $1.99. It’s not in mint condition but beggars cannot be choosers. Furthermore, it has aged gracefully. I am totally fine with it.

Now, I have three of those old over-sized graphic novels of my youth – The Raven Banner, Marada the She-Wolf, and Spider-Man: Hooky (as illustrated by the great Berni Wrightson whose inimitable style is kept alive today by the equally superb Kelley Jones).

And I feel like a kid all over again.

Monday, May 19, 2014

An out of body experience: The Other Half

An out of body experience: The Other Half
by rick olivares

Prepare to be shaken, rattled, and rolled with Noel Pascual’s and Mervin Malonzo’s The Other Half.

Stormy nights in the province. The setting is just right for kids scaring the bejeezus out of each other about foul creatures of the night. Only one of them, the human-eating manananggal, has made a house call. It looks as if this creature is about to make a meal out of an unsuspecting unbeliever when the parents arrive but not before their car hits something along the road.

Unfortunately for the manananggal, it’s the lower half that it leaves behind that is struck by the car sending it sprawling like road kill. Due to the inclement weather, the parents’ don’t spot the bloody stump but the unbelieving kid does.

In true cliffhanging fashion, the authors end the 14-page story right there leaving the reader to wonder if all hell is about to break loose or if the manananggal is going to go batty with its meal interrupted and lower half missing.

The prose and the art immediately sink their teeth into you. There is no more frightening story when it uses elements of your darkest fears and drops it in places where you’re supposed to be secure like your home and you’re with your family. And Malonzo’s watercolors perfectly capture the children’s stark terror about being home alone during a storm when the electricity goes down. Since the children have no reference point to base their image of the manananggal, they are depicted just as a child might illustrate a creature of the night. It’s a light counterpoint to the moody art that already lends to the chilling atmosphere.

I love the variety shown by Malonzo here. In the most excellent Tabi Po, there’s a Michael Zulli type of feel to his art. In The Other Half, it evokes Scott Hampton’s work in Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic.

And there’s a dark night (pun intended) moment when Kuya Roy says, “The manananggal’s gonna eat us” and he’s against the light with the winged creature at his back. I immediately thought back to Batman Year One where the Dark Knight crashes the dinner of corrupt public officials with a classic opening line, “Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well.”

Before this foul creature can be greeted with a “bon appĂ©tit,” the authors present a twist to manananggal stories. Everything I have watched and read before depicted the crazy brave searching for the lower half to seed with garlic and such only for the manananggal to catch them in the act.

In this story… it’s an “oh, sh*#” moment for all involved.

The Other Half is a fun read. You read it and go, “Oh, no. Oh, no! Oh, noooo!!!” And that is the essence of a horror comic.

Now I only have one thing to say to Noel Pascual and Mervin Malonzo…. I want the other half of the story.

Noel Pascual’s and Mervin Malonzo’s The Other Half can be downloaded from flipreads.com

Friday, May 16, 2014

This is Maktan! (on Tepai Pascual's awesome Maktan 1521)

This is Maktan
by rick olivares

There’s a moment when one of the local datus confronts Lapu Lapu. The chieftain of Maktan is on a short leash.

“Bakit tayong mga datu ay kailangan magbigay alay sa kanila,” Lapu Lapu angrily asks Zula. “Wala silang karapatan dito sa ating isla dahil sa atin ito. Itinayo pa ng ating mga ninuno para sa atin at hindi para sa mga dayuhan. Sinunog nila ang mga anito, tirahan at pati na rin ang mga tao. Pinatay nila si Pasla, ang mga babaylan at buong balangay nito. Sinaktan nila anak ko! Sa tingin mo ba… may lugar pa ba ang pakikipagkaibigan sa isip ko?”

I half expect Lapu Lapu to kick Zula into some bottomless pit and scream in defiance, “This is Maktan!”

My thoughts of Frank Miller’s 300 aside, Tepai Pascual’s highly romanticized retelling of Lapu Lapu’s heroic repelling of Spanish colonialism in Maktan 1521 is a milestone in Filipino komiks. It’s groundbreaking because there aren’t many local komiks that re-tell historical events. Right now there’s Steve Magay’s and Dax’s Kayaw that is a fictionalized story of Kalinga warriors fighting the Japanese occupation in the Mountain Province. But that’s it.

As a history buff, I highly appreciate Pascual’s work. While a lot of creators mine our country’s rich folklore and mythology, she chooses to delve into a pivotal moment in our country’s history. Well, technically, the Philippines wasn’t a country just yet. Nevertheless, the events that led to the Battle of Mactan are firmly entrenched as a crucial moment in Philippine history as it put into motion the gears for a more concerted colonization.

We all know how the story starts and how it will end. What Tepai does is provide a story in between. Remember… this isn’t a historical re-telling but a highly romanticized version so that means there’s some love in the air ala Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic (Sawili and Mawo/Maya) and touch of Braveheart and the betrayal of Robert the Bruce (Paril and Sawili) as we can see how the arrival of the Spaniards creates tension that simmers and then boils into a conflagration.

Although recorded history shows us that Lapu Lapu’s forces learned the weakness of the Spaniards when they had to wade through the low tide under heavy armor (thus removing other metal parts that would only slow and drown them), Pascual depicts how an angry Sawili learns of this Achilles Heel when he attacks a squad of Spanish soldiers who just shot and killed Kino.

The first part of Maktan 1521 tells of entreaties to submit to the Spanish King and initial skirmishes. It ends with a pissed off Magallanes ready to put the stubborn natives to the sword.

Pascual’s pacing is good. Even while introducing new characters into this story, she doesn’t let it drag into non-essential stuff. As a result, it keeps you glued to the story and by the time you get to the last page you wonder when the conclusion is coming out.

Black and white art is an acquired taste. If you’ve been reading Filipino komiks for a while now, then Wasted and Trese should have opened up your taste buds already. Pascual’s Maktan 1512 is offers different fare in an increasingly delicious menu of storytelling fare.

And Tepai’s art is clean and save for a few panels where there’s too much shade/black that you take a few minutes to try and figure out what happened or what is being conveyed.

The wrap-around cover is in full color and teases at what Pascual can fully accomplish given the resources to produce a comic book.

Maktan 1521 is not only a feather in Tepai Pascual’s cap but for local komiks. If you are a fan of local komiks then this should be in your collection.


You can find Maktan 1521 at Comics Odyssey in Robinson's Galleria!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fabio Moon's & Gabriel Ba's Daytripper: Life or something like that

Daytripper: Life or something like that
by rick olivares

Welcome to your new personal Brazilian gurus not named Paulo Coehlo.

In the award-winning Daytripper from Vertigo comics, twins brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba tell a deeply moving story about Bras de Oliva Domingos who wants to write about life but instead writes about death as an obituary writer for the Sao Paulo Journal.

Daytripper is a wonderful and different extrapolation of such a clichĂ©-ish term about a character’s life and times and eventual death. For the most part of this 10-chapter story that is set in the twins’ native Brazil, it always ends with Bras’ death just when he comes to a late realization that he should acted rather than remain aloof.

Yet each succeeding chapter moves forward in time with Bras having finally done “the right thing” such as living in with a girl he met or pursuing this other girl he’s smitten with and so forth. It’s a subtle way of saying that life cannot be lived backward only forward.

Bras grows out of what was once a sedate life and goes where the tides take him to paraphrase Moon’s line from Chapter Two where he meets the exotic looking Olinda, “You could say the tides brought me here. Oh, you know. I’ve been going to different and exotic places, meeting interesting people. Just going with the flow.”

This is reinforced later on when over lunch with his father who bares an anecdote in his relationship with Bras’ mother, “I told her I wanted to be a writer and that I knew a great romance was waiting for me to write it. She smiled and said she hoped a great romance was waiting for me to live it.”

However, as Bras soon learns, not everything turns out the way he expected it to be and with every flow there is the eventual ebb. The once steamy relationship he found himself in with Olinda has degenerated into one were hurtful words are used liberally and fights are routine. Obviously, love is out of the window and Bras finds himself alone once more. In the meantime though, tough as it may be, life has to go on.

Like most failed relationships, Bras rebounds and finds his wife but not after combatting his initial shyness. Wasn’t that the whole point – to go for it and leave no regret?

And yet, for all of Bras’ search for love and life with Ana (the girl he meets inside steals his heart and eventually marries), his parents continue to play an even larger role. All the words of advice they imparted that perhaps having entered through one ear only to exit through the other have come true. And in his father’s final message to his son via a letter, the singular truth about Daytripper is revealed: “Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go and make the best out of life.”

Moon, who wrote this story, drops so many nuggets of wisdom that he gives Mitch Albom a run for his money. But don’t take them out of context at the risk of sounding sappy.

For all the beauty of Moon’s prose, Gabriel Ba’s artwork on Daytripper makes it a visual masterpiece. If those photos of Rio and Copacabana haven’t been enough to entice you then welcome to the Lonely Planet’s version of comics. Ba’s Brazil only adds to the exotic look and gives you a glimpse beyond the favelas and football stadia. There’s Rio Vermelho on Iemanja’s Day and the rural life of Acemira and the countryside.

The true beauty of Daytripper is that it can be interpreted in so many ways – an awakening, a journey, finding one’s place in the word, living life to the fullest, living not only for today but also for tomorrow. It will leave you thinking with the lush illustrations firmly imprinted in your mind like a postcard of a good memory from some beautiful far-flung place. And isn’t that the way a good story should be?

After reading Fabio Moon’s and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper, you’ll hug your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/child/dog, make a phone call to your parents and tell them that you love them, or you’ll finally follow that childhood dream that you abandoned because life got in the way.

Or you can tell a dear friend that they should read Fabio Moon’s and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper. And watch as it affects them just as much as it affected you.

Notes: Daytripper is available in trade paperback and deluxe edition format. I wholeheartedly recommend the deluxe edition because of the better paper and the additional sketches.