Trese: Murder on Balete Drive
Trese: Unreported Murders
Trese is the kind of conventional high concept series that could have come out of the nineties: A police procedural blended with a supernatural thriller. What it has going for it is the novelty of drawing from a completely different and, for Western readers, unknown collection of myths and superstitions. That's a lot of source material for writer Budjette Tan and artist KaJo Baldisimo to mine. With the possible exception of a homage to a certain local super-hero, these story references should not pose an insurmountable obstacle for unfamiliar readers. A lot of the fun comes from trying to figure out the rules of the game. These tales are packaged in a noir comic that would not look out of place in the contemporary Direct Market.
A limitation with the series is found in the protagonist Alexandra Trese. She's called in as a consultant by Manila's police force whenever the supernatural is suspected to be involved in a murder case. Little is revealed to the reader other than that she inherited this role from her father. Precious little information is added as the series progresses. And almost nothing about her inner life is divulged, including the slightest hint of what personally motivates her. She remains a cipher: A stoic and tough pose wrapped in a trench coat. All attitude, but devoid of personality. This works well enough in its original incarnation as an occasionally consumed episodic adventure. But it gets repetitious when read in trade paperback form. What gets particularly tiresome is how often she or some other character keeps name dropping her dad as a justification for her own magical expertise or as a substitute to explaining her numerous supernatural connections.
Baldisimo's art is pretty slick, but can't completely hide his stylistic weaknesses. For an urban fantasy that hops all over Manila, his backgrounds and cityscapes are often disappointingly nondescript, and strangely lacking in individual character in a comic drawn with chiaroscuro. Working with a limited palette is extremely difficult, and many times Baldisimo resorts to augmenting his inky shadows with line hatching in order to prevent the panels from becoming too muddy. But the results can look a bit disjointed. It feels sometimes like a mash-up between the styles of Frank Miller and Jim Lee.
Only towards the end of the last story in these two volumes does Tan begin to move the story forward, by implying that Trese's actions will have consequences down the line that may result in all-out conflict between the various supernatural factions. Cool, but that's a very long set-up for the first and possibly last story arc.