Superman, Batman, Spiderman, these are just few of the superheroes that have, over time, become household names around the world. Everybody is familiar with Superman’s iconic costume: the red cape, blue spandex, and bold insignia, across his chest. Everybody knows about the Dark Knight and his crusade against crime in Gotham City. And everybody is aware of the geeky photographer Peter Parker, and his alter ego, the Amazing Spiderman. These characters are just a few of the many American-made superheroes who have become iconic in their own right. These heroes became well known, not just because they were great, but because they were great characters with great stories to tell.
But who hasn’t heard of the female warrior Darna, who seems to draw heavily on the Amazonian Wonder Woman, or the powerful Captain Barbell, whose powers are similar to the legendary Superman? Even obscure creations, like Manila Man, can be compared to the famous Western heroes. The two sets of heroes and their different aspects can be compared, to see what sets the local heroes apart, and defines them as truly ‘Filipino’.
Wonder Woman vs. Darna
If it were not for the unmistakable resemblance she has with Wonder Woman, Darna would have broken out from a little less criminal template.
Contrasting the two superwomen isn’t at all devastating, but perhaps the better comparison for Darna would be Superman, not Wonder Woman. In fact, Darna’s creator, Mars Ravelo, developed her as a female response to the Man of Steel.
Wonder Woman’s bold, Amazonian origins are worlds apart from that of Darna’s simple life of youth, playmates, and stargazing. Mars Ravelo wasn’t too complex about it: he dreamed the charming, familiar lives of Filipinos into the exciting universe of comic books and possibilities – an enthusiasm that was loved for generations. Only six years earlier, Dr. William Marston, the psychologist famous for designing the blood pressure test part for the lie detector, had learned a lot about women in his research and chose to create a comic about it. (The man behind the Amazing Amazon apparently had a flair for revolutionary inventions.) The origin of Dr. Marston’s creation, though, had a far more mythical background when compared to Darna’s simple childhood; Wonder Woman was an Amazonian warrior princess who journeyed to ‘Man’s World’ on a mission. Darna’s far simpler backstory can be attributed to the idea that normal people can be heroes as well.
Though unique cultural markers are present in Darna (such as the agimat-like White Stone she swallows to transform), they come off as patches of stars suspended in Western air. Nevertheless, the likeness of costumes still bothers.
Superman vs. Captain Barbell
Joe Shuster and Joey Siegal, who created Superman, envisioned him as the perfect man. He has always been that guy whom people wanted to be with, whether or not they liked him. He has everything: super strength, immunity to bullets, and probably the biggest plus of all, flight! These powers would only be scratching the surface. What ruins him, though, is Kryptonite, which is his weakness. Yes, the man of steel turns weak like a vegetarian in an all meat buffet line when it comes to radiation from the Kryptonite. Clark Kent is the alter ego of Superman, a reporter who happens to be really good in keeping his identity considering he doesn’t wear a mask.
Captain Barbell, contrary to popular belief, only looks like Superman, but he was actually inspired by Captain Marvel, and was actually shirtless before the whole costume revamp with the tights. Unlike Superman though, Captain Barbell had several alter egos: Tenteng, Dario, Gomer and Enteng. They were given powers by a mysterious barbell for a reason: the hosts of the barbell were underdogs, people who were usually in need of justice for themselves. The moment that the conflict is resolved, the barbell and its powers move on to another host. This creates lack of consistency, since the different versions of Captain Barbell have been altered endlessly. While the character exists, there is no definite story. What always remains the same, however, is the barbell choosing an underdog and helping him overcome his difficulties. These underdogs differ greatly from Superman’s alter ego: the good looking and successful Clark Kent. This is because we tend to root for the little guy, since we, as a country, are a sort-of underdog in ourselves.
Captain America vs. Manila Man
Superheroes are sometimes symbols of nationalism. Such is the case of Marvel’s First Avenger, Captain America. Captain America was created during the years of World War II, and was meant to serve as a figure of inspiration to the American people. The character of Steve Rogers was designed as a ‘super soldier’, having peak human condition with a special shield to protect the people. His nationalism shone through, not just by his actions, but by his very costume: he wore the red, white, and blue of the American flag, even his shield’s design was taken from the flag too.
There are Filipino Superheroes who show love for the country through their costume as well, albeit in a different manner. For example, we have Manila Man, a street brawler gifted with mystical items. Among these items is a mystic Barong Tagalog which he wears as his costume. Unlike Captain America, who was designed with the country’s flag in mind, Manila Man wears a more traditional outfit, displaying country’s culture. While both heroes’ costumes display their nationalism, the Filipino hero takes it a step further through displaying his country’s culture, being proud of the country’s traditions.
Plenty of local heroes were built on the same concepts such as power, design and stories. However, there is always something distinctly ‘Filipino’ about our heroes. This can range from a different origin story, to a larger variety of alter-egos; it differs from hero to hero. Regardless of how they differ, though, there is definitely something that sets our local heroes apart, making them heroes that we can be proud of.