By Paolo M. Manalo
(February 3, 2000 - www.legmanila.com)
With the last issue of Arnold Arre's four-part comic book launched last December 1999, The Mythology Class comes to a close, proving that Arre's publisher, Alamat Comics, can put out a comic book that has a beginning, middle, and end.
Part of the problem with Filipino comic books in English is that, like most independent comic books published in the United States, they suffer from ningas-cogon. Due to one reason or another (lack of readership, story, or creative team interest), the comic book gets cancelled without ever reaching a suitable ending. The other problem these Filipino comic books suffer from is the lack of support from readers, the kind still given to American mainstream comic books. When asked about this, some readers point to the lack of substance or the thinness of material in a comic book, while others nitpick on something as trivial as these comics being in black-and-white instead of color.
The Mythology Class is drawn in black-and-white by Arre himself (one of the few comic book artists who can render clearly distinguishable facial impressions and poses), but fortunately, substance and material are not lacking. In fact, the story material might have been too much for four issues to handle -- there aren't enough white spaces. The impression one gets from the layouts in some pages is clutter, clutter, clutter. The nitpicky reader can also say that the comic book would have benefited from a more thorough editing since the dialogue allowed one slip too many. But enough of the negativity -- The Mythology Class is probably the most successful Filipino comic book in English.
This pictorial narrative shows that people like Arnold Arre read (and actually do their homework). To create a world filled with superheroes, Arre does not make up characters that resemble American mainstream comic book heroes. Instead, he researches and taps into the rich world of Philippine folklore, epics, and lower mythology and draws from them the heroes for an adventure that literally tries to "reclaim the past." Bantugan, Lam-ang, and Kubin are alive and their origins have been altered, in one way or another.
The short of it is: a college class on Filipino mythology turns into a whole field trip into the realm of the supernatural, where the barkada of heroes, under the guidance of Professor Engkanta, captures creatures who do not belong in this world and need to be returned to theirs.
With this premise, the limited series provides much material (and Arre used a more than generous amount of it) for an ongoing series, but I guess the whole point was to create a story that actually ended in 326 pages.
Despite the inconsistency of the length of the four issues (the shortest is 60 pages, the longest, 92), one feels the earnestness of Arre's graphic storytelling. Although more action panel-oriented, The Mythology Class isn't a slugfest battle against the forces of evil, neither is it about teenage angst with mutant hysteria. What it is about is the discovery of a dark, strange world (which need not be grim nor gritty) that could only be Filipino.
Much (superficial) praise has been received by the series that to mention them here would be redundant (and insulting). No one has assessed Arre's strongest point in the series: his vision. To draw from folklore and the epics of the past is no assurance of a Filipino piece, good or bad. This has been done, and has been done terribly. The risks lie in Arre's integration of this material with the present generation. Only a few people can pull this off.
The last time this happened was in August 1991, when the U.P. Tropa Experimental Theatre Company staged Auraeus Solito's rock opera Manhid. Drawing from the names of gods and heroes of the past, new Filipino heroes are born, fighting against a repressive imperialist state that indirectly turns its people into white, apathetic citizens. In Arre's world, apathy characterizes the current generation, and those who aren't are the chosen heroes. So as not to die of boredom or cynicism, one must have that vision of wonder and openness for the other world, the forgotten past.
This is how to survive in Arre's world. This is the vision in The Mythology Class.
The Mythology Class By
Four issues (P130 each)
About the Author
Paolo M. Manalo is the editor of the literary section of the Philippines Free Press. He writes poetry and essays.