Posted June 4, 2015 by Paul Ramos in Columns

IN DEPTH: Meta-historicism on SKYWORLD

Meta-historicizing Skyworld:
Deconstructing Historical Possibilities, Conspiracies and Lies

I. Preview

Master cartoonist Gerry Alanguilan is right in the current state of Philippine comics—it is still ALIVE and continues to evolve.[1] He says this all over to counter claims that the Philippine comics industry is either “died” or “dying.” The naysayers and critics are terribly wrong in one point, but had an argument to push through, but that’s a different discourse altogether. The point is that Philippine comics continue to strive, though not in the same manner or light in the so-called “golden age” epoch of the 1950s up to the late 1980s fashion.[2] The continuing evolution of comics storytelling is evident in the guise of fusing culture, history, politics, and the American-influenced superhero genre into a singular, complex and highly engrossing and entertaining read altogether. Though this kind of multi-genre combination is nothing per se, but the execution of excellent plot, characterization, flow of sequence(s), believable (and relatable) theme(s), and the illustration itself can elevate the comics into a higher form of visual artistic literature. I can say that the graphic novel Skyworld is worth discoursing for it seems to fit the current trend of this postmodern Philippine reality—a story so fictional that feels like it is “true,” “intriguing,” and “worth reading” in the sense that one reader can wish that happened in the visual form is “real.”[3]

This article is definitely focusing on the nature of the visual literature and its combination of the so-called “historical facts” and the relatable “fictional” situations/scenarios/possibilities. I cannot attempt to utilize historicism on the strictest sense, for this graphic novel, and other forms of comics genres out there, is conceptualized/created to fulfill the creators’ deeper desire—to tell, present, and even articulate their own vision in the medium they feel as appropriate, nothing more or less.[4] Instead, I deconstruct this piece of visual artwork on the seemingly fictional illustration of Philippine folklore (or a celebration to it due to the richness it can bring, utilize and exploit in the literary craft of this make-believe world/reality/possibility) but it actually portrays an another reality—another parallel meta-universe (if not, a part of a “multiverse” where the impossibilities (and fictional) are the actual opposites/polarities/binaries, if not the paradoxes/contradictions. The power of the medium is already unfolding through this kind of storytelling the graphic novel presents, and this agent of deconstruction takes the task of (un)raveling what needs to be untangled. And this is only the beginning of a well-meaning pursuit of intellectual discourse, if that’s the case at all. However, views made in this study is sorely mine ALONE, including the perceive mistakes made in the course of the visualizing this discourse.

II. The View(s): Inner Yearnings, and Influences

The overall premise of Skyworld is something ominous: “Every legend hides a lie.” The medium that is graphic novel (though some comics creators are still having reservations on that term), expands the boundaries of what are “facts” and “fiction,” “reality” and “illusions,” “dreams” and “concrete,” “mundane” and extraordinaire,” and “historical” and “non-historical”/“novelty.”[5] In this illustrative phenomenon, the illustrators/creators—Mervin Ignacio and Ian Sta. Maria—try to stretch the horizons of comics storytelling to the level of fusing what are “real” and “fictional,” “the surreal” and “commonplace,” and “historical facts” and “historical conspiracies/imaginations/speculations.” The latter presents much to the entire story that gives the creators, I believe, the benefit of the doubt of re-creating/reconstructing/re-imagining what Philippine history (and to large degree, metaphysical/meta-universal origins) and contemporary times WOULD and SHOULD HAVE looked like in the first place. This kind of freedom and/or liberty the illustrators possess in creating the vision they want to illustrate/ portray in Skyworld is no easy task if some disillusioned/naïve minds think so. To create something “new” is a long-processed germination for the creators perhaps has to execute what needs to be done. The equally famed (and influential) TRESE creator Budjette Tan mentions in the novel’s foreword that due to the real lives of the illustrators—true occupational duties and responsibilities and their respective families to look upon—they take almost a decade to create and complete the illustrative/graphic vision they both share.[6] And even more demanding/challenging, they incorporate a number of historical figures/personalities/events/places/situations and cultural icons—mythical, real and contemporary—to give the readers the so-called illustrative ambiance/atmospheric feel of a world/the Philippines that is very connective, relatable, engaging and worth demand of repeating reading to fully reap the benefits of investing this graphic novel from the start up to the end page. Thus, the power of fusing history, and literary and aesthetics approaches come with a twist; considering the circumstances the illustrators confront in making their dreams a visual feast and reality; the pace of the story is exactly worth the investment of analyzing the plot and the intricacies they put-in to make the flow more fluid, lucid and engaging. But enough of this appraisal of this graphic meta-illustration for it jars the narrative this paper tries to attain.

Originally divided into three parts—Apocrypha, Testament and Requiem—the story mixes Philippine mythological beings, famous personalities in history, contemporary settings and the good-old-fashion-American-flavored superhero genre (and even from another famous comics character that already making waves in the visual literary circles and “geek” realm—TRESE).[7] Applying mythological beings of the Philippines is already being in place in the medium since the so-called “golden-era” of Philippine comics (1950s-1970s).[8] Stories told by the elders to either scare children or less to remind of the supernatural/meta-beings, creatures like “tikbalangs,” “kapre,” “diwata,” “engkanto,” and “tiyanak” are favorite staple foods for creators in creating stories in the name of horror. Even a combination of Judeo-Christian meta-human beings like angels and demons (to some extent, the binary masters “God” and “Lucifer,” respectively) can intermingle with the already supernatural universe the Philippine folk/ mythical culture possess already. Moreover, comics and literary superstar Neil Gaiman once comments that aspiring and current Filipino writers/illustrators/creators can fuse their rich culture with good storytelling, similar to what he does in his ever-influential and seminal magnum opus the Sandman series, where questions, “How would the classical deities, and gods and goddesses do in the 20th century American set-up?,” or “How would these once worshipped beings mingle, interact, react, relate, and converse with modern-day (or postmodern) societies?”[9] In superhero comics alone in the Philippine context, superstar Filipino-American artist Whilce Portacio created a series named “Stone” that showcased several Philippine mythical creatures, alongside the equally mysterious “agimats,” and/or “amulets”/“Stones.”[10] The end result of combining indigenous/mainstream and religious icons/figures/ personalities in the roles of either being the protagonists and/or antagonists, supporting acts or simply the agents/deux ex machine in the main/minor narrative(s) is itself a creation of a new visual spectacle and “reality” to behold in the hands of a skilled (and highly imaginative) illustrator(s).

The genre itself may be somehow categorized as fantasy for much of the characters in Skyworld are basically either mythological and/or metaphysically imposed.[11] Yet, the so-called “make-believe” entertainment categorization is an understatement for the visions of the creators. In the past two decades or so in comics storytelling/narrative (circa 1980s-2000s), overlapping themes are very evident in conveying the creators’ messages to the readers, but the paramount is basically the same—what makes the former stand out from the rest of their kind, especially in executing their respective craft (narrating to the distinctive visual styles). What potency can be brought upon if the timeline is set in the contemporary times—the notorious (and infamous) administration/regime in the post-EDSA 1 years—The Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo years! This present Philippine generation surely remembers how the petite and highly educated daughter of the former president came to power in January 20, 2001 via the popular uprising and got elected in a very controversial and highly contested presidential election of 2004. And, her administration may be credited for economic resurgences but the majority of the Philippine citizenry look back of her rampant abuse of power, graft and corruption, and other anomalies in virtually every branch of the government. Of course in the graphic novel, Skyworld has two distinct phases that intertwine but showing connectivity between the past and the present; yet the setting in the Macapagal-Arroyo administration/regime is itself a reaction of the inner disgust to the most vertically-challenged Philippine president ever. Since the creators are considered part of the majority—silent, but angry; resilient and persevering, but dreaming of getting rid of her and other minions in power—what better way of demonstrating their true intent without being caught/monitored/ persecuted/ostracized by having the “Gloria” the president being “killed” very slowly by the same people whom she promised to be promoted or enriched (it is one of the greatest factors/reasons why the real female president remained in power for more than nine years due to the fact that she had the major support of the military hierarchy, if not she had this “weird” sense of history of defusing popular oppositions that brought down both Ferdinand Marcos (February 25, 1986) and Joseph Ejercito Estrada (January 20, 2001).

In a sense that illustrates everything that many Filipino citizens felt (and still is) on the second female Philippine president in the words like “betrayal,” “liar,” and “thief” before “she” was gruesomely killed by her “supposed protectors” and later, the major antagonist/“brains.”[12] These words echoed so strong that these will definitely haunt her supposed legacies (one of these was her supposed economic achievements, to which she had supporters-either from her ranks or non-partisan).[13] Though no name being mentioned at all, the face and time being portrayed (including the circumstances that dominated the political zeitgeist then) are definitely targeted to her—it was the people in EDSA in January 20, 2001 that put her in presidential power, but she “betrayed” the people’s trust. She once promised not to seek re-election in the elections of 2004, but she did otherwise and even worst, she “cheated” in that highly contested presidential election (the words, “I AM SORRY.”) that still ring to today’s public psyche, hence she “lied.” And, the GMA government was (and even now) accused of stealing the coffers of the people. Of course, reality speaks otherwise to her present fate, but the beauty of the illustrative-visual medium is that the creators can create the scenarios/possibilities/dreams/ wishes/inner thoughts/“universe” that can fit to their own visions: if the “paradigm”/“image” of notoriety/deviousness/hopelessness/ banality/corruptibility/bleakness/dreadfulness/insincerity/“evil” exists and more so, so powerful to be toppled in the “real” world, the creators can do the exact opposite without being libelous, subversive or a true threat to the central power (since Skyworld is an independent or “indie” created publication and not part of the mainstream intellectual or political discourse, it was safer to say that the creators achieved that vision: the lady president’s “bloody fate”). I recounted my conversation with one of the creators upon pointing out the fate “she” had. He replied that good thing there was no regulatory board in Philippine comics similar to the Movie, Television, Radio, and Cinema Board or the MTRCB to oversee and monitor the comics content[14] (according to another comics scholar and artist, Randy Valiente, Philippines had once a comics regulatory board or something similar to the United States’ the Comics Authority Code—an institution that was enforced in the 1950s up the early 2010s, though greatly weakened in the 1990s to the 2000s).[15] Nonetheless, the president’s “fate” was sealed just for her.

Even more, the influence of the superhero genre in the graphic novel is very apparent, and to some measures, captures the zeitgeist of Philippine comics readers’ crave for some serious matchups and conflicts. Superhero comics (both as the visual literary genre) is the United States’ greatest contribution to the medium, was started in the late 1930s when the first issue of Action Comics appeared (the first appearance of Superman) and subsequently, Detective Comics 27 (the first existence of the Batman). There were earlier prototypes/archetypes like Zorro, the Phantom and others, the two abovementioned characters paved way for the popular cultural icons that are still existing and presently, enjoying wider popularity (or mainstream). Indeed, Superman represents the optimism and positivity of a superhero, if not the ideal image of a meta-human that the creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, envisioned. Batman, on the other hand, is the exact opposite—dark, grim, and “real” feel of an alpha-male in the guise of crime fighting, noir-ish blend of logical thinking, and with the unsurpassed will to fight the impossible dream-to end crime.[16]

From what I see on the flow of the graphic narrative, the presentation is in the grim and dark situation, a comedia in place of Filipino cultural folklores and legends synthesized into a purgatory cum hellish travel towards an indescribable scale of destruction of the central seat of power and influence (Manila) until the predictable (but satisfying) confrontational duel of “good” versus “evil.” Speaking the inevitable dichotomy/polarity, the characters are exactly what traditional superhero portrayals illustrate—the race of “asuangs” (led by the immortal “mistress” Rianka) are the definite “villains,” while the “tikbalang,” “engkantos,” “diwatas,” and warrior-priestess (or more culturally-linguistically more appropriate, “mandirigma-babaylan”) Alexandra Trese and the “Kambal” (or simply Twins) bodyguards are the major protagonists. The hero, Andoy, is a fusion of both Superman/Batman images, alongside the perennial tough of religious intonations of the “messiah complex” in the aptly termed Maharlika (roughly translated as “Supreme master”/“Overlord”). Let me count the ways. It is true that superhero comics become more convoluted, darker and grimmer since the release of The Watchmen in 1987-1988, the images of many superheroes (or company-owned properties like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Joker, Black Manta, etc.) are definitely etched in hard stone, a clear case of the label “black and white” imageries.

Mentioning archetypes in making and creating sublime intonations and implying religious significance are also staple foods in the graphic novel discourse. Granted, Superman often portrays as the “god” or the ultimate paragon of anything “good” and “virtue” while Batman is the complete anti-thesis—optimum human yet so damaged and paradoxically, HUMAN, to some extent, “the most dangerous man”[17] who once or twice wished to possess or having superhuman powers.[18] Andoy only wished to live a simple and decent life from the beginning until the true deux ex machine, Kaptan, appointed him as the “Maharlika.” He is too good to be the chosen one, moreover as embracing fully the destiny and duty he must face. This situation is indeed touching the mentally of being chosen or anointed, but at the same time, the characters are consciously aware they are unworthy or being cruelly fated to take the path(s) they wanted to avoid in the first place. Talking about the existentialist dilemma of choosing the undesirables with no turning back, the protagonist(s) must stomach the consequences even they desire less or nothing more. Batman/Bruce Wayne does not want personally to take the cowl if his parents were still alive; Superman embraces his destiny early on, thanks to the nurturing love of his foster parents; while Andoy both seeks simplicity, but has to embrace to bitter path of leading the “empire of the thousands islands” (It should be noted here that in the continuing graphic novel saga “Trese,” the leading protagonist/anti-heroine Trese was reluctant to undergo the final test to become the “mandirigma-babaylan” if not of her father’s persuasion despite the fatal consequences her fate may face.).[19]

And the “crossovers” functionality within the context of interlocking different characters from different companies/mythologies/creators-owned to illustrate a grander visual narrative as influential as Skyworld. Its editor-in-chief, Budjette Tan, said something of geekgasm when his creations Trese and the Kambals are in Skyworld mythology/universe, similar to the experiences of having the Avengers fighting/joining forces with the Justice League of America, or Spider-Man challenges Superman or Hulk contra Batman and much more.[20] In the graphic novel’s situation, this appearance of the otherness becomes integral to the fulfillment of the complex meta-universe the existing mythology to further complexity (but hopefully, not as convoluting as the American superheroes—company owned properties). Whether the continuity of this fruitful crossover collaboration will be another reality in the near future or so, is what I and other comics reader need to wait upon.

In other matter, it is significance to present the discourse of destructive time and space presented in the visual narrative. Andoy and Trese are first and foremost clear-cut protagonist (never mind their respective moral ambiguities for they maintain their creators’ objectives in the narrative), when Rianka and the hordes of asuangs and some reluctant/hesitant allies are the ones responsible for defining and establishing the supposed destiny of the former, especially the chosen one Andoy (superhero characters would be irrelevant without engaging/interesting/provoking/challenging antagonists, which interestingly making the stories more stimulating, though-provoking, even worth re-reading. And the hallmark of superhero genre is the existence of visual destruction on the site being taken place. This is very standard on the so-called comics event (can be synonymously interchanged with “tie-ins,” “crossovers,” and “sagas”) where the climatic part of the story is an old-fashioned showdown/confrontation/battle engagement of the protagonist(s) against the villain(s) until the former prevails. This is similarly unsurprisingly notable with the Filipino graphic novel’s confrontations: Trese and the Kambals battled first the dragon-like Visayan mythical beast “Bakunawa,” destroying much of Manila and other adjacent places.[21]  Then the cyclical mode of reinterpreting/revision that is held in a very popular mall in Pasay City where the “forces of good” square off against the mythical Bernardo Carpio until the fully revitalized trained/blessed/enhanced/empowered/updated Andoy/Maharlika and his mythical allies have their last tango until the latter emerges as victorious.[22]  Furthermore, many comics superhero events “events” often portray the capital sites (like “New York City” in Marvel, or mythical-iconic places such as “Metropolis” and “Gotham”) as the “center(s)” of the world/universe. Space demands the necessity of the so-called sites of power, if necessary, the central existence of meta-actuality by which the rest of the world/universe looks on the very city that portrays of utmost significance to the possible outcomes and the gravity of the situations in the meta-location itself. The graphic novel just did that, showing the cities of Manila and Pasay as the battlefields and places of high importance for most characters concerned even to the point of revolving the time and space continuity of human meta-history on that very city itself. Moreover, saving the said cities from imminent total annihilation (via nuclear explosions by former Western overlord, the United States) signifies the continuing superhero twist and turn (and heightening suspense) that presents the creators’ love to the place’s centrality.[23]

III. Connecting the Improbable: “Heroes” and “Personalities” Abound

On the next discourse, it is paramount to view the utilization of explaining the historical personalities and conjuring the possibilities of making conspiracy theories in meta-history. This discourse points out the existence of prominent and contemporary personalities that appeared in the graphic novel. This kind of approach is nothing unusual for the medium for that matter actually strengthened/enhanced (or even off-putting) the overall story. For examples, the highly influential The Watchmen features Richard Nixon.[24] Either George Washington and/or Abraham Lincoln are the favored presidents to be portrayed, often in the positive or respectful manner.[25] In the trailblazing superhero comics, The Dark Knight Returns, Ronald Reagan was prominent and even lampooned by Frank Miller.[26] Even so, Miller’s critically acclaimed opus 300 is inspired from the historical heroic (but doomed) three-hundred Spartan warriors from the pages of Histories by Herodotus.[27] In the Philippine context, the creators have applied the likes of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Diego Silang, Lapu-lapu and many others as long as they are either integral or part of the overall visions to be portrayed. Undeniably, Rizal’s name tops the list for the ubiquitous presence the personality possesses since the 20th century. Obviously, the hero, Rizal, is often associated with the portrayals of Crisostomo Ibarra and Simon in Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, respectively, in comics adaptations[28] while the “Father of the Philippine Revolution” is often visualized with a bolo, short or trimmed hair, and wearing the white camisa de chino and red pants (though this is entirely inaccurate—see National Artist Guillermo Tolentino’s magnificent Monumento in Caloocan City). But nevertheless, these illustrative, popular, and iconic imageries somehow perpetuate and even continue the longevity of the heroes’ memories, legacies and public consciousness, aside from the fact that they are part of the general education in Philippine history. In Skyworld’s situation, there are four or five historical personalities that the creators utilized to bring forth the “Maharlika” tag (the “savior”/“uber-master”/ “pinuno” or leader).[29] The name itself is a historical label, a name of a socio-economic class/hierarchy during the so-called “pre-Hispanic” (before Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 arrival in the archipelago). However, it was the time of the Marcos regime that greatly enhanced the supposed noble status of “Maharlika” for the dictator/president and his wife fancied themselves to be rooted from pre-Hispanic nobility ranks (like datu or even rajah), and even commissioned paintings made by country’s top painters to showcase the grandeur and the supposed idealized/romanticized portrayals of the Philippines before the Western domination in the late 16th century, including the one that showed the “Malakas at Maganda” (actually, showing/representing Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos, respectively).[30]  Additionally, Marcos even commissioned historians and top scholars to write the supposed “the history of the Philippines in his “Tadhana” project where historical development ended in the “New Society,” his government.[31]

The first historical protagonist presented in Skyworld is Lapu-lapu, whose exploits include the “first” Filipino to resist Western/Spanish/colonial influence/conquest against Ferdinand Magellan, who also appeared earlier.[32] To further twisting the historical showdown between them is the so-called “accounts”/ “versions” that the Spanish chronicler Antonio Pigafetta wrote down, one was the “actual” that was burned and condemned by the Catholic Church and Spanish crown as heretical, while the second report was even blessed and recognized as the official account where Magellan died a heroic and Christian death.[33] This latter “version” is often used by historians who chronicle/analyze the events that transpired in the famous “Battle of Mactan” where natives led by Lapu-lapu ganged up Magellan, and killed him. Yet, the creators ride-in with the legendary (or mythical) encounter between two polarizing warriors/leaders alongside with the point-of-view of Rianka, who later killed Lapu-lapu, the Maharlika, with his entire clan who threatened to thwart the antagonist’s overall master plan.[34] This signifies the continuing popularity, though, outside of what actually happened (though debatable for only the chronicler’s accounts existed, due to the privilege’s perspective). Perhaps, this episode would further enhance the possibility, if ever, the connectivity of the nation’s paramount movers/shakers/ personalities/heroes into a singular zeitgeist or soul from one period/generation/epoch to another. True, the antithesis of the story’s initial salvo of pseudo-historical mythical royalty came with virtually no oppositions/challenges/struggles to become the new thesis and submerging the likes of the super-naturals/mythical/legendary beings (which ironies of irony, Rianka was responsible of overlaying “lies”/“stories”/“myths” upon those all over until the readers/peoples become the arbitrary hosts of non-believers to the old ways)[35] and paving way for the antagonist’s crescendo in the 21st century alternate/possible/fictional/mythical Philippine-Metro Manila setting.

Though planned to conclude in the third part, the story is too grand/big to cram into a single chapter/ book instead, the creators extended it to the fourth and final one, appropriately termed as the “Requiem,” giving the readers the sense of the good-old-fashion superhero/medieval feel of the comedia of storytelling. The supposed subtitle of the ultimate chapter, “Prodigal,” speaks volume of the famous (and influential) Christian tale of the prodigal son who returned to his father and family upon learning of his follies/mistakes and the path of redemption and acceptance. Again, the part becomes later on as the penultimate chapter that created an easy transition for the creators to expand further for more historical and mythical connectivity and possibilities. Truly, portraying the fabled Yamashita Treasure that were neither Yamashita Tomoyuki’s nor even existed (there were documentaries made for that matter which often ended up nothing/frustrating/open-ended)[36] is added to the already human-made fantasies of the search of the impossibility (with the possibility of the so-called “Golden Buddha” that Ferdinand Marcos claimed to be his and the source of his “fabled” wealth to shelve speculations of his so-called riches in the latter part of his dictatorial rule).[37] The existing “treasure” was even fueled that the Japanese general, the (in)famous “Tiger of Malaya” and the last top Japanese commander in the Philippines in the waning years of the Second World War (1944-1945), knew its existence and equally believed the presence of the super-naturals, particularly the tikbalang.[38]  However, the illustration of the Fort Santiago even insinuated that the former Spanish fortress was once the home of the mythical beings; with the alleged treasure (it is even unfortunate that there were incriminate diggings in that place because of the treasure’s “existence” which resulted nothing at all, yet, it is part of the lore of that notorious hunt).[39] The “treasure” was recaptured by its rightful “owners” (i.e. tikbalang and the engkanto) and even spared the Japanese general for him to face the bitter fate awaited for him after his empire’s defeat, but that did not end for the historical conjuring of the connectivity non-connectivity.[40] The opening pages of the “Requiem” present a familiar place—Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte. A “bahay-na-bato” designed home was timed in the height of the night. The place denoted to one hero-Jose P. Rizal, including his “la dulce extranjera”—Josephine Bracken who was pregnant that time (circa 1896). This setting is historical accurate, except the design of the house (the actual was made entirely of bamboo, not cement as what the graphic novel illustrates, but this is comics, as one would break the fourth wall). Additionally, textbook Rizal history said that Pio Valenzuela was sent by the Katipunan leadership to rendezvous with Rizal on the matter of the group’s plan to start the revolution.[41] Yet, surprises are dumbfounding upon the revelation on the hero’s doorsteps—Andres Bonifacio. Historically wise, these two paramount/prominent national protagonists barely knew each other, only by the works and influences of Rizal (I believe his popularity was spread by exaggerating stories or “tsismis”/rumors) to the latter, though in the popular minds, their connectivity was either plausible or even “reality” (in the fictional/possible “realm”). Bonifacio’s purpose of visiting the doctor was nothing but more dread and grimmer for Rizal’s life was in great danger not because of the Spaniards themselves but the super-naturals or the “underworld.”[42] Rizal, as Bonifacio tried to rationalize the irrational the ancient sayings, was the chosen one, the Maharlika, and he was sought after. However, the main villain Rianka, whose premonition was more powerful than any practitioners of clairvoyance/future seekers, sought out the “true” heir, “the son of Rizal.”[43] Indeed, Rizal supposedly had a son (named Francisco, in honor of his father), but died a few hours after birth. How the baby died is a matter of speculations, ranging of miscarriage, Rizal’s bitter argument with Bracken that resulted to the former, or simply a case of “blue-baby syndrome.”[44] But in the comics, the asuang queen knew that Rizal’s son would be a greater threat than the combined forces of Rizal and Bonifacio to her grand plan—they were considered just mere “threats.”[45] Then what happen in the next pages is a treat for superhero comics readers—Rizal and Bonifacio “teamed-up” to fight a common foe but proven too powerful for even both of them. Thus, the abduction of the unnamed “son of Rizal” paved the way of creating another fantastic perspective of how would have been (if not, should have been) the course of Philippine history would end up; and the continuing historical continuity that was remained “unwritten” in either Philippine or Rizal historical canons.

This development presents another twist of historical (im)possibility: Since the beginning of written history of the mythical Philippines and those who challenged the foreign aggression or what perceived as potential threats to the prevailing status quo are inter-related/inheritors of the birthright of Kaptan or the bloodline of the Maharlika. We know that Lapu-lapu, Rizal, Bonifacio, and ultimately, Benigno Aquino, Jr. are recognized for their bravery (and to others, heroism) in dealing their respective adversaries in their different historical epochs. But to say they are part of the long-line of the Providence is another way of creating mythological-historical imagery that may somehow perpetuate their respective public awareness (and consciousness and even continue promoting longevity to their existences, particularly their deeds, legacies and status quo if possible. Speaking of the last famous historical personality, a splash page shows how the former senator and most critical (and dangerous) political opponent/antagonist/thorn of strongman Marcos was assassinated—shot multiple times before he even stepped the stairs down.[46] Readers of contemporary history are aware of the conspiracy theories and/or various versions on what actually happened on that tragic day, August 21, 1983 and more so, who was/were the mastermind(s) of that assassination.[47] If one is going to interpolate the creators’ possible explanation of putting “Ninoy” Aquino in their visual illustration, probably Ninoy knew of his birthright and tried to persuade his fraternity “brod” Marcos to step down for the latter had serious health problems that the body could not take much longer, and to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Philippines and the people. Perhaps also, Ninoy wanted to lead the post-Marcos era but may thwart the asuang queen’s master plan, hence the hypnosis of one of AVESCOM soldiers and assassinated the supposed or would-be “chosen one.” Though the top antagonist never fails to kill or prevent the ascension of the rightful one, the story ends with what it all began—LIES.

Andoy first contemplates on how to fulfill his responsibility as the new Maharlika, including the full contact with the human and super-natural/mythical races. Furthermore, he feels that he is unworthy for the title for he personally knows that Trese was the ultimate decider/true killer of Rianka. But the warrior-priestess-protector consoles/advises him to embrace his destiny for the good of the people for they need something to embrace with, even the stories or any narratives hide the LIES.[48]

IV. Reflections

Upon reading and finishing the Skyworld graphic novel, I come upon an interesting thought of the matter of the possible explanation/factor/angle/conjecture/assumption of the longevity and continuing relevance/significance/importance of the medium and the historical personalities up to the succeeding generations: creating fabulous stories, crafting and institutionalize mythical tales, promoting creative freedom for illustrators/comics artists, and/or worst case scenario, fabricate lies. This is not to say historians and/or students of history should do that. No and never is the task of historians to do so. Instead, reflecting that matter may unravel why many historical events, personalities, and situations last longer than many expected. Aside from the discourse of the purpose of either deliberate forgetfulness or simply amnesia, and the responsibility of historians of maintaining the sanctity of the vaulted historicism, the power of LIES or distortions on crafting, interpreting and narrating past events and portraying historical personalities is admittedly so potent and strong in the longevity of the past that is needed to be considered as “history” because many people prefer the stories—made up and furthermore, exaggerated—uttered and/or passed down from one generation to another. Or in the more systematic fashion, create “official” version(s) by the institution(s) or group(s) of people that want to justify or protect their respective status quo/existence. The former case may be considered as either cultural or a bit personal level for stories may provide “hope” (as the graphic novel says, even in many forms of literature to create a sense of belongingness for the groups involved—Bible, myths, legends, etc. On the other hand, the latter is a show of propagating propaganda to promote power among the vested interests even to the point of suppressing or distorting contrary evidences to suit their agendas, interests, positions, purposes and other motivations). Consequently, what are supposed to be true for public intellectual consumption are actually the distorted images that are passed as facts, or images that should be hold sacred or labeled as untouchable/unchallenged.  Look at Lapu-lapu, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., for examples. There are historical documents—though tainted by biases, perspectives, ideologies, and even hindsight laid—about them, but it is a fact that legends, myths, stories and “lies” surround them, and even enhance (or diminish) their status as “heroes”/“protagonists”/liberators/nation-builders. This is not to say that the creators of Skyworld are liars or deliberate propagandists or fabricators of history. They are creators, artists, and licensed to do their creative visions and have the right to use these historical personalities for they are considered public domain. No malice intended whatever the end results would/will be. The point here is that “lies” are uncomfortably existed the equally undesirable necessity of promoting stories of historical (and contemporary) figures. Perhaps, that is where historians come in, to untangle the facades of historical fictions, or take the graphic/comics medium and the likes as product(s) of the times/zeitgeist (especially popular or pop culture). This is only an exercise of meta-historicizing and deconstructing the supposedly visual novel. Probably, this is only a beginning of making a dialogue between a “serious” practitioner of history, and at the same time, a lover of pop culture. This is an arbitrary, yet intellectual, experience indeed.


[1] See Gerry Alanguilan, The Evolution of the Philippine Indie Comic Book in http://gerry.alanguilan.com/archives/ 4756, and his much earlier rebuttal, “Komiks Is Dead” is a DEAD Issue (UPDATED) in http://gerry.alanguilan.com/ archives/4415.
[2] Ibid. For another perspective, see Randy P. Valiente, Caption, Pinoy Komiks Rebyu 1 (2009): 2.
[3] Mervin Ignacio and Ian Sta. Maria, Skyworld, Volumes 1 and 2 (Philippines: National Bookstore Inc., 2012). I have the separate volume, Skyworld Book 2: Testament (Philippines: Alamat, 2009), Herewith after Skyworld Book 2. The latter and volume 2 are being utilized in this study.
[4] For the American perspective, see Chris Knowles, Comic Books as Counter-Culture, Comic Book Artist 4 (September 2004): 6-7.
[5] See at the back covers of most Skyworld editions, especially Book 2 and Book 3. Volumes 1 and 2 have this quote imprinted.
[6] See Budjette Tan, Still Heading Skyward in Skyworld Book 2, 75.
[7] First appeared in ibid, 38. Alexandria Trese continues to appear throughout the Skyworld narrative.
[8] See the list of comics publication in the Philippines in Komiklopedia: Mga Titulo ng Komiks at mga Taon ng Pagkakatatag Nito in Pinoy Komiks Rebyu: 12-16.
[9] See Neil Gaiman, Foreword, in Expeditions Comics: The Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards, volume 1 (Philippines: Fully Booked, 2007), v-vi.
[10] Featured in Natatutok Sa Atin Ang Buong Mundo! in Pinoy Komiks Rebyu: 23, and Renaissance: Ang Muling Pagsilang (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2010), 86. Portacio’s name is mentioned in David A. Roach, Philippine Comic Book Artists in U.S. Comics, Comic Book Artists: 61, but the author delimits his historical narrative up to the “second-wave” of Filipino artists in the 1980s (He puts Portacio, alongside with Lan Medina, Gerry Alanguilan and  Leinil Francis Yu as the “third-wave” Philippine comic artists invasion, and he considers their art styles as “different” from their “first” and “second”  waves counterparts or predecessors). I also own a couple of Portacio’s Stones single issue comics.
[11] Gene Kannenberg Jr., ed., 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide (East Sussex: ILEX, 2008), 142-143. It defines “fantasy” in comics as “a sense of illogical of make believe” (ibid, 142).
[12] Mentioned in Skyworld Book 2, 60.
[13] Examples are Renato Velasco and Ricardo Saludo, Beating the Odds (Philippines: Precious Child Media Ventures (?), 2010), and Gonzalo M. Jurado, ed., Beat the Odds (Philippines: Philippine Information Agency, 2010).
[14] Personal conversation with Marvin Ignacio and Ian Sta. Maria, Bayanihan Center, Pasig City, October 2009.
[15] The agency’s name was APEPCOM, established in 1955, following America’s lead then for monitoring the comics’ content that might bring “illiteracy” and “juvenile delinquency” to readers, especially children/young ones. Cited in Randy P. Valiente, Komiks ng Pilipino: Mula Noon Hanggang Ngayon, Pinoy Komiks Rebyu: 7.
[16] See Kannenberg, Jr., 412. See also Graphic Holy Grails: Comics guru Peter Sanderson presents his picks for the most significant superhero comics ever published, Wizard Magazine 235, March 2011, 69. Sanderson explains the historical significances of Action Comics 1 and Detective Comics 27 in paving the way of superhero comics as a new visual genre.
[17] The tagline is said to be originated in Grant Morrison’s JLA run (issue 3) in the late 1990s (see JLA: The Deluxe Edition, Volume One [New York: DC Comics, 2011]), and Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, and John Dell, JLA (New York: DC Comics, 1997), issue 3.
[18] This is explored in Michael Green and others, Superman/Batman: Finest Worlds (New York: DC Comics, 2010).
[19] See Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo, TRESE 3: Mass Murders (Pasay City: Visprint, Inc., 2010) in chapter or “CASE 12: The Baptism of Alexandra Trese.”
[20] Term found in Budjette Tan, Still Heading Skyward, in Skyworld Book 2.
[21] Skyworld Book 2, 36-37, 43, 47-48, 53 and 58.
[22] Skyworld, volume 2, 92-96, 99-100, 104-109 and 117.
[23] Ibid, 120, 131, 134-135.
[24] See Kannenberg, Jr., 433; and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Absolute Watchmen (New York: DC Comics, 2011).
[25] See an example in The Wizard Staff, Hail to the Chief: A Look Back at Our Favorite Presidential Comic Book Cameo, Wizard: The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture 210, April 2009, 30.
[26] Ibid; and Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, Absolute Dark Knight (New York: DC Comics, 2006).
[27] See Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, 300 (Oregon: Dark Horse Comics, 1999).
[28] Popular historian Ambeth Ocampo points out the continuing educational culture of having students  pass the Rizal subjects (the mandatory Rizal course in the tertiary level, and the novels in the secondary level) even most of their knowledge from Rizal come from “komiks” version of the novels, which naturally (though historically inaccurate) portray Ibarra/Simon as Rizal.  See Ambeth R. Ocampo, Rizal Without the Overcoat (Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2011), 108.
[29] First appeared in Skyworld Book 2, 71. In its present second volume, the term Maharlika is almost paramount.
[30] See Alexander R. Magno, A Nation Reborn, in Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People, volume 9 (Mandaluyong City: Asia Publishing Company Limited, 1998), 45, 166 and 168-169.
[31] Ibid, 169.
[32] Skyworld Book 2, 1 (Magellan’s case) and 5 (Lapu-lapu’s).
[33] Ibid, 5-9, via the graphic novel’s main antagonist’s point-of-view.  See Ambeth R. Ocampo, Aguinaldo’s Breakfast And More Looking Back Essays (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 1993), 3-4, for a more readable interpretation of Pigafetta’s account.
[34] Skyworld Book 2, 16-19.
[35] Ibid, 22.
[36] One good documentary about this matter is done by GMA 7 broadcaster and documentarian Kara David, entitled “Ginto” (Dokumentaryo ni Kara David). See  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtzGdBIlwpc (for part 1), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ-8GGxY7Aw  (for the second part) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJqIqt-JCZE (for the last part).
[37] See Magno, 38.
[38] Skyworld, volume 2, 9-13.
[39] Ibid, 6-8
[40] Ibid, 26-27. General Yamashita eventually surrendered to the American forces in September 2, 1945, imprisoned and after a speedy trial in the present-day United States Embassy in then Dewey (now Roxas) Boulevard, he was executed by hanging in Laguna, February 1946.
[41] See Rizal Without the Overcoat, 211-212 for Ocampo’s open misgivings on Pio Valenzuela’s eye-witness accounts on the Dapitan-Rizal encounter of June 1896.
[42] Skyworld, volume 2, 66-67.
[43] Ibid, 71.
[44] See Austin Coates, Rizal—Filipino Nationalist and Patriot (Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House, 1992), 272-273.
[45] Skyworld, volume 2, 74.
[46] Ibid, 91.
[47] See Magno, 262—263 and 266-271, for his own view regarding this historical watershed.
[48] Skyworld, volume 2, 142-144.

Paul Ramos