Sunday, August 31, 2014

My letter to Rick Remender's Low got printed & he used my suggestion for the name of the lettercol!

Have been a fan of Rick Remender's work on Fear Agent, Uncanny X-Force, Uncanny Avengers, Deadly Class, and no, Low. Wrote in after reading the awesome first issue and I suggested a name for the lettercol. And what do you know? The Man not only printed my letter but he also used my suggestion for the lettercol.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Good News about Niño Balita’s komiks

The Good News about Niño Balita’s komiks
by rick olivares

If Calvin, of Bill Watterson’s famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, were Filipino, and had grown up to be a comic book creator, he would be Niño Balita.

There’s a certain sunny disposition to his comics that celebrate life, are highly imaginative, are hopeful, and always bring a smile to your face.

And that in my opinion… is priceless.

In a growing sea of local komiks that run the gamut of manga/anime-inspired to the supernatural to the superheroic and to the satirical, Balita’s komiks (at least the ones I have as I am trying to complete my collection) – Alaala at Sampaguita, Everyday I Wish I Were a Badass Superhero, and Moymoy the Forest Guardian – are refreshing and fun reads.

The caveat however, is they’re hardly whimsical – they’re based on his own life, thoughts, and feelings, and what he loved and enjoyed reading as a youngster.

In fact, Alaala at Sampaguita (written by his then-girlfriend-and-now-wife Irene Genson), starts out as your typical a rich girl/poor boy story that seems to be headed for a tragic if not heartbreaking conclusion. Yet the manner in which it is resolved will remind you of My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Everyday I Wish I Were A Badass Superhero is a short komik about the sedentary life of a clerk who does nothing but file billing reports. In true Calvin-esque fashion, he daydreams about a life of adventure and superheroics but is rudely brought back to earth by that terrorist known as the uncharitable boss.

Moymoy and the Forest Guardian is about a young boy who befriends a giant who helps him rescue the men-folk of his village who were captured by another giant. And interestingly, it is only Moymoy can see the friendly giant.

Balita’s stories take you from the crossing between the Neverlandscapes of our youth to the Badlands of more serious adult life. He’s like Andy in Toy Story who has yet to let go. And it’s good because you only find stories like these only in children’s books.

His writing is passionate and he knows how to move a story along. The three titles I mentioned are all one-shots that one can digest in about 10 minutes but you’ll find yourself turning pack the pages to read again or admire the art. His stories are about people who will either remind you of yourself or someone you know. They are the everyday experiences one goes through. And perhaps that is what he does write best and not…. badass superhero stuff.

Although one can glean certain manga/anime iconography in Balita’s artwork (such as the facial expressions), it is at once Filipino and rendered in a simple but beautiful manner. I love the expressive nature of his art. Furthermore, when other artists wage war on white spaces, Balita knows that less is more.

And the more I read Niño Balita’s work, I can see the quiet genius in in them.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stuff in my local comics collection: Aster

Still have these after all these years. And they are in superb condition.
Remember when C.A.T.S. was the coolest comic specialty shop in town? They came up around the time of the Image and Valiant explosion of the mid-1990s and proprietor Billy Lim-It had a lot of collectible items in his shop that you never saw anywhere else. And they sold a lot of indie comics that made a fan like me very happy. It was almost impossible to get those indie stuff in the two regular shops Filbar’s and Comic Quest.

They upped the ante when they came out with the home-produced Aster. It was like Marvel’s Captain Marvel going indie!

I recall Billy showing my pages of the artwork from Oliver Isabedra (who later became my officemate in an ad agency). There was a lot of buzz about the first real homegrown super hero comic going international. It was solicited in Diamond Previews and then hot artist Jae Lee did the cover to the first issue (and later, George Perez). Talk about hype and back-up muscle! A letter of mine (based on the ashcan) even came out in the first issue!

However, the story disappointed! The art was great. But I thought that the story is an indictment of the rush of indies that came out of the Image beachhead – poorly written stories that could not be saved by great art. I even thought that the sexual jokes were of poor taste. Reading that first issue when I got it; I felt let down. And I guess, it did set the tone for the succeeding issues.

While it is a milestone it won’t really go down as a critically acclaimed book. They missed the bus on that. But… I have every single copy of the series that came out because of my collection of Filipino-authored comic books.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Between the us and the veil: Image Comics’ Death Vigil

Between the us and the veil: Image Comics’ Death Vigil
by rick olivares

The eternal battle of good versus evil has been played out in comic books even before superheroes made their print debut. Any new one sounds so cliché-ish, right?

But not so with Croatian writer-artist Stjepan Sejic’s Death Vigil from Image Comics where a team of guardians selected by the Grim Reaper battle necromancers who summon eldritch forces from beyond the veil to wreak havoc on the human world.

Sejic’s Death Vigil is beautifully drawn but the appeal of the book is how he gives depth to the characters. They are instantly likeable and charming; a stark contrast from the grim and gritty portrayal of characters of this particular sorcery and magic genre.

I love how he draws the iPod-listening Grim Reaper whose name is Bernadette but prefers to be called “Bernie” (and she loves music as well). Sejic flip-flops the Grim Reaper who saves lives rather than takes them. And because of that, despite her obvious beauty, she looks as if she literally carries the weight of the world and is tired. Her humor and attachment to her Death Vigil makes her ironically human (and she reveals that she forgets things but remembers each and everyone of the Death Vigil she has recruited including those who were put down for a second time by the enemy).

Sam, one the Death Vigil’s top agents nicknamed “The Digger”, has this roguish Matthew McConaughey charm that endears him to Bernadette who fears his cockiness while eventually be the (second) death of him.

Yet the book is more than simply misfits miscast as defenders of humanity. In true horror fashion, we are shocked to find out early in the first issue when one of the lead characters Clara is out on a dinner date with hey boyfriend Jon who choses the occasion to also visit the grave of his late father. In order to communicate with his deceased father, Jon stabs Clara as a sacrifice to the netherworld gods immediately giving the book its requisite air of gore and seriousness. Jon/necromancer is defeated and Clara is resurrected and recruited by Bernadette as the Death Vigil’s ranks have been recently thinned by the repeated attacks of their foes.

Plot-wise, Sejic sets up the story in the first two issues, introducing us to the characters and their villains. There’s one battle scene that is memorable when Sam conjures the astral form of Vikings to battle some hideous monster. It’s a scene reminiscent of scene from The Return of the King where Aragorn leads the Army of the Dead against the Corsairs of Umbar (and in true indie comic fashion, I also got that Dragonforce vibe with the Vikings appearance in issue #10 – the late Aircel Comic’s premier title that from Dale Keown who grew to prominence for his sterling run on The Incredible Hulk).

With everyone in place after two issues, I expect the story to get downright nastier while retaining the characterization and dark humor that has defined the book.

The necromancers are collecting weapons of fallen Death Vigil needing only six more to place in some nefarious totem that will be perhaps used in conjuring up the ultimate nightmare from H.P. Lovecraft’s deepest and darkest recesses.

Sejic’ spares nothing for Death Vigil. The first issue of this eight-book limited series clocks at a whopping 46 pages (while the second numbers 26 pages) of story and art. Even for the normal numbering of issues, Sejic truly puts pen to paper. The writing is pretty good and is spiced with pockets of humor.

I’ve always said a very good comic book is something that will take you more than 10 minutes to read because you savor every word and marvel at the art. Death Vigil succeeds on both counts.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why you should pick up Martial Law Babies.

Why you should pick up Martial Law Babies.
by rick olivares

Picking up Arnold Arre’s Martial Law Babies is like picking up like your batch yearbook that takes you to a trip down memory lane. The 1980s in particular.

But if you weren’t born in this era, will you be able to relate to all the 1970’s and 80s references that is far from this digital generation?

If you downloaded the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy (that wasn’t from your generation) or Dead Poets Society (that was released in 1989) as a paean to the late Robin Williams who recently passed away then you’ll appreciate Martial Law Babies.

The signposts are mere reference points. I doubt if relationships and life have changed since (except the technology that defines us today).

Furthermore, picking up this graphic novel also means that you’re taking time away from your hectic schedule of downloading tunes, video chatting, mall-hopping, partying at the hottest club or maybe simply chilling with your fellow twentysomethings to read an actual graphic novel and not some digital on your Kindle or whatever gadget you use to read nowadays.

Stay with it. It is time well spent.

Originally published in 2008, Martial Law Babies, now available in a new printing for a new generation of fans, follows a group of friends growing up in the late-1970s as they graduate from grade school to high school to college to life post-school. It’s when life went from the simple to the complicated and how our lives are shaped by the choices we make and the world around us.

It’s about as a kid, your first understanding of Martial Law was the late dictator’s decision to yank Voltes V and other mech-anime shows off television because it was violent (although some opine that because a business partner of his was losing money because no one was watching a kiddie show at 6pm on a rival network).

It’s about first crushes and first loves. And how being torpe, launching into ill-timed emotional outbursts, and not being part of the in-crowd leaves daydreaming as your usual recourse and feeling empty.

It’s about feeling immortal when you’re in that bastion of learning, dreams and idealism that is college and you finding out there is simply nothing you cannot do unless your CMT commandant or the school bully is able to communicate that is farthest from the truth.

It’s about friendship and how these complex relationships will be tested by our words and actions more so when you decide to get into business together.

It’s about how that youthful idealism is replaced by cynicism and about wanting to leave as part of the brain drain of the 1980s and 1990s when the effects of Martial Law continued to affect our country long after the dictator was deposed.

It’s about realizations and how when it hits you like a ton of bricks except that it arrives a little too late.

It’s about wishing for a simpler time when the world goes mad around you.

It’s about experiencing losses and how we do not recover from everything.

It’s about making peace with ourselves and what we’ve become over time.

It’s a story about you and me and every one else.

And perhaps, lastly, it’s a manifesto to today’s generation to make the most out of life and to help fix our country that has been corrupted by greed and power.

What makes Martial Law Babies (and similar stories such as David Nicholl’s One Day or even that wonderful 1980s drama-comedy The Wonder Years to name a couple of what is an oft-written subject) poignant is how we all went through similar phases and know real people like the characters in the book. We can identify with situations. It brings back old feelings and memories that make us laugh, cringe in horror, and smile at the bittersweet taste of regret.

Arre, who masterfully wrote and drew this 288-page tome, is able to bring back an era that defined more than the generation that grew up at that time but also changed the way the country is.

Growing up like the characters of Martial Law Babies, you quickly learn that life isn’t Voltes V, schoolboy crushes, comic books, and concerts. There’s a larger world out there where we participate on how it is shaped for the future.

It’s like the country coming out of EDSA where instead of coming together, we as a people remain as fractured as every and where perhaps the only thing that has changed is that we get to take shots at the government without fear of disappearing.

The other day I was talking to a colleague of mine from work who expressed similar sentiments in Martial Law Babies – of how life is fine in the Philippines except that the national issues affect us in so many ways and that he has grown tired of it. Like Rebecca, one of two lead characters in the graphic novel, he is thinking of flying northward for a new life.

It was a moment that I let him have as he suddenly opened up and reminisced about good days and bad ones and growing up. In spite of the cynicism that has taken hold of him, he still holds hope. Except that it’s not here.

As for me, fortysomething who has lived both home and abroad but seemingly back for good, remain hopeful about a lot of things even if life seemingly has conspired against me. As the saying goes, while there’s life there’s hope.

As for my colleague, I could do nothing but only wish him well.

And oh, yes. He too is a Martial Law Baby.

You really have to pick up this torch that is Arnold Arre’s Martial Law Babies.

* This review respectfully picks up from pages 271-272 of the book. Martial Law Babies is published by Nautilus Comics and the 288-page graphic novel is priced at P500.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy film review: Hooked on a feeling!

Guardians of the Galaxy: Hooked on a feeling!
by rick olivares

What makes for a cool science fiction film?

It’s got cool characters and aliens.
Captain Kirk is cool. Ditto with Han Solo. And so’s the entire cast of Firefly.

So how’s Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord? Rocket, a genetically altered wise-ass raccoon? Groot, a spacefaring Ent? The blue-skinned Kree. As much as I thought that Vance Astro (the original leader of the first incarnation of the Guardians) was one of the best characters ever, the new team is way more diverse and max cool!


There has to be an absolutely cool spaceship.
Think of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, and the Serenity.

The Milano, Star Lord’s starship has equal parts Robotech’s Valkyrie and Mobile Suit Gundam. It looks sleek and every bit like what a real sleek spacecraft should be.

And the dogfights in outer space are awesome!


There should be fantastic alien worlds that will suspend your belief.
Does this look like something Ralph McQuarrie, Roger Dean, and Michael Whelan can conjure?

Xandar never looked so good. Knowhere came to life. Morag! Totally bleak!


There should be some badass villain.
Do all sci-fi films require some death dealer like Darth Vader, Khan, or the Cylons? Nope. One of my fave sci-fi films Outland, a Space Western that well preceded Joss Whedon’s Firefly had ornery folks as villains. And who can forget Rutger Hauer’s chilling portrayal of Roy Batty in Blade Runner?

However, in this massive storyline for Marvel films that is no doubt leading to one of their comic line’s more famous stories, The Infinity Gauntlet (where Thanos is able to gather all the Infinity Stones that give him omnipotence, omniscience, and god-like powers that he will use to destroy the universe as a homage to his Mistress Death), there’s the super bad Ronan the Accuser.

Ronan is a military governor and jurist of the Kree race, who strikes a bargain with the mad Titan Thanos. In exchange for locating one of the Infinity Stones, Thanos will destroy one of the Kree’s hated enemies, the Xanderians.

When Ronan learns the true power of one of the stones in question, he decides to keep it himself and instead use it to destroy Xandar and Thanos. Verily, there is no honor among villains!


And now, we can add another criteria in grading sci-fi action films --- the soundtrack.

As the main character, Peter Quill/Star Lord is abducted as a child by Yondu (one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the comic version) and brought to outer space, he brings along his cherished Walkman that serves as one of his few links to Earth and his mother who passed away from cancer. The Walkman that serves as an emotional center point to the story plays a mix tape of songs from the 1970s and early 80s.

Their use in the film is never contrived. And they flow well with the various scenes where they are introduced.

Case in point: When Star Lord goes back to Kyln, the prison planet, to retrieve his Walkman from the guards, Rupert Holmes’ huge hit from 1979, “Escape” is playing.

Marvel Films has done it once more and in bold style. And for them to bring to the big screen a comic book team that previously wasn’t one of their top tier books – they’ve got balls!

And a sense of humor. You have to appreciate the script writing that is laced with humor that is never too much or little.

Drax (after Groot releases firefly like creatures from his body to light the way): Where did you learn to do that?
Star Lord: I am pretty sure the answer is, “I am Groot.”

Gamora: I am a warrior! An assassin. I do not dance.
Star Lord: Really? Well, on my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It's called Footloose. And in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that, dancing, well, is the greatest thing there is.

Humor can be dangerous if not used properly. In Guardians, it comes when you least expect it such as when Star Lord dances in front of Ronan right before the Accuser is about to destroy Xandar. Quill’s distraction and delay tactics buys Rocket and Drax enough time to cobble a big gun to blast away the bad guy.

And when you think that Gamora is about to groove and sashay to the melody of Quill’s Walkman by film’s end (Marvin Gaye’s and Tami Tyrell’s magnificent “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), she doesn’t at all. And rightly so because it would be so off putting. However, right before the credits roll, Groot gives in to his inner Kevin Bacon.

The humor hasn’t been stressed enough. And it’s a key ingredient in the Marvel Films much like icon Stan Lee did when he wrote their entire comic book line back in the day. And the result is a distinct and far contrast to the DC Films that are filled with characters with sticks up their butts.

The casting too is excellent! Chris Pratt is marvelous as Peter Quill/Star Lord. Dave Bautista turns out can act too! Guess all those WWE storylines prepped him for this. And Bradley Cooper who voices Rocket is a winner! Clearly, Rocket is a scene-stealer!

Director James Gunn ensures that the action flows smoothly and you’re never bored. Furthermore, it’s filled with cameos to keep the comic book geeks and purists happy while offering just enough backstory and intrigue for the newer fans to appreciate.

Case in point: The Collector who is one of the Elders of the Universe in Marvel mythology. In Thor: The Dark World, the Asgardian Thunder God and Volstagg bring the Aether to him prompting him to say, “One down; five to go.” A reference to the gathering of the mysterious Infinity Stones.

And there’s Cosmo the Space Dog, the Nova Corps, the Celestials, Knowhere, and Howard the Duck. Whew!

Guardians of the Galaxy is an unexpected delight in the vein of Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It expands Marvel’s cinematic universe and is a thoroughly entertaining film that begs to be viewed multiple times.

Oh, yes. It’s a cool sci-fi action film.