By Ruel S. De Vera

"Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipag-sapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah" # 1
By Carlo Vergara
Alamat Comics, Carverhouse Creations, and Quest Ventures, 2002, 65 pages

NOW at the tip of a full-blown revival in comics and even dance, Darna has always been the most celebrated character in Philippine comicdom. From her inception by Mars Ravelo to her shepherding at the hands of Nestor Redondo and Jim Fernandez, the lame Narda has eternally captured the imagination of generations as the nondescript girl who, swallowing a magical stone, becomes the super-powered heroine. And ever since Rosa del Rosario first shouted the magic words "Darna!" in the 1951 serial all the way to Vilma Santos' "Lipad, Darna, Lipad" and subsequent turns by Nanette Medved and Anjanette Abayari, Darna has never really come back down to earth.

But top-notch comic creator Carlo Vergara's new comic book, "Ang Mga Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah," recalls more the spirit of the 1979 Dolphy romp "Darna Kuno." In an homage that channels through the campy, dynamic essence of the Darna idea (not surprisingly, uniquely utilizing gay dialogue and humor), "Zsazsa" also features a man who turns into a superhero --but also a real woman, in this case.
With its hilarious word balloons and over-the-top antics, "Zsazsa" makes for an interesting follow-up to the critically lauded gay love story "One Night in Purgatory." In "Zsazsa," the hero/ine is perky beautician Ada (real name Adrian) who, while singing in the shower, gets bonked on the head by a magical stone that has fallen from the sky. True to form, Ada, upon swallowing the stone (which, fittingly enough, looks to be the size of a minor coral reef), becomes the buxom superbabe Zsazsa Zaturnnah.

Bad guys

Initially, Zsazsa thinks about becoming a circus performer to make some money but then, inevitably, she encounters some bad guys. So she has to save the day in a skimpy outfit with requisite perils. Together with slapstick-prone best buddy Didi (instead of a young ward named Ding) and a muscular object of affection, Dodong, Zsazsa faces off with familiar Pinoy antagonists like a giant frog and zombies (any Pinky Montilla fans out there?) in this first of two issues.

The black-and-white illustrations display Vergara's trademark realistic style. But he has now jazzed it up with cartoony effects to capture the broad, cartoonish humor of "Zsazsa." The funny facial expressions contrast smartly with Vergara's shapely and well-defined figures. The Looney Tunes-brand of visual humor further proves that Vergara's lush style continues to evolve in the right direction.

Cat fight

"Zsazsa," however, truly shines in the writing department. Vergara let loose witty and very gay dialogue for "Zsazsa" to excellent effect. After all, the book itself boasts the disclaimer: "For mature readers ever." Ada/Zsazsa and Didi have the best lines and scenes. While this does serve as a pretty accurate warning that there are many off-color references in "Zsazsa," it should also herald the coming of one of the funniest Filipino comic books ever, with repartee that is both smart and sassy, but one that is obviously meant for an older audience. Beyond that, it's not just a really funny gay story, but a funny and great comic book, period.

After the pitched battle with zombies, Zsazsa is set to face off with the fashionably snooty and otherworldly Amazonistas (obviously a colegiala update on the unintentionally ridiculous Planetwomen)-led by Queen Femina Suarestellar Baroux, all the way from Planet XXX-in "Zsazsa's" second issue, due out in February. Now that's an interplanetary cat fight not to be missed, or as Vergara writes, "Part two sa Pebrero. Promise."

Flying way from the fantasy element of a gay man actually turning into an Amazonian archetype, "Zsazsa" is in essence the counterpoint to the unabashedly sentimental, emotional quality of "Purgatory." This new title from Vergara celebrates the joyfully vibrant, sincerely funny aspects of gay culture down to the language and references. Both visually and orally, "Zsazsa" is fresh proof that Vergara continues to grow as a formidable comic book talent-and someone who does not shy away from depicting different aspects of gay life in his chosen artistic field.

All together now: "Za-za-Zaturnnah!"

Available at all Comic Quest branches.