One of the most high profile books to come out of Komikon was magazine conglomerate Summit Media entering stepping into the world of Filipino comic book publishing (Oh sorry, I meant graphic novel), the largest company to make the move so far. The material for this foray is from a commercial standpoint a safe choice: Underpass is a modest horror anthology of four stories written by some of the more recognizable genre creators in the Philippines. Summit must be hoping that horror's popularity will translate into healthy sales. They certainly put considerable care into the packaging: This is a handsome square bound softcover volume printed on thick, glossy, and fully colored paper stock.

Horror fiction of course has a long literary tradition, and comics has its own rich history with the genre. But for mass appeal, horror is most successful in film. The genre is one of the more successful in Filipino cinema. The medium's nature of combining visual and temporal elements has an unmatched way of building terror that can't be easily replicated by comics. Not that it ever stopped the komiks industry from producing numerous horror titles during its heyday. The stories in this volume settle on being dark, creepy and disturbing. And despite the underpass metaphor, there's not much that overtly connects them beyond the genre itself.

The opening story Sim by Gerry Alanguilan is a straightforward tale of someone receiving a phone call from beyond, with predictably deadly results. His contribution is the one that sticks closest to horror films. Alanguilan possesses the cleanest, most direct, and easiest to follow art in the book. The story itself is slight.

Sim panelsJudas Kiss adopted from a story by David Hontiveros is plodding, literary, and didactic. It's the story of a man being haunted by the ghosts of his wife and brother, whom he murdered. It contains a twist ending that more experienced readers will see coming. The surreal imagery and day-glow secondary colors employed by artist Oliver Pulumbarit gives the impression that the protagonist is going through a really bad acid trip. This is the least successful story of the collection.

Judas Kiss PanelsKatumbas, also by Hontiveros, is closer to fantasy-inspired superhero adventure of the Buffy or Trese kind. The story about a supernaturally empowered warrior battling demons and spirits is intriguing but feels incomplete as an episode of an ongoing series. The art supplied by Ian Sta. Maria is the slickest, most detailed, and most likely to appeal to mainstream tastes. But I need a bit more out of the narrative before I'm willing to commit.

Katumbas panelsSpeaking of Trese, The Clinic, by Trese co-creators Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo is itself a shout out to one of their earlier stories. As the subject matter is about a supernaturally run clinic that performs illegal abortions (abortion is illegal in the Philippines) and collects the infant souls, this is no doubt the most unsettling and unpleasant story in the book.

The Clinic Panel 1The Clinic Panel 2 The Clinic Panel 3 The Clinic Panel 4
Underpass is a solid effort. But I don't find the material within original or consequential enough to be a satisfactory reading experience. Mainly, it's because I'm pretty jaded to the old fashioned horror formula which relies on a "gotcha" ending for impact. And I find these kind of stories thuddingly moralistic. But this brand of entertainment should strongly appeal to local tastes, which might bring a few more readers back to the komiks medium.