Thursday, March 31, 2005

Stretching the concept of the Pinoy superhero
By Wincy Ong
The Philippine STAR 03/11/2005


I haven’t been always comfortable with superheroes who have stretching powers. Most often than not, they’re more goofy-looking than cool, more laughable than menacing. A man that could elongate his limbs and grow a thousand more joints has to be one of the most inane ideas that ever came from comic books. Seeing a superhuman acrobat swinging from building to building, or a corn-fed boy from Kansas streaking past the skies could leave us in awe, yes, but seeing a man who has Silly Putty for arms, a man who looks like a cartoon version of a highway accident sufferer, could leave us laughing cross-eyed.

There’s Marvel Comic’s Mr. Fantastic – sure, in his seminal graphic novel Fantastic Four: 1234 , Grant Morrison showed us that Reed Richards can grow new brain structures that make him crazy-smarter than he already is – but to me, he was always just the lanky guy-leader with the graying temples, Nick Fury without the bravado and the eye patch . Of course, there’s the most famous one of them all, DC Comics’ Plastic Man, who, believe it or not, was originally going to be called India Rubber Man by creator Jack Cole.(Hey, when thinking of superhero names, one can only have a handful of synonyms to play around with, right?) Sure, aside from making his body malleable, he can also shapeshift into anything as long as it has the same color scheme as his costume. Let’s not forget, however, how difficult it is to imagine him posing side-by-side a grittier, real-world hero like Batman. He best belongs to Hanna-Barbera territory along with those pointy-eared Wonder Twins. On a better note, CGI and clever writing gave birth to probably the least lame incarnation of the superhero with stretching powers: Elastigirl, the lovable soccer mom from the movie The Incredibles. Impeccably voiced by the talented Holly Hunter and brought alive by the computer nerds at Pixar, Elastigirl actually made stretching powers, this time around, look cool and even sexy.

Lastikman, our very own version of the superhero with stretching powers, of course, is no stranger to our collective pop mythologies. Portrayed by the likes of Vic Sotto and Mark Bautista in the movies, the formerly second-tier hero has stepped up and now shares the spotlight with his more iconic counterparts Darna and Captain Barbell, all of whom are the dear creations of the Pinoy Stan Lee himself, the legendary Mars Ravelo.

When I first saw the poster for Mango Comic’s Lastikman at a comic-book convention in Megamall, and the megawatt names attached to the project, I crossed my fingers and prayed to all the saints in Comic Book Heaven to not let this one be a disappointment. A re-imagining of a classic superhero, especially one that is done by a team of brilliant yet slightly deranged artists, say a Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon revamp of The Punisher, is one of the things that make comic book geekdom worthwhile.

As the poster promised, on scripting duties is Gerry Alanguilan, who’s most known for his ultra-violent comic strip Wasted, which appeared in PULP Magazine and was later compiled in a graphic novel of the same name. On penciling duties is two-time National Book Award winner Arnold Arre (The Mythology Class, Trip to Tagaytay, After Eden) who’s probably the most prolific and hardworking creator in the industry today. What drew me to the book was the promise of seeing what could come out when these two established artists work together. I wondered how Alanguilan’s street-level sensibilities and his knack for tough-guy drama would blend with Arre’s clean, innocent, Manga-inspired linework.

On the first few pages of Lastikman, a spaceship crashes into a greenhouse in a place that looks very much like Manila, and just seeing the primitive lampposts, the shanty towns, and the people in tsinelas portrayed in four-color goodness, I couldn’t help but smile: Finally, here is a story of a superhero who lives amongst us. A big part of Marvel Comics success could be attributed to the way Stan Lee made his superhero creations living, breathing citizens of his hometown New York City. It made his stories sizzle with life, as if the next morning, the reader could be on his way to his office and catch a glimpse of Spider-Man scaling up the walls of the Chrysler Building. No Gotham Cities, no Metropolises – just plain old superheroes living next door. This is the big reason why Lastikman as a comic book succeeds, and how Mango Comics prior revamp of Darna falls short. Conveniently written in a healthy mix of Filipino and English, and sprinkled with so many Pinoy cultural references than a Tito, Vic and Joey fan can shake at, Lastikman is set in the warts-and-all Manila that we all grew to love, hence, the reader feels that Lastikman is real, and not just some hackneyed superhero archetype some eager beaver cooked up.

The story is simple; there is nothing that the Superman mythology hasn’t told yet: A being from another planet crashes into Earth, is rescued by a loving family, learns about his superpowers, falls in love with a girl, and decides to save his newfound home from alien invaders. Despite its simplicity, the story still delivers: the dialogue is crisp, the humor is well-placed, and the characters relationships are beautifully drawn out. The ending, though, is problematic, as Alanguilan spoils the thrills by giving the decisive moment not to Lastikman but to a spin-off-hungry character called Atomika. Who deserves acclaim here is Arre, who, from his signature anime-eyed, sometimes sketchy approach, have matured into the disciplined illustrator that he is right now, with a detailed style reminiscent of Eurotrash masters Frank Quitely and John Cassaday.

Lastikman should set the trend in Pinoy comic book superheroes and send out reminders to creators working in the industry today. Stop making stories about those blue-eyed, spit-curled, square-jawed, white supermen out to protect and serve generic First World megapolises. We’re all brown, dark-haired, snub-nosed avengers with Mexican last names. Put your chin up and let’s fly.

* * *
Wincy Ong has written for several publications such as Hey! Comics and Young Star Magazine. He also writes songs and plays the bass for 60s mod band Narda, whose debut album Formika is available now. When not busy, he is formulating a cure for beri-beri.

1 comment:

takipsilim said...

Speaking of non-comical stretchers, I remember in Identity Crisis, the way Elongated Man tried to speak at his wife's funeral but could barely hold his form he just ended up crying, it was just heartbreaking.

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