Thursday, March 31, 2005

28th Leg: Bilaran Wars / Mute

I'm going to do something slightly different today. You see, the current site I am at appears to be a collection of comics by the same creators. Although the site is listed as 'Bilaran Wars', I am much more intrigued by one of the other stories on the site.

Being greedy, I decided to read and review both:

We start off with the title comic:

Comic: Bilaran Wars
By: Jess Calcaben (Art/Story) and David Doub (Writer)

Setting and Elements: Fantasy, Magic
Content Type: Action/Adventure

Art Medium: Digital, Inks, Full-Colour
Art Style: Realistic

Is About: When a half-dead man washes up next to the home of a warrior, the warrior and a few others are dispatched to a faraway kingdom on a scouting mission to find out what happened.

Frequency: Unknown
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The flash portal page isn't bad, and the putting the status of the comic on display is a good touch. Bilaran Wars is listed as 'inactive'. Clicking on it brings me to a page with thumbnails. The repeating blue tiles in the background are a bit tacky and don't really suit the feel of the page.

The art is fully coloured and looks intriguing from thumbnail distance, though.

The Concept:
Staple fantasy action/adventure. From the looks of things, we have a bunch of heroes heading off on a quest. not very original, so it's going to have to depend on execution, this one.

The Art:
The art for Bilaran wars could be succinctly described as 'variable art, good colouring'. The art ranges from 'passable' to 'good' and then to 'deformed', but the colouring stays consistently good throughout. The colourist in particular, shows some impressive understanding of tone and hue, and how to use it to convey mood.

The character-designs are consistent. That is, they are consistently identical for the all male and female characters. The male characters are generally buff, over-muscly and for some reason, endowed with extrordinarily short arms. The female characters are all voluptous, shapely, and run around in thongs or skimpy outfits. Some of them have extra-long ears, but that's about it. As a result I had a very hard time telling the character (especially the male characters) apart.

Oh, and in one instance, we also have a hilarious villain who runs around in a pair of nipple-stickers!

(Ping wonders: "Hmm... if she's shameless enough to run around in nipple stickers, wouldn't she be more comfortable running around topless? Not that there's much difference, you'd think.")

Anyway, no prizes for guessing which sex this comic panders to.

There is some nice background-work in the comic, I especially like the painterly approach the artist has taken.

Towards the end, the art does take on a rather intriguing look. There's something very attractive about it when it finally stops trying to be 'tacky comicbook' and goes for 'classical painting'.

The Writing:
The story opens with a very long and drawn-out fight between an assassin and its quarry. The entire fight literally takes up the whole of the first issue! The whole of the fight is punctuated with some rather tedious narration that apparently aims to sound impressive and profound but unfortunately ends up sounding pompous and awkward instead. Here's an example:

(Panel after panel depicting two men fighting)
The reasons why they fight has long been determined.
There is no right or wrong now.
Only live or die.
The time for doubt of misgivings is long past.
Each combatant is fully commited until the fatal end.
Each man is to blame for their current predicament.
But they are also victims of circumstance.

*Ping winces*

Add to this is the narrator's irritating tendency to narrate exactly what is going on in the panel... I often found myself going: "WTF?!"

I mean, really... If you have a picture of the warrior deftly blocking the throwing knife with his sword, there is really no need to narrate "But the quarry is aware and deftly avoids raining death", is there? Sometimes less is really more.

English is obviously not the creator's first language, and I can understand that the flow of language is therefore not likely to run smooth. Regardless, it does distract from the content of the comic itself, because the dialogue and narration just sound unnatural. The dialogue in particular, doesn't so much sound like people talking, but more of someone regurgitating 'impressive' bits and pieces of stuff you see in corny fantasy movies or books.

The pacing is depressingly slow and the descriptions long-winded. I've already mentioned that the whole of the first issue is a giant fight scene. I am sad to report the rest of the other two issues is not much of an improvement. A huge portion of them are pointless fight-scenes, and the remainder seem to be a series of vaguely interconnected (and choppily-transitioned) stories that I suppose are there to build character and develop the plot (what plot?).

Speaking of characters, I must confess I came away from the entire reading without much impression character-wise. The male characters didn't seem to have much of a personality, and females were distressingly stereotyped and seemed to exist only as a crutch for the men. The only one I found that had any redeeming quality was Aria, and even she got saddled with the depressing women-shop-for-fun stereotype.

The comic stops midway through issue 2, the point at which nothing has really happened yet, and the main characters haven't even left town. The status of the comic is currently listed as 'inactive', so I guess the creators realised their efforts were better off elsewhere.


Besides the ones I've already grumbled about?

For some reason, Page 27 kept directing me to page 30, resulting a very confused me until I figured out that it was a error.


Though not to my taste, I'd recommend Bilaran Wars for those...

Oh hell... who am I kidding? I hate giving bad reviews, but I don't think I can in good conscience recommend Bilaran Wars to anyone reading my blog. Sorry.

There is some nice art and some excellent colour-work, but the writing was... not very good. I didn't enjoy this much.

Now that we're done with that, let's go on to my second pick on the site: Mute.

Comic: Mute
By: Jess Calcaben

Setting and Elements: Modern-day Phillipines
Content Type: Biographical, Survival

Art Medium: Digital Full-Colour
Art Style: Painted, Stylised

Is About: A life of a mute boy, born of a prostitute and abandoned as a baby.
Frequency: Completed Comic
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The presentation for Mute is plain and simple, and a much greater improvement over the presentation of Bilaran Wars. Again I say. Sometimes less is more indeed.

The Concept:
The story is about about young Filipino mute, who abandoned as a child, is forced to grow up an orphanage and then the streets. The story is narrated first-person, which is ironic as the main character is a mute.

A big thumbs ups for originality.

The Art:
The entire comic is done in a very unique style. I see it more as a series of paintings with text narrating them. No clumsy narration boxes. Not odd-looking speech balloons. In many cases the text becomes part of the art.

The art style is reminds me of the works of Berthe Morisot, whose art style often suggested rather than defined. The art for Mute is somewhat similar, and mirrors what it's supposed to be (the point of view of the mute boy) very powerfully. In situations where things are in sharp focus, the comic reverts to inks and lines. In situations where the boy is light-headed or reminiscing, it switches to the painterly technique again.

I've mentioned the artist's ability with colour. Again it's demonstrated very strongly here. In scenes where the boy strikes out in anger the art takes on a reddish hue, in scenes of despair the colours are bleak and the dreams he has of his idealised mother are all in white. The features in the art are sometimes simplified, and sometimes exaggerated to great effect, resulting in an almost surreal feeling to the whole work.

The Writing:
The story is still told in broken English, and every now and then, grammatical and tense errors pop out. And perhaps because of its context (it's being told first person by a boy whose first language is probably Tagalog and not English), it works brilliantly. In fact I would venture to say it works even better than if the story had been told in flawless english.

The story is very well structured and paced. The characterisation is convincing, the narration heart-wrenching. As the story unfolds, you can feel the filth of the alleyways, the panic of pursuit, the hopelessness of the runaway. You can feel the mute boy's silent longing for a mother he's never known. You can feel his desperation as he fights for his very life against the odds.

It simply pulls you into a very different world from the one you're in. And that ending is just staggering.

As I write this, I can barely believe that this comic is done by the same person... or at least, one of the same people who did Bilaran Wars.

Because the quality is miles apart.

Bilaran Wars felt like a waste of time on my part. Mute, on the other hand, is an amazing read, very touching and engrossing. In fact, if I may say so, something akin to Justine Shaw's Nowhere Girl.

A Find, what a Find indeed...

The Next Leg:

There are a few little buttons in the links page. Shift didn't seem like something I'd like, so I spotted an old read and picked Stormcorps. Stormcorps was a comic I used to read, but stopped when I lost my previous booksmarks. It should be interesting to see what it's gotten up to since a year ago!


  1. Wow, "Mute" is a very impressive work! Good job of reviewing it, as well.

  2. Thanks for the review!
    I'm glad that people actually found mute to be good. I'm better with more emotional stories than action as you can see.

    I found your review to be helpful and insightful. I wish more people were like you, and not hold back on their criticisms.

  3. Actually, I'm not really keen on criticising people, and generally try not to unless it really calls for it (or if people ask for it).

    All that said, I do have a policy of being honest about what I think on this blog.

    I'm impressed you didn't mind me being rather harsh on 'Bilaran Wars'. Most people take criticism very negatively, and sometimes very personally.

    Me, I think the ability to extract the useful feedback from criticism with grace is the sign of a mature artist/writer. People who are able do this will go far.