By Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
Foul play. Magic spells. Supernatural criminals. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.
We covered Volumes 1-3 of Trese back in January 2011. And what I said there goes just as well for Volume 4:
“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.”
(Meet Alexandra Trese, supernatural protector of Manilla, from Cadena De Amor in Trese Volume 4 by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo)
Here in Volume 4, we’re on familiar ground, taking four short stories from the casebook of Alexandra Trese, each one delivering some interesting aspect of Trese’s world, providing a sharp jolt of the supernaturtural adventures that I’d enjoyed so much in the first three volumes. Again it’s something very familiar to anyone who’s grown up with the Ellis’ and Delanos of US comic books, and Trese and her world have that very familiar Vertigo feel. Seriously, any fans of Hellblazer should absolutely pick this one up.
(Spinning a very eastern twist on the familiar supernatural horror – Trese introduces us to some very Singapore specific monsters. From Wanted: Bedspacer in Trese Volume 4 by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo)
But just as before, the unique setting, and the inclusion of so much native Singapore and Eastern folklore puts it into new, interesting, and unfamiliar territory. It has an exotic and original atmosphere about it, that gives it that extra edge.
Perhaps the only thing missing this time around in this volume was uncovering some more of Trese’s history, her family lineage that was slowly revealed previously. Here we’re back to a simple case file structure, a mystery to solve and move on to the next. But there’s still a lot of great storytelling packed into the four stories here, backed up with Kajo’s stark and frankly rather beautiful artwork.
Standout story is Fight Of The Year, which closes the volume in some style, telling a tale of the country’s greatest boxer taking part in the annual fight for his soul. But we soon discover this interesting spin on the sell your soul tale has a far more significant part to play in the supernatural life of Manilla
(The final tale in Trese Volume 4, Fight Of The Year is the best, really showing off Trese’s position of responsibility, as she acts as a guide to the supernatural realms of Manilla)
And it was with this story that it clicked for me. It was mentioned in the introduction, but I never read those until finishing the books, for fear of spoilers. All the comparisons to Hellblazer and Vertigo were supplanted in this story with a familiar feel – this has the glorious scale and import of Ellis and Cassaday’s Planetary, with Trese functioning as the spiritual and supernatural protector of Manilla, delivering her world safe and sound, no matter what it takes, whilst we get to investigate alongside, all the weird and wonderful her mystical existence has to offer.
Trese Volumes 1-4 really should be on your reading list. Budjette and Kajo are taking very familiar genre stories and spinning them off in interesting and original ways, creating something with a unique sense of place, and doing so with great style. Very highly recommended.