cover image Murder on Balete Drive (Trese #1)

Murder on Balete Drive (Trese #1)

Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. Ablaze, $16.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-950912-19-3

Tan and Baldisimo’s series of supernatural noir explores a sinister underworld in the Philippines, now published for the first time in the U.S. Alexandra Trese pursues a criminal gang of aswang—monsters who can take human form. A trail of gruesome deaths in Manila (a woman burned alive in an unscorched room, a man drained of life in a nightclub bathroom)lead the Manila police to realize otherworldly forces are at play, and they call in Alexandra. Her grandfather befriended aswang and her father hunted them, and the unflappable Alexandra navigates arcane alliances and rivalries along with her complicated heritage. With the aid of a menagerie of Filipino folklore creatures and her two masked enforcers, Alexandra finds and eliminates the creatures. The haunting, fine-lined black-and-white art evokes the style of Filipino artists like Nestor Redondo and Alex Niño. Real-world political parallels could be read between the blurred lines of Alexandra’s world and the current wave of government-sanctioned extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Whether that’s intentional, there’s complexity layered in: the “bad guys” may be monsters, but their killing at the hands of a vigilante and her deadly enforcers plumbs troubled waters. The unconventional monster art and moody, action-packed narratives make this horror-crime series a must-follow for any aficionado of the macabre. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this reviews misspelled Alex Niño's last name.