High Society by Paolo Chikiamco and Hannah Buena (2011)
Take your first step into a world of automata, magic, and alternative history! The year is 1764, and, for the first time in nearly two centuries, the Spanish forces have been repelled from the great walled city of Manila. While the Spaniards are quick to lay the blame at the feet of the invading British and their clockwork machines, the secret to the success of the Filipinos may lie closer to home, with an ally that is both ancient and new, mythical and mechanical. “High Society” is a stand-alone steampunk comic book in the “Wooden War” series.
High Society is an excellent start to a steampunk comic series set in Spanish colonial era Philippines, an alternate history take on the struggle for independence. The issue is in black and white and only 24 pages long, but it’s packed with adventure, creative world-building, and an inspiring spirit.
Chikiamco’s 18th century setting weaves together steampunk and Filipino mythology in an innovative way, but it’s not done for novelty—they’re part of the post-colonial themes that the series promises to explore. It’s not post-colonial merely in the strict historical sense (in the fight against Spain), but it’s also about reclaiming a people’s humanity and self-determination.
Did you know, that before the Spanish arrived, we had a goddess of lost things? I wonder if everything we’ve ever lost is still out there somewhere…
When the Carpenter whispered that line, my eyes welled up. The last time I had that emotional reaction to a comic was in The Watchmen, during the final conversation between Doctor Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk. Maybe High Society has such a strong tug on my heart strings because I am both a Filipina and an immigrant, but I’m confident that readers of all backgrounds will find the characters and their aspirations compelling.
Rita is an intriguing heroine, skilled at both courtly intrigue and whoop-their-ass action. It’s delightful that the story is told from her point of view, clearly illustrating how she feels about the Spanish. I’d love to learn more about her.
The comic does a good job of immersing the reader in the setting while still keeping it accessible for readers who aren’t familiar with the Philippines. I love details like the use of Filipino sound effects (e.g “bog!” instead of “wham!”). There are a few Filipino and Spanish terms thrown around, but they’re not used excessively, and you’d be able to infer the meaning from context. What non-Filipino audiences would need some getting used to is the mythology, but that’s what Wikipedia is for. There’s a mini glossary of terms at the end, which is helpful, but not necessary to enjoying this wonderful issue.
Buena’s art is expressive and dynamic, with a subtle manga influence that makes everything extra adorable. It has a bit of of a sketchy feel because some of the pencils are visible, but it I think it’s aesthetically pleasing. I’m not an expert on comic art, but there were a few panels that would have benefited from more value contrast. The art is bursting with life, the composition is great, but there’s a lot of detail which sometimes overwhelms the primary action. Using more contrast would help the reader figure out what to focus on. That’s my only teeny nitpick.
Also, a technical consideration, the Kindle version of the comic is meant to be read for e-readers/tablets with higher resolutions than the Kindle 3. Sample it first to see if you’ll find it readable on your device, but I had a better experience just reading it on my computer.
High Society is a rich alternate history adventure with a dose of post-colonial badass. I’m eager to read the next issue coming out in May 2012!
Other reviews of this comic: One More Page
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Steampunk; historical fantasy; mythology and folklore; post-colonial badass
Paolo Chikiamco is a busy chap! Other than being a spec-fic writer, he also runs Rocket Kapre, an independent publisher of speculative fiction from the Philippines. There’s actually a short story anthology coming out this week called Alternative Alamat, featuring contemporary fantasy writers retelling Philippine mythology. Yes, it’s coming out in ebook form, and it’s definitely worth a look.
You can listen to a podcast interview with Paolo about this comic and other projects on Charles Tan’s blog.
FYI: Charles Tan is a famous spec-fic blogger with SF Signal, and has worked hard to put Philippine spec-fic on the map. There’s lots of fascinating stuff coming out of that community. I’m so glad that the ebook revolution is here!
Posted on December 12, 2011, in 4 stars, Alternate History, Ebook Reviews, Fantasy, Frida Reviewed, Hannah Buena, High Society, Historical Fantasy, Paolo Chikiamco, post-colonial badass, Steampunk and tagged Asia, comic, court intrigue, gadgeteer genius, mythology, Philippines, tough dames. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.