19 June 2013


Option 22: Skyworld, Volume One by Mervin Ignacio, illustrated by Ian Sta. Maria
(See the Giveaways page for more information)

It only takes one story left untold to make men forget all the things they could be. And your people have many. Your oldest legends speak of an ancient tribe that traveled to these shores thousands of years ago, passing through land bridges long since swallowed by the sea.

They were known as the Sons of Heaven. Fearsome warriors gifted with strength beyond mortal men, ruled by a code that was not of this earth. Many believe they had descended from the Sky Gods themselves. In their possession was an amulet, which was the source of all their power. Any warrior that wore it would have the strength of a hundred men. Spears and swords would not pierce his skin. And any army he led into battle could not be defeated . . .

. . . According to prophecy, a warrior of noble birth would one day rise and use the amulet to unite the warring tribes. He would slay an enemy unlike any the world had ever seen. And under his rule, a kingdom of a thousand islands would be born . . .

This isn't the type of story I normally read, although it's all too common these days. The retelling of ancient mythology in order to make room for modern Mary Sues (or Gary Stus!), whose births were, of course, foretold in mysterious legends, is just too easy. And I normally write off most writers whose creativity seems to be the literary equivalent of cosplay. But now I'm going to cut Mervin Ignacio and Ian Sta. Maria a break because what they've done in Skyworld is actually quite good.

Or do I just think so because the myths and legends with which they weave their graphic novel are also threads running through my own fantasy life?

What a difference the tiniest bit of colour makes!

I may find myself unmoved by Greek gods, Mayan prophecies, French alchemists, and Mormon vampires--but then again, I have no living connection to any of those cultures. But tell me about Tikbalang warriors and Asuang armies, and apparently, I sing a different tune! =P I'm even able to handle one of my biggest pet peeves, the "conspiracy theory" version of history.

Every Filipino school child knows the story of Lapu-Lapu and Ferdinand Magellan: the clash between would-be coloniser and unwilling chieftain controversially considered the beginning of Philippine history. "Controversially," because the idea that our history began when a foreign conqueror found us is hardly a nationalistic thing to say . . . except that our 7,100 islands were nowhere near nationhood until Spain's colonial efforts did our uniting for us. And although I'm personally very happy about our Spanish period and not at all curious about what our islands were like before they landed, I must share a bit of that cognitive dissonance anyway, because the "real" story about what went down in the battle at Mactan, supernatural elements and all, made me want to grab a credentialed historian so I could ask how plausible it was. The stories in Skyworld feel real.

But will they feel the same way to readers who do not have a living connection to Philippine culture--or a working knowledge of Philippine history? I daresay that Skyworld has a good shot at impressing an international reader who likes Fantasy, especially if he is already familiar with its tropes! And the historical figures who occasionally enter the story are easy enough to look up.

If anything in this graphic novel ends up "lost in translation," it will have less to do with the reader's background than with its own shortcomings . . .

As I was saying about colour . . .

The entire graphic novel is in black and white, with hardly any nuance for texture!!! =( There is one panel in which a skygod lands so heavily on earth that he creates a smoking crater: I actually concentrated on that drawing for a whole minute before I made out that the ropy things around the skygod were billows of smoke and not twisted tree roots! And there are lots of busy panels with their own "ropy things" that are hard to figure out at first glance.

Then there is the inclusion of Alexandra Trese, the protagonist of a whole other series. If I hadn't known about her from someone who has been pushing Trese on me for months, the sudden appearance of a Batman-esque paranormal investigator (with occult powers?) would have totally thrown me for a loop. Crossovers are cool, but this one feels indulgent. 

Finally, I should mention the graphic violence and explicit (if mercifully short) sex scenes. But you probably already guessed that from the cover's image of a bare-breasted Asuang about to torture a hapless skygod with her tentacles.

If all that wasn't enough to put you off--as it wasn't enough to put me off--then you really should give Skyworld a shot. =) Besides, since Volume One ends on a cliffhanger, I will also be sending Volume Two as part of the prize, if the giveaway winner chooses this one! How is that for a deal?

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you really do like it when mythology is given a new twist in modern stories. =)

For your convenience, the 2013 Rafflecopter . . .

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image Sources: a) Skyworld, Volume 1 by Mervin Ignacio, illustrated by Ian Sta. Maria, b) Apocrypha, c) Lapu-Lapu


Angie Tusa said...

Well I was interested because it's a mythology I'm not familiar with, but then you said graphic novel and I'm hooked. :)

Sheila said...

I love mythology, but I can't abide graphic novels. I find them so hard to read.

Now do you see my obsession with King Arthur? :D

It has always been a source of grief to me that there is no similar mythos for America. Indian legends don't speak at all to your average colonial-descended American, but European legends don't mention our own sacred places. I struggle with wondering if it is even *possible* to have sacred places here in America that belong to us, considering we stole the whole dang continent. I've tried to write some "Pacific Northwest fantasy," but it always felt like such a joke ... I mean, it's easy enough to prove that there never ever were metal-using civilizations there before 1700. There would be artifacts. And that kind of makes my preferred medieval sword-and-castle fantasy difficult.

So I set it all in England, which is tremendous fun because there's all kinds of history and archeology to reinterpret, but I feel like a fake because I've never been there. I use Google Street View and Flickr for my descriptions. *cringe*

I totally can see why you would enjoy these books, though. But the closest thing that does that for America is the Book of Mormon. :P

Enbrethiliel said...


Angie -- Mythology and the graphic novel form work really well together, too! =)

Sheila -- Graphic novels are a challenge for me, too, and I don't read them very often. (Should that be: "because I don't read them very often"?)

Your remarks remind me that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings partly out of frustration that he couldn't find any myths and legends that were really English. Apparently, everything he had to read as a boy was either too Germanic, too Scandinavian, or too Celtic!

Perhaps one way to look for the really rooted American myths is to put together a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen consisting only of characters from that category. (I've seen League lists for modern MG/YA and for classic rock that were illustrative of which figures really entered not just the popular imagination, but also the language.) I guess Paul Bunyan would make it . . . and Johnny Appleseed . . . (I hope my attempt at a list isn't insulting!)

Sheila said...

Urk. Not insulting, but hardly inspiring either. I suppose there are tons of American myths and heroes... I just don't happen to like them. I'm thinking of cowboys, the Founding Fathers (I mean, they were real, but somewhat lost in hagiography), Lewis and Clark. Even Superman, I guess. Lots of tall tales and yarns. Nothing epic.

Perhaps the fault isn't with America, but with me. I like epic fantasy, and that's not what Americans usually write about or care about.

John points out that most of our history is not something to be proud of, considering the awful things we did to the Indians and so on. Rather than attempt to redeem the unredeemable, we've turned to futuristic myths like Star Trek or Starship Troopers. We don't define ourselves by our past, but by our future.

I guess it's just me all by myself here, caring about the past. :P

Tolkien surprises me there -- what, were Beowulf, Arthur, Alfred the Great, and Robin Hood not good enough for him? Those guys are some of my greatest heroes.

Enbrethiliel said...


Don't forget Transformers. ;-) If Calliope has been whispering in any modern American artist's ear, it is Michael Bay's! In fairness, he's done "serious" epics, too, like Pearl Harbour. But you're right that it is merely an attempt to redeem the irredeemable.

Your analysis of American myths is fascinating to me. Although I majored in English Literature, my specialisation was British literature. Very few American writers made the syllabus, and those who did were so obscure (to me) that I didn't see the point of studying a whole paper about them. Sylvia Plath made a big impression, but because I read her with William Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde, and the South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, I tend to think of her as "English" and "colonial." And perhaps she only made it because she was born in a former colony!

Anyway, I've read enough American lit on my own to agree with your assessment. There is a very strong focus on the future in the popular American imagination. Or stories are set in a multicultural present in which people are either still bitterly divided or thriving in the conformity of diversity with no hint about how they got there.

Yet it's true that if you don't know where you've come from, you can't know where you're going or who you are. Incidentally, this is precisely why I do not like modern novels which change the facts of history. If you make stuff up about your past, how can you say you have a clear sense of who you are in the present?

PS -- I remember reading the reason that Tolkien didn't think the Arthurian myths counted . . . but of course I can't recall the exact wording right now.

Belfry Bat said...

Here's a surprise! Tolkien and Lewis had long deep conversations about ... Science Fiction, and that was part of what they both decided to write: the kind of story they liked their Science Fiction to be; and they had something of an agreement that Tolkien would try time travel, and Lewis space travel. And Lewis clearly intended both That Hideous Strength et.c. and Narnia to belong to space travel and generalizations (this is part of why Digory's uncle so importantly emphasizes that what he's working towards is so much more radical than merely travelling to distant planets you could get to just by moving far enough);

And Tolkien... it's really weird, the way he would work and re-work and chisel his fantasies; there isn't much left of the time-travel idea in the Silmarillion and so-forth, but the names Earendil and Elendil both came out of that long slow musing, and also the last thing Faramir says about dreams...

I wish I could recall where I read of all this; it might have been in one of Christopher Tolkien's volumes of compiled notes, but I can't be sure. I don't know that there was much wrong with Arthur (maybe he was too Roman?), but he was much too recent for the Time Travel idea; Tolkien did write English verse variations on Norse mythology, some of it recently published as The Legend of Sigurd and GudrĂșn, and what other vast spreads of folk tale he tapped into I can't imagine.

Anyway, there it is.

Sheila said...

I had heard of the time-travel vs. space-travel conversation, BB, but it was from a friend so I don't know where it's recorded. Just recently Christopher Tolkien put out his father's fragment of Arthurian poetry. I doubt it's very good, or very complete, but I hear he always intended to finish it someday. (I don't really approve of C.T.'s publishing of all the things his father chose NOT to publish.)

But of course in its earliest conception, Arthur was the brave Briton king who stood up to the Saxon invaders, and most English people thought of themselves as Anglo-Saxon. The history is being revised now, though, as we discover that most English people are genetically mostly Briton anyway. So apparently the Britons were only partly wiped out by the Saxons. I suppose every people has a violent conquest SOMEwhere in its history!

But America is short on history of any kind. We have no common origin, ethnicity, cuisine, or even an official language.

I don't think constructing an epic history is about lying. It's more a question of constructing a narrative to shape the way you think about yourself. For instance, two siblings might look back at the same childhood environment, and one says it was "tough but fair, and made me what I am today," and the other says, "it was abusive and I am struggling with the aftereffects even today." They both might be telling the truth, in their way, but they both are selective.

When John thinks about American history, he thinks about the Founding Fathers and the Civil War. When I think about American history, I think about Indians, the Homestead Act, the Dust Bowl. Some people see American history as a decline and fall, some as an ever-improving success story. And how we frame our history affects what we consider our role in it to be.

I was raised on British literature too. But for *good* American literature, my favorites are Willa Cather, Robert Penn Warren, and Walker Percy. And you can count T.S. Eliot too, I suppose, but his solution to the American dilemma was to stop being American. Oh, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. Haven't read much Hemingway myself though.

Enbrethiliel said...


I don't think constructing an epic history is about lying, either; but when authors fill in the blanks with details from their own imagination, I tend to give them a much harder time. Because then the burden is on them to justify the decision to fill Blank X with Detail Y. What was wrong with Detail Z?

Back to Skyworld, which suggests that the Philippines succumbed to Spanish rule not because we were a primitive culture outmanoeuvred on all fronts by a superior one, but because Lapu-Lapu, who happened to be the last chieftain in the line of the Sons of Heaven, was murdered by an aswang. It's totally fantastic, but also totally "true." For a lot of people believe the break between pre-colonial history and the Spanish era was as violent--and as tragic--as an aswang dismemberment. Although I don't interpret our history in the same way, I see how it fits. And its strength is that it fits whether your thoughts on the colonial era are positive or negative!

Now this may sound a bit silly, but the best American historical novels I've ever read are in the Seven Brothers Romance series by Leigh Greenwood. The first novel begins after the War between the States, in Texas, but the seven brothers in the books come from an old Virginia family which was around in 1776. (Already see the symbolism?) While there are many Romances which have the leads overcoming post-war prejudices because one is from the North and the other from the South, I think that Greenwood is going for more than that easy moral. In his books, the brothers put down roots in other parts of the country and fall in love with women from very different American backgrounds. I read the novels because they were entertaining, but I was floored when I got to the last one (which includes, appropriately enough, a huge family/character reunion) and it finally dawned on me that the series was really an epic about the healing of the United States--the story of how a war-ravaged country learned to become a big extended family again.