Trese 1: Murder on Balete Drive

Trese 1: Murder on Balete Drive
Trese v1 Murder on Balete Drive review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Ablaze - 978-1-950912-19-3
  • Release date: 2013
  • English language release date: 2020
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781950912193
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Crime, Supernatural

Alexandra Trese is the investigator of choice for the Manilla police when there’s a crime with a supernatural tinge. In the title story that’s the appearance of a corpse of a woman who records list as dying in 1960. Alexandra brings a very different definition of the underworld along with her, and pokes into supernatural corners of darkness that ordinary police aren’t equipped to investigate. What began as a self-published minicomic in 2005 has grown into a series adapted for Netflix animations in 2021.

It’s a format that lends itself well to a wider audience as the four stories collected reveal, and the wonder is that minicomics originally hosted work of this quality. That’s immediately seen in Kajo Baldisimo’s art, a luscious fusion of dark and light that results in spectacularly spooky characters and a wonderfully intimidating lead character combining allure and threat. When asked by an otherwise menacing personality if information is considered a favour Alexandra responds “the fact that me and my boys are leaving your place as we found it is what you should consider a favor”, and we believe her. What seals the deal, though, is Budjette Tan setting his stories in a recognisably modern city and integrating the supernatural legends from the shadows. Gerry Anguilan’s introduction comments that Tan brings something new to Filipino mythology, which he considers has otherwise been done to death in comics. That may be the case in the Philippines, but for most English language readers it’s a little-covered topic, and being introduced to the assorted myths is a thrill-ride, literally in the case of the second story.

There’s never a moment when Alexandra seems to have met someone beyond her understanding, yet she’s always confident even when having to be more respectful to one more powerful entity than she would be to another. It’s a confidence that carries her through these four stories without ever giving an impression she’s out of her depth or in any danger. With Murder on Balete Drive that’s enough when combined with the great art and fascinating threats, but going forward, unless Tan is even more imaginative than shown here he’s going to have to introduce some flaws or weaknesses to sustain sympathy.

The four stories are accompanied by in-depth fact sheets about the amazing creatures we meet, and to close Tan gives us the backstory of Trese and how it eventually ended up as a show. It rounds off a winner in every way, exotic, glamorous and beguiling. The thrills continue with Unreported Murders.