Last weekend, I was trying to get into reading Noli Me Tangere for my Required Reading challenge and because it was Independence Day. Unfortunately, I was having a hard time getting started — it is one of our National Hero’s masterpieces written during the Philippines’ Spanish era, so the language was a bit dated. I had a hard time getting into the book so I perused my shelf for something easier to read, but still Filipino because like I said, it was our country’s independence day.
So I said hello to Alexandra Trese again. :)
I can’t remember who told me about the Trese series — I probably read it in one of the many blogs I’m following. Since I was on a mission to read more Filipino work last year, I knew I should read it, even if I only bought myself the first copy. I got it, read it in an hour, and liked it but never got to review it. I even met the authors during the Metro Comicon last year, but I’m not a comic girl, so I wasn’t really that interested, or starstruck, unlike some of my friends were. Fast forward a few months later, after getting the next books and discussing graphic novels with Ariel (who gave me Books 2 and 3 for Christmas), I finally cracked them open.
Trese # 1: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo
Visprint, 104 pages
When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.
Trese is a comic book series about Alexandra Trese, a bar owner who also works as a paranormal detective helping the Manila police in solving the weirder crimes that happen in the metro. Each book has a series of shorter stories inside, where we see Trese find the criminal through her contacts in the paranormal world. As it’s set in the Philippines, Trese’s paranormal contacts are all from the Philippine mythology — aswang, duwende, tikblang, etc.
I remember reading the first book last year and being impressed — it was very nice to read about something I know and grew up with given a different twist. Trese was likeable despite her very cold demeanor, and she immediately joins the strong female leads that I have read about in other books. I do find her a little bit too perfect in this though — perfect in the sense that she knows everything and she does everything right. I would’ve wanted her to mess up a bit, but that may be too much for me to ask in the first book.
The cases were interesting, and they tread carefully between the line of paranormal and horror (is there a line there? Not sure). I liked how it related to what I know as a Filipino, but not in the classic, dated sense. I liked that the story was set in places in Manila and how they were updated to the current times. No deep dark forests or remote provinces were the creatures normally lurk here, for sure. It’s fun, and thankfully not scary enough for me to really freak out, you know?
Yeah, I know, I’m a big chicken. :P
On the international front, I think Trese would be able to hold its own with a bit of limitation. I don’t think it’s very hard to understand, but I think the mythology would take some time to get used to and would need more research for a non-Filipino reader to understand. It’s easy for me to wrap my head around the creepiness of Balete Drive because I live here, but for someone in another country, I’m not sure if the creepiness factor would be the same. Still, I’d like to see how non-Filipino readers would view Trese.
Trese # 2: Unreported Murders by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo
Visprint, 88 pages
When dusk arrives in the city of Manila, that’s when you become the most likely prey of the criminal underworld.
Kidnappers and thieves will be the least of your worries.
Beware the criminals that can’t be bound with handcuffs nor harmed with bullets.
Beware the ones that crave for your blood, those who hold your heart ransom, and the ones that come to steal your soul.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.
The second Trese volume takes a turn to include some of the Filipino urban legends instead of just sticking with the usual lower Philippine mythology. It still has the same approach as the first book, only I find the stories here closer to what I know. Growing up in the city has obviously lessened my exposure to the remote areas of my country. That’s where most of the creatures are said to lurk, so I’ve always been more secure with the idea that there were less things that go bump in the night here. Or …so I thought. The second book had dark parking lots, mall urban legends, and creepy villages that make living in the city a little bit more creepy than usual.
I’m not a fan of horror, so I’m easily freaked out by other things, and Trese Book 2 successfully did that for me. I liked it, I liked that it had a lot of action and interesting stories. This book had zombies in it, too. But I did have that freaked out feeling after finishing this book — the one that made me open all the lights in the darkened areas of the house, one that made me retreat inside the house from the terrace after realizing that open air could mean aswang. LOL, how lame of me, I know. But kudos to this book for doing that to me.
On another note, though, I liked how they always tied up the paranormal creatures with values that us humans have. Things like selfishness and greed and apathy always had a bad effect on others, only amplified here because the underworld was disturbed by our own evil. I liked it how when Trese said that the underworld is just like our world, only payback is different. I think it gave this more substance, and not just fantasy for the sake of having magical creatures in and whatnot.
I’m not one to comment on the art, but I do kind of feel bad about the book’s binding. The paper quality leaves a bit more to be desired, but the binding is weak. Some pages are ready to fall off after I opened them a little bit too wide. :/ Nevertheless, the second book, while short, is a good follow up.
Trese # 3: Mass Murders by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo
Visprint, 140 pages
12 midnight at Metro Manila.
Try to remain calm if you suddenly spot a tikbalang speeding down EDSA or a manananggal swooping across the Makati skyline. While partying at the Fort, never ever let the enkanto at the bar buy you a drink.
Yet, there are deadlier things than walk the streets of this city.
One of them now demands blood and sacrifice.
When crime takes a turn for a weird, the police call Trese.
When I finished the second book, I was very, very glad to have the third book on hand, because despite my being successfully creeped out, I still wanted more. The thinness of the second book guaranteed a thirst for more Trese, and I think the creators satiated that thirst with the third volume.
Instead of the usual unconnected paranormal crimes, the third book regales us with Alexandra Trese’s history. We are introduced to the Trese clan, especially Alexandra’s father and grandfather, how she became what she was now and the prophecy that surrounded her birth. We are also introduced to how the Kambal (the two guys in masks who act as Trese’s bodyguards and helpers) came to be who they are, and what those masks represent. We get to know what makes Trese special (or not), and even what her outfit means. And, we also get to know one of Trese’s greatest nemesis, one that I am pretty sure would make a come back in the future books.
I love exploring a character’s history, so this third book is my favorite of all so far. I loved seeing the younger Trese, I loved reading about her family and her “weapons”. I liked how this book showed a little more of who she is, and how she became a little bit cold and aloof. This book showed her with a little more emotion, although I kind of wished for a bit more I guess. Still, this book showed greater insight on this heroine that I’ve already started liking a lot. I am also very glad that the Kambal were given a focus here, even if I was a tiny bit confused at first because I thought the Pack was the Kambal, too. I liked their character development, how they changed and became Trese’s friends, too.
I’m not much into graphic novels, as I mentioned before, but I really liked Trese. I am glad to say that Alexandra Trese has just joined the list of my favorite heroines in 2011. I now join the other fans in eager anticipation of the next volume (sometime this year, I hope). The authors posted a preview of a one of the cases here — but I must say: more, please? :)
2011 Challenge Status:
4-6 of 20 Filipino Books in 2011
Book 1 – bought from Fully Booked
Books 2-3 – Christmas gift from Ariel (Thank you! :) )
Covers and blurbs: Goodreads