MANILA, Philippines--?My name is Alexandra Trese. I am nothing like my father.? Her father Anton dabbled in affairs mystical and mysterious; she?called ?Little Trese? fondly and otherwise?has inherited his gift for the eerily unorthodox, with a difference. It is to her that Manila?s police turn when a crime scene confounds them, because there is no one like Alexandra Trese.
Stepping resolutely apart from the crowd of the commonplace, ?Trese: Murder on Balete Drive? by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo (Visual Print Enterprises, Pasay City, 2008, 100 pages) is a graphic novel that stands apart from what has come before. The proprietor of a hot Malate club called The Diabolical, Alexandra Trese comes when she is invited, accompanied by her pistol-packing and superhuman bodyguards the Kambal. But she knows something terrible and odd has transpired for the policeman Captain Guerrero to ask for her intervention. The cases in this first volume are ample evidence of that. An actual White Lady lies dead in Balete Drive. Something unearthly is drag-racing in C-5. An unfaithful wife is the unwitting fuse to escalating catastrophe in Paco. Not only does ?Trese? take the familiar folklore and relocate it in a contemporary Metro Manila setting, it also adds a deliciously devious twist to each one. This is most evident in the final story in the collection, ?Our Secret Constellation,? which is a masterful reinvention of a popular icon that will break your heart and blow your mind.
These tense tales with a twist spring from the imagination of Tan, who helped found the seminal Alamat Comics Group and has been writing for over a decade. Tan provides a suitably street-level feel to the dark happenings, producing plots that feel like Warren Ellis? Planetary, Mike Mignola?s Hellboy and Chris Carter?s The X-Files all melded together and contained in a fully realized Metro Manila avatar. ?That will be the least of your problems,? the fascinating Alexandra Trese barks. ?As the universe seeks balance, so does the underworld.? Full of sharp characterization and suspenseful revelations, ?Trese? is clearly Tan?s best work, a transcendent product of modern spookiness.
There are some creations that really are better in black-and-white, and ?Trese? is one of them. Baldisimo?s moody art, full of negative space, speed lines, a black grid and sharp angles, enthralls the reader. Eyes flicker with a hint of danger. The heavy air of Manila crackles with secret electricity just barely visible. All these forces, Baldisimo captures in his panels. Beyond that, his characters are distinctive, from Alexandra?s haircut to the Kambal?s spooky masks. A gallery section details the development of Baldisimo?s designs for the series.
True to the series title, Tan and Baldisimo?s limited series of photocopied mini-comics has been designed with 13 stories to tell and the comic book series is now at # 7, all of which can be glimpsed on tresekomix.blogspot.com. Why should you go buy the book when it?s available for free online? You must, because ?Murder on Balete Drive? is that good, and because ?Trese?s? superiority as a collaboration is best experienced in book form. The second collection, due out later in the year, will collect issues # 5-8, and a third volume will wrap up the series after that.
The elements present in the fortuneteller?s brew that is ?Trese? are not new, but the seamless communion of Tan and Baldisimo?s talents imbues ?Murder? with a palpable energy. Every few years, a completed Filipino-crafted graphic novel emerges from the mist to take its place among the work of greats such as Mars Ravelo and the Redondo brothers: Gerry Alanguilan?s ?Wasted,? Arnold Arre?s ?The Mythology Class? and Carlo Vergara?s ?Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah,? in particular.
With a subtle glint of eldritch metal and a mystery woman?s steely relentlessness, ?Trese: Murder on Balete Drive? by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo joins that potent pantheon, something that emerged burning brilliantly from the shadowy streets we assumed we knew so well.
Available starting April 30 at leading bookstores.