By Abi Aquino
Cosmopolitan (Philippines), May 2003, Vol. 7, No. 5

Long before fire engine bustiers and knee-high boots were even considered fashionable, one woman has been breaking convention and soaring the skies as humanity’s champion against evil. Now, looking unbelievably fresh and sexy at age 53, Darna has captures the imagination of a new generation of fans everywhere, with a comic book relaunch plus a dance-musical slated for August of this year.

It was in 1951 that Darna made her comic debut in Pilipino Komiks, conceived and written by the great Mars Ravelo. The story – a young girl who finds a mysterious stone and transforms into an other wordly being—immediately caught on to readers and became a hit.

Daughter Rita Ravelo says, “Darna was a my father’s answer to Superman. Some people think that Darna was patterned after Wonder Woman, but there was no Wonder Woman in the Philippines at that time.”

The comic was the first of it’s kind then— it featured a Pinay superhero who battled equally intimidating Pinay criminal masterminds. The story itself reads like classis tale of female empowerment—young girl raised by her grandmother discovers the secret to unlocking the superhuman strength in her by uttering the mysterious word—“Darna!”

Together with her faithful brother Ding, Darna went on to battle creatures of pure evil—arch enemies who were women as well. Some of us will vaguely remember spending afternoons watching RPN 9’s Piling Piling Pelikula and seeing a young Vilma Santos duking it out with a horrifying dyed Planet Woman. But the most famous of Darna’s foes was Valentina, a woman with a head full of snakes for hair, and the power to command armies of asps, constrictors, and other slithering serpents.

Like its flying heroine, the comic series soared. Within that same year, a movie version of the same name was released.

Now, fifteen movies and several comic series later, Darna remains one of Ravelo’s most enduring and popular characters. It was no great surprise that Mango Comics, a local comic book company, picked the saucy stone swallower as it’s maiden offering. Boboy Yonzopn, publisher of Mango Comics and a close family friend of the Ravelo family, relaunched Darna in time for her golden anniversary.

“When you say `Filipino superhero,` the first thing that comes to your mind is Darna,” sasy Zach Yonzon, editor-in-chief of Mango Comics. “It’s a Filipino creative legacy.” In this version, the fun flying super female gets a few nips and tucks in the costume department, and amps up her special powers as well. “Apart from her superhuman strength and her ability to fly, she’s also developed certain bionic and kinetic powers that originally weren’t there before,” says Zach.

Prima kontra bida Valentina gets a shapely redo as well. “In the original series, she was the town freak who wore this shapeless nightgown. In our comic book, she’s sexier and saucier,” he shares.

Darna’s alter ego Narda gets a facelift too. “We wanted to flesh out Narda’s psyche, because really, if you think about it, the premise of an ordinary being having a superhero as an alter ego has such interesting possibilities,” Zach explains. In this latest incarnation, Narda is more than just the human vessel for Darna and becomes a richly drawn character with more mature and complex emotions.

Aside from the comic relaunch, a Darna dance-musical by Ballet Philippines is slated for August 1 to 17. The production is touted as a multi-media spectacle, from pumping techno music to aerial stunts guaranteed to knock the win out of audiences. BP Principal dancer Christien Crame dons the winger tiara, and seasoned actress Jenine Desiderio and Chin-Chin Guitierrz will take turns as the spiteful Valentina Mango Comics joins the fun by providing kick-ass graphic designs for the sets. The show promises to be a riot of color, dance, and song—one giant comic book come to life.

The new millennium spins and twists found in both the musical and the comic book are at times wild, surprising and ultimately fun. But all these serve to enrich the tale and enhance the classic spirit of its title character—Darna remains as confident and courages as she was when she first flew in 1951.

Laging mabait at matapang si Darna,” says Rita. “That will never change.” Perhaps what makes the character so darn cool is that she holds an alluring balance of dual qualities: She’s mabait yet matapang. Strong yet sympathetic. Sexy yet dignified. And she looks damn great in a pair of teensy-weensy red pekpek shorts.

“My father’s mother was a very strong, independent, and hard-working woman, “Explains Rita. “You’ll notice that most of Mars Ravelo’s female characters such as Dyesebel, Roberta, and Darna are string-willed and brave—women who survived insurmountable odds. I personally think that Darn’a is my father’s tribute not only to his mother, but to all the courageous women out there.”

Darna choreographer Denisa Reyes, shares a similar opinion. “She’s the kind of ate, the kind woman that everyone can look up to. She’s strong, she’s bold, she’s the Pinay that we all are now.” Zach Yonzon says, “Other superheroes don a costume, but they’re basically the same person in disguise. But Darna is a separate entity from Narda—with the magic stone, Narda becomes Darna. It’s the idea of transforming into a better person that rings true—not just to females but also to everyone else. It’s the promise of becoming a better version of you that attracts readers.

“We’ve created a lot of Pinoy superheroes but the one who resonates the most is Darna. Darna is strong. She’s confident. She’s a woman.”