06 June 2021

Ahead of the release of Netflix's "Trese" adaptation, I decided to pull these out of my bookshelf and re-read these graphic novels on Philippine mythology. Coming to terms with the myths in our culture is imperative. So many of these stories were passed on to us orally by the older generations, but to most, they remain just that: old tales. What some fail to grasp is that they are reflective of our ancestors' beliefs and identities. Our forefathers devised these as a result of their unique and collective experience as a people who traveled, migrated, and traded throughout the Austronesian archipelagos. What seems to be fantastical and unrealistic was, to them, logical and compelling. And while rediscovering our myths does not mean that we must believe in them the very same way our ancestors did, it should give us a better understanding of our history and make us appreciate how our pre-colonial forebears survived — and even thrived — because of these. 

1 | Trese (Issues No. 1 to 5) 

I first got Trese 1-5 in 2012, sometime during my first year of law school. What drew me in was its episodic nature, with each issue containing several individual mysteries tied with a different mythological creature. Alexandra felt like a darker, more diabolical (pun intended) Nancy Drew and I loved it. I don't recall why I never got to buy the succeeding issues (I think the current run has until Issue 7). It was probably law school getting in the way of leisure, as usual, and this series slipped through the cracks I suppose. 

Upon the release of the Netflix trailer, I immediately decided to re-read the issues I had. And since it's been almost nine years since I first read them, it felt like seeing them with fresh eyes. It was still as exciting and intriguing. It felt recognizable because the stories were interwoven impeccably into modern Metro Manila. It all looks real. Granted, some story elements, as a result of being attached to pop culture references may seem dated. (References to Embassy and NU 107.5, for instance.) But I don't see this as negative. It actually properly contextualizes the mythological creatures in a setting that feels real. The underlying premise of Trese is that the creatures of lore actually exist and live amongst us. They adapt to the times and find ways to survive within this realm. But given their powers, they inevitably reveal themselves in ways that harm or hurt humans. Alex Trese helps maintain the balance of good and evil, myth and reality.

It's interesting to imagine that the worst crimes or the most baffling incidents in Manila are caused by these creatures. It sounds exciting, but also, somehow, it makes more sense than coming to terms with how evil humans actually are. In an odd way, it's more comforting. Murdered women in a mall's basement parking lot? Tiyanaks. Of course, what else could it be? Their toxic male companions who can't take no for an answer? 

That's a much scarier thought than monsters. At least their world has Trese to protect them. What do we have?

2 | The Mythology Class and The Children of Bathala

I first read Mythology Class in college, although I first heard of it in high school when our third-year high school English teacher (who was a young, geeky guy) told us about Arnold Arre. I enjoyed Mythology Class in large part because I felt like I can relate to it: it was set in UP, about an elective on Philippine folk history, with a mysterious elderly professor. And a rag-tag class of weirdos. Yep, sounds just like most of my GE classes. 

From the get-go, this graphic novel felt cinematic. You just know an adventure is on the way. It was my first time to see these mythological creatures in a narrative that makes them dynamic, three-dimensional, and electrifying. Where else can you find a book featuring a tikbalang chase on a highway? The story is structured like an epic: a group of misfits find each other and go on a quest to save the world and defeat evil. It makes you want to read more about our folklores, makes you want to do a deep dive into our people's history with animism. Our pre-colonial ancestors deemed their beliefs in the supernatural sacred. There is so much to learn about the myths that our forefathers held dear, and this book is a great starting point to all that because the characters not only encounter creatures like diwatas and kapres, they also meet epic heroes like Sulayman and Lam-Ang. I still wish I could enlist in that class.

Last 2019, Arnold Arre released a sequel, The Children of Bathala. This was actually the last book I bought before quarantine last March 2020. (Literally got this on March 13, Manila was placed on lockdown on March 15.) It took me a while to read it because I actually forgot about it! I left it in one of my bags, which I didn't get to use since we all stopped going to work. The book takes place 20 years after the original, and we see the aftermath of how the events of the first book altered the course of the characters' lives. The first chapter wastes no time in reacquainting the reader with the characters (and there are many of them!) While Nicole, the protagonist, has since started a family and thrived as a PhD in anthropological studies, the rest of the characters are having a hard time dealing with a terrifying circumstance they encountered after their adventures in the other realm. Despite being set in the "real world" for about two-thirds of the book, I appreciate that the narrative took this turn because it grounds the characters. It makes their story more real. When the adventure ends, what happens next? It's a very interesting premise, and one I did not expect to enjoy as much as the original.

The next issues of The Children of Bathala were supposed to come out last year but got delayed due to the pandemic. Looking forward to their release soon after that suspense of an ending. 


The anticipation for Trese certainly reignited a lot of interest in Philippine mythology, which is a welcome development. Any opportunity to dive into our history and culture is always a good thing because it encourages people to read, learn, and actually enjoy these totem poles to our identity.

I remember having read a few years ago that a movie adaptation for Mythology Class was greenlit, with Jerrold Tarog (of Heneral Luna and Goyo) set to direct. I wonder what happened to it? I came across a post on Reddit that seemed to imply Arnold Arre's beef with the Trese adaptation. Perhaps, there's a bit of bitterness on his part that Trese is breaking into the mainstream first? Which is sad and unfortunate if true, because I think there is room for both these works to coexist. In fact, I wish more Filipino stories (not just those involving Philippine mythology) get adapted into TV series and movies. These tales enrich our existence. They place our struggles and our victories front and center, and it allows the audience to recognize our roots in a way that deepens our understanding of what it means to be a Filipino. 

I can't wait to binge-watch Trese this Friday. What a win for Filipino writers, animators, history professors, and just everyone in general. And I hope Mythology Class The Movie takes flight in the near future too. We deserve stories outside and beyond romance, adultery, and... whatever Ang Probinsyano is. 

Myths are important. They are more ancient than science, more thematic than philosophy, and more instructive about our distant past than any other piece of history. They contextualize our past. They carry with them the steadfast values of honesty, goodness, and courage. It is the truth of experience, of life lived, of nature providing. 

These books take the relics among our folk traditions and give them new life. They indicate that the function and value of folk tales in the past are still present, still intelligible. And to learn them and embrace them can make us better human beings, for the tenets underlying in these myths — that good should prevail over evil — should still resonate with us today, now more than ever. 

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