Bathala Is Dead

Marvel’s Invincible Iron Man #2 has been raising a small furor within the small portion of the Philippine blogosphere that reads comics. Not because Iron Man is particularly bad-ass or invincible (he is, though) but because of the Triumph Division, a Filipino superhero team that purists say lack both superhero kickassery and research by the writer.Where are the tikbalangs, kapres and nunos, Bathala and Kimat, the standards of Philippine mythology, they demand. Why did the Iron Man team not opt for genuine elements of Philippine super-culture?

The Indolent Indio posits that these Lola Basyang stories don’t really cut the mustard as Philippine mythology tropes either. Sure, our grandparents may have had an active and actual fear of the manananggal, but to an urban generation raised on comics and cable TV, the idea of a woman who separates at the waist and whose top half flies on devil-bat wings and sucks out your blood/unborn child through a crack in the ceiling is as foreign as it is laughable.

It is absurd to expect that a superhero team composed of obscure pre-Hispanic Filipino gods and goddesses would be more true to the culture than what Marvel came out with. Might as well form a team made up of Android Andres: The Bionic Bonifacio, Robo-Rizal and Mecha-Mabini (on a cyber-hover wheelchair.) Who would geek out to that?

Our culture was pretty much eradicated by centuries of Spanish domination and what we take as myths are what was passed down through the documentation and written histories done by the frailocracy. We have to take their word that our ancestors believed that vengeful little gnomes lived in anthills instead of ants. Sure, some people still believe in anitos and such, but what they believe may have been diluted over the centuries.

As a culture with a genuine mythology, we’re still babies. Hell, as an actual culture, we’re pretty much still babies. We’re still making this up as we go along, and if Zuma, King of Snakes is more real and familiar to the average child than, say, the goddess Idianale (I know, right?), then so it goes.

Myths are little more than memes that got passed on because they captivated the previous generation and are subject to a selection process as brutal and Darwinian as evolution. While relevant to the pre-war generation, one must ask whether there aren’t other elements of our culture to mine other than the tired old monsters that have been used to make movies, TV shows and comic books both genuinely Filipino and decidedly alien.


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