Let’s be honest, Southeast Asia doesn’t have that much use for any superhero team. Aside from 12-year-olds trolling each other on PUBG or silly scuffles about the origin of a certain dish, there’s not much avenging to do in the region that the members might have to take a side gig at a 7-Eleven to supplement their income.
But we have such a wealth of unique superheroes in the region that it would be a sin to not go and try to cobble up the narrative. Plus, it’s a hoot to imagine how these superheroes are going to interact with each other. Sure, they will be confusions and miscommunication due to the different accents and broken English, but there will definitely be bonding over good food as well over at the Southeast Asian equivalent of Avengers Tower or Justice League Watchtower.
1. Darna (Philippines)
Simple country girl Narda was living a normal life, but everything changed when she found an alien stone. Now, yelling out “Darna!” allows her to channel the powers of an alien woman. Fighting villains in a pair of rather flimsy red bikini and knee-high red boots, Darna might look like a less PC version of Wonder Woman with Shazam-inspired gimmick, but she is actually meant to be a female version of Superman. Just like the Man of Steel, her powers include superhuman strength, senses, invulnerability, flight and speed. She also has a magic glamour that helps her keep a civilian identity, something that Clark Kent manages to achieve with just a pair of eyeglasses.
A beloved Filipino cultural icon, Darna has 14 movie titles under her name, on top of countless appearances in the TV series, comic series, commercials and even ballet productions. Drop dead gorgeous actresses like Angel Locsin and Marian Rivera were a hit in the more recent TV iterations (2005 and 2009 respectively), but what we really want is to see Darna back on the big screen. Teasers have been going around since 2015, but we were left heartbroken when Liza Soberano, who was tapped to play Darna in the much-anticipated big screen project had to withdraw in April 2019 due to an injury. Looks like we’re gonna have to wait a little longer before we get to see our favourite superheroine in the cinemas.
2. Cicakman (Malaysia)
If Darna is a dead ringer for Wonder Woman, it’s obvious that Cicakman took its cues from Spider-Man. You have Hairi, the socially awkward genius as the protagonist, who acquired his superpower thanks to an accident at the lab while working. In other words, he’s a loud-mouthed version of Peter Parker. Hairi’s gecko-like powers are obvious parallels of Peter’s, like his ability to stick to the walls, though he uses his long sticky tongue instead of web shooters to fight his enemies. Even the movie title was styled as Cicak-Man at first, but they haven’t been very consistent with the name since then.
If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of a gecko-powered superhero, we don’t blame you. But bear in mind that you’re not supposed to take the movie seriously as you would MCU. Part of the Cicakman’s charm is that it is a light-hearted comedy which pokes a lot of fun at real-life situations in Malaysia. Although funnyman Saiful Apek did a good job as Cicakman for the first two movies, we didn’t mind having Zizan Razak for the third installation either as he was a good balance of funny and charming. But if there’s going to be a fourth movie, we hope they will consider changing the design of the costume.
3. Gundala (Indonesia)
Gundala is a modern interpretation of Ki Ageng Sela, a spiritual leader found in ancient babad (Javanese historical texts) who had the ability to harness lightning. But there is no doubt that the Indonesian superhero’s origin story in the comic books came from another historical source, namely The Flash comics. Sancaka is a scientist who gets his superpowers after getting struck by lightning, which is obviously ‘inspired’ by Barry Allen’s origin story. As superhero Gundala, Sancaka’s main MO is to shoot bad guys with lightning bolts from his palms, and he’s also fast as lightning. So he’s like a hybrid of The Flash and Thor, sort of.
Despite its loyal following, the one and only Gundala movie was released back in 1981. Fans were ecstatic when a new installment was announced in 2017. With Abimana Aryasatya as the main lead, the movie is slated for a mid-2019 release.
4. Sieu Nhan X (Vietnam)
Every superhero team needs an all-powerful super human. If Justice League has Superman and the Avengers have, er, Captain Marvel, our Southeast Asian superhero team has Sieu Nhan X. Vietnam’s 2015 superhero movie, with baby-faced Ngo Kien Huy as the main lead, is not shy about showing where its inspirations come from, as Sieu Nhan X literally translates to Superman X. Super strong and super fast, Sieu Nhan X has an edge over Clark Kent’s superhero alter ego: he actually has a sense of humor!
5. Red Eagle (Thailand)
So we have our Wonder Woman, Superman and the Flash, but what’s Justice League without an emo vigilante of the night? Enter Red Eagle, a Thai superhero from the 1950s. Sure, a flashy bird of prey doesn’t really inspire that ‘dark hero’ vibe, but believe us when we say Rom Rittikrai (Red Eagle’s real name) is just as brooding. Just like Bruce Wayne, he doesn’t have your typical DC/Marvel superpower, but he is very skilled at combat as a former Thai Special Force agent.
Red Eagle’s 2010 big screen appearance with Thai heartthrob Ananda Everingham as Red Eagle couldn’t save itself from mostly negative reviews, so we are afraid that we’re not going to see a sequel anytime soon. A shame, as we find its theme on fighting real-life criminals like drug dealers and child pornographers to be refreshing.
Post Credit Scene: Keluang Man (Malaysia)
Malaysian kids who grew up in the late 1990s/early 2000s would remember this lovable animated series. ‘Keluang’ is Malay term which refers to a species of megabat, so it’s an unabashed a parody of Batman. Keluang Man’s civilian identity is Borhan, one of the patients of the Tampoi Mental Hospital. As it is hard it for him to do anything during the daytime, our vigilante can only have his crime-fighting way after nightfall.
Keluang Man has a trusted sidekick in Tiong Man (tiong is Malay for myna). But they’re more Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy from animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants than Batman and Robin. There were rumors going around in 2017 that there was going to be a live action version of Keluang Man, but we sadly haven’t heard any credible updates about the project since then.