Sep 6, 2010

Comics Cube! Reviews: Bathala: Apokalypsis #1

You folks may remember a month ago, on my birthday, I plugged Bathala: Apokalypsis #1 by David Hontiveros and Ace Enriquez. I didn't review it then, since I have this policy of not reviewing anything unless I read it in print (no Scans Daily reviews here), but since I went to Metrocon a couple of weeks ago, I purchased a signed copy of the first issue for only 50 pesos.


Bathala: Apokalypsis is a Filipino comic based on an idea of Gerry Alanguilan's, which asks one simple question: What if Superman had to face the Apocalypse?


No, no no, not that Apocalypse. I meant the Apocalypse as foretold in the Book of Revelations. You know, in the Bible.

Designs were done by KaJO Baldisimo of Trese, and the character ended up, by David Hontiveros' own admission, looking more like Captain Marvel than Superman. Which is cool to me, since I always thought the Captain Marvel aesthetic was so much cooler.


Bathala is the name of the superhero of the story, and he is, as I've mentioned, based on Superman. There are changes here though. First of all, in his secret identity of Andrew Carreon, he is, like Clark Kent, a reporter. He is also a Filipino and the only superhero in the world. His supporting cast has clear analogues to Superman's - Isabel Ignacio is Lois Lane, and freckle-faced Billy is Jimmy Olsen - as well as some new additions, the most significant of which is his twin brother without any superpowers, Leonardo, who wants to help Bathala by projecting his consciousness into the Internet, as it will enable him to have superpowers (after a fashion) and fight crime alongside his brother.

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In addition, Bathala has enemies named "Cerebellax," which invokes images of Brainiac in my mind, and Thala'ab, an evil version of himself not unlike Bizarro or Black Adam (for you Captain Marvel fans). The art in this issue is very solid, with the layouts being the highlight. Some pages' design sense just knock your socks off.

If I'm going to complain about anything in the art, it's the inconsistency as it pertains to the use of grays to provide shade in some panels, while other panels are just pure line art. I prefer the latter, since I'm old-school, and the changes between panels (note the sequence below) just jump out at me. But when Peachy and Tristan read this issue, they said afterward that they didn't notice it at all. So it's just a minor nitpick, and it's certainly not enough to take me out of the story.


Storywise, the premise of the book is very gripping. You've got this Superman-like figure fighting demons, natural disasters, and an evil version of himself; there's actual imagery from the Book of Revelations, including the lion with multiple eyes; and all at the same time, Leonardo is at a press conference to show everyone how he's made a copy of himself on the Internet who can then help his brother fight crime and save the world.
There's a lot going on, and the pace is breakneck for the action scenes and just spaced out properly for the personal scenes.

Impressively, the balance is maintained. Hontiveros knows just when to speed up and when to slow down, and that's a rare trait for any writer to have. The execution of the story is just aptly paced for its premise, and I'm glad that the story has enough time to grow, evolve, and captivate you right away, even when it's only being told in 30 pages.

In addition, the language is captivating. David Hontiveros succeeds in giving each character their own individual voices, and the narration is also crisp and gripping. When describing an earthquake, for example, Hontiveros writes, "Here, one layer of the earth's skin moves east, while another moves west. As it is in the society of man, it is from that sort of complete opposition that upheaval is born." In addition to providing captivating words to accompany a sequence that the art could carry on its own, it wonderfully foreshadows the rest of the story.

If Bathala: Apokalypsis has any problems in terms of execution, it's that it too fluently speaks the language of the superhero genre, to the point where it may confuse or alienate others who are not so well-versed in it.  Peachy (not a superhero fan) didn't understand some things, while Tristan (a superhero fan) did. But that problem is endemic to pretty much all superhero comics these days. Speaking only as a guy who writes about comics, I can say that it's difficult to figure out the line that demarcates the people who already know what you want to talk about from the people whom you still need to bring up to speed. I can only wonder how much more difficult it is for someone actually writing comics. But of course, it actually makes it more important for them to do so.

Bathala: Apokalypsis #1 begins a story in a gripping and economical way to introduce us to the characters - and almost instantly make us care - and make us clamor for the next issue. If you live in the Philippines, you can get some copies at 55 TINTA! 55 Maginhawa St. U.P. Village for 50 pesos. Or you can try contacting Ace Enriquez through his Facebook page. If you don't live in the Philippines, you can read the entire first issue at DavidHontiveros.com.

Go read it, folks. You won't regret it.

12 comments:

Jericho said...

It's been a while since I commented on any of your posts (that's only because of other things, your blog kicks ass and we know it. :D ), but this one caught my attention because of the title.

I like Gerry Alanguilan. I remember when I first read the first issue of Stone back in the day, it felt awesome to see Filipino lore finally take center stage in a comic. Not saying they haven't before, or since, since I'm not in the loop, but to me at that time, Stone was the first.

This one, however, if I have to be honest... Just after reading your review, doesn't strike me as something I'd be reading. And that's saying a lot considering I love the Book of Revelations, divine conflict, and so on. Not that my opinion holds water, but still! :D

I guess it's just that, when you outlined how it almost completely paralleled Superman's basic premise, it just immediately struck me as yet another superman-ish clone. He fights natural disasters, an evil version of himself, etc, tolerable I guess because that's almost a staple in most comics, but also a reporter? Cerebellax? I dunno... I guess I just can't appreciate whatever it is that's supposed to do. Though I have to admit the twin brother with no superpowers that goes matrix style on the internet is pretty cool.

Granted, I myself suffer from the same problem with my hopefully-soon-to-be-books, which I anticipate will have sooner or later points of comparison to lotr, spawn, etc., but I guess to me this one's too close for comfort.

Now that I think about it though, maybe Superman has transcended superherodom and has become more like myth and legend, that this is what Thor (Marvel) is to Thor (Norse Mythology).

I guess I just wish that these attempts would be more out of the norm so that it'll really have a Filipino flavor to it. Not that I can do any better (I once thought a Tarsier Kid comic would be fun), but still. I just wish that there'd be a filipino comic that'll BE COPIED, instead of the other way around.

Duy said...

Don't be ridiculous; of course your opinion holds water.

You raise a very interesting point here in that you speak of wanting Filipino komiks that can be copied instead of the other way around. Bathala: Apokalypsis was conceived specifically as a "What if Superman had to fight the Apocalypse" and does not hide the fact that it is, in fact a Superman clone - the guy even has glasses in his secret identity, so there's no question that it's a Superman clone. That's the whole point. The virtual reality brother is really the big difference. That, and the fact that you see Roxas Boulevard and EDSA Central in the background.

Then again, there's been a lot of good stories that involved pastiches of established icons - Alan Moore's Supreme is an example of a Superman clone that was written very well, for example, much better than the Superman books at the time - and this is just one of it. I mean, if you have a story about Batman that you really, really, really want to get off your chest, but DC won't take it, then why not create a Batman-like character and get it off your chest? At the end of the day, it's still a valid reason to tell a story.

Now, the contention you bring up is that you want the Filipinos to produce comics to be copied (read Trese), which is a whole different argument altogether. If you look at it, your criticism has nothing to do with the quality of the story per se, so much as the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is, are we, as Filipinos, obligated to create stories that would promote, exclusively and pointedly, a more Filipino flavor? Certainly, we are, moreso than anyone else in the world. However, should we be doing it to the exclusion of all other projects? Should we abandon other projects just because they may not "be Filipino enough" (with that description being loaded and debatable enough as it is!) ? To that, I answer no.

With all due respect, it seems to me that the reason you would not read this is because you don't want to read about a Superman-like character. As an aside, you say that Filipinos should produce things that will be copied instead of the other way around. One statement will still stand without the other. If this were a comic made elsewhere than the Philippines, you would still not read it, and if this were a comic that had anything other than a superhero in it, you would still be disappointed unless you deemed it to be unique and "Filipino" enough (and I'd love to hear what that means, really).

I really ought to read Stone.

Jericho said...

Actually, now that you mentioned it, yeah, I'd like to correct you about not wanting to read about a superman-like character. That's true, but moreso is that I don't want to read a superman-clone type character.

When you said it asks the question "what if superman had to face the apocalypse?", I didn't immediately get that that'd mean the comic would be a superman-clone. To me, it meant something different, that is, what if a superman-like character fought the apocalypse? Superman-like to me is like Mr. Incredible, superman-clone to me is "superman, with a filipino name, living in a filipino city." I dunno if that makes sense at all. :D

Okay, I'm not familiar with Supreme, so I had to Wikipedia it, but from quick-reading alone (I'm bound to make a mistake somewhere I'm sure), there's already stark differences about how this was handled vs. Bathala. I can't really explain how I see it, but bottomline to me, while it was Superman-inspired, it's not a Superman"ripoff". I use the word ripoff with quotes coz I know that's not what the author intended. And no, as "unpatriotic" as I can be at times, it's not because it's American and Pinoy. I mean camaaaan, I'm pushing for Pinoy creativity to succeed nga eh! XD

I have to admit I kinda missed the point of it being a superman-clone/tribute/homage/w/e. I guess what I'm saying is that this story could be presented in such a way that while it's superman inspired, or "clone" it answers the basic question without it being like a cheap superman knock-off. Not saying that it is, just that it seems like it to me.

Ugh, I don't know how to make sense of what I'm saying, but at the moment that's how I can explain it.

Okay, think of it this way. I guess the way it's presented as how I see it, with all the Superman parallels and all that, and the wordplay on some of the names, the feel is like how "Bioman" in the past was turned into "Kabayokids", a Bioman inspired pinoy version of the movie.

Now, granted, that's a horrible "clone", and Bathala is certainly not in the same category, but that's so far the closest thing I could think of explaining how I see this.

I guess in the end it's a matter of preference (hence, the word "opinion" XD) because while I do get the idea of creating characters inspired by icons already, to me there's a thin line between that and "knock-off" that I can't seem to explain. Maybe after a few beers, I can. XD

And about it being "more filipino", I guess the fact that it IS a superman clone just carries a certain stigma that the whole thing is western based. Like, sure, there're reporters here in Manila too, but I dunno, I just can't "feel" it being "filipino" aside from the names and setting. I mean, Superman: Red Son (granted, a legit "clone"), answered the question "what if Supes landed in USSR" without it having to be a "clark is a reporter, his sidekick is this and that, etc." like it was just Superman US, but put in USSR. Again, hard to explain what I mean, and I'll try again later after a beer, but yeah.

Duy said...

That explanation makes a lot of sense. Don't worry about it. Position clarified.

Supreme was created by Rob Liefeld as a "psychopathic Superman," which really isn't that interesting. Alan Moore got his hands on him and turned him into a tribute/homage/love letter to the Silver Age Superman, which was missing from comics at the time. Instead of Brainiac, you had Optilux; instead of Luthor, you had Darius Dax; instead of Bizarro, you had Emerpus; instead of Lois Lane and Lana Lang, you had Diana Dane and Judy Jordan. It was a comic that had its place and I think was sorely needed for its time. For example, instead of Brainiac shrinking the bottle city of Kandor, Optilux imprisoned the crystal world of Amalynth into a prism, making them all beings of refracted light (whatever that means). It explicitly tried to rekindle the Silver Age imagination that was sorely missing in the bloodthirsty and "wonder"ful 90s. And part of the fun was trying to match up the Supreme characters to the Superman characters. I'm sure that's what Hontiveros is trying to do here - Cerebellax is just mentioned in a throwaway panel, not even shown; and yet you immediately know which Superman villain he matches up to. I dunno, I think that's pretty cool.

I get what you're trying to say with the Red Son comparison, but I think the premises are different enough to be forgiven. Red Son is a DC-published book about "What if Superman landed in the USSR?" Bathala is an Alamat-published book about "What if Superman had to fight the Apocalypse?" So in the case of the former, changing Superman's life to reflect the differences in his life in the USSR is in many ways the point of the story. In the case of the latter, the point is not "What if Superman landed in the Philippines," it simply is an alternate Superman story told by two Filipinos writing (predominantly) for a Filipino audience, so they set it in the Philippines. The story - much like a lot of other Superman stories - could actually work given any setting. I get what you're saying, but in 30 pages, I think it is for the best that we introduce the characters - "new" as they are - in manners that would expedite the introductions without having to go into exposition. I don't think the point is to "be" Filipino.

Having said that, I'm sure something can be said for the fact that a well-written story done by two Filipinos may be more beneficial for Filipino creativity to succeed than explicitly going out of our way to bring up specifically Pinoy elements.

(I was going to say something here about us having a history of ripoff characters in Darna, Lastikman, and Captain Barbell, but I forgot what the point was.)

Jericho said...

What you said about the Superman story written by Filipinos for a predominantly Filipino audience and is specifically about being Filipino has a point, but if the point is to not be a "Filipino" story, why convert it to have Filipino elements? Why set it in Manila?

I'm not trying to contest anything here, I'm just trying to understand it. Is it the same as doing a Pinoy dubbing of an anime, simply changing the names of characters and setting to make it seem different, but essentially still the same interpretation? Granted, it's a "what if" question that needs to be answered but, is it like that?

Okay, about Red Son, think of it this way. Had it not been labeled "Superman", and simply a super powered flying buff tights wearing alien dude that landed in USSR and stands for communism instead of democracy,would you still think it's a superman clone/tribute? Or just a total ripoff?

Now, think of Bathala and ignore for now that it is explicitly a superman clone tribute w/e. So it's a super powered guy that's a reporter that saves the day, fights a high-tech villain, and so on, would you still think it's a superman clone/tribute? or just a ripoff?

I guess to me I know that there could be ways to introduce characters from the superman universe without them being super-carbon-copies of the original without taking up lots of pages.

Stabs in the dark that could be totally ugly: Supes = call center team lead assistant that's simple and introverted but singlehandedly disarms a mugger in superheroic fashion when he gets mugged as an intro. Subtly suggesting there's more to this mild mannered guy than meets the eye. Could have landed back in the 1980s during all those "UFO/rapture/end of the world" signs that came around, specifically because a "deity" of some sort decided he had to be sent to earth to save mankind from the upcoming apocalypse.

Or that he landed in the Philippines at the time of political and social turmoil (marcos regime, coup d' etat attmpts, massacres, etc., that would tie in great to signs of the apocalypse in the bible) and that his traditional religious and somewhat zealous parents, after seeing his powers and experiencing what they went through, believed him to be the "second coming" that would save the world from what they believe to be the upcoming apocalypse, and in order to not be exploited, or turn to evil, raise him to be simple, mild mannered, and off-the-radar, until the proper time.

Those are crappy suggestions of how to introduce superman-ish characters without having to rely on how the real superman was introduced or the real superman's character, but that's what I mean. It could be done in narratives that would span 2,3 pages, or can be stretched all throughout the first issue in the form of flashbacks as other characters try to nitpick him.

I don't really know if the bathala characters are exact copies (again, im just basing it off of your post).

I dunno, my point is I suppose is that, like what i said, it's a matter of taste, I'd rather have clones/tributes that take a different path but still say the same underlying story.

Peachy said...

Correction: It isn't that I'm "not a superhero fan." That makes me sound like I'm a fan of other kinds of comics and not of superhero comics. I'm merely unfamiliar with the superhero-oriented stuff, because their stories tend to be grounded in a decades-old history much deeper than I can plumb into.

Top Ten was about superheroes and I loved that, for example! Because it didn't lean back on an established narrative that I had no access to, it was easier for me to meet the characters and enjoy the stories woven around them.

It's of course a different thing with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc. If I had to explain why, I would just be repeating myself. ;)

Duy said...

Lots to go through here. Hold on.

"What you said about the Superman story written by Filipinos for a predominantly Filipino audience and is specifically about being Filipino has a point, but if the point is to not be a "Filipino" story, why convert it to have Filipino elements? Why set it in Manila?"

Keep in mind that I don't know yet if being Filipino has a point. It's only the first issue. It may play in later.

One reason to set it in Manila is simply reader identification. The audience is largely Filipino, and it would do no good to make Bathala American (his name would, obviously, have to be changed). This way, there's the added cool factor of saying "There's a Superman... and he's Filipino." Even though it's not the point of the story.

I might also add that there's been precedent for this stuff since the Golden Age, when the UK created Marvelman, a Captain Marvel tribute/ripoff, and set him in Britain, or when we ripped off Captain Marvel into two separate characters and called them "Darna" and "Captain Barbell."

"I'm not trying to contest anything here, I'm just trying to understand it. Is it the same as doing a Pinoy dubbing of an anime, simply changing the names of characters and setting to make it seem different, but essentially still the same interpretation? Granted, it's a "what if" question that needs to be answered but, is it like that?"

No, it's more like changing the characters around as it fits them. For example, Bathala is an earthman, not an alien. He has a twin brother. Their parents were up to... something that hasn't been revealed yet.

Additionally, Thala'ab isn't crystalline or stupid (I think). He's more a straight-up "evil version" than Bizarro is.

"Okay, about Red Son, think of it this way. Had it not been labeled "Superman", and simply a super powered flying buff tights wearing alien dude that landed in USSR and stands for communism instead of democracy,would you still think it's a superman clone/tribute? Or just a total ripoff?"

Here's where we're going to have to get into semantics and I think it's utterly necessary at this point, since there's a really, really thin line between a tribute and a ripoff.

I think, if, in your story, you wear your source material on your sleeve, and you treat it with respect, it's a tribute. Alan Moore's Supreme was a tribute. If you take said source material, and you put it through the wringer for really no reason other than to put it through the wringer, it's a ripoff. Rob Liefeld's Supreme was a ripoff. Then in the middle, you've got pastiches (Apollo from the Authority - if Superman was apt to kill, and was gay) and subversions (Watchmen was a subversion of the entire Charlton cast of characters, for example).

I think Bathala definitely fits in "tribute". However, you also have to take into account that Superman has more clones out there than anyone other than possibly Captain Marvel. Recent series called "Irredeemable," "The Mighty," and "Supergod" (that last one by Warren Ellis) all rely on the Superman archetype. He just works. So it's hard for me to see any Superman knock-off as anything other than a tribute, as long as something is legitimately attempted with him, since there are so many of them. I may not feel the same way if it were a tribute/ripoff of someone who's not all that copied, like, say, Spider-Man.

(Oh crap, we have Gagamboy, don't we? We really are shameless.)

"Now, think of Bathala and ignore for now that it is explicitly a superman clone tribute w/e. So it's a super powered guy that's a reporter that saves the day, fights a high-tech villain, and so on, would you still think it's a superman clone/tribute? or just a ripoff?"

Like I said, probably still a tribute, since Superman has too many copycats as it is.

Duy said...

"Stabs in the dark that could be totally ugly: Supes = call center team lead assistant that's simple and introverted but singlehandedly disarms a mugger in superheroic fashion when he gets mugged as an intro. Subtly suggesting there's more to this mild mannered guy than meets the eye. Could have landed back in the 1980s during all those "UFO/rapture/end of the world" signs that came around, specifically because a "deity" of some sort decided he had to be sent to earth to save mankind from the upcoming apocalypse.

Or that he landed in the Philippines at the time of political and social turmoil (marcos regime, coup d' etat attmpts, massacres, etc., that would tie in great to signs of the apocalypse in the bible) and that his traditional religious and somewhat zealous parents, after seeing his powers and experiencing what they went through, believed him to be the "second coming" that would save the world from what they believe to be the upcoming apocalypse, and in order to not be exploited, or turn to evil, raise him to be simple, mild mannered, and off-the-radar, until the proper time."

That's all interesting and could make for ample story material -- if that's the story they want to tell. At this moment, there is no indication that they're trying to go with an ongoing Bathala series. It looks like it'll be Apokalypsis and it's done.

Now think about this - if you generally have two Superman stories (David Hontiveros has another one called Pelicula up on his Web site), like say, landing during the Marcos regime, and another story like Apokalypsis, in which his origins aren't really all that important (I think, so far), would you combine the two - most likely at the detriment of one - or would you use more familiar Superman elements in the one that doesn't involve his origins, while saving the one that does for another tale?

Personally, I'd try to get as much mileage out of both as I can. If this were an ongoing series, which it's not, I'd be more inclined to agree with you.

"I don't really know if the bathala characters are exact copies (again, im just basing it off of your post)."

They're not; the extent to which they are is just meant to evoke a sense of familiarity.

The extent to which they are is also still up for reveals, since it is just the first issue.

"I dunno, my point is I suppose is that, like what i said, it's a matter of taste, I'd rather have clones/tributes that take a different path but still say the same underlying story."

Have you met Ben Reilly?

Duy said...

Peachy: The concept of decades-long history being a hindrance for newer readers to get into the genre is something I'm going to address soon. I know you've liked some Spider-Man comics, but those don't rely on the history. And Starman, of course, which is steeped in history, but I think does a good job of filling in the new readers. :)

Jericho said...

I'll read the clone saga article when i get the time. :)

Oh wait, it's just one comic? Hmmm... Well in that case you're right. If it's indeed just that short, to quickly answer the question of "WWSD vs Apocalypse" then yes, I agree, the quick route of using Superman elements that are familiar would be a good idea.

First off, yeah, I don't really wanna acknowledge gagamboy, lastikman, darna, and so on, that much.

Now that that's out of the way, and since I have to get back to work ASAP, I'll agree with you about the semantics thing. I guess that's where perspective comes in (ohgawd i remember the noynoy facebook discussion) in the sense that while you can see it as a tribute, in my sick perverted vision, i see it more along the lines of "gently tearing apart" (don't wanna use rip off as it's too strong a phrase).

Quick singit: There's a "Supergod" character? SUPERGOD?!?! XD

I don't really see superman-ish characters with different origin stories or life stories as superman knockoffs. I mean, Superman is essentially like Hercules ("super" man, didn't come from earth, one diff being supes' dad isn't a horndog dick), but I don't see him as a hercules knock-off because, despite similarities (Save flying, lazor beams, and whatnot), there are some stark differences as well.

A tribute, to me, is the interpretation of the same thing, acknowledgement thereof, with the proper delivery. Which, now that i thinka bout it, yeah, i guess I can see Bathala being that to some degree (it not being a series, etc.)

Sometimes my desire to see more "original" (i use the term loosely, as in the span of human history, it'd be hard to be totally original na, especially with people like me dicking around and pointing at parallels and shit) blurs the already blurry line of tribute and cheap rip-off.

I'm really wired at this point so if my reply lacks sense, pardon

Jericho said...

Oh, and those suggestions I made, were not really guides to the main story, just examples of how backstories can be spun to make it more different.

But, now that you mentioned further differences (he's from earth instead of an alien, among other, future ones) i guess i can see it now from your POV somehow.

Re: Peachy's comment - I definitely agree with what you're trying to say. However, in our cases... ugh, lost my train of thought. ROFL

Okay bukas na to, back to work na ulet. :D

Duy said...

You know, I have yet to find a Superman clone who's also an alien from another world -- Majestic from WildCATS is the closest, but he was also the emperor of that war world he came from.

To me, you're a Superman clone if your powers and motives and essentially the story you're currently in is the same - I think copying the origins are grounds for a lawsuit, so that would be the first thing they change. Supreme wasn't an alien, for example, but everything else about him corresponded to Superman (which DC couldn't sue for because they were using the elements of Superman that they were themselves no longer using). But Captain Marvel isn't a Superman ripoff OR a tribute, except in the utterly most shallow way possible.

SuperGod is supposedly pretty good - it's so much easier (and more familiar) to play around with the Superman archetype than anyone else, since there's a LOT of things DC won't (and shouldn't) let you do with Superman. So he tends to be "darkened" a lot, with substitute characters.

I also think Darna has potential for really good stories (probably unlike Lastikman and Captain Barbell, unless they were put in comedies), since she was more inspired by Captain Marvel than actually ripping him off. She's not a Wonder Woman ripoff - it's unfortunate that people think that.

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