By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

After Eden (Anino/Adarna House)
Batch 72 # 3 (Alamat)
Ab Ovo (Kestrel/Pipeline Media)

Filipino-made comic books have been sparse in recent years, but most of the few that exist deserve to be seen, read, and re-read. Various Pinoy storytellers have expressed themselves in these mostly black-and-white playgrounds, breathing life into chronicles that just had to be told in their own compulsive, creative ways. A determined few keeps coming up with their original worlds, playing gods with their characters’ destinies and inspiring different readers with equally disparate tastes and inclinations.

Two-time National Book Awards winner Arnold Arre’s romance graphic novel After Eden is a 254-page labor of love, in more ways than one. It tells the magical tale of former childhood friends Jon and Celine, who rediscover each other at the right time 21 years after they parted. But their scheming, selfish “friends” plot to break up the perpetually cheerful new union, while cosmic players with enigmatic agendas observe the whole thing from a plainly hidden vantage point.

Mesmerizing in its smooth storytelling flow, After Eden is one of those rare feats that keep the reader captivated from beginning ‘til end. Arre’s adept use of simple but expressive illustrations, fused with charming dialogue and a venturesome plot makes for a memorable and heartwarming read. It works all too well in turning hardened cynics into lovesick mush.

The story’s six characters are distinct and well-rounded; connected by mutual love or hate, innocence and confusion, and yearnings that need to be met. Amidst the pop culture references and poetry of rain-soaked heartbreak and forgiveness, it makes you believe that, yup, love does conquer all.

Arre’s penciled art can also be seen in the much-awaited Alamat release, Batch 72 # 3 (with the cover masthead The Last Batch 72 Story!), written by Budjette Tan and inked by Arvie Villena. The series follows the (mis)adventures of a mostly superpowered barkada/college band of the same name, in a Philippines that’s populated by extraordinarily enhanced human beings.

Issue 3 concludes the “It’s a Mall, Mall World” arc, where Kupcake and the gang try to escape the clutches of the rampaging “S & M Popsicle” villain, Morgue, during a midnight sale in the massive, pyramid-shaped Ultra Mall.

But hope arrives in the form of a celebrity superteam, the young heroes of the Justice Corps. Hints are dropped regarding this world’s long and colorful crimefighting history, as Morgue’s threat attracts the attention of retired costumed protectors and an aging ex-villain.

Batch 72 is an amusing book; its fantastical premise offers a place where anything and everything can happen. The team is comprised of eight members with really interesting personalities, but the spotlight still has to shine on at least half the barkada, though. Hopefully, this won’t really be the last issue of the series, as the characters hold a lot of promise. A spinoff title starring the Justice Corps also wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The ashcan-sized Ab Ovo , meanwhile, features self-contained short stories; musings about life, love, individuality and other subjects. The black-and- white art is enhanced by the addition of a spot color, red, in varying shades.

Concentrating on simple but thought-provoking ideas, writer Dean Alfar--together with artists Carl Vergara, Sid Santos, Josef Garcia, Tony Bucu, Bok Jamlang, and editor Nikki Alfar--succeed in sharing thoughts that question, and in creating imagery that’s comfortably laid-back.

Its four brief stories are perfect for quiet weekend reading. The pensive “Fabula Rasa” speaks about non-conformity. “The Maiden and the Crocodile” ponders love and betrayal. Things go philosophical with the 2-pager “Ab Ovo”; while two lovers contemplate impending breakup speeches in “So(rry)”.

Whether you fancy passion, hyperpowered fun, or serious introspection, you can bet that these Pinoy books have got ‘em covered. And then some.

After Eden, Batch 72 # 3, and Ab Ovo are available at Comic Quest.