The Balut in a Superhero’s Underpants
by Budjette Tan
These days, the “Easter egg” has been given new meaning. It refers to the secret scenes and paths hidden in DVDs and video games. They’re the “in-jokes” left by the creators of movies and TV shows for their fans to discover.
If the Americans have their “Easter eggs”, we Filipinos have our “Balut eggs”. (Okay, I just made up that term, but it seemed appropriate anyway.) “Balut eggs” are those moments when Filipinos (or something Pinoy) suddenly pops up in foreign movies, TV shows, novels and comic books.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Like that scene in “Constantine”, starring Keanu Reeves, where the possessed girl says, “Papatayin natin siya!” (Seems like demons converse in Tagalog.) Pinoy speaking characters were also seen in movies like the maid in “Her Alibi”, the pirates in “The Life Aqautic”, and Rob Scheinder’s mom in “The Animal”. (I could also include every single Chuck Norris/ninja/Michael Dudikoff/B-movie shot here in the Philippines, but that would detract us from the point of this review.)
These “Balut eggs” have also been popping up in the panels of American comic books.
In “Black Panther”, one of Mephisto’s minions says, “Kumusta ka na?” (What’s up with these Tagalog-speaking demons?!)
In “The Copybook Tales”, written by Fil-Canadian J. Torres, the lead character gets a call from his young brother who refers to him as “kuya”. Torres’ upcoming graphic novel is called “Lola” and it’s about stories that were told to him by his grandmother; stories about the supernatural creatures of the Philippines.
In Lynda Barry’s “One!Hundred!Demons!”, she’s got an entire chapter devoted to her Filipino speaking grandmother, where she spells out the dialogue phonetically. You’ve got to read it out loud to understand what they were talking about. She’s even got a chapter where compare her boyfriend to “kuto”.
In the epic graphic novel “Kingdom Come”, Superman crashes into the United Nations building, sending people into a panic and someone from the crowd blurts out: “NANDIYAN NA ANG SIVA ULO! PAPATAYIN NIYA ULO!” (So, that was either a typo or some Filipino dialect that we’re not aware of … OR the guy was so shocked and surprised that he forgot how to speak Filipino properly.)
One of the earliest “Balut egg” I can remember was spotted in an issue of “Uncanny X-Men”, drawn by Filipino comic artist Whilce Portacio. In that story, we saw Colossus wearing a jacket with the word MAKULIT written on the back, as well as the Philippine flag. This, of course, got all the Pinoy fanboys excited. It was Whilce winking at us, telling everyone that there’s a Pinoy in Marvel bullpen.
We were all hoping that he’d introduce a Filipino mutant in the team, but that didn’t happen. He did, however, place a Pinoy, front and center, in the “Wetworks” team. That was guy was Grail, one of the team’s top assassins. He was a martial artists and an expert in Escrima, Arnis de Mano, and Kali. His real name was Joel Alonday (named after a friend of Whilce).
Years later, Whilce introduced the world to more characters and creatures from the Philippines through the comic book “Stone”, which starred the agimat-weilding Gerry Alan (named after Filipino comic book artist Gerry Alanguilan). Thanks to “Stone”, the Western audience got their tongue all in a twist trying to pronounce words like manananggal and duwende and tikbalang. The story was even set in the Philippines and showed familiar scenes like Megamall.
Around the same time Whilce and Gerry were drawing “Stone”, Leinil Francis Yu and Edgar Tadeo started drawing “Wolverine”. In one scene, Yu snuck in a bottle of White Castle Whisky, being drunk by one of Wolverine’s enemies.
In an “X-Men Annual”, also drawn by Yu, we got to see our favorite mutants munching on Chow King take-out food. (Which is weird, because the X-Men were supposedly in Hong Kong. Maybe Chow King had a mutant delivery guy who could teleport!)
Most recently, in “Secret Invasion”, Yu drew President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as one of the people who welcomed the invading Skrulls to our planet. We also got to see Captain Marvel and Marvel Boy fight in the parking lot of Ali Mall. It would’ve been interesting to see the MMDA try to arrest them for traffic obstruction. I can imagine Bayani Fernando saying, “I don’t care if you’re a captain! I’m the commissioner! And I’m more metro gwapo than you!”
Also seen running around the streets of Manila were members of G.I.JOE. Stalker, Roadblock, and Recondo were chasing after their target, with the help of Nestor, their Filipino driver. We also got to see Snake-eyes sneaking around Manila’s rooftops. I wonder if Nestor got to ask them, “Hey Joe! Wanna buy watch, Joe?”
Meanwhile, in Marvel Comics’ “Agents of A.T.L.A.S.”, Mt. Pinatubo erupts again and Sentry flies in just in time to rescue a damaged Philvocs helicopter. That particular issue was drawn by Pinoy artist Carlo Pagulayan.
In Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer’s STRANGE KISS, secret agent/magician Gravel traveled to one of the Hundred Islands to hunt down a scientist who had the brilliant idea of creating a zombie army. In the comic book, we saw Gravel riding a jeepney and drinking San Miguel Beer. He even met a waitress named Kori-- who was later eaten by the zombies. (I’m not so sure if that was meant to be a political statement.)
Comic book artist Harvey Tolibao is another guy who likes putting “Balut eggs” in his pages. In YOUNG AVENGERS, you can spot a billboard of Druid’s Keep, a local comic book store. In DARKHAWK, you’ll notice that the hero is wearing a Manny Pacquiao shirt. The Pac-Man is definitely the super-heroes’ hero, you know!!
In the pages of “The Invincible Iron Man”, writer Matt Fraction introduces Marvel’s first Filipino super-team: The Triumph Division. (Which resulted to a whole lot of jokes online, because Pinoys asked if the team all wore Triumph underwear.)
There was also some online debate about the authenticity of the setting and the heroes. In the story, terrorists disguised themselves as Buddhist monks, which allowed them to get close enough to the team and assassinate them. Some of the fanboys argued that there aren’t a lot of Buddhist monks in our country.
Iron Man artist, Salvador Larocca, at least accurately depicted our pot-bellied policemen, as well as, what looked like Quiapo Church blowing up.
The members of the Triumph Division were: Red Feather, St. George, Mighty Mother, Fighter One, The Wishing Man, The Great Mongoose and Anitun.
Iron Man and Thor were shown attending the funeral of the Triumph Division. Thor specifically came because of the death of Anitun, who turns out to be someone who had power over the wind and rain. A quick wiki search reveals that in Visayan and Tagalog folklore, there was a character named Anitun Tabu; believed to be a goddess who dwells in the sky.
Iron Man later returned to Manila to meet the new Triumph Division, now composed of the sons and daughters of the assassinated team; where he made this observation about these new super Pinoys:
“Interesting thing about super heroes in the Philippines—the legacies are familiar and run back centuries.
“The songs and daughters of these heroes will one day replace these heroes… they train for it their whole lives. They’re excited, nervous, eager, and full of energy.
“If they’re scared, they cover it with bravado, pride, and hope. Reminds me of the early days of the Avengers.
“The Philippines is in great hands. Long live The Triumph Division.”
With more and more Filipino comic book creators getting gigs in American comic book companies, maybe we’ll soon see a Pinoy hero fighting side-by-side Superman and Spider-Man. And maybe, when that Pinoy hero defeats Lex Luthor or the Green Goblin, he’ll say, “Sinong tatay mo?”
In Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk #6, we see someone wearing a it looks a Francis M. "Three Stars and the Sun" jacket.