Pullbox Reviews: Trese Vol. 1 – A dive into the under utilized folklore of the Philippines

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 blood-sucking aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where gigantic kapre are the kingpins of crime, and magical engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

I wish I could say that my finger was so firmly on the pulse of the comic book world, that of course I knew all about the amazing piece of work that is Trese. The sad truth is that I was skimming through the new releases on Netflix and ran across a new animated series that looked kinda cool. I watched it, start to finish in one six episodes sitting, and was hungry for more.

That’s when I found out that it was based on a Philippine comic series by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo, created as a “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we made a thing” between two friends. So they made a thing. They made a very cool thing. They made the kind of thing that deserves awards & accolades & infinite success… all of the things independent comic creators dream of.

Budjette Tan’s stories tap into an unexplored corner of Urban Fantasy, the folklore of the Philippines. In Alexandra Trese, the latest in a family line of supernatural peacekeepers, Tan has brought a grim hero to the page by combining the elements of shadowy protagonist set against mysterious foes. Set in the city of Manila, Trese brings a new flavor to the largely Anglo Saxon leaning urban fantasy genre. Rounding out the setting, Tan has also provided “little Trese” with a full compliment of supporting characters who as often as not blur the lines between allies & enemies. Two of the most interesting among Alexandra’s associates are the “Kambal” (Twins), her gun-toting, gravity-defying, creepy harlequin mask wearing enforcers. By the end of volume 1, readers still don’t know their background… but if you cheat and watch the Netflix series you’ll find out just who they are and why they’re so formidable.

While Tan was hard at work coming up with the scripts, Kajo Baldisimo was keeping pace with the art. In a book that leans so heavily into its atmosphere to set the tone, Baldisimo’s black and white illustrations are the perfect touch of beautifully creepy. What’s astounding to me is that when the two friends started this thing, Baldisimo was cranking out a page a day over his one-hour lunch breaks. While the newly released trade paperback has updated artwork to bring Trese out of the shadows and into the light, it’s still worth mentioning that Baldisimo’s earlier work was enough to gain the attention that it did. In its newest incarnation, this is a gorgeous body of work that is perfectly suited for its black & white format.

It’s also worth mentioning that Tan and Baldisimo couldn’t have started their epic with more humble beginnings. In its original form, Trese was a series of “ashcan” comics run off on a photocopier and hand-delivered to local comic shops. From that to their current status as showrunners on the Netflix animated series, and I can’t think of a better example of why creators should always be encouraged to create.

Against the backdrop of a bustling city, populated by supernatural creatures and sinister crimelords, Trese is all of the best parts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter (if vampires were all Alexandra had to deal with, I’m sure she’d be a much happier person). Equal parts urban fantasy and police procedural, the collected trades aren’t as easy to track down as some titles, but they’re absolutely worth owning in print. Still, there’s something to be said for digital, as I close the electronic book on one chapter and set my sights on the next with no lines or waiting.

Final Score: 13/13

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