Customer Reviews: High Society
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on December 12, 2011
(Cross-posted from the Adarna SF book blog)

High Society is an excellent start to a steampunk comic series set in Spanish colonial era Philippines, an alternate history take on the struggle for independence. The issue is in black and white and only 24 pages long, but it's packed with adventure, creative world-building, and an inspiring spirit.

Chikiamco's 18th century setting weaves together steampunk and Filipino mythology in an innovative way, but it's not done for novelty--they're part of the post-colonial themes that the series promises to explore. It's not post-colonial merely in the strict historical sense (in the fight against Spain), but it's also about reclaiming a people's humanity and self-determination.

[Did you know, that before the Spanish arrived, we had a goddess of lost things? I wonder if everything we've ever lost is still out there somewhere...]

When the Carpenter whispered that line, my eyes welled up. The last time I had that emotional reaction to a comic was in The Watchmen, during the final conversation between Doctor Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk. Maybe High Society has such a strong tug on my heart strings because I am both a Filipina and an immigrant, but I'm confident that readers of all backgrounds will find the characters and their aspirations compelling.

Rita is an intriguing heroine, skilled at both courtly intrigue and whoop-their-ass action. It's delightful that the story is told from her point of view, clearly illustrating how she feels about the Spanish. I'd love to learn more about her.

The comic does a good job of immersing the reader in the setting while still keeping it accessible for readers who aren't familiar with the Philippines. I love details like the use of Filipino sound effects (e.g "bog!" instead of "wham!"). There are a few Filipino and Spanish terms thrown around, but they're not used excessively, and you'd be able to infer the meaning from context. What non-Filipino audiences would need some getting used to is the mythology, but that's what Wikipedia is for. There's a mini glossary of terms at the end, which is helpful, but not necessary to enjoying this wonderful issue.

Buena's art is expressive and dynamic, with a subtle manga influence that makes everything extra adorable. It has a bit of of a sketchy feel because some of the pencils are visible, but it I think it's aesthetically pleasing. I'm not an expert on comic art, but there were a few panels that would have benefited from more value contrast. The art is bursting with life, the composition is great, but there's a lot of detail which sometimes overwhelms the primary action. Using more contrast would help the reader figure out what to focus on. That's my only teeny nitpick.

Also, a technical consideration, the Kindle version of the comic is meant to be read for e-readers/tablets with higher resolutions than the Kindle 3. Sample it first to see if you'll find it readable on your device, but I had a better experience just reading it on my computer.

High Society is a rich alternate history adventure with a dose of post-colonial badass. I'm eager to read the next issue coming out in May 2012!

Note: a free review copy was provided by the author
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on November 15, 2011
HIGH SOCIETY is a stand-alone comic set in Cebu City circa 1770, and tells an alternate history of the Philippines' struggle for independence from Spain. Here we meet someone called "The Carpenter" telling our main character Rita about the location of a treasure that they need to recover. Rita goes undercover in a party with the Spanish colonizers to retrieve the treasure. Now you'd think Rita is just your normal undercover agent and all, but then she's also not. I won't reveal what the twist is, but I remember I was pleasantly surprised when I found out about it when I first read the ARC last year. Even if I knew about it now, I really liked how it was illustrated and revealed this time, and I think it's the part of the story that hooks the reader the most.

I think the improvement on this one compared to the ARC I read was how Rita was given a more human aspect. There's a hint of romance in the story that made me smile, and it made me want to know more. This version also had a little more background on how Rita came to be as well as why their mission was important. I'm not a big judge on artwork, but I liked how it had that dark and authentic Philippines in Spanish era vibe.

I liked it a lot on my first read, and I still liked it a lot the second time around. Too bad it's a stand alone, but I kind of have high hopes with what they meant with the "Wooden War" series. More please? :) HIGH SOCIETY is a creative take in Philippine history, and anyone who's a history buff, or at least interested in alternate histories and steampunk should pick this up.
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on January 11, 2013
I am so glad that I gave this story a chance. I loved basically everything about it and have read it three or four times now. My only complaint is that it was so short! If I ever find a sequel, you can be sure that I'll buy it.

This probably doesn't offer much information, for which I apologize. I've been desperately looking for steampunk without the pro-colonialism overtones, preferably set in non-European or American regions. This nicely satisfied that craving. I just wish there were more!
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