Trese – dark mysteries on the streets of Manilla

Published On January 14, 2011 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Trese Volumes 1-3 – Murder On Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, Mass Murders

By Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo


The back cover blurbs to these three volumes of Trese are just great. And when put together, in the spirit of the combined tryptich of covers above, they make something akin to poetry:

When the sun sets in the city of Manila,
don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro,
where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime,
and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

When dusk arrives in the city of Manila, that’s when you become the most likely prey of the criminal underworld.
Kidnappers and thieves will be the least of your worries.
Beware the criminals that can’t be bound with handcuffs nor harmed with bullets.
Beware the ones that crave for your blood, those who hold your heart ransom, and the ones that come to steal your soul.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

12 midnight at Metro Manila.
Try to remain calm if you suddenly spot a tikbalang speeding down EDSA or a manananggal swooping across the Makati skyline. While partying at the Fort, never ever let the enkanto at the bar buy you a drink.
Yet, there are deadlier things than walk the streets of this city.
One of them now demands blood and sacrifice.
When crime takes a turn for a weird, the police call Trese.

See what I mean? And you know what, that really does a great job of summing up this great series. Just that alone should intrigue you enough to buy the books. But trust me, Trese is a great bit of supernatural adventuring, a brilliant series, and a lot of fun.

(The first glimpse of Alexandra Trese. From Trese Volume 1: Murder On Balete Drive, by Tan and Baldisimo)

Trese is a supernatural series starring a female investigator who steps in to protect the streets of Manilla when the police can’t deal with the supernatural weirdness that appears. Produced by Budjette Tan andKajo Baldisimo, this Filipino book does so much right it’s practically scandalous we haven’t heard more about it here in the UK.

Whenever she’s needed, Trese arrives, often called in by Captain Guerrero, the Comissioner Gordon to Trese’s unconventional Batman, a man who seems singularly predisposed to lean on her knowledge and specific skills. Supported by two mysterious and obviously magical creatures of uncertain powers – the always stylish Kambal twins, she’s always there to protect Manilla from supernatural threat.

(Trese deals, almost nonchalantly with a Tikbalang. Very cool. From Trese Volume 1, Murder On Balete Drive by Tan and Baldisimo)

The book is filled with all manner of weird and wonderful supernatural creatures; Aswang, Tiyanak, Datu, Duwende, Tikbalang, Diwata, Kapre – all coming from Filipino folklore. Some helpful, most deadly.

Trese deals with them as a matter of course, she’s used to this level of strangeness, because she’s been doing this since she was a child. But she’s not the first Trese to walk the dark edges of Manilla. First her grandfather, then her father Anton felt the calling. Now it’s her turn.

A detective who’s always there when needed, with a history of dealing with these sorts of things, powerful in some mysterious way, holding all the cards….. yes, it certainly sounds like a take on DC/Vertigo’s John Constantine doesn’t it?

And Trese is definitely from the same mold as Hellblazer, just as it’s writer Budjette Tan is channelling equal parts Jamie Delano and Warren Ellis and artist Kajo Baldisimo does some impressive black and white work somewhere on a scale of Frank Miller and Eduardo Risso. But there’s a lot of other influences in there as well – is it just my prejudices or can I see Alan Davis as well?

(And now it’s zombies. Trese and the Kambal twins are on the case. Again – how cool? From Trese Volume 2, Unreported Murders by Tan and Baldisimo)

But the most important thing is that it’s a very impressive take on the whole mysterious magical investigator. Its’ a very original take on an old genre idea. A hugely entertaining series of 13 stories across the 3 volumes.

Volumes 1 & 2 contain self contained chapters 1-8, where we’re introduced to the strange and weird world on (and under) the streets of Manilla. This self contained story ideal comes (as Tan says) from his idol Warren Ellis – to create a self contained story in short, perfect tales. But again, the similarities between early Jamie Delano written Hellblazer comics is obvious – each story of Trese builds up her mystique and introduces a little more of her background in Manilla, just as Delano did in Original Sins.

InVolume 3 Tan starts to develop the story beyond the single issue story structure he’s used so far, taking us back in time to the moment where 15 year old Alexandra Trese joined her father Anton on her first case. And along the way we find out the origins of her constant companions and bodyguards; the stylish, ultra cool and very deadly Kambal twins.

(The 15 year old Alexandra and her father Anton. This supernatural crime solving is really a family business. And look at the evolution of Baldisimo’s artwork. From Trese Volume 3; Mass Murder by Tan and Baldisimo)

Later in book 3, an 18 year old Trese undergoes the tests to become a Mandirigmang-Babaylan – a unique mix of Warrior and Shaman. She hears a tale of prophesy – and her role in the world becomes clearer. Suddenly everything that’s gone before, her power, her mysterious respect from foul underworld creatures is understood. Trese can walk the walk, can talk the talk, she knows what she’s doing, she’s important.

And in his last, climactic and final volume, Tan ties everything together, all the little plots from the stand-alone stories of volumes 1 & 2 become important, become an essential element of a cracking finale.

Across the 13 parts the confidence and style of Kajo’s artwork increases so much – early stories look good certainly, but with a scratchy line that lacks a certain something. But pick up volume 3 and it’s practically a different artist. The control and simplified line, the expressive and extensive use of blacks to define an image – like looking at some of the best of Frank Miller. So carefully constructed, such brilliant use of black space on the page, it’s gorgeous to look at.

The 3 volumes of Trese are special. They occupy a space in comics that’s well populated, yet do something new and interesting within the limited genre they occupy. Tan’s stories are genre pieces, but expertly crafted and hugely entertaining. And Kajo’s artwork makes each story something equally impressive to look at.

You can get Trese Volumes 1-3 from the Trese blog. There’s lots of preview stuff on there as well. Take a look, then send them your money for a great read.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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