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.