A weakness of the first two volumes of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo's popular series Trese was the lack of any particularly clear direction in the comic. Sure the confluence of traditional Filipino legends with modern urban settings might sound clever at first. But despite the Filipino setting, Trese conceptually and visually still stuck a little too close to its Hollywood and mainstream roots to feel original. Its creators seemed to be randomly tossing ideas left and right from zombies to drag racing tikbalang to test what worked. And the character designs were a bit empty and cliched: Whether it was the wisecracking sidekicks the Kambal or the unflappable hero Alexandra Trese (This became something of a personal pet peeve: Who the f#@k wears a dark trench coat in Manila?) There was energy and potential, but for the most part the stories felt a little erratic.
Still, some very successful and long-lived serials began from similarly tentative beginnings. And if Trese turns out to be one of these, then the first eight stories will be looked back as early fan-pleasing efforts necessary to build the audience for the comic's survival. Much of this latest volume focuses on the laying the foundations for future world building. A great deal is revealed about the history of the Trese clan and Alexandra's own personal background. While not adding any depth to the character, this provides much needed context missing in the previous stories. The arc that introduces the nearly unstoppable ancient war god Talagbusao produces not only the series first truly compelling villain, but is also the first time that Trese effectively conveys a sense that there is a complex universe full of interconnected beings and interdependent relationships instead of just a haphazard menagerie of monsters for Alexandra to fight.
This is also the first volume where Kajo is fully comfortable with his black and white style. It can take awhile before an artist settles into a reliable shorthand for portraying his or her cast. His figures are less clumsily staged, and while backgrounds are not his forte, the former rough cross-hatching is replaced by fluid line work which is far better in evoking a setting and a particular mood:
And the choreographing of action scenes has become a lot more dynamic and economical:
All of this is a good start for a healthy run. Whether Trese becomes the Pinoy equivalent of Hellboy or just another also-ran will depend on how well its co-creators can build on the work found inside this volume.