When you think of a Filipino superhero, what comes to mind? Is it Mars Ravelo’s Captain Barbell or Darna? Is it Carlo Caparas’ Panday, personified by the late Fernando Poe, Jr.? In an age when American comics are being mined to become the next big Hollywood blockbuster or television hit, the concept of a Filipino superhero seems ambiguous. After all, the medium where most superheroes rose to prominence, namely comic books, began in the United States.
In the Philippines, we often have to look for myths and legends in the different provinces to find inspiration for superheroic characters. We have Bernardo Carpio, Lam-ang, and even real-life people such as Lapu-Lapu and Jose Rizal themselves have been raised to iconic status.
For many children of the 1960s to 1980s, the previously mentioned FPJ, together with fellow action star Ramon Revilla, encapsulated the personification of the Filipino hero. Often downtrodden or beat down by society even though they had noble hearts, they’d have a quiet nobility and a determination about them that would ensure them victory over evil in the end. In the case of Revilla, he was inspired by local heroes’ use of an “agimat” or talisman to add a little magic to his characters. Combining these disparate elements is at the core of Arnold Arre’s graphic novel, Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat.
Nautilus Comics publisher Jamie Bautista and writer/artist Arnold Arre at the recently concluded Komiket 2017
Originally published in 2006 under his own Tala Comics Publishing, a new and long-awaited edition is finally available once again, thanks to the efforts of publisher Jamie Bautista and Nautilus Comics. And though the story is 11-years-old, it hardly feels dated as the plot, action, and dialogue are as fresh as ever.
Set in Arre’s interpretation of Metro Manila, the book begins with a fast-paced montage of panels to immediately draw the reader into the action. Divergent forces are coming together as a young girl selling sampaguitas is apparently in danger. The mystery behind this girl’s true nature is the main plot that drives this novel forward. Fernando “Andong Agimat” Asedillo is a silver-haired bounty hunter with a checkered past and supernatural abilities. Rescued from a life of crime by police officer Ernesto “El Tigre” Banal, Ando aims to live up to his mentor’s high ideals while dealing with forces beyond the purview of local law enforcement. In this book’s main plot, it is hunting down cult leader Jun “Jun Pogi” Ereteo and his mysterious benefactor.
Arre’s love for 70s and 80s Filipino action heroes is all over Andong Agimat. The title character carries a talisman, not much different from the ones that Ramon Revilla made famous as “Nardong Putik” and similar folk heroes. His first name is taken from “Da King” while the surname of ‘Asedillo” was a role that FPJ originated in a 1971 film. The El Tigre rescue of a young Ando is reminiscent of how police reporter Ruther Batuigas was able to negotiate the surrender of Leonardo “Waway” de los Reyes (eventually turned into a film starring Rudy Fernandez). There’s even a humorous shoutout to Lito Lapid’s Julio Valiente in one training sequence. Yet Arre is able to bring these different characteristics and traits together for his own brooding, chain-smoking, gruff protagonist.
Ando’s relationship with Silang is borne of love, but isn’t the cliched rescuer coming to the aid of the damsel in distress. His dealings with Boboy a.k.a. “Boy Bato” are akin to that of a sidekick (a modern-day Dencio Padilla to FPJ if you will), but Ando also communicates with the anthropomorphic Lawin to be his eyes and ears when above the ground level.
When Arnold created this animated piece, it won Best Animation, 1-5 min. Short Film Category at the 7th Animahenasyon (Philippine Animation Festival) — November 22, 2013 in Iloilo City. It was also awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 7th Animahenasyon (Philippine Animation Festival).
As a stroyteller, Arre has long proven himself to switch seamlessly between genres with hardly any dropoff in terms of quality. He has done mythic superhero tales (The Mythology Class), fish-out-of-water romantic comedies (Halina Filipina), futuristic examinations of society (Trip to Tagaytay), and even reflected on his childhood with his friends (Martial Law Babies). With Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat, Arnold Arre examines the Filipino action hero and emerges with someone who we can cheer for and marvel at yet still relate to because of his humanity.
This tale of the Filipino superhero may not be as fantastic as those starring Captain Barbell, Darna, or Flavio the blacksmith, but it is no less compelling. What makes Andong Agimat not the usual infallible superhero are his flaws and foibles. His dark past continues to haunt him even though he is trying to be a better man. Ando may send chills down the collective spines of criminals, but he can’t seem to express himself to a woman he cares for. Though his talisman makes him practically bulletproof, he needs cigarettes and alcohol to get through his daily routine. In short, Ando is relatable to most Pinoys who are stuck in the proverbial rat race… though his problems are of a much grander scale.
When Andong Agimat was introduced to the world in 2006, the action heroes of the day had already seemed to fade away in the wake of globalization and a bombardment of heroes from the US and elsewhere. Now that the book is back in print 11 years later, perhaps it is time we looked to Arre’s creation some more as proof that Filipinos can still produce great superhero stories that are all our own.