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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Special: Aswangs Afoot!

Halloween may be just around the corner, but here in our little patch of heaven we call it All Saint's Day, when the parents start telling junior about all the things he can expect to be waiting for him in his sleep should he throw tantrums again. Ghosts in the closet, the old lady waiting outside your window...no wonder my generation's so well-adjusted. And who can blame us? The Philippines has a rich history of ghouls and monstrous abominations that could rival Japanese kaidan. But we'd like to call it by its proper term of aswang. From kapre to manananggal, tikbalang to tiyanaks, there's enough nightmare fuel in our old folk stories to keep kids in line for life.

Speaking of nightmare fuel, it's interesting to know that some American comic books have already portrayed an aswang in one form or another, and we only have my fellow Filipino comic book stars to thank for it. So, in the spirit of All Hallow's Eve, we'll look at two of these comics with aswangs in them, starting with Whilce Portacio's Stone: The Awakening.

Stone was Whilce's big project in 1998, published under Avalon Studios, an imprint of Image Comics. Stone was hyped to high heaven, as it was the first internationally released comic book with Filipino characters, using Filipino folklore, and set entirely in the Philippines. Think about that for a sec. While Matt Fraction thought it trendy to showcase Filipinos in the pages of Marvel, Whilce sold it to the world like it ain't no thing...and he didn't even have to blow people up to do it!

Anyhoo, Stone was the story of Gerry Alan (a nod to his inker at the time and fellow artist Gerry Alanguilan), a self-absorbed movie star who becomes a reluctant hero when he discovers that he's a player in an ancient 'game' for the fate of the 'shadow dimensions'. Using powerful stones called agimats (another Filipino convention), Gerry defended the world and tried not to get himself killed by some of the scariest monsters in Filipino folklore.

One of these particular monsters was the tikbalang, a man-horse hybrid, that smacked Gerry around during his first appearance.

Stone battles the tikbalang from Issue 1
There was also an engkanto, a forest spirit who hunted Gerry around for an issue or two, only to get pwned in a single page.

Enkantownd!
And have I told you Gerry's guide to all this is a wise-cracking, crotchety duwende?

I love this dwende. But Gimli he ain't.
Gerry proceeded to fight more aswangs during the course of the series, including manananggals, kisapmatas and others, and it was awesome wicked fun while it lasted. Which was sad, since it looked like Whilce really had fun sharing some aswang love with everyone else, just like comic book artist Jinky Coronado and her eponymous and infamous creation, Banzai Girl.

While I admit that Jinky's adventures might be totally glossed over by her incessant need to pop a prerequisite upskirt and panty shot, Banzai Girl was notable for also bringing to the international stage more monsters from Filipino folklore to have smackdowns with.

In one issue, Jinky fought a manananggal to a blouse-tearing standstill, and they really captured the image of it quite well.

Banzai Girl fighting the Manananggal
The manananggal, I mean.

Jinky also ran into some very horny duwendes, who apparently have the power to tear outer clothing to shreds while leaving lingerie virtually untouched.

Duwendes finding out Banzai Girl's weakness
And of course, it wouldn't be complete without a cameo from a kapre, complete with smoky joint and propensity for chillin' in treetops.

Kapreeeee!!!
Both Banzai Girl and Stone introduced aswangs to a wider audience, thanks to Whilce Portacio and Jinky Coronado, both proud Filipinos that wanted to share a bit of our culture to the world. And while it didn't spark any comic book aswang revolution, it showed the world that we have our own frighteningly unique monsters to piss our pants for.

So enjoy your Halloween, guys! And for our international friends out there, be thankful that it's not these monsters you have to worry about seeing anytime soon!

I hope. :)

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