The question of the superhero in the Philippine setting has always eluded me. And today I think I’ve hit upon one of the reasons why. I demand a lot from stories, specially my own. If I’m going to do a superhero story I wouldn’t just have him get bit by a radioactive salagubang and go off and foil a bank robbery. If that’s how simple I wanted to do it, then it would be so easy. But I want to do much more than that. I want it to mean much more, not only to me, but to Filipinos reading it. It has to have substance and deeper significance to Philippine history and culture. I don’t think I’ve managed to accomplish that to my satisfaction in Timawa.
On a certain level, it’s easier to do superhero stories abroad, like in the US. They’re a very strong country economically and politically. If superheroes existed there, they don’t have to worry about problems in that regard. Superheroes are free to worry about more mundane things. Things like super powered villains who want to take over the world, or evil geniuses who want to drain the world’s oceans.
Here in the Philippines, our economic and political problems are much more severe. There are the huge problems of poverty, education, political corruption, crime, rebellion and so forth. If a superhero existed, for him to don a colorful costume and deal with evil geniuses out to drain Manila bay of water, or fight with an evil creature with snakes for hair, is patently ridiculous. Why isn’t he dealing with poverty? With starvation? With education? With the corruption that infects society not only politically, but the very spirit of the Filipino?
If I had powers myself the very first thing I would do would be gather up all these idiotic and corrupt politicians and beat them senseless.
For a superhero in the Philippines to ignore such harsh realities seems rather off kilter to me. And I believe this is at the very root of why I find it so hard to do it.
I’ve been trained by my reading habits to consider superheroes the way foreigners do it. Superman, Batman, and all those guys are huge influences. To attempt to do that kind of thing here would only transplant foreign sensibilities to vastly different local sensibilities.
I would like my superhero to be the result of the Philippine circumstance. To be the product of our unique problems, needs, dreams and desires.
Which is why I find Carlo Vergara’s ZsaZsa Zaturnnah so fascinating. While sidestepping the country’s harsher realities and problems, Carlo was able to create an entertaining and involving story that’s so distinctly Filipino and has now made deep inroads into Philippine pop culture.
Is that the secret though? As a fan, I myself would rather not read the real world in my comic books. I want to be entertained, and I want to escape. A comic book creator can create a different reality in his story after all. A world where such sordid problems don’t exist or if they do, their existence is not essential to the story.
When Marvel and DC attempted to address the real world problem of hunger in Africa in the twin benefit books in the 80′s “Heroes for Hope” and “Heroes Against Hunger”, it was spectacular in that it became a gathering of many of the greatest comic book creators in one place. But the story? The stories for both books sucked really bad. There were flashes of genius in the little bits like those of Alan Moore and Stephen King, but the overall plot seemed overwhelmingly unsatisfying.
Because you know deep in the back of your mind that superheroes can’t deal with real world problems because it puts them in a very awkward situation. These are problems that they cannot solve.
There’s an answer in there for me somewhere. Perhaps I need to ponder it a little bit more.