As part of our Favorite Monsters feature that we ran for our “12 Days of Monsters,” we polled various writers to see who their favorite monsters were and why. One of those writers is Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, a Filipino writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy. A graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, Rochita was the recipient of the 2009 Octavia Butler Scholarship, and the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, and Weird Tales. In the Philippines, her short fiction has been published in Philippine Panorama, Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 2, and Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4. For her choice of favorite monster, Loenen-Ruiz shines a spotlight on a Filipino comic book character who is ultimately much less monstrous than his appearance might indicate.
When I was a child, there was a Filipino language comic book called Aliwan which was sold or rented to readers for a few cents. My Mom didn’t like us reading comic books because she thought it made us lazy readers, but the fact that it was somehow forbidden made it all the more tantalizing. Anyway, the comic book had a serial on a character named Zuma (the comic serial was also named after him). Created by Jim Fernandez, this serial became one of the longest running serials ever and was eventually turned into a film.
Zuma was a memorably evil character and he had two children, Galema and Dino. Galema had the appearance of a normal human woman, except for the fact that she was born with two snakes attached to her neck. Dino was born with the body of a human and with the head of a dinosaur.
On some days, I found Dino to be a terrifying character. In the comic, his father sends him out on killing sprees. And yet, no matter that he goes out and kills on his father’s command, I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for this character.
I think the reason why I was sympathetic to Dino stems from the same reason why I feel sympathy for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I thought that it wasn’t Dino’s fault that he was born looking like a monster and I wondered if he would change if there was someone who would look beyond his monstrous appearance to the real being underneath.
In the comic, this eventually takes place. He meets a blind human girl who doesn’t fear him or treat him like a monster. He doesn’t tell her the truth about his appearance, but he treats her kindly, and eventually he falls in love with her.
I don’t remember what happens after that – whether he ended up with the girl or if she ever loved him back, but I do remember that he does redeem himself and allies with his good sister, Galema, in the fight against his evil father.
Years later, when my family moved to Manila, someone told me of an urban legend. According to this legend, there was a real Dino somewhere in Manila. I still don’t know if the urban legend was born by people’s fascination with Zuma and his clan or whether Dino was inspired by the urban legend. It would interesting to find out.