Sunday, May 28, 2017

WHO WILL BE THE NEXT DARNA?


Angel Locsin as Darna, on the cover of
MOD August 12, 2005 issue.
The Sexiest and most popular Darna.
In the 21st century, we’ve seen four actresses portrayed the role of Darna. Regine Velasquez did a cameo of Darna in the Bong Revilla film Captain Barbell (2003), and also donned the costume in her The Singer and the Songwriter concert tour (2004). Angel Locsin beat all the television ratings record portraying the role in the 2005 GMA-7’s Darna series. The Kapuso Network made a Darna remake starring Marian Rivera in 2009-2010. In that remake, Angel Aquino portrayed a predecessor Darna. Ruffa Mae Quinto also wore, albeit, a fake Darna costume (so, she’s not included in the list).

          Since 2013, when ABS-CBN obtained the rights to Darna from the Ravelo heirs, talks have been circulating that Angel Locsin will again play the prized role, this time in the big screen. It awakened the Darnamania not only in the Philippines but all over the globe. Star Cinema, ABS-CBN film outfit, was supposed to make the “biggest” film ever in Philippine cinema history with award-winning director Erik Matti and his production company Reality Entertainment at the helm of Darna, the Movie. In June 2014, Angel Locsin even announced: “Pwede ko na siguro sabihin. It’s official, nasa sa akin na ulit ang bato!” (I think it can already be said. It’s official, I again have the [magical] pebble!) Vilma Santos, also a former Darna portrayer, was said to play the role of Lola Asay, and Sarah Lahbati was to play Valentina.

          Indeed, Locsin was already preparing to don the crimson bikini again, but she got injured during stunt training. She developed a "disc bulge" in her spine because of the strenuous training. Darna fanatics, however, did not lose hope. They even created websites bannering “Darna Waits (for Angel).” Up until the end of September 2016, Locsin was still the only choice to play Darna. Several months passed, the wait continued until Locsin himself finally said that she could no longer play the role.

          Many, millions to say the least, were disappointed. The legacy of Mars Ravelo’s Darna, however, needs to move forward. The hunt for the new actress to portray Darna begins. I just hope that this time, they will make Darna, the original Filipino superheroine that she is, and not a second-rate copycat of Wonder Woman that other writers and directors have portrayed her in the past, especially after Mars Ravelo had passed away. (Read more about Darna in my blog: Darna: The Original Filipino Superheroine. Read also the proof that Darna is the original, and it is Wonder Woman that is a copycat: The Untold True Beginning of Darna)

          The early list includes Bea Alonso, Anne Curtis, Isabelle Daza, Shaina Magdayao, Bianca Manalo, Jessy Mendiola, Cristine Reyes, Maja Salvador and a host of other ABS-CBN talents. Later added on the list were Ritz Azul, Sarah Geronimo, Nadine Lustre, Julia Montes, Arci Muñoz, Yassi Pressman, Mariel Rodriguez (who earlier played Varga), Lisa Soberano, Megan Young (Miss World 2014), Pia Wurtzbach (Miss Universe 2015), and even talents from the rival network GMA-7, Carla Abellana, Glaiza de Castro, Maine Mendoza, Jennylyn Mercado, and the last Darna portrayer, Marian Rivera, were being considered by fans.

The Galaxy of stars being considered by fans to play the next Darna: (From top left, clockwise)
Bea Alonso, Ritz Azul, Anne Curtis, Isabelle Daza, Sarah Geronimo, Nadine Lustre, Shaina Magdayao, Jessy Mendiola, Julia Montes, Yassi Pressman, Cristine Reyes, Mariel Rodriguez, Maja Salvador,
Lisa Soberano, Megan Young and Pia Wurtzbach.
Anna Gonzales on the cover of
Hiwaga Komiks (February 6, 1974).
One among a few actresses who
declined to play Darna.
          Darna is a career defining role. Ever since Rosa del Rosario soared on the silver screen as the first Darna, it has been a much sought after role for many aspiring actresses. There are, however, a few actresses who backed out from portraying the role after it was offered to them. Before Gina Pareño was bestowed the “magical pebble” for Darna at ang Planetman (1969), two actresses, Anna Gonzales and Vilma Valera, were considered to play Darna, but they both declined. I can’t imagine the regrets in their minds afterwards.

          On the other hand, there were actresses that probably would have given justice to the superheroine role. Among them Delia Razon (in the 1950s, perhaps after Rosa del Rosario), Alma Moreno, Gretchen Barretto and Dawn Zulueta (in the 1980s), Ina Raymundo (in the 1990s), and Nadine Samonte and Glaiza de Castro (after Angel Locsin and Marian Rivera). The amazing lady who played Bathaluman Ether in the Encantadia remake, Janice Hung, has all “assets” fit for the role, she’s beautiful, sexy, physically athletic, and can kick butts being a wushu champion. Too bad she’s on a rival network.

          As of this posting (May 2017), five names topped the list of contenders: Nadine Lustre, Jessy Mendiola, Maja Salvador, Lisa Soberano and Megan Young.
On the top of the list of contenders to play the next Darna: (From left to right)
Nadine Lustre, Jessy Mendiola, Maja Salvador, Lisa Soberano and Megan Young.
          So far, 16 actresses have played the role of Darna, in films and television series, including cameos: Rosa del Rosario, Liza Moreno, Eva Montes, Gina Pareño, Vilma Santos, Lorna Tolentino, Lotis Key, Brenda del Rio, Rio Locsin, Sharon Cuneta, Nanette Medved, Anjanette Abayari, Regine Velasquez, Angel Locsin, Angel Aquino and Marian Rivera.

          Who will be the next?

Friday, May 12, 2017

THE UNTOLD TRUE BEGINNING OF DARNA


(More excerpts from the 1985 unpublished interviews with Mars Ravelo)

          Darna is the most popular character in Philippine komiks. Its iconic popularity is so well-established that just like the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, the character that inspired her creation, it transcends racial and cultural borders. Darna is not only loved by millions of Filipinos, but her charm has attracted fans from all nationality, all over the world. Even in the manga and Marvel universes, you’ll find Darna fanatics. There’s even a fan club of Darna in, of all places, Russia.


WHY DARNA IS SO POPULAR?

          What makes Mars Ravelo’s Darna unique from any other superhero characters has been the object of several write-ups. If you read her stories, saw her films and television series, you would probably say she’s a superhero like most others, can fly, endowed with superstrength, champions the cause of good and justice, etc. So, what makes her different?

          If I remembered correctly, Mars Ravelo once said: “Si Darna, nakuha niya ang damdamin at panlasa ng mga sumusubaybay sa pakikipagsapalaran niya.” (Darna, she captured the emotion and taste of those who followed her adventures.) Who wouldn’t?

           A young barrio lass, living a plain and simple life together with her grandmother and younger brother, is bestowed a power to fight injustice and all forms of evil. People saw themselves in her and in the hope, no matter how mystical, she brings. The simplicity and fluidity of Ravelo’s story combined with the uniqueness of his story-telling style are also factors inherent in Darna’s iconic popularity. Ravelo is no longer around to write or supervise the writing of Darna’s continuing stories, but the legacy of the superheroine he created lives on. For seven decades spanning four generations of fans, her name – Darna – still soars sky-high.


DARNA’S EVOLUTION: THE GOOD AND THE BAD

          Darna’s character and image had gone through several changes and twists from the original simple story. While some fans like this evolution, majority don’t. Indeed, if you based it on the critical reaction of fans in every walk of life, every time there is a sudden alteration of her character, image or even her powers, you'll know they are against it. Majority would prefer the original Darna, unblemished, beautiful, sexy, alluring, but can kick the wits of any villain she encounters.

          Recent writers had used the Marvel style of incorporating the so-called multiverse (either “multiple universe” or “multiple version”) in continuing her saga and adventures. In one film (Darna: Ang Pagbabalik, 1994), she was given powers like that of Superman. In another post-Ravelo story in Super Action Komiks, a scenario of three Darna was narrated. Still another story forcibly connected her with the Adarna bird, which is contrary to Ravelo’s concept. Some illustrators even showcased a change of image, giving her a different costume and outlook. Still others gave her an Amazonian physique, which many fans, both male and female, considered abhoring. For today’s writer and illustrators, for all intent and purposes, she should remain sexy and alluring.


WHO’S THE ORIGINAL AND WHO’S THE COPYCAT?

          In all of Darna’s history, one controversy refused to give up: Was she a copycat of Wonder Woman? Or if I may boldly asked, could it be possible that it’s the other way around – Mars Ravelo’s concept was stolen from him? This is especially so when you look at and scrutinize the circumstances and coincidences behind the creation and publication of these two characters.

          In my unpublished 1985 interviews with Ravelo, he admitted that when he was in his early youth, he was quite gregarious and talkative. He loves telling his stories to both his Filipino and American friends and acquaintances. When he first saw Superman from a newspaper comics strip brought by American soldiers, he so loved it that he boasted he would create a female counterpart in Philippine komiks. According to him, it took three weeks to one month of conceptualizing before he was able to form his story. “Ang dami kasing pumapasok sa isip kong ideya. Pinili ko ang pinaka-simple.” (There are a lot of ideas going inside my mind. I chose the simplest.)

          “Alam mo naisip kong gawin yung Varga para itapat kay Superman. Lalake yung sa mga Amerikano, babae yung sa atin. Di ba ayos?” (You know I thought of creating Varga as a counterpart of Superman. Male on the part of the Americans, female on our part. Isn’t that okay?). Then he revealed something else: “Pero alam mo, hindi naman Varga ang unang pangalan ni Darna. Atin-atin lang ito ha.... Ang una kong itinawag sa kaniya ay Suprema.” (But you know, Varga was not the first name of Darna. This is just between the two us.... The first name I gave her is Suprema.)


SUPREMA, THE NAME BEFORE VARGA

          Many in the komiks world know that before Darna, there was Varga. But did you know that Varga was actually the second name. When Ravelo was telling his “Superman female counterpart” story, the name he was calling her was “Suprema,” which is the female equivalent of a “Supremo” (highest rank leader), a nom de guerre of Andres Bonifacio. Ravelo intended Suprema to be an all-powerful and indestructible woman just like Superman. She would be a Filipina given supernatural power by a diwata (fairy). When asked, “why not just call her Superwoman?” Ravelo answered, “Ayaw ko kasi siyang parang ginaya lang. Naisip ko, para maging naiiba siya.” (I don’t want her to appear like a copycat. I thought, to make her different.) Ravelo didn’t want to bootleg the character he so admired. “Naisip ko ring gumamit ng pang-uring tatatak sa isip ng tao. Naisip ko ang salitang ‘kamangha-mangha.’ Kaya ang itinawag ko sa kaniya ay Suprema – ang kamangha-manghang dilag.” (I also thought of using an adjective that will be retained in the minds of people. I thought of the word ‘wonder.’ So I called her Suprema – the Wonder Woman.) This was in the middle of 1939. This should be the year of the birth origin of Darna.

          Ravelo had a change of mind, however, and opted not to use the name Suprema. “May nagsabi kasi sa akin na baka may magalit at sabihin pang iniinsulto ko si Bonifacio. Taga-Cavite ako. Alam mo naman noon.” (Somebody told me that I may get the ire of some people who may think I’m insulting Bonifacio. I’m from Cavite. You know the situation during those times.). The controversy between Emilio Aguinaldo, who hailed from Cavite, and what happened to Andres Bonifacio and his brother were still an unresolved problem at the time. So, Ravelo had to change her name.

          “Nag-isip ako na panibagong tawag na naiiba. Tapos nakakita ako ng dibuho ng mga seksing babae, ang tawag ng mga Kano ay Varga Girls. Ang gaganda ng mga dibuho. Doon ko kinuha ang pangalang Varga.” (I try thinking for another name that is unique. Then I saw some illustration of sexy girls, which the Americans called Varga Girls. The illustrations were so beautiful. That is where I got the name Varga.)

          When Ravelo changed the name to Varga, he also changed some of the premises of the story. The superheroine will no longer be a Filipina given superpower by a diwata, but an alien entity will used a young barrio girl as vessel to appear and fight evil. From his nickname “Mars” (also the name of the Greek god of war and the fourth planet from the sun) and its Tagalog equivalent “Marte,” he purportedly used as the name of Varga’s homeworld. So, the Philippines’ first superheroine was born – “Varga, ang Kamangha-manghang Dilag mula sa Planetang Marte” (Varga, the Wonder Woman from the Planet Mars).

          It came to pass that Ravelo borrowed the name Varga from the Varga Girls, which were painted pin-ups that Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas created for Esquire magazine (1940). There was another reason why he chose Varga, but as of this writing I couldn’t recall the complete details as much of the notes of my 1985 interviews with him are gone. Though I remember that it also has something to do with anagrams.

          For Varga’s alter-ego, Ravelo has a galaxy of names mostly beginning with the letter “D” (I wasn’t able to ask why): Diana, Digna, Dina, Donata, Donna, Nova, Olivia, etc. Then later on he saw one Varga Girl name Diana. “Mahilig ako sa mitolohiya. Kaya napansin ko agad ang pangalang Diana. Siya ang diyosa ng pangangaso at ng buwan. Gusto ko yun. Pero gusto ko rin na katutubo ang dating.” (I like mythology. So the name Diana immediately caught my attention. She is the goddess of hunt and of the moon. I like it. But I also like a native impression.) Ravelo like playing with words and anagrams. He likes leaving signatures in his works. One anagram of Diana is Nadia. Then he discovered that if he replaced the “I” with an “R,” the first letter of his surname, the name “Narda” could be formed. “Bingo!” He said. “Naalala ko ang pangalan ng isang kakilala ko noong bata pa ako – si Narda.” (I remember the name of one of my acquaintances when I was a kid – Narda).

          Ravelo drew the illustrations of Varga himself, the first issue being just a one-page, six-frame, layout, with a first-frame showcase of Varga. He admitted that his drawing was bordering on the unrealistic, “Malayo sa hugis” (far-off shape). “Naisip ko baka isa yun sa mga dahilan kaya inayawan ng mga publishers.” (I thought maybe that is one of the reasons why the publishers rejected it)


FEMALE SUPERHERO WILL NOT SELL?

          “Natatandaan ko inalok ko yung istorya sa Liwayway, Salinlahi, Mabuhay, pero tinanggihan nila. Pakiusap ko pa sa isang publisher na para sana sa kaarawan* ko iyon. Pero hindi raw bebenta ang isang babaeng superhero.” (I remembered offering the story to Liwayway, Salinlahi, Mabuhay, but they turned it down. I even pleaded to one publisher that it would be for my birthday*. But they say female superhero will not sell). “Sabi pa nila, manatili na lang daw ako sa mga kuwento ng pagpapatawa.” (They even said, I should just stay in stories that make people laugh**). *RAVELO WAS BORN ON OCTOBER 9, 1916, AND HE STARTED HIS CAREER IN KOMIKS AS A **WRITER-CARTOONIST OF HUMOROUS EVERYDAY SITUATIONS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE.

          That was not the case with Ravelo, who is a versatile and prolific writer. He likes writing in all genres, excel and be number one in it. “Gusto kong subukan lahat. Gusto kong maging mahusay sa lahat.” (I like to try everything. I like to excel in everything).


ANOTHER SUPREMA?

          It is an admitted fact that Wonder Woman (All Star Comics #8, December 1941) was published first before Darna (Pilipino Komiks #77, May 13, 1950), but this is only because the publishers that Ravelo approached in 1939-1941 turned him down. Then came the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines, the onset of the Pacific phase of World War II. Ravelo’s female superhero was shelved for more than five years. It was only after the war that he was able to again offer his works, this time to Bulaklak magazine. Now, as to who is the copycat among the two, I only recently confirmed.

          In the book Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014) by Jill Lepore, it was mentioned that William Moulton Marston (1893-1947) a.k.a. Charles Moulton named his superhero “Suprema, the Wonder Woman.” Coincidence?! The probability is mathematically staggering! It was also revealed in Lepore’s book that Marston’s character was only called “Wonder Woman” when comics editor and script writer Sheldon Mayer dropped the name Suprema from the initial name given by Marston to publisher Maxwell Charles Gaines (1895-1947), which coincidentally also published Superman. Another coincidence is the name of Wonder Woman’s clandestine identity – Diana Prince. Well, maybe, we can accept the fact that Marston also love the Varga Girl name Diana.

          Backtracking, it is noteworthy that Marston only got his “opportunity” when Gaines saw him being interviewed in Family Circle and afterward hired him as a consulting psychology. He immediately proposed to Gaines the possibility of publishing a female superhero. Like Ravelo, he also encountered difficulty in convincing the publisher with regards to a female superhero’s ability to sell. But unlike Ravelo’s experience of rejections with Filipino publishers, Marston was given a chance by Gaines.

          The revelation in Lepore’s book brought up one question after another in my mind. Why would Marston gave such a name – Suprema? Where did he get? Or the better question, perhaps, is where did he hear the name? Don’t tell me it’s the female equivalent of the word “supreme.” That will bring up a million laughs. Marston was in the Philippines in the late 1930s up to the third quarter of 1940. Did he overhear Ravelo’s storytelling? Did he bootlegged Ravelo’s idea and turned it into his own? The evidences maybe circumstantial at this point but it warrants answers.


OF FATE AND CIRCUMSTANCE

          The year Marston and Gaines died, 1947, was in a twist of fate the year Mars Ravelo got his opening for the publication of Varga (Karma working here or what?). Inside the pages of Bulaklak (Hiyas ng Tahanan) Vol. 4 Number 17, on July 23, 1947, Varga began her story: “In Barrio Masambong, not far from Manila, there lies a small hut. Here live Narda and Ding, in the company of their Lola Asay. They are orphaned and indigent. They ask people for alms while Narda sings accompanied by Ding’s harmonica. This is how they were able to make ends meet with their grandmother. One night, the two were with other kids playing hide and seek.....”

          Contrary to what the editors of the other publications said about a female superhero, Varga became very popular with the readers. But by some twist of circumstance, the name Varga became the ownership of Bulaklak magazine (during those times, intellectual property right is not yet in effect) and when Ravelo left the publication in 1949 after a falling out with its editor, Varga stayed behind. Ravelo took Varga’s personality, revised her costume, and brought her to Pilipino Komiks, and renamed the character Darna, from the anagram of Varga’s alter-ego Narda.

          On May 13, 1950, inside the pages of Pilipino Komiks #77, Darna, the original Filipino superhero, donned a crimson red bikini, white sash, golden wings on her forehead, and knee-high stiletto (probably diluted from the aftereffects of seeing Varga Girls pin-ups), and illustrated by Nestor Redondo, started her adventures battling the snake-haired woman Valentina. Rosa del Rosario, Manila’s “Golden Age” movie queen, portrayed Darna on its silver screen debut on May 31, 1951. It was the blockbuster of the era!

          And the rest is history!


THE GALAXY OF DARNAS
DRAWN BY VARIOUS ARTIST

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Monday, June 4, 2012

THE REAL STORY BEHIND CAPTAIN BARBELL

 

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.
Captain Barbell on the covers of Pinoy Komiks #2, 5 and 15.
 
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 Suprema/Varga (Darna’s predecessor characters), 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, which initially he called Suprema. The name Suprema is the female equivalent of Supremo (Tagalog for "highest rank leader), which is also the nom de guerre of Andres Bonifacio. He later changed his mind because the name might create controversy since he hailed from Cavite, the home province of Emilio Aguinaldo. 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 (Hiyas ng Tahanan) Vol. 4 No. 17 on July 23, 1947. He was, however, disappointed when Wonder Woman came out in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941. Ravelo sincerely believed that Charles Moulton, the creator of Wonder Woman, was here in the Philippines sometime in 1939-1940, and was allegedly one among those who heard his story of Suprema/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.


Captain Barbell
(Pinoy Komiks #8, August 29, 1963)
Notice how Jim Fernandez illustrated
Tenteng, Captain Barbell’s alter-ego.
Does he not look like Dolphy?
 
Ravelo vent out a sort of retaliation on the Captain Marvel character, which like Superman he also likes very much. 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.
In these four selected frames (Pinoy Komiks #8, August 29, 1963),
Tenteng was able to get even with his four half-brothers –
Bruno, Badong, Baldo and Banong – who constantly maltreated him.
This he did after winning the bet that he could lift the golden barbell.
 

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 and 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.

Richard Gutierrez with an entirely different
Captain Barbell costume on the cover of
Moviestar April 4, 2011 issue



The start of the original story was filled with comedy (with Dolphy’s unequalled portrayal of Tenteng in the movie). Tenteng has a love interest named Nora (portrayed in the film by Rebecca). Like the Narda (Darna), Tenteng has a kid sidekick named Rex, whose father was killed by Tenteng's half-brothers. The original Captain Barbell (portrayed by Bob Soler) had an eye mask, a simple costume, and a 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 portrayed on the television series. In fact, GMA 7’s adulterated version of Captain Barbell (2011) is almost entirely different from the original character, in storyline, costume and characterization. I would  venture to think that Uncle Mars would pound them with a barbell if he is still alive today for adulterating his creation.

Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal
On the cover of Pinoy Komiks #31,
July 16, 1964.






 
Furthermore, after the power of the magical barbell left Tenteng (in the end of the original series), Captain Barbell separated himself from Tenteng. He took the barbell and threw it into the sea. In the succeeding series, the magical barbell re-emerged and found new rightful owners. In the second series, “Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal” (Pinoy Komiks, beginning July 2, 1964), Captain Barbell hence became the alter-ego of the legless cigarette vendor Dario. The movie version starred Carlos Padilla Jr as Dario and Willie Sotelo as Captain Barbell. 
In the third series, “Captain Barbell Versus Flash Fifita”  (Liwayway, beginning December 26, 1966), the recipient of the barbell is Gomer, a limping fisherman from Baryo Dagundong. There were plans to make it into a film which would bring back the original starrers in the first film, but on opposite portrayals, Bob Soler as Captain Barbell and Dolphy as Flash Fifita. It, however, didn't push through. Dolphy, nonetheless made a second film, Captain Barbell! Boom! (1973) under his own film company, RVQ.




The first issue of “Captain Barbell Versus Flash Fifita”
serialized in Liwayway (1966-1967),
where the power of the barbell was bestowed upon a limping fisherman named Gomer.
The last Captain Barbell series written by Ravelo appeared in Pilipino Komiks (1985-1986) and illustrated by Clem Rivera. It is here were the name Enteng was introduced as recipient of the magical barbell, this time from an old sage. It was made into a film Captain Barbell (1986), starring Herbert Bautista (as Enteng) and Edu Manzano (as Captain Barbell). It is in this film that Sharon Cuneta appeared as Darna (perhaps more than a cameo). Upon the advise of the old sage (portrayed by Leroy Salvador), Darna carried and brought the barbell to the beleaguered Enteng.

As of this writing there have been five Captain Barbell films and two television series.




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

                                          o O o


Thursday, February 23, 2012

THE LOST WORKS OF MARS RAVELO

(And Some Excerpts of His Unpublished Interviews)

          My first personal encounter with Mars Ravelo happened in the early 1980s, when I started contributing crossword puzzles and articles to different Atlas Publishing magazines. I was a working student, freelancing, mostly in making crossword puzzles and writing trivia articles for Sports weekly, Special People and MOD Filipina. I only knew Mars Ravelo from the komiks stories that I used to follow and admire as a kid. When I saw him talking to the editors at the MOD office I didn’t have the guts to introduce myself to him.
The first issue of Sixteen, the magazine founded by Mars Ravelo.
The first issue of Sixteen MOD Filipina,
December 6, 1974


Note: Mars Ravelo was one of the “Founding Fathers” of MOD. He was the one who brainchild the Pilipino Komiks Incorporated’s Sixteen Magazine (June 22, 1968, with Orlando R. Nadres as its first editor). Later, under Atlas Publishing, Ravelo’s Sixteen eventually expanded to the large-sized Sixteen MOD Filipina (December 6, 1974), then to MOD Filipina (October 10, 1975), and finally to the MOD title (July 3, 1992). It is also interesting to note that MOD’s earliest ancestors were written in Tagalog and later in Taglish before English became its permanent medium.
 

          In 1985, I was finally introduced by then MOD Filipina magazine editor-in-chief Ernestina “Ernie” Evora Sioco to Marcial “Mars” Ravelo (1916-1988), the “Dean of Filipino Komiks Writer” and “Father of Filipino Komiks Superheroes.” I was asked by Mrs. Sioco to interview Mr. Ravelo. Between the years 1985 to 1987, I had several meetings with Mr. Ravelo. We talked a lot. Uncle Mars was one of two persons (the other is Mr. Antonio Tenorio) who taught me how to conceptualize and write komiks scripts. His style of komiks script writing was very elaborate and descriptive. Illustrators like this because it makes their jobs easier. I’m proud to say that I’m lucky to have been mentored by Mars Ravelo and learned his style of komiks writing.



TWO INTERVIEWS WITH THE MAESTRO OF KOMIKS
A tribute article in the “Starliners” section
of MOD Filipina September 23, 1988 issue,
written by editor-in-chief Ernie Evora Sioco.
Published 11 days after the death
of Mars Ravelo.
          I did two interviews with “Uncle Mars” as he was fondly called by the people around him. Both of the interviews revolved around many things from comparing politics of old to politics of the 1980s, to komiks and the different komiks characters he created, most especially the superheroes. The interviews were done in Pilipino; one inside the office of Mr. Antonio Tenorio, then Atlas Publication’s head of Komiks Department, in the old Atlas Compound in Roces Avenue, and the second in a Savory Restaurant together with his wife Lucy and Mrs. Sioco. He was around 70 years old, but aside from what he called “a few moments of lapses” he was still quite sharp on his wits. We were even planning to do a komiks project together. He asked me to create 4 or 5 superheroes and they will join his team of superheroes and create a group much like Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League. We already had a name for the group: Royal League (“R” for Ravelo and “L” for Lawagan), and Tagalized, Ligang Maharlika (again, “L” for Lawagan” and “M” for Mars). To this, Mrs. Sioco gave her thumbs up. Uncle Mars, however, died on September 1988 before the project even got to first base. 
Mars Ravelo’s creations: From
top left clockwise, Darna at ang
Babaeng Lawin, Dyesebel,
Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal,
Latikman, Booma, Goro & Bondying.
(From Tagalog Klasiks #424,
April 14, 1967.
          For the Ravelo interviews, they were not published in MOD Filipina even after his death because Mrs. Sioco was thinking of starting a Pilipino-language magazine. But when Gintong Mariposa was established in 1992, I misplaced the envelope where the cassette tapes and typewritten notes of the interview (the result of my family’s transferring from one house to another). It was only about three years after, around mid-1995, that I was able to recover it. Sadly, during those times, I was “blacklisted” by Atlas Publishing “for writing in other magazines” like Celebrity World, Mr. & Ms., etc. The General Manager, Mr. Deo Alvarez, said it was MOD’s policy that its contributor should not write for rival publication. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to enter the Atlas Compound to get my paycheck. Luckily, I had some inside help from Mrs. Sioco and Mr. Tenorio, who tacitly called on the Atlas Compound gate guards to let me in. Incidentally, it was also during those times that I had secured a “go signal” from Tita Lucy to push the project that Uncle Mars and I were planning. It was to Atlas Publishing’s lost that the project didn’t materialize because of petty misunderstanding. Mr. Tenorio was very much regretful about it.
 
Mars Ravelo’s comics/cartoon characters:
(from left) Rita, Ipe at Engot, Totit, Gorio at Tekla, and Varga.
          For the backdrop of the interview, I did some research and background profiling of Ravelo, and noted that he was the creator of many of the unforgettable characters in Philippine pop culture: Rita, Trudis Liit, Roberta, Si Gorio at Si Tekla, Maruja, Facifica Falayfay, Bondying, Dyesebel, among others. His komiks dramas like Basahang Ginto and Tubog sa Ginto were literally acclaimed as cinematic gold. His superhero characters like Darna, Captain Barbell and Lastikman were also immortalized in films and television series.
          Today, after comparing my notes with what I was able to gather about Uncle Mars in the Internet, it dawned on me that what he revealed to me in the interviews were valuable information unknown to most people.

PONCHONG AND BEMBOY
Mars Ravelo’s Bemboy published
in a 1939 Mabuhay Extra issue.
(courtesy of Jose Dennis Villegas’ blog)
          Do you know for example that Ravelo’s first published works came out around mid-1938 when he was still a struggling 22-year-old cartoonist? But if you browse through the Internet and a couple of very “shallow” komiks history books, you would read that Rita (Kasinghot), published in Bulaklak magazine in 1947, is tagged as the first published komiks creation of Ravelo. That’s nine years off the mark!
          In my interviews, Ravelo revealed that “sa abot ng natatandaan ko” (as far as I can remember), his first published works were “Ponchong” and “Bemboy.” And had not Liwayway magazine turned him down on his Varga (Darna’s predecessor character), history would have put Darna’s origin inside Liwayway’s pages instead of Bulaklak, and she would have been the Philippines’ first komiks superhero (Yes, at least one-a-half years ahead of Wonder Woman's first comics appearance!).
          For two years since rediscovering the text of the interviews, I spent part of my spare time trying to find remnants of Ravelo’s lost works. I scoured libraries and my collector-friends’ bauls for naught. It was only in 2011 that I got lucky. I found “Bemboy” courtesy of komiks collector and archiver Jose Dennis Villegas’ blog.
          According to Mr. Villegas, he acquired the very rare find, a 1939 Mabuhay Extra magazine containing Ravelo’s komiks strip “Bemboy,” from an antique dealer. Since then I also scoured even junk shops for Ravelo’s lost works, expecting to be lucky one of these days and perhaps find his other lost work, “Ponchong.”
          Both Bemboy and Ponchong, like many of the Ravelo-created characters including Narda (Varga/Darna alter-ego), Bondying, Penitente Mumolingot or better known as Tenteng (Captain Barbell’s first alter-ego), Tony (of “Tiny Tony”), etc., were names of his childhood acquaintances.
Ponchong & Bemboy, the first two
published characters created by
Mars Ravelo (around 1938-1939).
          Ravelo also told me that the two persons that influenced him early in his career were Irish cartoonist George McManus (1884-1954) and Jewish-American animator Max Fleischer (1883-1972). McManus’ cartoon strips “Rosie’s Beau,” “Bringing Up Father,” and “The Newly Weds, influenced him so much both in his style of writing and drawing. The character Ponchong he said was a Filipino version of Jiggs, the character in “Bringing Up Father” that brought McManus to fame and fortune. The komiks strips “Totit,” “Ipe,” “Buhay Pilipino,” “Si Gorio at Si Tekla” and “Rita at Okay” were reminiscent of McManus’ style.

Two of George McManus’ works: “Snookums” and “Bringing Up Father.”
Look at the similarity of McManus’ and Ravelo’s style of drawing cartoons
about everyday family situations.
According to Ravelo, the character Ponchong was the Filipino personification of Jiggs.
          For the character Bemboy (I earlier thought it was “Bimboy” until I saw the comic strip discovered by Villegas), he recalled having a playmate who argued with his mother a lot because he put so much attention to his dog that he always neglect to do his home chores. It so happened that Fleischer created a character named “Bimbo,” the dog with a human girlfriend, which is “Betty Boop” (the character that immortalized Fleischer). Come to think of it, Bemboy is quite similar to McManus' Snookums. Ravelo sort of experimented during his early works, intermixing the real story with fiction, and also interspersing the drawing styles of McManus and Fleischer with his own.
          Varga is another casing point of Ravelo’s early style of drawing. True to his accounts, Varga’s illustration is a cross between McManus and Fleischer. And based on his story, the timeline of Varga’s birth origin should be put around 1939 and not 1947.

THE (UN)LOST STARTING POINT OF DARNA
          Ravelo admitted that when he was in his early youth, he was quite gregarious and talkative. He loves telling his stories to both his Filipino and American friends and acquaintances. When he first saw Superman from a newspaper comics strip brought by American soldiers, he so loved it that he boasted he would create a female counterpart in Philippine komiks.
          To quote Ravelo: “Alam mo naisip kong gawin yung Varga para itapat kay Superman. Lalake yung sa mga Amerikano, babae yung sa atin. Di ba ayos?” (You know I thought of creating Varga as a counterpart of Superman. Male on the part of the Americans, female on our part. Isn’t that okay?).
          Many in the komiks world know that before Darna, there was Varga. But did you know that Varga was actually the second name. When Ravelo was telling his “Superman female counterpart” story, the name he was calling her was “Suprema,” which is the female equivalent of a “Supremo” (highest rank leader), a nom de guerre of Andres Bonifacio. Ravelo intended Suprema to be an all-powerful and indestructible woman just like Superman. When asked, “why not just call her Superwoman?” Ravelo answered, “Ayaw ko kasi siyang parang ginaya lang. Naisip ko, para maging naiiba siya.” (I don’t like her to appear like a copycat. I thought, to make her different.). Ravelo didn’t want to bootleg the character he so admired. “Naisip ko ring gumamit ng pang-uring tatatak sa isip ng tao. Naisip ko ang salitang ‘kamangha-mangha.’ Kaya ang itinawag ko sa kaniya ay Suprema – ang kamangha-manghang dilag.” (I also thought of using an adjective that will be retained in the minds of people. I thought of the word ‘wonder.’ So I called her Suprema – the wonder woman.)
          Ravelo had a change of mind, however, and opted not to use the name Suprema. Ravelo changed the name to Varga. From his nickname “Mars” (also the name of the Greek god of war and the fourth planet from the sun) and its Tagalog equivalent “Marte,” he purportedly used as Varga’s homeworld. So, the Philippines’ first superheroine was born – “Varga, ang Kamangha-manghang Dilag mula sa Planetang Marte” (Varga, the Wonder Woman from the Planet Mars).
          It can also be noted that Varga was a character archived twice. It was first published inside the pages of Bulaklak magazine Vol. 4 Number 17 on July 23, 1947. Varga became very popular with the readers, but by some twist of circumstance, the name Varga became the ownership of Bulaklak magazine (during those times, intellectual property right is not yet in effect) and when Ravelo left the publication in 1949 after a falling out with its editor, Varga stayed behind. Ravelo took Varga’s personality, revised her costume, and brought her to Pilipino Komiks, and renamed the character Darna.
          For more than two decades the character Varga was lost, until Ravelo established his own RAR Publishing House in 1970 and later acquired the rights to publish Bulaklak. He retitled it Bulaklak at Paruparo, and inside its pages, Varga returned and completed her story. It was followed by “Varga at ang Impakta,” which was illustrated by Jess Olivares. The resurrected Varga, however, didn’t have much flare like its successor-characterization Darna.
 
           It took three decades again before the name Varga resurfaced, when ABS-CBN Channel 2 made it into a TV series which started on August 2, 2008. The character portrayed by Mariel Rodriguez, however, was very different from the original creation of Ravelo. The superheroine’s costume was change, as well as her origin and beginning. The name of her alter ego was also change – from Narda to Olga. (READ ALSO: THE UNTOLD TRUE BEGINNING OF DARNA)
          The ABS-CBN series portrayed an alien princess named Vara from the planet Vargon who found herself drawn to planet Earth. Gifted with beauty, voluptuous body and superpower, Vara met and merged with a young Filipina girl named Olga (played by Angel Sy), and became Varga. Together they tried to fight evil and save the world. Varga’s archenemy in the series is Xandra (played by Sheryl Cruz), a woman who can literally sucked the youth out of every human.
          The series ended on October 4, 2008, after 11 episodes.

MANY MORE LOST WORKS
Three of many komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo:
“Goro, Ang Kapreng Mahiyain” on the first issue of Pioneer Komiks (December 3, 1962),
“Kitikiti” on the Pilipino Komiks #430 (March 4, 1965),
and “Nakangiting Halimaw” on the cover of
Tagalog Klasiks #401 (May 17, 1966).
 
          There were so many which can be considered as lost works of Ravelo. While they are listed among his resumes, many of his works are now considered rarities or, worst, no longer have existing copies. Do you know for instance that aside from “Varga” and “Rita” there was another character – “Ric Benson” – that Ravelo wrote and drew for Bulaklak in 1947? Ric Benson was published 16 issues ahead of Varga.
          Before Iskul Bukol’’s Miss Tapia, there was already “Miss Tilapia.” Before Jinkee Pacquiao was even born, Ravelo already have a character named “Jinkee.” Truly, sad to say, much of the priceless legacies left by this legendary komiks great maybe lost forever.

          Now, anyone of you heard about “Boksingera?” Can you find me an existing copy of the “Baby Bubut” komiks series? Ah yes, how about “Zorina,” “Kitikiti,” or “Nakangiting Halimaw?”
 
Two komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo.
On the left, an inside page) from Redondo Komix #23, March 10, 1964 (courtesy of Stephen Redondo):
“Devlin, Swashbuckler of the Seas” (illustrated by Nestor Redondo)
On the right, an inside page from Espesyal Komiks #269, January 28, 1963:
“Fil-American Girl” (illustrated by Nestor Leonidez).
          Still many more are not even listed on Wikipedia or on Mars Ravelo’s official website. Among them “David Arkanghel” (drawn by Carlos A. Divinagracia), “Devlin: Swashbuckler of the Seas” (drawn by Nestor Redondo), “Fil-American Girl” (drawn by Nestor Leonidez), “Ginto, Pilak, Tanso” (drawn by Bes Nievera), “Goro, Ang Kapreng Mahiyain” (drawn by Rex Guerrero), “Handsome” (drawn by Nestor Redondo), “Higantina, Da Big Byuti” (drawn by Nestor Infante), “Impakta” (drawn by Joe Marie Mongcal), “Jesus Iscariote” (Romy S. Gaupo), “Jikiriz” (drawn Dell Barras), “Konde Artemius” (drawn by Romy S. Gaupo), “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Huga” (drawn by Romy Santos), “Pomposa, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa” (Elpidio Torres), etc.



Three of many komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo under the penname Virgo Villa:“Asuwang” on the cover of Extra Komiks #253 (May 1, 1961),
“Botong” on the cover of Universal Komiks #80 (April 7, 1967),
and “Tsangga Rangga” on the cover of Espesyal Komiks #338 (May 6, 1967).
 
          Let us not forget that because Ravelo was such a prolific writer, he needs to write under pennames so as not to overwhelm both the publication and the reading public. There are several works he did under the penname Virgo Villa: “Asuwang,” “Bamaw,” “Botong,” “Gorgonya,” “Kanggo,” “Oggra, ang Kapreng Tanga,” "The Adventures of Rex Braganza,” “Tsangga Rangga,” to name a few. As of this updated posting (May, 2017), they are also not yet listed in Wikipedia.

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