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GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Sixty Six, Vol. 1

 
SixtySix
SixtySix
SixtySix

 
Overview
 

Story by: Russel Molina
 
Art by: Ian Sta. Maria
 
Publisher:
 
FG RATING
 
 
 
 
 
4.5/ 5


User Rating
4 total ratings

 


To sum it all up..

HOW PINOY WE ARE Russell Molina (Anong Gupit Natin Ngayon?) and Ian Sta. Maria (Skyworld) team up for an exploration of nostalgia, sense of duty and responsibility, heroism, and Philippine values and culture through the lenses of superhero and Philippine mysticism in SIXTY-SIX, Vol. 1. Let’s go to the details first. It has four chapters. It follows […]

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Posted June 14, 2015 by

 
FULL REVIEW
 
 

SixtySix

HOW PINOY WE ARE

Russell Molina (Anong Gupit Natin Ngayon?) and Ian Sta. Maria (Skyworld) team up for an exploration of nostalgia, sense of duty and responsibility, heroism, and Philippine values and culture through the lenses of superhero and Philippine mysticism in SIXTY-SIX, Vol. 1. Let’s go to the details first. It has four chapters. It follows a traditional linear sequential storytelling. The setting is in Manila. And the main character is Celestino A. Cabal or “Mang Tino”, a sixty-six year old husband whose beloved wife, Aura, suffers a serious mental disease called Alzheimer’s. And his “partner” is Donat, a paraplegic who works as barangay tanod.  Budjette Tan, creator of Trese, provides an inspirational foreword written in Filipino. Okay, let’s deconstruct this Pinoy indie gem, shall we?

Both Molina and Sta. Maria have a great time conceptualizing, crafting, directing and executing this visual treatise of what constitutes of being Filipino/a. Story-wise, veteran comic readers and cartoon viewers would be familiarized with the tone of the plot immediately in chapters one and two for Sixty-Six is akin to the journey of a retired superhero but the urge of doing what is right and the sense of thrill and excitement remains so strong. Most particular examples are Pixar’s The Incredibles and, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. However, our Mang Tino’s main concern in the first two chapters is his most beloved Aura. It takes a couple of events that prompt him to go back to action, but in “vigilante” mode ala Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

Quite indeed, Sixty-Six is homage of the superhero genre that we are so familiar with. Mang Tino is an archetype of the most iconic superhero ever, Superman. He possesses almost the same powers of the Man of Steel. And, his attitude is similar to Clark Kent. Comparisons are necessary since it is undeniable that Superman is the template of the positives, the light-bringer, the ever optimist, the paragon of values and morals, and defender of the oppressed. But, the creative team knows that too well, and what is more appropriate and truly relevant is putting our values, cultures, and mentalities in the forefront instead of slavishly follow the American superhero trope, or the so-called “colonial mentality”. To paraphrase National Artist in Literature F. Sionil Jose who reminds us that there is nothing wrong per se of copying stuffs from the outside as long as they are infused with the Filipino/a spirit. Molina and Sta. Maria just exactly and even exceed that one. The concepts of “pakikitungo sa kapwa” and “paggalang sa mga nakakatatanda” are so strong in our Philippine society that almost everyone in the Manila vicinity gives Mang Tino the appropriate respect he is bestowed. In a heated argument with the bystanders and Donat, we are familiarized with “pikunan”, “ma-pride”, and “asaran”. Molina’s dialogues are spot-on, unabashedly Pinoy na Pinoy! And, we witness the clash of the old and new generation’s perspectives. Mang Tino’s mindset is nostalgia of the bygone years of conservatism that stricter social and moral decorum were given emphasis, unlike in the present generations’ postmodern or globalized perceptions that slowly reverse their cultural leanings towards the elderly.

Sta. Maria illustrates with the sense of urgency of portraying Mang Tino and the surroundings the authentic Manila ambiance. The jeeps, the houses, the crowded streets and districts, and the density of the populace mark the genuineness of the artist and the writer to show us readers that crafting a superhero comic in Manila setting would become the NORM of future comic book writing. Of course, excellent works like Trese, Martial Law Babies, Skyworld, and almost all Pinoy indie-superhero and supernatural works set the place within the Greater Manila context, but Sixty Six stands out the rest because Molina writes excellent Filipino dialogues, ranging from profanities, archaic, street lingos, and songs! In addition, the writer perfectly balances the timing of delivering Filipino-Tagalog and English, making Sixty-Six an almost life-like reading experience. Not forced like some writers around, but he writes as if he and the readers have a great conversation or the latter are simply PART of the story itself. Now that’s the mark of an excellent writer. Seriously, can we have this comic adapted for radio-plays?

Another intriguing and innovative way of storytelling is the presence of Aura’s letters to her most beloved. In perspective, we read these tenderly touched letters when she was at her peak of her health. Her mind was still lucid, writing passionately for her husband’s safety and well-being, and the longings of being together similar a true fairy tale fantasy couple. Once again, Molina injects the old-fashioned Filipina married type archetype that is still resonating amongst Philippine couples. I’m not going to delve on the finer points of feminism here for someone may interpret this as otherwise, but we are in the Philippine setting and the framework of feminism in the Western contexts is way different than ours to begin with. Being at home doesn’t mean “weakness” and we even witness Mang Tino’s dedication to the fullest of nurturing his most beloved without regret or thinking of separation. I well remember one of the best lessons I read from Pol Medina’s Pugad Baboy about the husband-wife relationship—respect is earned from one another (with unconditional love, naturally). Set after each chapter, this technique is well-placed and executed to the point of wishing the creative team crafted a number of happier and younger years between Mang Tinio and Aura, aside from the husband’s dreams and fleeting memories on her.

The sequential flow is undeniably clear cut, almost without hassles or mishaps that even Sixty-Six is comprised of more than one hundred seventy pages, it still reads as smoothly and as accessible ever. Sta. Maria’s hyper detailed illustrations and his growing mastery of balancing his trademark heavy inking and fine lines are astonishingly present as the action progresses from optimism to darker consequences. Understandably, his drawings in chapters one and two feel like the kind of warmth and radiance that is akin of reading the Astro City series, the anti-thesis of Watchmen. He even reminds us what a typical Pinoy dining room and other features to our Philippine identity (like, the display of gigantic wooden spoon and fork, and the graduation photo of their daughter who is in America as a nurse). Chapters three and four take a darker route to accommodate the superhero trope by inserting the mystical forces we are too familiar with. Instead of the horrifying beings, we are still intrigued on the possessed humans whose eyes glow similar to Akuma’s demonic eyes. There is neither a clear leader nor the name of the existing malevolent force that attempt to thwart our beloved senior superhero citizen. This makes us clamoring for more Sixty-Six volumes, especially on the heartbreaking last page that shatters our optimistic expectations (a nod to Pinoy classic action films) and gearing to a darker path of no return. Molina definitely knows how to deliver a powerful cliffhanger, making salivating for retribution/revenge.

The water-color grayish schema is done almost perfectly to either heighten the pace and mood of the Manila-centric setting, plus the interactions of the characters involved. Perhaps due to limited resources and time restraints on the creative team, gray is the next best option and Sta. Maria pulls this off once again, similar to his black-and-white schema in his seminal Skyworld series.

To balance this glowing articulation of this fine piece of visual literature, I find the ever-present “66” in the background of every page a bit annoying. If not for Sta. Maria’s excellent craftsmanship and Molina’s equally fine wordsmith, I would immediately see these as I progressively read. Perhaps it serves as a “special effects”, I don’t know. And, at the tail-end of the story, the “sound effects” utilized in the fight and chase scenes that are spelled-out are, once more, a bit awkward as to emphasize the Filipino-Tagalog sounds. Does the actual “sound” produces from punches, kicks, and other hits already suffice enough instead? Or are they spelled out for enhance dramatic effects? On the record, these “criticisms” are considered minor at best. Sixty-Six is a must read, SERIOUSLY!

Russell Molina and Ian Sta. Maria proves us once again that the fusion of Philippine values, culture, social and psychological milieus, humors, supernatural and mysticism and superhero tropes are surely attainable and making the comic medium as the excellent venue for that realization alone. Their collaborative efforts in Sixty Six are another hallmark not only in Philippine independent comics but to other international counterparts as well. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!


Paul Ramos

 


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