And now for a little cheesecake:

Darna may be an unabashed takeoff on Wonder Woman (actually, the ostensible model was Superman), but the artist and writer of the originating strip was Mars Ravelo, an iconoclast who found popularity by breaking fashion at the time--that is, by telling stories not about Americanized characters in Filipino clothing, but about recognizably Filipino heroes and heroines. About people the readers could recognize and identify with like Rita, the sassy, smart-mouthed girl, or Roberta, the unwanted love child.

Yes--a takeoff on Superman. But this 'takeoff' was recast in Ravelo's imagination as simple squatter girl Narda (mix the letters a little) who by means of magic rises up to fight injustice. It's American-inspired fantasy appropriated and transformed into something of our own, in a setting we could easily see if we stopped by the roadside and stepped out of our car...

And Ravelo wasn't just a creator of his own works of art. Filmmaker Gerardo de Leon was inspired by Ravelo to make the great fantasy film Dyesebel  (Jezebel, 1953), which film critic Pierre Rissient once described as "Bunuelian." Lino Brocka was to base several of his early pictures on Ravelo strips: Tubog sa Ginto (Dipped in Gold, 1970) a groundbreaking film on, of all things, homosexuality; Stardoom (1971), a Jacobean melodrama (with great performances by Lolita Rodriguez as the backstage mother, and Mario O'Hara as the unwanted son--several years later, they would play lovers in Brocka's breakthrough film, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged and Found Wanting, 1976)); and Gumising Ka, Maruja (Awaken, Maruja, 1978), Brocka's rare (and for the first half, well-made) gothic ghost story.  

Hard to think of an American equivalent, or someone who dominated the popular imagination so thoroughly and completely: Jack Kirby, perhaps, though where's his social melodramas or groundbreaking gay comic strips? Schuster and Siegel, though even there they came up with only one major figure--Ravelo has created a dozen, at least...

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