Trese is a Filipino comic series by Batjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo featuring Alexandra Trese, a Babaylan, or shamaness, who solves supernatural crimes on the mean streets of Manila. It's your everyday hardboiled supernatural detective series and set in the Philippines. What's not to love about that?
Alexandra Trese is an Asian version of the supernatural detective archetype that's been around since the Victorian era, brought back to prominence in the 1980s by John Constantine in Hellblazer, here given a Southeast Asian flavour. The series draws on Filipino folklore and supernatural horror that feels fresh because Southeast Asian folklore is less familiar to Westerners. Tan and Baldisimo also find witty and inventive ways to update the supernatural and weave it into the fabric of modern urban life as metaphors and prisms for social commentary. A corrupt mayor who does deals with demons for power, sacrificing the lives of the poor for his deal. The murder of a ghost who haunts the metro line where she committed suicide. An actress stalked by the demonized dead baby she abandoned. A lightning god who takes human sacrifices to grant good fortune to a poor district. A horse god who participates in illegal streetcar races. A man raises zombies to attack the policemen who shot dead his brother and got away with it. And through it all, Trese patrols the night streets with a pair of warrior demons as her sidekicks and a fire demon on her speed dial. There's a pleasing Hellblazer vibe to it. What makes the series fresh is the Southeast Asian perspective that uses specific details from Filipino cultural life and politics. There's a recurring motif of body horror, the ritual binding of flesh to spirit to birth horrors that catnip to horror fans.
The stories in the comic series follow a procedural "case of the week" format, with Trese investigating a new case in each installment, which gives Tan and Baldisimo the space to explore the themes, metaphors, and social commentary in detail, more than the Netflix anime version does. The anime adapts the stories of the first 3 volumes and weaves them together to form the wider arc for the first season. This gives the TV series less breathing space. Budisimo's chiaroscuro artwork is also more unique and atmospheric than the more generic art style of the anime series, and his art and narrative style grows more dynamic and confident as he goes along. Trese is more hardboiled, stoic, and deadpan in the comic, but she's essentially the same: an investigator and shaman who gets the job done by interrogating and negotiating deals with various factions in the supernatural underworld. The anime series is fun, but the original comic is a purer expression of the creators' original vision.
Trese Vol. 1: Murder on Belete Drive has sold out of its first printing, and ABLAZE is going back to the presses. Volumes 2 and 3 are coming soon.