The Wheel and Axle

Zsabongga, Zsabongga, Zsazsa-zsabongga!

by on Jan.26, 2012, under Geeky, Literature, Queer

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*** Zzzssspoiler Alert, ‘Teh!***

Bonggalacious!

Finally, after almost a decade of waiting, fans get to see the sequel to Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah, the critically-acclaimed comic book by Carlo Vergara. Part one of Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila has finally arrived. The award-winning original two-part series spawned a compilation graphic novel, a long-running stage musical, a movie, and various merchandise. Fans have eagerly clamored for the buxom beauty’s return, and now that it’s here, it is worth the wait.

“500 Pesos: Echos Lang” – FTW!

Picking up from where the first book left off, Ada and Dodong head off to try their luck in Manila. They stay with Gwyneth, mentioned in passing in the first book and who seems to have a permanent case of PMS, especially when it comes to Dodong. Bitter Ocampo, isdatchu? When Ada and Dodong watch Gwyneth compete in a TV show contest for impersonators, a giant talking cockroach attacks the station, forcing Ada to once again summon his alter ego, Zaturnnah. Zaturnnah faces near-defeat until the resident yummy superhero, Ginoong Lakas, intervenes… and later on in the cliffhanger of the book, he offers Zaturnnah to be his partner in his war against crime.

Throughout this main storyline, plenty of subplots are threaded seamlessly. Dodong has found work in a car dealership, where world-class photographer Venusa Hawks shamelessly hits on him (who could blame Venusa?). We get to meet Soledad, Dodong’s ex-lover who causes Ada’s insecurities to surface. Ada himself is plagued by memories of his abusive ex-boyfriend Lester, also mentioned in the first book; in the process, Ada’s fears about what Dodong’s real intentions may cause consternation. Meanwhile, Zaturnnah’s foray into the public consciousness has led to an offer by a TV station to be their contract star… while Mino Vakulao plots behind the scenes.

What makes this sequel work is how it builds on and expands the universe introduced in the original. Rather than just replicating the same thing, or perhaps going in the direction of nothing more than traditional superheroics, Sa Kalakhang Maynila explores the richness of this universe and works towards creating a complete mythology for Zaturnnah.

The two books interconnect deeply beyond just Ada/Zsazsa and Dodong, showing us how these books really form one great tapestry. We see, for example, previously referred-to characters like Gwyneth and Lester come to life. Ben Bolroco – possibly just a throwaway joke character in the original – returns with what looks to be a more pivotal role.

Whereas the first book basically had only four characters viewed from a broad canvas (Ada/Zsazsa, Didi, Dodong, Queen Femina) with the rest of the “named” cast acting largely as enablers (Aling Britney and the Amazonistas), here we see more characters being explored and, it would seem, fleshed out. Aside from giving more insight into Ada, the book keeps Dodong from being mere eye-candy (which he still is); he is now a real person… sort of like pre-Crisis Steve Trevor and post-Crisis Steve Trevor (“Hahahah.. Hah. ah… I guess she didn’t get it”). We see Gwyneth and how sharply he contrasts with the more amiable and jolly Didi; there seems to be an underlying story in Gwyneth that may be uncovered in the next two parts, and if so, it will be a very interesting one.

The other cast members introduced – and there are many – also get a lot of small character moments, a contrast to the original book’s limited supporting cast. We meet Ginoong Lakas, Mino Vakulao, Mino’s janitor, Soledad, Venusa Hawks, Ma and Pa, Tonio, and Manong Po… and the cover of Part 2 promises even more. It makes me want to propose actual collectible character cards for the Zaturnnah universe. Of course, we have to see all the costumes that Zaturnnah gets to use this time around; the card variants could be endless. I can already hear fans cry, “Action figures!” (Sign me up for the shirtless Dodong variant.)

The mythology being built in this book is really quite intriguing and makes you want to read more. Who is Ginoong Lakas? How do superheroes operate in this universe (the cover to the next book looks to explore this)?  Who is Vee – Mino Vakulao, Venusa Hawks, or someone else? – and how does he/she fit into Zaturnnah’s world? What’s up with Gwyneth – is there more to him than meets the eye? Heck, is he Vee?

Beyond the comic book fantasy, therein remains that fun and humor Zaturnnah is known for: racy but not offensive, naughty but not vulgar (well, in general, heh). There also remains that social commentary embedded in its story, and aside from further exploring the politics of homosexuality, it also looks to deal with media whoredom, among others. It is the well-crafted mix of these elements that makes this book continue to be exciting.

As for the artwork, what can I say? It remains to be top-notch (shades of Adam Hughes and Alan Davis to my eyes), and the level of detail is just right. There are so many little gems in the artwork that makes you want to go back and try to catch these little funny moments captured on paper. My favorite may be the bottom panel of page 44, the middle portion.

Back Cover Image / courtesy of CarVer

If there are two things I’d have wanted, it would be (1) when can this be colored? though I think I’ve read somewhere how difficult that will be and may drive costs pretty high, and (2) Didi! The contrast between Didi and Gwyneth is so stark that I’d love to see how they interact with each other and with Ada in one room. Yes, I miss Didi.

All in all, this first part is very promising. It brings back the Zaturnnah I know and love, builds on her and expands the universe while keeping what makes her entertaining, and we see more shirtless Dodong.

I cannot wait for the next two parts… and perhaps more sequels after!

My Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars. The missing star is due to the no-Didi aspect.

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