Each volume — entitled APOCRYPHA, TESTAMENT, and PRODIGAL, respectively — tells one part of a four-part epic. (Part four, REQUIEM, will be out on this upcoming November 19 Komikon.) It plays on Filipino folklore, with one of the main characters, Makabo, being a tikbalang (a horse that walks like a man), and another of the characters, Kaptan, being the son of Bathala, the pre-Christian Philippine skygod. They're there to fight Rianka, an aswang with her own agenda for the world.
I hesitate to use the word "epic" to describe anything with a big story arc, since it seems so overplayed, but that's really the only word for it in this instance. There's a clear arc within the pages of each volume, to be sure, but the focus is on the larger story, the big picture. And the picture is rather large, as we go back and forth throughout the history of the Philippines. There are flashbacks to pre-civilized times, to 1944 during World War II, and my personal favorite, to the battle between Lapu-Lapu and Magellan in 1521. These flashbacks would reveal how the Sons of Heaven (as these supernatural beings are called) and the aswang changed and molded the history of the Philippines. The product is tantalizing and gripping, answering such questions as to why nothing is known of Lapu-Lapu other than that one legendary battle with Magellan. The narration is tight and descriptive, and if you removed all the pictures, the words alone would be a treat to read.
But why would anyone want to remove the pictures? Ian Sta. Maria's art is some of the most inspiring, clean, and just plain cool works I've seen all year. Aside from masterful figurework and convincing expressions (even on Makabo. Check that out, man. He's a HORSE. How many artists do you know actually go so far as to draw a horse all the time?), Sta. Maria also knows how to lay out a page so it's unified. Many artists tend to take comics panel by panel as long as it's clear, but some go the extra mile to make sure that the entire page looks like a work of art. Check out this page from issue 1.
|While you're at it, check out SKYWORLD: APOCRYPHA right here.|
Now, that's not to say that the series is technically perfect, as each installment has flaws. I'm not sure why the first issue is all in pencils and no inks. I actually like it better, as you get to see Ian's pencils untouched, but it causes a dissonance with the other volumes, which are inked with deep blacks and stark contrast. Volume 2 then has the questionable decision of making one of the characters' speech lettered in, of all things, Comic Sans, which I guess they realized was a mistake, because that's gone by volume 3. I'm also not a fan, as I've said before, of using photos as backgrounds, but to Ian's credit, he actually does them so they blend well.
These are all small nitpicks though, because check out that cover up there, the first image on this post. See that girl on the bottom center?
That's Alexandra Trese, flanked by her bodyguards The Kambal. Alongside them is Kadasig, from Mervin and Ian's story "Katumbas" in the UNDERPASS anthology. So there you have it. This is the first local comic that effectively crosses over other local comics, or at least the first one that does it on such a high profile and on such an epic scale. For those who have been reading TRESE or have even just been hearing about it, this story will make you feel like you did as a kid reading a Spider-Man crossover with the X-Men, or when you were watching Static Shock cross over with the Justice League, or simply the feeling you get now when you see the Rainbow Bridge Bifrost from Thor in the Captain America movie.
SKYWORLD is well-written, exciting, and well-drawn.
But perhaps most importantly, it is just damn good fun, and if you're into the local scene, you should absolutely be reading it.
And if you're not, well... no time to start like the present, yes?