Comics for these times



It might sound too Duterte for comfort, but in fact Patay Kung Patay (PKP) by Mike Alcazaren, Noel Pascual, and AJ Bernardo (published by Kwanimation Productions Inc.,) a comic book series that is on its first two issues, pre-dates the president-elect. With issue one published in September 2015, and issue two in November 2015, PKP also does not work with the simplistic assessment that the bad deserve to die if it means the good will be protected, though it does also speak of a history of lawlessness and injustice, and what can happen when people take the law into their own hands.
And no, PKP is not issuing a threat.

Narrative lines, archetypal characters
What it is, is great fiction, because so heavily contextualized in the state of the nation, especially the violence of our class crisis. Now imbued with a contemporaneity (oooh, are those zombies?!?), one is hopeful that this means discussions about feudalism and injustice for a new generation.

It is after all eerily familiar: 80-plus farmers are missing, as an hacienda is about to change hands from feudal lord to developer. The rich are having a party to celebrate, and one reporter Grace Tecson, friends with the kids of this elite class, has been invited. Tecson has other things on her mind though: she wants to find out what happened to those who have died in the name of the hacienda, towards (finally!) becoming a real journalist, and not just someone who reports showbiz news.

Inside the mansion the powerful and wealthy were celebrating this sale, with conversations shifting from how news agencies decided not to cover the hacienda rumors, to the kind of development that was being planned for the land, to how they were going to get away with the “issue” of the hacienda’s tenants. The young ones are of course oblivious to the goings-on and are just there for the party.

That all these characters are current archetypes that stand for the power relations that exist in the country is precisely the point. These people are familiar, and it doesn’t take a genius (or an activist) to know that they’ve got some blood on their hands.

PkP does speak of a history of lawlessness and injustice, and what can happen when people take the law into their own hands

PkP does speak of a history of lawlessness and injustice, and what can happen when people take the law into their own hands

That the mansion and hacienda grounds are heavily protected by citizen armed groups as well as military is expected; that Tecson realizes that she won’t be able to get a story out of this is no surprise either. As with many-an-hacienda in this country, everything is cloaked in silence, and the guns and goons make it difficult to do much.

It also foreshadows what might come next, which is expected, but also unimaginable.

Shit gets real
The turn of events is quick as the paid guns of the feudal lords turn defensive against perceived threats from the outside.

A little girl in red had performed a ritual that brings back all those farmers who had
disappeared and were presumed dead. She brings them back to fight for their rights, in a way they never have before.

The killings are swift; the aftermath is gory. Using bolos and sickles—symbols of their oppression as farmers—this act of revenge is as violent as we have seen the wealthy and powerful do it: no one gets away, everyone is considered enemy.

The guns and goons that protect the mansion are no match: the ones who have come to seek revenge have become larger than life, now imbued with unbelievable power. The meek have been turned into monsters—turned by the state of the nation that lives off the oppression of the weak, the disregard for the powerless, and our complicity in the silences that kill.

The layer of fantasy does nothing to change the gravity of this situation—instead it becomes symbolic of what it takes to actually get some justice here.
What it takes is that we become zombies.

The images of our times
PKP builds upon our collective memory about feudalism and oppression, the class struggle and crisis, and how this never ends well, which is to say it always ends with the use of guns and bullets and violence against the farmer.

That it is able to build this in 48 pages for these two issues, is a feat in itself.

This is about well-chosen images that are framed so creatively that the magnitude of this crisis and the size of that hacienda become real. Working with intertext, the audience pieces together the narrative given these images: bulldozers and demolished homes in the midst of a grassy field, the long drive from the gates of the hacienda to its mansion. Drawn from above, we are given the size of this place, from the mansion’s expanse, to the existence of a maze and a church, and fields as far as the eye can see.

When the farmers come with their weapons of choice, they are revealed to be far stronger, far bigger than those gates, than that mansion, than the guns and goons that they are faced with.

This is also the breadth and scope of their anger, the magnitude of their oppression. The size is not only literal, it is also figurative. Using only black and white, and blood red, the colors remind of the alliances that we choose, the voices that we deem important, and in the process, our complicity in the blood that is spilled.

Here is why Patay Kung Patay is an important read for these times: it reveals a very keen and nuanced sense of the state of the nation that creates people into monsters, and in the process points out how the oppressed and the meek must turn into the unimaginable, into the fantastic, in order to even get what is due them, in order to even be heard, or be given media mileage.

The flipside of that coin is that farmers are in fact expected to merely be zombies of the hacienda system in this country: heartless and unfeeling, without notions of justice or fairness.

In Patay Kung Patay, they are finally the creatures the feudal system has always wanted them to be. This is not a threat. It’s a promise.


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