5 Local Superheroes On Stage
The Marvel Avengers: Endgame hype is strong.
Twitter tells me that there’s been roughly 3,000 tweets about Endgame in the past hour. This is fine, people should be able to enjoy things to such an extent, but in the middle of avoiding spoilers, one also has to wonder: when was the last time we expressed this same amount of fervor the local creations?
If memory serves, the last time local comics took center stage in social media buzz was when Netflix picked up Trese and even then that wasn’t able to unite comic book fans and casual viewers in online debates, because they just aren’t familiar with the homebrew comic scene. So, if information dissemination is the only roadblock to creating a passionate fandom, it’s right about time to talk about local creations.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do: talk about our local superheroes! Specifically, we’re talking about superheroes on stage.
1. ZsaZsa Zaturnnah in ZsaZsa Zaturnnah: Ze Muzikal
Adapted from the aforementioned comic books, Zaturnnah is more than just a superhero story. Yes, sure, since the lead Ada needs to swallow a stone from the sky to turn himself into a voluptuous powered woman, the superheroine is reminiscent of others. You could very well describe her origin as “______ but gay”, filling in the blank with your choice between Wonder Woman, Darna, or Shazam. But it’s so much more than that, too. While Zaturnnah battles the external conflict of aliens and a femme fatale archnemesis, Ada drives the more human side of the story: battling with his own complicated feelings regarding love, sexuality, and moving on from past trauma. It’s got giant frogs as enemies, but at it’s core its a retelling of the struggles homosexuals might face for being who they are and a celebration of gay culture.
Looking back on ZsaZsa Zaturnnah now — with a hero costume untouched by recent sentiments of how a woman’s armor should look like, topics that few mainstream sources have picked up, and a soundtrack that can only be described as decidedly “funky” — Zaturnnah is definitively retro while still being ahead of its time.
2. The Fuwerza Filipinas and Mely in Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady
From the same mind comes Fuwerza Filipinas, a group of superheroes that include: a matriarch who exudes ‘strong, independent woman’ vibes by carrying around a giant broadsword and belting an introductory number in traditional black gospel fashion, a very sexy man with the capabilities of a cat and a wonderfully done cat eye as part of his attire, the embodiment of both the phrase “slay, queen” and a powerful cyclone, a man who is part soldier, part metal cannon, and all young boy’s fantasy, a motherly figure with healing hands, and finally, a man who commands submission… quite literally, as Leading Man has a ring capable of controlling his enemies.
But even in this already explosive cast of characters, the story focuses on Mely, the Fuwerza Filipinas’ newly hired maid, and her sister Viva and their rather strained relationship. Together, they get dragged through this superhero schtick through sheer association to the group until they come into their own and prove that even normal, ‘local’ underdogs can be great heroes.
3. Gorio, probably, in Mula sa Kulimliman
If it wasn’t already obvious, Carlo Vergara is fond of mixing the most quotidian of Filipino realities with the supernatural and fantasy.
Despite not being a representative of the group, we as a people know the narratives of the parlorista, the overseas domestic worker and, in the case of the play Mula sa Kulimliman, the housewife with an absent husband. We meet them on the street or we have relatives and friends who are like them. The fact that Lilia’s husband Gorio is otherworldly from a more supernatural space called Kulimliman, and she’s the only one in the household not privy to the secret, anchors the fantasy side of the play. Even then, it’s secondary to the more prominent focus on human stories and the methods Lilia has to take to get by.
4. Uh. Everyone in Manhid
Manhid explores a dystopian future in a country that knew massacre and tyranny instead of revolution and nationalism, wherein the current generation — with the exception of 99 babies born during the catastrophe and named after mythic figures whose powers they inherited — are plagued by Apathy. Looking back on it? There’s few things as fun as seeing how creatives adapt mythos and godly powers into a modern setting. Allunsina as a hot-tempered rocker chick who can draw blood by swearing is iconic. The only way to stop the evildoers in this piece, as in real life, is to actively fight against their teachings.
5. Darna in Hindi Ako Si Darna / Ding, Ang Bato
Finally, there’s no local superhero with a greater recall value than Darna. Darna, if the drama surrounding the millennial iteration movie that’s been in the works since 2014 and the almost visceral reactions on social media towards possible casting is any indication, is so iconic and well-loved by the populace that it’s daunting ordeal to change and update her character and story. That doesn’t stop people from trying though.
Ding, Ang Bato and Hindi Ako Si Darna tackles the superheroine’s story from opposite ends of the spectrum. The former is an origin story focused not just on Narda’s underdog to hero transformation, but also on the villainess, Valentina’s start as a bullied child and Ding’s trek into a supernatural, enchanted space where he finds the stone. The latter is Darna in her twilight years: old and probably retired considering how she’s free to lounge in a restaurant and just chat with its various patrons and the people she’s known throughout her illustrious career.