Text by Cesar Miguel G. Escano
Photography by: Lester V. Ledesma
MEN ZONE Magazine, Vol. 6, No.11, May 2003

The Philippines’ premier superheroine has finally arrived. Even after 21 serialized Tagalog comic books, 14 movies, and appearances in a few television commercials, Darna’s star shines brighter than ever. If 2003 being “Darna Year” is any indication, this brunette bombshell is here is stay.

Her schedule is already fully booked this early. A new comic boo released this March kicks off the festivities for “Darna Year.” Its publisher is set to release a tribute music album this June. A commemorative exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is slated this July. August witnesses the world premiere of Darna: A Dance Musical. A production of Ballet Philippines, it is touted as the most expensive and ambitious project ever in Philippine theater history. Last March 1, Mango Comics launched its maiden title, Darna, in Eastwood City, Libis.

A concert featuring Dirty Kitchen, the Mongols, Soft Pillow Kisses, Narda, and Sugarfree was the highlight of the event. The bans played Darna-inspired songs, which appear in an upcoming tribute album. The event also present to the public the golden anniversary issue of Darna, the first in a three-issue limited series.

The re-launch marks the 50th anniversary of Darna’s first appearance in 1951. For publisher and writer Boboy Yonzon, the new series represents the culmination of several years of planning. Mars Ravelo, the creator of classic Philippine comic characters such as Darna, Dyesebel, Kaptain Barbell, and Lastikman, died in 1988. In 2001, his family broached to Mr. Yonzon. The idea of a new Darna series to celebrate her golden anniversary. A family friend of the Ravelos, he gathered a team of rising Pinoy talents in the comic book industry.

Mr. Yonzon listed some of the changes to the new and improved Darna during the comic book launching. “She now has telekinetic powers. She’s sexier and she’s now analytical like a detective,” he said.

In her earlier incarnations, Darna was a super-powered heroine from the planet Marte. Her alter ego was a young girl named Narda, who finds a magical stone from a crashed meteorite. Swallowing it and shouting “Darna,” Narda changes into a statuesque brunette who combats supernatural creatures.

In the new series, Narda is all grown up. Leaving the countryside for the metropolis, she is now a teenager studying in one of the top universities in Metro Manila. Her alter ego Darna, imbued with more powers and a sexier figure, fighters terrorists and super villains. Unfortunately for Darna, her new enemies’ powers have increased in proportion to her own. In the first issue, Darna trashes a terrorist group and a gang of would-be rapists.

Valentina, her arch-nemesis in previous incarnations, slithers into view at the end. She does not trade blows with Darna but hints to her soul-absorbing powers, an improvements over the former version’s ability to command snakes, whet the reader’s appetite for a climactic battle sometime the next issues.

Valentina is the central villain in the limited series. But if the creative team behind the new Darna has it’s way, more adversaries will follow. Mr. Yonzon said a regular monthly series might follow depending on how well the public receives the three-issue limited series. But even now, his team has updated classic Darna villains such as the Babaeng Lawin and Impakta, both from the movies and comics. Like Darna, her enemies have been redesigned and given boosted powers.

Mango Comics even plans to introduce new enemies. The creative team, however, refused to disclose any details. The comic represents a leap from Darna’s first appearance in Pinoy Comics issues no. 99, which came out in March 17, 1951. Its glossy pages are colored by computer and printed locally. A team of pencillers led by Gilbert Monsanto, a marquee name in international comics, has take the cudgels for Nestor Redondo, who was the first illustrator for Darna.

Darna fans might be surprised to discover that their superheroine first appeared under a different name. In 1947, Mars Ravelo teamed up with illustrator Nestor Redondo to produce “Varga” for Bulaklak Comics/Magazine. Her adventures, however, ended after a few issues. A few years later, the two re-launched the superheroine with a new name “Darna” was taken from “Adarna,” a mystical bird in Philippine folklore.

In an interview, Mr. Monsanto said the new Darna is cosmetically similar to her previous versions. His team made only minor tweaking to her design, namely giving her a more voluptuous figure and streamlining her costume.

“During our talks, my team decided to stick to her classic look. If we did drastic changes, people might not recognize Darna,” Mr. Monsanto said.

He narrated that his team toyed with ideas such as giving Darna shorter hair and making her wear a pantsuit. In the end, his team stuck with the classic Darna look made famous by Nestor Redondo. Mr. Monsanto noted that the Ravelo family gave its blessings to the new Darna, design changes included.

On the cover of the first issue, Darna poses akimbo, a swirling cloud announcing her. A simplified tiara and more intricate wristbands number among the changes to her costume. Of course, let’s not overlook the obvious: The new Darna shows more skin in her bikini-like outfit. Her costume is definitely more daring than her cycling shorts and tank top number in the past. Male readers will drool over her cleavage and surfboard stomach. Plus, she has muscles females gym enthusiasts would envy. “We didn’t have a problem with making our Darna sexier than her past incarnations. Sexy women abound in today’s comics, after all,” Mr. Monsanto said.

Darna began on paper. Her adventures have been immortalized on television sets and movie theaters. The third dimension, on stage that its, awaits the Philippines’ favorite superheroine.

Ballet Philippines is hard at work for the world-premier of Darna: A Dance Musical this August. Written and directed by Chris Millado, the musical boasts elaborate dances and a lavish production. The sets are comic book-inspired. An all-Filipino cast performs ethnic-inspired dances.

Several scenes feature Darna and other characters flying on stage. According to Ballet Philippines marketing director Monica Llamas, one particular scene features six characters flying at the same time. Ms. Llamas described the musical as a not-so-serious comedy. Everything is original, she emphasized. “Don’t expect a Miss Saigon,” she admitted but quickly added, “But the musical will make Filipinos proud.”

The launch of a new Darna comic book prepares the public for the upcoming musical. Those at Mango Comics and Ballet Philippines consider this development a coincidence. Both parties though share a common desire to see their favorite superheroine properly honored: Hence, “Darna Year.” “Everything to do with Darna has to have some synergy,” Ms. Llamas said. “Darna Year” is envisioned as a series of events to pay homage to the legacy of Mars Ravelo, whose creation has captured the hearts of Filipinos since her debut in 1951. Its organizes also intend the year-long celebration for introducing Darna to a new generation of Filipinos and, eventually, the rest of the world.