Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Trese, Vol. 5: Midnight Tribunal by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo

The Trese series has settled into a comfortable pattern by this point [1]: we know Alexandra Trese is the supernatural protector of Manila (and, occasionally, points further away) and we trust in the skills of her and her two kambal assistants, but we still don't know a whole lot about her. We are - if we're not Filipino and knew it already - getting a better sense of the supernatural landscape of Manila, who the major players are, what kinds of creatures live there, how they interact.

So this is the point to shake things up, to introduce a new power - someone Trese can't cajole or influence, someone who pushes her and has depths we readers don't understand yet. That's The Madame; writer Budjette Tan will tell you more clearly who that is in his afterword but many readers will figure it out (or think, "is that really...?") before that.

But The Madame does not arrive at the beginning of Trese, Vol. 5: Midnight Tribunal; she's yet another complication on top of two previous problems Trese has been working on. First there's a new "superhero" in Manila, the Maverick Rider, speeding on a motorcycle and stopping supernatural menaces, often exactly as Trese and her kambal are trying to do the same. He quickly gets a media following, but Trese also immediately knows who he really is: Maliksi, prince of the Tikbalang (horse-like shapeshifting creatures who live in the city and have not-entirely-legal activities but are mostly peaceful and neighborly). She pressures his father, the leader of the Manila Tikbalang, to rein in his son and keep his people secret and safe.

Maliksi, like hot-headed sons everywhere, doesn't listen, and soon afterward is in a confrontation with another superhero-esque figure, a blindfolded giant wielding a huge hammer and ranting about "justice" as he kills a lot of people. Does Trese manage to save Maliksi? I probably shouldn't say.

It's only then, while The Judge - the most common of the many names applied to the blindfolded killer; he's not focused on brand-building the way Maverick Rider is - is wreaking havoc across Manila that The Madame returns, to a posh high-rise apartment, and summons Trese to her.

We don't know what The Madame is capable of; we don't know her connections to the supernatural world. What we see of her is surface: a rich, politically connected woman of middle years who is probably deeply corrupt and deeply enmeshed with other corrupt people. We know she was very important in the Philippines in the past, and has returned, to reclaim at least some of that power. We think she is human. We suspect that doesn't define her, any more than it does Trese.

We also don't know who The Judge is - and, more importantly, neither does Trese. But she has some ideas, and will chase him down. Whether her aims in stopping him are the same as The Madame's will be seen - The Madame is trying to protect or defend a powerful friend, who The Judge is getting closer and closer to.

This is still a strong urban fantasy in comics form, and has gotten to the point where it can tell stories in its established world without worrying overmuch about in-cluing foreigners like me about the standard supernatural background. Trese is still central without being personal: the stories are about what she does, while keeping who she is more hidden. Tan's plots are getting more complex, and artist KaJo Baldisimo's art still as gloriously dark and detailed.

Best of all, the afterword is dated 2012, so my assumption is that there are still a bunch of stories that haven't made their way to this side of the Pacific yet. That is all wonderful, and I hope for a continuing flow of excellent Trese stories for years to come.

[1] What is "this point," you ask? See my posts on the earlier books (one, two, three, four) if you're not familiar.

No comments:

Post a Comment