The first time you read Ethan and Scott Chua’s Doorkeeper is a bit, well, disorienting. To call the experience a handful is an understatement. It’s bakunawa meets quantum physics. It’s the Japanese occupation of Manila ruled by a water nymph. It’s martial law rock bands. It’s Dekada ‘70 meets Paramore (watch out for the Hard Times reference). Its main character is a door.
Quirks aside, the Doorkeeper’s story ultimately pares down to two things we can all relate to: the choices we make, and the impact it has on our futures. The Doorkeeper that lends the graphic novel its name travels through both time and space, “guiding” those around him towards the histories we know and love today. The book wrestles with fate and questions the degree to which we control it, and is almost comically absurdist in its rehashing of the events and ideals which we’ve come to take for granted in the classroom.
Honestly, if I were to give you a one word review of the novel as a whole, it would be, gah. It’s…a lot. Which is saying something given the slimness of the physical copy, and how accessible much of Doorkeeper’s dialogue actually is. Half of this lends, again, to what’s been tackled: that both writers seem to have done their homework plot-wise and research-wise.
What carries Doorkeeper through some of its rather obscure passages however, is its art. The visuals are good. So good, in fact, that I’mma personally shout out every single one of the eight artists involved. The differing styles per chapter, led by illustrators Allen Geneta, Bianca Lesaca, Jap Mikel, Gia Duran, Brent Sabas, Bow Guerrero, Aaron Felizmenio, Borg Sinaban, and Raymund Bermudez, lend great depth and texture to the story in this regard. Eight different artists for six different chapters is no easy feat to pull off in such a coherent manner. Adolfo and Florante look regal. The bakunawas tense and snap and growl. The Doorkeeper shapeshifts fluidly, as a time traveler of his demigod-like stature should. The visual team keeps the stories together.
My advice to you regarding Doorkeeper is to let the art guide you. The plot honestly, for all the praise I’m giving it, lurches forward in fits and starts at times. The ideas can lack grounding. The ending monologues are a tad rushed.
It’s the art honestly that saves you, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The beauty with any good graphic novel after all, is that it uses art to fill in the blanks where sometimes the conversations fall flat. Need proof? Doorkeeper is one of the few comics I’ve seen that easily illustrates quantum mechanics, and a semi-human metaphor for fate, on the same page, without making things feel like you’re too deep into some old philosopher’s head.
Six chapters from Doorkeeper are illustrated by eight different artists. | Art credits (from L-R): Allan Geneta, Jap Mikel, and Gia Dominique Duran
And it’s cool and all ultimately, because, I guess that’s the kind of deep Doorkeeper deals with. It’s a story of fate, and the universe, and our place in it. It talks about free will, and touches on concepts of utility. It tries to get political, yeah, with chapters shouting out GomBurZa, and salvaging, but does so, unabashedly, with one eye firmly trained on the cosmos. It’s a comic book about self-determination, East-West idealism, and moral ambiguity, couched in martial law terms, rather than the other way around. It’s dope, but is it timely and relatable? Not always.
(Speaking of — our city-dwelling fictionists do have a bad habit of guilelessly mashing together myths and legends borrowed from other Filipino cultures to cater to their fancy existential whims, but that’s a whole ‘nother treatise altogether. This is a book review. I’m getting ahead of myself.)
That being said again though, Doorkeeper is pretty damn worthy of your time and attention. Its dilemmas are rich, its characters are compelling, and the art is accessible. The writers are hella young. The world is familiar despite the sheer volume of details that come to roost in it. It’s not as much timely as timeless.
It’s a solid new school take on a series of old-school stories. That by itself gives it a solid place in my reading list. It should find one on yours as well. It’s a work worth getting lost in.