Carlo Vergara has recently released a digital version of the first Zsazsa Zaturnnah book through Gumroad. Soon to be an animated feature, I thought I’d check it out. Here’s my review.
Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah (The Amazing Adventures of ZsaZsa Zaturnnah)
Story: Carlo Vergara
Art: Carlo Vergara
Publisher: Carlo Vergara
Captain Trans Darna
At first glance, Zsazsa Zaturnnah is just a parody of Mars Ravelo’s Darna with elements of Captain Marvel (the SHAZAM! one) thrown in. Ada, a gay man, swallows a magic rock, shouts ZATURNNAH, and turns into a buxom superwoman. Captain Trans Darna.
She fights a giant frog, a horde of zombies, and a team of radical feminist aliens. It’s an amusing Darna parody, but it’s true strength lies in the very human story of Ada and her friends.
Ada is trying to find her place in the world as she faces the prospect of new love while trying to keep things together with her overly eager best friend, Didi. This is what draws you into the story, not the traditional Filipino superhero story of punching giant creatures, the undead, and sexy alien invaders.
Zsazsa Zaturnnah uses superhero parody to entertain, but it relies on humor, friendship, love, and humanity to engage.
Most of the story is in Tagalog, which makes the jokes, especially naughty ones like this, land better. Sorry, people who can’t read Tagalog. You’re missing out on blowjob jokes.
Subverting Filipino Superhero Story Gender Tropes
Let’s also not forget that homesexuality has been traditionally the focus of jokes in Filipino storytelling and culture in general. In Zsazsa Zaturnnah, our protagonist can be funny at certain moments, but she’s not the butt of the joke. The book subverts traditional gender tropes in Filipino stories and it’s fabulous.
Ada is conflicted. She is afraid. She is strong. She is vulnerable. She strives to be a better human being. She takes charge of her own life. She inspires other people to take charge of theirs. She is a fully formed character who just happens to be gay. That’s a triumph in Filipino superhero comics right there.
Things Happen Because Reasons
Inspiring character-driven human story aside, Zsazsa Zaturnnah is still a superhero tale and I wish it went beyond tired Filipino komiks tropes that may not make sense to readers not familiar with Darna and other FIlipino superhero comics.
If you decide to read this as a straight up superhero story, you’re going to start asking questions like “Why does a giant frog exist?” or “Where did the humongous magic rock come from and why did Didi and Ada just assume that swallowing it is a good idea?”
A lot of things will feel so random. Readers are going to struggle in making sense of it all, so it’s best to not even try. Readers should just enjoy the slapstick comedy, the refreshing take on gender in Filipino superhero comic book storytelling, and Carlo Vergara’s superb art.
Zsazsa Zaturnnah is a goofy, cartoonish story with a heart. It’s a fun homage to classic superheroes and is strong proof that gay characters in Filipino comics don’t have to be two-dimensional tragic creatures or flamboyant clowns. They can be actual human characters with flaws, aspirations, and feelings.
I’ve had more fun reading this first Zsazsa Zaturnnah book than the first volumes of Beauty and Bitch Planet, so I’m adding it to The List as the new #8.
Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah is available now digitally on Gumroad.