Back in the 1990s, there was a flood of superhero comic books that introduced brand new heroes, teams and even anti-heroes. A strong contributor to this was the market presence of Image Comics, Valiant Comics, Malibu Comics and other smaller publishers that tried their best to gain shares in what was back then the highly lucrative superhero comic book market which was long dominated by Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
With Malibu Comics, their Ultraverse franchise of superhero comics was a blast and I had a lot of fun reading comic books of The Strangers, Prime, Hardcase, UltraForce, Mantra, etc.
For this review, here is my look back at the Ultraverse team comic book The Solution #1 (September 1993).
Written by the late James Hudnall and drawn by Darick Robertson (inked by John Lowe), the story begins when Russian personnel get killed by a team of deadly people whose purpose is to raid the nuclear storage buildings.
As a result, several nuclear warheads were taken away without a trace. A KGB agent discusses the tragedy with an Aladdin agent and seeks help. In response, the Aladdin agent recommends to him The Solution.
“We’d like to (help) but our agency can’t give you any direct assistance. You know how it is. However these people might be what you need. Just remember…I never told you about them,” the Aladdin agent said.
In Hong Kong, a member of the triad instructs his hired assassins to distribute a shipment of illegal substances without getting any interference from The Solution. Predictably, the said team happens to be with them in their secret venue which starts a wave of martial arts, shooting and use of magic.
Enough with the plot. The Solution is a team of super-human mercenaries composed of Lela Cho/Tech (the leader), Eara/Shadowmage, Vurk/Outrage and Dropkick. Quite literally, whenever a major problem happens someone will call The Solution (the answer) to solve it for a fee.
In terms of character design, The Solution has a rather visceral look which was clearly emphasized on the cover art. Outrage, for example, looks very monstrous and one could easily mistake him for an evil figure.
Illustrator Darick Robertson’s art is nice to look at and when the action happens, he sure delivers the goods making the hard action moves look intense. Even showing characters firing their guns look intense. The violence in this comic book is quite bloody and the opening scenes really show that.
Even with the non-action, talking scenes, Robertson’s art makes the members of The Solution look believably human. Facial expressions are good and they quite match the dialogue written. The team shot on page 21, which shows Lela Cho in the foreground talking to her teammates in the background, really looks nice.
In terms of writing, I found this comic book to be a bit bloated in terms of details and plot. Most notably, the pace of the story moves very fast and while it does its job establishing The Solution (and part of its purpose as a team-for-hire), the circumstances and the team’s place within the Ultraverse, the story felt really crammed even though there were 28 pages of story and art. I noticed that while the comic book is about The Solution, it ended up showing a total of three different teams (including the hired assassins).
In terms of character development, there was clear focus on Lela Cho which is not a surprise since she is the team leader. It turns out Lela has lots of vested interests in the corporate world and instead of being in a fancy office, she goes out in the field to get things done. She has a very direct, personal access to information online by means of wetware embedded in her skull. She also has a touch of business in her approach with leading The Solution.
“Our potential client has a problem with some Ultras. They want us to take care of it,” Lela Cho said on page 23.
While it may not look as prominent as The Strangers or UltraForce as far as Ultraverse superhero teams go, The Solution stands out nicely for it is unique and its team-for-hire concept is very interesting. When I first read this comic book long ago, I was convinced to pursue the succeeding issues. Even by today’s standards, this old comic book remains fun and engaging.
Remember when Israeli actress Gal Gadot revealed that she auditioned for a role at Warner Bros. not knowing that she would eventually get hired to play Wonder Woman?
Such a development like that happened here in the Philippines as ABS-CBN formally announced on July 17 that they hired 20-year-old actress Jane de Leon as the new cinematic Darna (finally replacing Lisa Soberano) and this puts the much delayed Darna live-action movie back on track.
In an interview with Preview.ph, de Leon revealed that she went through a process that involved a public audition, a special audition for artists, the final call, the panel meeting and the big meeting with the bosses at ABS-CBN. Along the way, she remembered auditioning for a villain role and the audition involved the participation of around three hundred candidates (according to ABS-CBN’s official announcement).
In the network’s official announcement, there was the final deliberation in which the network management asked the actress how committed she is in getting the role. De Leon replied that she would “everything and anything” for it and added that she believes “in what Darna stands for.”
Olivia Lamasan, who is the ABS-CBN Films managing director, asked De Leon (translated from Tagalog): “Are you ready? Are you ready to hold the stone? Are you ready to be Darna? This is because we are giving you (the role of) Darna.”
Unsurprisingly, De Leon got shocked with getting the role. Darna, after all, is a Philippine superhero icon that started way back in the 1950s and multiple comic books, movies and TV episodes were made featuring the character. The late Mars Ravelo created Darna.
Lamasan stated to ABS-CBN News that the Darna movie is a “genesis story” (origin) with a coming-of-age theme. She added that having someone “young and with an air of innocence” as well as “strength of character.”
Personally, I am not surprised that an origin story is the concept of the still unmade movie. This is, after all, the newest version of Darna under ABS-CBN and the new actress has to not only play the icon but also make her relevant with today’s moviegoers, including the many Filipinos born just before or just after the year 2000.
Behind the scenes, experienced filmmakers were involved in the selection process and they carefully made their choices. Darna movie director Jerrold Tarog said that De Leon was their unanimous choice.
Beyond the casting for the icon, it remains to be seen what kind of quality moviegoers will get once the Darna film project finally gets made. We moviegoers have to ask: how much spectacle will the film have? Will the script have childish humor? Will the Darna costume for Jane de Leon still be the traditional 2-piece swimsuit with boots, helmet and that front loincloth? Will the movie serve as a platform for the possible launch of single, shared cinematic universe of Mars Ravelo’s superheroes?
From this point on, the producers and filmmakers should be able to move forward at last with making the Darna movie while Jane de Leon prepares herself.
Details of De Leon
A native of Laguna province, Jane de Leon stands 5’3 and is talented with acting, singing, dancing and playing drums and guitar. She also took part in modeling. With regards to movies and television, her credits include The Debutantes (2017 movie), Ipaglaban Mo (TV series), Maalaala mo kaya (TV series), and Halik (TV series).
If there is anything I like most about Marvel Comics’ True Believers line of comic books, it’s that I get to read reprints of past stories without having to pay a whole lot of money to buy the original comic books or those pricey paperbacks.
A few years ago, out of curiosity, I bought a copy of True Believers which reprinted the first appearance of Deadpool in New Mutants #98.
This time around I got to check on the first-ever encounter between Spider-Man and the vicious supervillain Carnage with True Believers: Absolute Carnage – Carnage #1 which is currently available for for only $1.
The comic book is a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #361 which was released in 1992 just months before Marvel’s official celebration of the 30th anniversary of Spider-Man happened.
The story begins when Carnage causes trouble at the Agro-Lab Empire State University. He messes with a man named Chip (who claims to have done nothing wrong), cause property damage using his symbiote and eventually kills. This opening scene clearly shows that Carnage is a more troubling than Venom (who in turn was being turned into an anti-hero figure by Marvel’s creators).
Peter Parker/Spider-Man meanwhile spends quality time at home with his Aunt May. Unsurprisingly, a telephone call interrupts his private life causing him to go to the university to determine, secretly in costume, what happened. Peter personally knows Chip and the guy’s death only adds to his concern about the rise of brutal murders.
“Chip’s dead. And I’m worried that these serial killings may partly be my fault,” Peter told Mary Jane.
Using his access as a freelance photographer, Peter conducts computer research at the office of the Daily Bugle and discovers Cletus Kasady’s prison profile. Knowing that Kasady (Carnage) was a cellmate of Eddie Brock/Venom, he digs deeper and goes around the city to investigate. This sets up his first encounter with Carnage. What exactly happened between them? You just have to read to find out.
Even by today’s standards, the story remains gripping, intriguing and entertaining at the same time. David Michelinie really knows how to balance spectacle, exposition and suspense with the Spidey-Carnage conflict as the highlight. Michelinie also showed Kasady’s insanity clearly and, even by his look, the villain is clearly a creative rip-off of DC Comics’ insane villain The Joker. Artist Mark Bagley’s art is still good to look at and he managed to pull off the daunting task of visualizing the present along with drawing images from Spidey’s past with original symbiote and Venom. The action scenes still have good visual impact.
Overall, if you are even a bit interested in Spider-Man, Carnage and 1990s comic book culture, then True Believers: Absolute Carnage – Carnage #1 is recommended. For only $1, this is one engaging and entertaining comic book to read.
Take note that there is a chance that Carnage will become the next popular supervillain in the movies once the character appears fully in the sequel to 2018’s Venom movie. Remember the mid-credits scene in Venom? Carnage could literally rise in pop culture.
Back in 1991, Marvel Comics successfully launched X-Men #1 (Volume 2) which arguably marked what was back then a new era of the X-Men. That comic book was written by Chris Claremont and the art was done by Jim Lee with ink work by Scott Williams.
Lee was granted a lot of creative freedom and that could be seen in the way he redesigned and modernized the looks of the X-Men, especially with Cyclops (with that suspender), Rogue (that yellow-green tight suit plus brown jacket), Jean Grey (technically a swimsuit with those padding on the legs), etc.
Those re-designs were eventually adapted by the producers behind the memorable X-Men animated series of the decade which lasted five seasons.
Of course, Marvel Comics itself wanted to make more money as the said animated series launched. Alongside it, they launched a new comic book series that adapted stories from the animated series (which itself were adaptated stories from the past comic books, mainly Uncanny X-Men). This resulted the X-Men Adventures comic book series and here, I review the launch issue.
Released in 1992, X-Men Adventures #1 adapted the memorable launch episode of the animated series. The story begins with the Watcher doing some expository dialogue as Sabretooth causes some destruction in a city. As it turned out, it was a TV news feed of him as the narrative shifts into a home in suburbs wherein a married couple talk about Jubilee. The husband Martin thought about registering Jubilee with the government which turns off wife Martha. Jubilee overheard them and predictably agonizes over her situation (note: she melted the VCR and mutants like her have been viewed negatively).
Then a Sentinel arrives in the neighborhood searching for her. Strangely enough, the Sentinel simply crushes the bedroom of Jubilee only to find out she was not there and registered an “identification error.”
Jubilee then spends time in the shopping mall only to discover the Sentinel crashing in to find her. Within that place, X-Men members Storm, Gambit and Rogue decide to take action against the Sentinel. This is where the story really takes off.
Creatively, this comic book retells the events of the launch episode of the animated series. Writer Ralph Macchio did a serviceable job translating the episode into a decent flowing comic book. Like the animated episode, the aspect of mutants living in fear (expressed through Jubilee) was nicely captured.
What really stands out here is the artwork by Andrew Wildman. Not only did he do a good job drawing so many characters and giving them nice facial expressions, he pulled off a good effort to insert spectacle into the comic book. The Sentinel’s crashing into the shopping mall, Rogue’s punch on the Sentinel’s head, and Wolverine’s strike against a wall using his claws all have that strong impact.
I also like Wildman’s way of capturing the spirit and look of the X-Men, especially during the Danger Room sequence showing Beast, Morph and Gambit doing exercises. Even the scenes that feature no action but lots of talk had an interesting look and Wildman did not even rely on the method of making the characters beautiful. No single boring moment with the art here.
Overall, X-Men Adventures #1 is a fun read. As of now, this old comic book from 1992 is not really valuable but that just might change if ever the Walt Disney Company (which now has the other media rights to X-Men due to their acquisition of 20th Century Fox) decides to have Marvel Entertainment revive or even continue the X-Men animated series.
Whether there will be a significant development or not, X-Men Adventures #1 is recommended.
This past summer, the production of the pending Darna movie project suffered a major setback when Liza Soberano dropped out due to a serious injury of her finger. I wrote about that months ago and the fact that Soberano cried during the ABS-CBN interview (she admitted she let the fans down) only showed how heavy and painful the loss of the Philippine pop culture icon was to her deep inside. Not only that, the original director Erik Matti is no longer involved and has since been replaced by Jerrold Tarog.
As of this writing, the filmmakers are still quietly searching for a suitable replacement for Soberano.
As the search goes on in this age of social media and Hollywood-produced superhero movies that dominated the Philippine box office, the hot question remains – is a Darna movie still needed?
To understand things better, let’s go back to the beginning.
Created by the late Mars Ravelo, Darna debuted in 1950 in illustrated print media and went on to appear in comic books, comic strips, magazine special features, television and movies to name some. Through the decades, Darna went on to become a Philippine pop culture icon and there were those who even compared her with Wonder Woman.
In Philippine cinema, Vilma Santos (who is now a public servant) made her mark with the public when she played Darna more than once. Other actresses who played the superhero in other movies were Sharon Cuneta, Anjanette Abayari and Regine Velasquez to name a few.
The 21st century
In the 21st century, Darna was unsurprisingly modernized in a TV series starring Angel Locsin and produced by GMA Network. The series became a hit nationwide and helped keep Ravelo’s icon relevant to Filipinos while also boosting Locsin’s popularity. A few years later, GMA lost Locsin to its rival network ABS-CBN and “replaced” her with then newcomer Marian Rivera who went on to become a star. While still holding the rights to Darna, GMA launched in 2009 a new series with Rivera as the superhero. Like the 2005 series before it, it became a hit as well.
While it was a success, the deal between GMA and the surviving members of Mars Ravelo came to an end. Unsurprisingly, in 2015, the Ravelos signed up with rival network ABS-CBN with upcoming Darna projects in mind. What made this new deal different was that it was in the form of a motion picture project through its movie-making arm Star Cinema.
Making a live-action Darna movie turned out to be tricky and time-consuming. In 2017, the project generated a lot of buzz and excitement when the young and pretty Liza Soberano was hired to play Ravelo’s creation. She was easily referred to as the “Millennial Darna”.
Of course, in this age of social media and smartphones, Filipinos expressed their reactions online. While there were those who welcomed Soberano as Darna, there were some who had problems with the actress’ American accent and heritage (note: Soberano was born in the United States) and some even claimed that she was “not Filipina enough” to play Darna who in the realm of fantasy is Narda, who is often portrayed as a simple Filipina.
And then there were some people who preferred Angel Locsin over Soberano. Take note that almost a decade before Soberano signed up to play Darna, Locsin was hired by ABS-CBN and starred in many big projects with the network achieving lots of success in both television and movies. As such, it was no surprise that there were still many craving for Locsin to play Darna under the banner of ABS-CBN.
Before losing the role, Liza Soberano worked really hard to play Darna. Videos and images of her physically training for the role were released online and it has been reported that she researched the icon behind the scenes. Soberano, by the way, studied at SISFU (Southville International School Affiliated with Foreign Universities) in BF International, Las Pinas City.
Do people really want to see a Darna movie at all?
While Star Cinema is slowly making the Darna movie, it is only fair to ask if people really want to see the movie at all. Do Filipinos, who collectively paid a good amount of money to enjoy Hollywood-made superhero movies in local cinemas since the year 2000, really need to watch Darna on the big screen?
Now I am not a filmmaker nor have I gotten involved in the nation’s film industry but as a long-time geek, observer and former journalist, I should say that the odds are against Star Cinema.
Traditionally here in the Philippines, local film productions that became hits were the romantic comedy and horror types of movies. There were a few historical epic films that became hits along the way. A few fantasy movies were released and made some good money. Given the fact that these kinds of films became hits with Filipino moviegoers and given the fact that the Filipino action film genre has faded away since the early 2000s (note: Filipino action movies have been rarely produced since then), it comes to show that Filipino moviegoers are not that interested in locally made action scenes.
Action scenes combined with computer-generated images (CGI) are among the most attractive features of Hollywood superhero movies to Filipinos. There is nothing like watching Spider-Man’s classic fights with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 (2004), Wonder Woman leading the fight against the Germans in the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman (2017), Batman fighting a gang of thugs in the warehouse in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and the massive battle between the superheroes and the evil ones in plains of Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) all happen on the big screen!
Definitely those forms of spectacle look great, feel intense and were enjoyable to watch again and again. Moviegoers here in the Philippines paid good money to experience those sequences. For sure, all those on-screen action sequences were carefully crafted, choreographed and painstakingly laced with CGI at a high cost.
That being said, what can the Darna movie offer local moviegoers in terms of spectacle? Can the filmmakers come up with something stylish (if not original) with the action with Darna that can convince moviegoers to come back for more? How much money can the filmmakers afford to invest in such spectacle? For sure, there will be moviegoers who can’t help but make comparisons with Darna’s on-screen spectacle with those of movies from Marvel and DC.
There is also the challenge for the Darna filmmakers to tell a compelling story and have the moviegoers connect with the characters. Sure there is Darna (Narda is her civilian identity) but who else could they add as key cast members? The least the filmmakers could do is involve supporting characters who would end up annoying moviegoers. If the Darna movie would have humor, the producers should make sure that the comedy players should avoid annoying the viewers as they try to make comic relief.
Challenging also is the implementation of the villain to give Darna problems and compel her to act heroically. There is the long-time enemy Valentina but how can the filmmakers make her relevant and not look corny to the locally viewers who have gotten so used to villains in Hollywood superhero movies. Creating a brand new, all-original villain for Darna on the big screen could be a last resort if ever none of the Mars Ravelo-created villains would fit in. A weak cinematic villain is a big no-no.
And then there is the challenge of dramatizing and modernizing the origin of Darna on the big screen. This can make or break the movie because emphasizing the origin requires a good amount of build-up and however the story is written (with the expected big battle near the end) the movie should have balance. It is key to entertain the viewers, to connect them with the characters and make the plot relevant to them. If there is way too much build-up (read: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), moviegoers will end up getting burned out and the spectacle won’t save the movie. If the film has too much social commentary, it could turn off moviegoers.
Another issue is maintaining the relevance of Darna with the Filipinos as time passes. Each year that passes, a superhero movie of Marvel or DC Comics gets released in cinemas nationwide and adding more to the relevance of the superheroes in those movies is the presence of comic books and trade paperbacks of superheroes in retailers. I’m a comic reader and no matter how hard I try, I could not even find a Darna comic book at the retailers (including the comic book specialty stores) and not even reprints of old comics are available. As for the past TV series and movies of Darna, they can be viewed on YouTube but those productions are not too appealing to me.
Merchandise of Darna and the other Mars Ravelo heroes Lastikman and Captain Barbell are not that common commercially. The Ravelos however, in partnership with ABS-CBN, sell such merchandise (under the title Ravelo Komiks Universe) online.
During my time at the recent Toycon, there was a Ravelo Komiks Universe at the main exhibition floor which showcased statues and some merchandise of Darna, Captain Barbel and Lastikman. There were even hired models portraying the Ravelo superheroes in full costume.
One last issue to discuss here is movie competition. Hollywood superhero movies pretty much made tremendous commercial, and even social, impact here in the Philippines since the year 2000 when X-Men proved that superhero films can be taken seriously and be enjoyed for what they are. There is no denying that Marvel and DC Comics movies are major moneymakers among Filipinos. Wonder Woman grossed over P520 million nationwide in 2017. The disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse made over P400 million in 2016. Iron Man 3’s gross in 2013 was over P625 million. Lastly, Avengers: Endgame made over P1.6 billion this year!
Superhero movie competition is already tough and for sure moviegoers will compare Darna to those foreign superhero flicks on every detail. As if that was not hard enough, there is also movie competition with non-superhero flicks like Jurassic World (over P500 million) and the Star Wars movies to name a few. Some comedies and romantic comedies occasionally sell a lot. There are also those computer-generated animation films as well not to mention some Filipino movies that sometimes turn into major blockbusters.
With these issues discussed, making a Darna movie is hard to do and selling it, if ever it gets made at all, is an even bigger challenge for Star Cinema. As a movie market, the Philippines and its moviegoers have an undeniable appetite for foreign movies and if it is spectacle they crave for, they search for it from Hollywood from the superhero movies, the sci-fi movies, the hard action films, fantasy movies, etc. Adding further to the challenge of making the Darna movie succeed is the advanced publishing of schedules of releases of future movies like Wonder Woman 1984 which will be released worldwide on the first week of June 2020.
If ever the film will be made, could Star Cinema’s Darna turn out as the complete package of really special superhero fun, engaging storytelling, memorable characters and great spectacle in the near future? Will it be released during the Metro Manila Film Festival or during the January-November period? How can Star Cinema make Darna relevant to young moviegoers, geeks and the many Filipinos who love watching Hollywood superhero movies?
The answers should unravel in the near future. There is, however, the possibility that the Darna movie would end up getting cancelled. Personally, I would not be surprised if that happens.
Don’t get me wrong. While I am not a fan of Darna, I still am interested to see a modern day film adaptation of Mars Ravelo’s superhero and hope it will happen with an engaging story, characters worth connecting with and carry lots of entertainment value. While I enjoy watching Hollywood superhero movies, I still will give the Darna movie a chance if it ever gets made as a solid film.
How about you, readers? Do you want to see a Darna film on the big screen?
During my time at the Toycon 2019 at SMX Convention Center in Pasay City this past Saturday, I checked out the X-Men stuff. I am a long-time X-Men fan and that particular franchise is my favorite among all of Marvel’s superheroes.
As before, I looked for some back issues of X-Men at one of the few comic book sellers at the convention.
After carefully searching what was available and calculating with my limited budget, I bought a few copies of Uncanny X-Men drawn in the early 1990s by Whilce Portacio. I intend to have these comic books signed by him in the near future.
As I went around the floor of the main exhibition hall of the convention center, I saw several X-Men statues and action figures. The one that caught my attention was the Dark Phoenix figure.
And then I went up to the 2nd level of the convention where there was one function hall that had several displays of toys and action figures for people to look at. Of course, the X-Men were there and here are some pictures I took for your viewing pleasure.
One of the first things I did after spending some time in the long line was finding the Wonder Woman exhibit which was at one of the function halls on the 2nd level of the convention center.
Here are some pictures I took for your viewing pleasure.
As I mentioned before, Wonder Woman is my favorite superhero of all time and she is truly the queen of all superheroes.
As I explored the main exhibition floor on the ground level of the convention center, I found a few more Wonder Woman figures there. Check out these pictures I took.
If there were any shortcomings for a Wonder Woman fan like me at Toycon 2019, it’s the lack of Wonder Woman comic books. Unlike the previous editions of the Toycon, the convention this year had noticeable lesser comic book sellers on the floor. I was unable to find a single Wonder Woman comic book.