A New Breed of Filipino Superheroes
By Melissa Quizon
When you say the word ‘comic book’, it’s most likely that the word it would be associated with is ‘superhero.’ In the local scene alone there are probably over a hundred superhero characters; worldwide, I won’t even begin to count. So upon discovering the Filipino Heroes League, I first brushed it off as a typical superhero comic – it just sounded like a
Filipinized version of the Justice League of America to me. But with closer inspection, I realized I was wrong.
It’s a superhero comic book with all the usual superhero trimmings – superpowers, costumes, secret identities and bad guys. But the difference lies in the portrayal of culture. Created by Paolo Fabregas, the Filipino Heroes League is just like any other superhero league out there, except with a very Filipino twist.
These are third-world superheroes fighting in the very heart of Manila; there are no fast cars, no high-tech gadgets and no flashy outfits. There are, however, dilapidated superhero headquarters and an owner jeep as a superhero mobile. One of them even sports a tattered old KKK flag as a shirt, with the extra K covered to stand for his name: Kid Kidlat. You’ve gotta love how Filipino they already are on the surface alone.
And this is definitely something that the average Filipino can relate with. A lot of the superheroes we Filipinos have been exposed to over the years, with much influence from the Westernized world, are rich. Really rich. They had all the cars, all the gadgets, all the glitz and glam that comes from belonging in a first-world setting. Which, I guess, is part of the reason why the Filipino masa looked up to them so much. “We’re a poor country. This doesn’t work,” Fabregas says in an interview with the Philippine Inquirer. “Where would the Filipino superhero stand?”
So now it’s time for another breed of superheroes to make their own way in the world, ones that are undoubtedly heroes of their own kind.
“I wanted to write a story about Filipino Superheroes but I didn’t want them to be trapped in a Marvel-like story where they only battled super villains or themselves,” Fabregas explains in an interview with Mark Rosario of planetmarkus.com. “I wanted them to address the real problems of our country.” And that’s exactly what he did, in the world of the Filipino Heroes League.
Their world is not so different from ours – from modern Filipino society – when you think about it, save for the obvious presence of superheroes with superpowers. Fabregas opens the story with a proud, glowing news report of a Filipino superhero abroad who had teamed up with an American superhero to fight against Muslim terrorist-villains. Meanwhile, back in Manila, the local superheroes are getting no recognition for anything they’ve done for society. This part alone already says so much about how Filipinos are. The story goes on to reveal more about the members of the league, growing as they recruit to fight against political assassinations, and issues of graft and corruption. Even Martial Law is referenced in the book, and the Filipinos are definitely no stranger to Martial Law.
On the surface it really is just your typical superhero comic book – meant to entertain, meant to pass time. However, Fabregas’ Filipino Heroes League only goes to show that comic books can be so much more. He has turned his book into a reflection of what Filipino society is like in recent times. It might not be the most pleasant thing to realize, but it is true. It is probably the most realistic – or as close to realistic as a comic book can get – portrayal of good versus evil and the retelling of current issues in our very own country and society. I would say that Fabregas has a certain skill of taking an issue, or even a Filipino characteristic, and portraying it in the best way possible in the story. He does it in a way that it neither too obvious nor too passive; it’s just right.
Comic books like this only prove that there is so much more to them than just a bit of light reading. It’s not just a bunch of drawings and text bubbles and sound effects splashed across the page. They can be pretty serious and enlightening too. It’s not uncommon for comic books around the world to have a lot of social issues in them, but the fact that this comic book focuses on issues that majority of Filipinos can definitely understand makes it stand out for me.
I found myself turning page after page after page with this comic book, and I only got more excited when I reached the end. I’m looking quite forward to the next installment of Paolo Fabregas’ Filipino Heroes League. It gave me insight on what the state of modern Philippine society is like, and it definitely surpassed my expectations.