I combined and reworked two previous Trese reviews (Volumes 1-5 and Volume 6) from The Reading Spree into an 800-word review for the Philippines Graphic. The weekly national publication – known for highlighting Filipino literature – then printed it on its August 17, 2015 issue.
I’m republishing the review here.
Not Your Average Manila Girl
An overview of Trese and its six volumes
by KC Calpo
We all know about the tales passed down through generations, most with mythical creatures as main characters. We’ve heard about aswang and manananggal dining on unborn babes; naughty tikbalang that must be tamed, scary cigar-smoking kapres hiding in trees, multo making unwanted visits, sirenas and syokoys plying our waterways. At the end of each story, we take comfort in the knowledge that they’re just imaginary, retold for entertainment, or made to scare stubborn kids into obedience.
But… what if they’re real? And roam right where we live, with us none the wiser?
Many Filipinos (especially in rural areas) wholeheartedly believe in their existence, with myriad stories of their own to share. For readers who like their supernaturals on the side of fiction, the Trese series by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo is a satisfying fix — and can lead to an intense night of binge-reading.
The komiks series revolves around Alexandra Trese, Malate bar owner by day and Guardian of Manila by night. Her primary task: to keep the peace between humans and supernaturals, or among the many mythical tribes. To accomplish this, she works with several allies: her hilarious gunfight-loving twin bodyguards Crispin and Basilio (a.k.a. the Kambal); Captain Beau Guerrero of the PNP and his men; a few trusted creatures like a friendly St. Elmo’s Fire, dwende, and nuno; and some of her brothers and employees — all well-versed in all things underworld. Past and current villains include aswang, zombies, lightning gods, a datu of war, pill-popping taga-dagat, and a dangerous former First Lady sans fabled shoe collection.
Trese‘s six installments — Murder on Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, Mass Murders, Last Seen After Midnight, Midnight Tribunal, and High Tide at Midnight — combine police procedural and mystery elements with our modernized monsters and mess-makers. The cases bring to mind notable personalities in business, show business and sport (some characters are directly modeled after them); and urban legends like the White Lady of Balete Drive and the monster kidnapping women from dressing rooms have been represented here. Tan and Baldisimo also pay tribute to pop-culture figures and highlights like Darna‘s Mars Ravelo, Ang Huling El Bimbo by the Eraserheads, and Manila street racing in the early ’00s.
Unlike the other installments, Mass Murders, Midnight Tribunal, and High Tide at Midnight go for bigger book-long arcs. This allows for deeper character development and insight, and more comprehensive tales.
Unlike the other installments, Mass Murders, Midnight Tribunal, and High Tide at Midnight go for bigger book-long arcs. This allows for deeper character development and insight, and more comprehensive tales. The National Book Award-winning Mass Murders is notable for delving into the personal histories of Alexandra and the Kambal; Midnight Tribunal, for expanding Trese’s network of allies and giving her an unconventional suitor; and High Tide at Midnight, for temporarily turning the attention to an Avengers-like support group best called “Verdugo & Friends.”
The stories (whether told as individual cases or a bigger arc) unfold efficiently, have the right mix of humor and suspense, and serve as perfect introductions to the underworld and its characters. The latter aren’t introduced solely for scare tactics; they’re fully integrated into our lives, hidden as everyday workers, fangirls and boxing fans, street racers, parking-lot loiterers, or bodyguards. It makes one think of the possibility of us sharing a city with beings not of our nature, and what really is hidden in the shadows come nightfall.
Along with the stories, reading Volumes 1 to 6 in succession lets you see the artwork’s evolution since 2008. Trese has maintained its noir look and feel since Volume 1, but Baldisimo’s panels have also become more stylized by Volume 6 — there’s more expression, detail and shadows in every face, figure, and environment. A good example would be Maliksi’s true-form illustrations in Volume 1’s Rules of the Race versus the whole of Volume 6: the latter’s much more representative of the tikbalang‘s size and power, and one understands why the handsome horse can be so full of himself.
If you’re a newcomer to Filipino komiks and need a modernized primer on our mythical creatures, Trese’s probably the best place to start.
And in all installments, it’s a pleasure to see Alexandra Trese as a woman who can handle situations and people on her own, but can also play (relatively) nice with others and work within a group. It’s something that’s becoming common only now in comics and in most popular media. She’s not waiting for any man to help or validate her, or for circumstances to change. She’s resourceful, quick-footed, decisive, loyal, fair, firm, and brave. It’s interesting to see the recent interactions between her and Maliksi unfold in panels, but there’s also the hesitation in having her in a love story of sorts. Trese already fulfills some parts of the Action Girl trope; let’s not put her in the Battle Couple trope too, please?
Seven years later, Trese remains a fun read. And while this version of Manila has expanded significantly, other characters can still join the action and not weigh the main story down. If you’re a newcomer to Filipino komiks and need a modernized primer on our mythical creatures, Trese‘s probably the best place to start. ⦾