Picking up Arnold Arre's Martial Law Babies is like picking up like your batch yearbook, which takes you to a trip down memory lane. The 1980s in particular.
But if you weren't born in this era, will you be able to relate to all the 1970s and 80s references that are far from this digital generation?
If you downloaded the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy (that wasn't from your generation) or Dead Poets Society (that was released in 1989) as a paean to the late Robin Williams, who recently passed away, then you'll appreciate Martial Law Babies.
The signposts are mere reference points. I doubt if relationships and life have changed since (except the technology that defines us today).
Furthermore, picking up this graphic novel also means that you're taking time away from your hectic schedule of downloading tunes, video chatting, mall-hopping, partying at the hottest club or maybe simply chilling with your fellow twentysomethings to read an actual graphic novel and not some digital on your Kindle or whatever gadget you use to read nowadays.
Stay with it. It is time well spent.
Originally published in 2008, Martial Law Babies, now available in a new printing for a new generation of fans, follows a group of friends growing up in the late-1970s as they graduate from grade school to high school to college to life post-school. It's when life went from the simple to the complicated and how our lives are shaped by the choices we make and the world around us.
It's about as a kid, your first understanding of Martial Law was the late dictator's decision to yank Voltes V and other mech-anime shows off television because it was violent (although some opine that because a business partner of his was losing money because no one was watching a kiddie show at 6pm on a rival network).
It's about first crushes and first loves. And how being torpe, launching into ill-timed emotional outbursts, and not being part of the in-crowd leaves daydreaming as your usual recourse and feeling empty.
It's about feeling immortal when you're in that bastion of learning, dreams and idealism that is college and you finding out there is simply nothing you cannot do unless your CMT commandant or the school bully is able to communicate that is farthest from the truth.
It's about friendship and how these complex relationships will be tested by our words and actions more so when you decide to get into business together.
It's about how that youthful idealism is replaced by cynicism and about wanting to leave as part of the brain drain of the 1980s and 1990s when the effects of Martial Law continued to affect our country long after the dictator was deposed.
It's about realizations and how when it hits you like a ton of bricks except that it arrives a little too late.
It's about wishing for a simpler time when the world goes mad around you.
It's about experiencing losses and how we do not recover from everything.
It's about making peace with ourselves and what we've become over time.
It's a story about you and me and every one else.
And perhaps, lastly, it's a manifesto to today's generation to make the most out of life and to help fix our country that has been corrupted by greed and power.
What makes Martial Law Babies (and similar stories such as David Nicholl's One Day or even that wonderful 1980s drama-comedy The Wonder Years to name a couple of what is an oft-written subject) poignant is how we all went through similar phases and know real people like the characters in the book. We can identify with situations. It brings back old feelings and memories that make us laugh, cringe in horror, and smile at the bittersweet taste of regret.
Arre, who masterfully wrote and drew this 288-page tome, is able to bring back an era that defined more than the generation that grew up at that time but also changed the way the country is.
Growing up like the characters of Martial Law Babies, you quickly learn that life isn't Voltes V, schoolboy crushes, comic books and concerts. There's a larger world out there where we participate on how it is shaped for the future.
It's like the country coming out of EDSA where instead of coming together, we as a people remain as fractured as every and where perhaps the only thing that has changed is that we get to take shots at the government without fear of disappearing.
The other day I was talking to a colleague of mine from work who expressed similar sentiments in Martial Law Babies - of how life is fine in the Philippines except that the national issues affect us in so many ways and that he has grown tired of it. Like Rebecca, one of two lead characters in the graphic novel, he is thinking of flying northward for a new life.
It was a moment that I let him have as he suddenly opened up and reminisced about good days and bad ones and growing up. In spite of the cynicism that has taken hold of him, he still holds hope. Except that it's not here.
As for me, a fortysomething who has lived both home and abroad but seemingly back for good, I remain hopeful about a lot of things even if life seemingly has conspired against me. As the saying goes, while there's life, there's hope.
As for my colleague, I could do nothing but only wish him well.
And oh, yes. He too is a Martial Law Baby.
You really have to pick up this torch that is Arnold Arre's Martial Law Babies.
* This review respectfully picks up from pages 271-272. Martial Law Babies is published by Nautilus Comics and the 288-page graphic novel is priced at P500.