SINGAPORE—Asked if having a real Filipino superhero in the Marvel Universe is feasible, C.B. Cebulski—Marvel’s man in Asia—instantly answers, “Yes, without a doubt. It’s just a matter of finding the right one, and the right people to do it.”
He knows what he’s talking about. Cebulski, vice president for Marvel Brand Management and Development in Asia, continues to scour the world to recruit talent for the comic book superpower. He has also spent a lot of time in Asia, including the Philippines, where he attended the 2015 AsiaPOP Comicon.
“Something we want to explore more is bringing more international superheroes into the Marvel Universe, but not just superheroes created by American writers and artists in the United States and in Europe,” Cebulski tells Inquirer Super. “Because if you look back, comics used to be done at the Marvel offices, and back then it was a bunch of middle-age white men creating superheroes. So, if you got to the international superheroes—including Black Panther from Wakanda—they were all a little stereotypical in ways, and they just didn’t feel authentic.”
There have been good-intentioned, if somewhat off-target, attempts to create a Filipino hero in Marvel. The best example would be the group called the Triumph Division, created by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, first appearing in 2008’s “Invincible Iron Man” #2.
But the team was criticized because the characters—members of the Philippines’ resident super team—were inaccurate.
That could have been different with a Filipino creator. “Now that the world has gotten smaller, thanks to the Internet, and the Marvel brand has gotten so much bigger, we realize what we’d like to do more of is getting actual creators in those countries to create Marvel superheroes based on their past experiences,” Cebulski explains.
“The Marvel Universe is the universe outside your window,” the Marvel exec adds. “We want young kids in Manila to be able to look outside their window and see a Filipino hero who is not just stereotypical. So that there are local creators who really feel these heroes were created by someone like them, who understands their culture so their backgrounds feel authentic and their powers are based on Filipino history or mythology. And that the hero is in Manila but can have adventures with Spider-Man or the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, bringing that level of authenticity to the Marvel universe.”
Additionally, that hero’s backstory needs to be a Marvel story. “It’s not just taking a piece of history or mythology. It’s taking the idea and giving it a Marvel origin. Every Marvel hero has a unique origin usually based on tragedy. They’re flawed. That’s why people can relate to them, to the human side behind the mask. We have to make it more Marvel, so that the Filipino Peter Parker or Bruce Banner is someone who’s also believable, has a background in the culture and has problems with their family, like all the other Marvel heroes.”
Cebulski says the Philippines would be perfect for this. “Marvel has such a long history with the Philippines, going back to the 1970s—beginning with Alcala, Steve Gan, Rudy Nebres—and those artists now, with Leinil Yu and Carlo Pagulayan. The Philippines is the perfect place for passion and growth with Marvel.”
Cebulski adds that the Philippines is not only an English-speaking country that got into comics early, that the Filipino creators passed down their knowledge to the next generation.
“There’s a feeling of mentorship in the Philippines that I don’t see in other places,” he points out, adding that there is “an enormous amount of Filipino talent working with Marvel” including Yu, Pagulayan, Gerry Alanguilan and Stephen Segovia.
He also praises “Trese” creator Budjette Tan: “He does a great job of doing his own books and his own comics that really embrace the Filipino storytelling side of things, but also sharing the passion for the Marvel brand because that’s the basis of superhero storytelling.”
Now that he’s based in Shanghai, Cebulski plans to travel twice a month to the different Asian territories to be able to include their ideas in the Marvel Universe, as well as indulge his love for food and continue finding talent.
After all, the Marvel Universe is bigger than ever. Speaking of Asian countries, South Korea was featured in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and Hong Kong will appear in the forthcoming “Doctor Strange.”
Asked if the Philippines could someday be featured in a Marvel movie, C.B. Cebulski says, “Why not? Every country wants to get represented these days. The Marvel Universe is the real universe. Who knows where things will pop up in the future?”