Monday, June 4, 2012

THE REAL STORY BEHIND CAPTAIN BARBELL



Pinoy Komiks #2, June 6, 1963

One who is not familiar with Mars Ravelo’s Captain Barbell character would quip that it’s ridiculous. Some would even say that the character is laughable. How in the world would anyone think of creating a superhero whose power is dependent on a barbell? But there is a story behind it.

It all started with another immortal character created by Ravelo – Darna. Many writers today believed that Darna is a copycat of Wonder Woman. This is actually a case of “racist” misinformation. Ravelo’s concept of Varga (Darna’s predecessor character), which he called “Kamanghamanghang dilag” (Wonderwoman) predates that of Wonder Woman.

In 1939, after seeing Superman in the first few issues of the Action Comics and newspaper comic strips, he created Varga as the female counterpart of Superman. He started telling his story and showing his creation, clad in more or less a Philippine flag-like costume, to his American friends as the Philippines’ answer to Superman. He believed in the concept that the U.S. is male and the Philippines is female. Unfortunately, several publishers including Liwayway turned him down saying that “a female superhero won’t sell.” So he archived it until after World War II when it was first published it Bulaklak magazine Vol. 4 No. 17 on July 23, 1947. He was, however, disappointed when Wonder Woman came out in All Star Comic #5 in December 1941. Ravelo sincerely believed that Charles Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, was here in the Philippines sometime in 1939 (if this can only be proven?), and was allegedly one among those who heard his story of Varga (During his early twenties, Ravelo was quite vocal in storytelling about his komiks ideas). He sincerely believed that some of the concepts of Varga, his “Wonderwoman from the Planet Marte” was bootlegged.

Pinoy Komiks #5, July 18, 1963

Ravelo vent out a sort of retaliation on the Captain Marvel character. This time, he admitted doing the spoofing himself, and out came Captain Barbell. He tailor-made the character Tenteng (Captain Barbell’s alter-ego), to Dolphy, who was then a comical skinny actor, as a pun or insult, as opposed to the matinee-idol type Billy Batson (Captain Marvel’s alter-ego). He specifically told illustrator Jim Fernandez about that, and you can see the obvious similarity between Dolphy and Tenteng in Fernandez’ drawings (“Captain Barbell,” Pinoy Komiks, 1963). He even intended the character to have a funny transformation, that Captain Barbell would turn into a skinny bungling superhero (Ravelo, however, later changed that story, which became “Captain Barbell vs. Flash Fifita”). (Un)Fortunately, Captain Barbell became a great hit and Dolphy made his character Tenteng quite a sensation. So, Ravelo changed his mind and continued the legacy of Captain Barbell.

Captain Barbell issue no. 8. Notice how
Jim Fernandez illustrated Tenteng.
Does he not look like Dolphy?
In the original Captain Barbell komiks series (May 23, 1963 – June 18, 1964), and in the first movie, Tenteng was a laughable skinny young man very much maltreated by his four step-brothers, Bruno, Badong, Baldo & Banong. When I asked Uncle Mars what was Tenteng’s full name, he revealed that it was originally Penitente Mumolingot, and smirkingly hasten to add “huwag mo ng itanong” (don’t bother to ask). When I asked Tita Lucy (Ravelo’s wife) years later, she didn’t know about the “Mumolingot” surname but told me that Tenteng was actually taken from the name of a tall lanky boy who bullied Ravelo as a kid.

In the original story, Tenteng released a genie from a bottle and in return the genie gave him three wishes. His first wish was for a fried chicken. His second wish was a barbell he alone can lift that possesses the power to transform him into a super being the moment he shouts “Captain Barbell” (much like “SHAZAM” in Captain Marvel). His third wish was for the genie to become small again. Unfortunately the genie got eaten by a cat.

The start of the story was filled with comedy (with Dolphy’s unequalled portrayal of Tenteng in the movie). The original Captain Barbell (portrayed by Bob Soler) had an eye mask and a real barbell made of “magical” solid gold. Captain Barbell and his alter-ego Tenteng each has a separate identity and portrayal. Tenteng is funny and a weakling while Captain Barbell is a serious character, and superstrong and invulnerable to any man-made weapons. He doesn’t, however, have superspeed as being portrayed on the television series. In fact, GMA 7’s adulterated version of Captain Barbell is almost entirely different from the original character, in storyline, costume & characterization. I would think Uncle Mars would pound them with a barbell if he is still alive today for adulterating his creation.

Pinoy Komiks #31, July 16, 1964

Furthermore, after the power of the magical barbell left Tenteng (in the end of the original series), the barbell was thrown into the sea. In the succeeding series, the magical barbell re-emerged and found new rightful owners: Captain Barbel hence became the alter-ego of the limping Dario (“Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal,” Pinoy Komiks, July 2, 1964), and the legless cigarette vendor Gomer (“Captain Barbell Versus Flash Fifita,” Liwayway, December 26, 1966).



NOTE: Based on an unpublished interviews by the author with Mars Ravelo in 1985.

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1 comment:

  1. I find this very informative. I'm looking forward to more komiks article from you.

    ReplyDelete