Darna is NOT a 'Rip-off" of Wonder Woman

A short Retrospective of an often misunderstood character!

Features Opinion

By Raffy Arcega
of both the Wonderverse & Mars Ravelo's DARNA fansites

This coming August 10, 2009. Mars Ravelo's DARNA, will once again be flying through our television screens in a brand new reboot of the series that will star GMA Network Actress and Fan Favorite, Ms. Marian Rivera.

I recently wrote an article that was published on the official Darna Website (http://www.marsravelodarna.com) on the topic of why Rosa Del Rosario, Vilma Santos, and Angel Locsin are the three definitive versions of the superheroine so far and the challenge Marian Rivera now faces in making her version, just as memorable as the other three.

One thing is certain. DARNA always stands out whenever she is portrayed the way she ought to be, according to her original concept as was envisioned by her legendary creator, Mars Ravelo. Now I do understand that Darna has had many incarnations through the decades and every generation of fans have their own vision of what Darna is all about. Yes, she is a superhuman with the powers of super-strength, speed and flight but she also has her own unique qualities all her own.

And no, despite what people saw in those 2 movies from the 1990's, DARNA IS NOT A "WONDER WOMAN COPYCAT." Although I looked forward to seeing those movies at first, I always ended up being disappointed because those films attempted to "reinvent" Darna in Wonder Woman's image. Those 2 movies both depicted Darna using her "bracelets to deflect bullets: when she was fired upon by thugs. They also tweaked her costume to make her look more like Wonder Woman (by taking away her helmet and replacing it with a "Wonder Woman style" headband/tiara that had her golden winged medallion in the middle) rather than remain true to her original look. These unnecessary changes did not in any way make these 2 movies any better because aside from being not well conceptualized, they also lacked the soul that the earlier Darna movies had: Darna's own identity. The two 90's films seemed more concerned with special effects and flash rather than great plot and dialogue.

But these aren't the only things that fed the misconcepcion that Darna is a "Wonder Woman Copy-Cat" but the details of her costume design. So in the interest of educating the general public, here's the history of how Darna's costume evolved through the ages:

Darna is a superheroine created by Mars Ravelo under a different name in 1947. She was originally called "VARGA" and was published by Bulaklak Komiks. The original Varga is not to be confused with the other "Mars Ravelo's VARGA" that was recently featured as a tv series on ABS-CBN. The Original Varga pretty much looked like DARNA except that her original costume featured long sleeves and fitted shirt that featured the SUN and 3 STARS from the Philippine flag. She wore short shorts and a simple belt with a loin cloth in the middle (just like Darna) before letting go of the long sleeve form fitting shirt with the 3 stars and sun and replaced it with the familiar bra while only retaining 2 of the 3 stars. It was the story of a mortal girl named Narda, her brother Ding and their grandmother, LOLA ASAY who lived "sa bayan ng Masambong" (in the town of Masambong) when a falling star revealed itself to be a magic amulet that turns the little girl named Narda into the Superheroine named....VARGA! (Sound familiar?)


But there was a falling out between Mars Ravelo and Bulaklak Komiks so he took his creation to Ace Publications' "Pilipino Komiks" where the series was rebooted with a new continuity and the character was renamed "DARNA". Not after the legendary Adarna bird of Philippine folklore but rather an anagram of her mortal name- "NARDA". (Remember that in the earlier Varga series, her mortal name was already NARDA even back then.)
The 2 Stars on Darna's bra are NOT copied from Wonder Woman's costume but are based on the yellow stars that appear on the Philippine Flag.

It was under the name "DARNA" that this Ravelo creation would become famous for. In 1951, before the Komiks serial was even finished, Royal Publications under Fernando Poe Sr. would produce the legendary first DARNA movie starring the late film actress of Philippine Cinema's golden age, MS. ROSA DEL ROSARIO who was the Original actress to play DARNA.

Because of the character's immense popularity, several other studios would license the character and produce more Darna movies throughout the next several decades. After Rosa Del Rosario, Vilma Santos (who first played Darna in 1973's "Lipad, Darna, Lipad") would be the most well known and the most in demand to play the character. She starred in a total of 4 Darna movies. Her 4th and final one being in 1980.

For years after that, no more Darna movies were produced. It was not till 1991 when another one would be produced but it starred a relatively new actress in the role that "reinvented" Darna into a "Bullets & Bracelets" deflecting character that no longer wore the iconic Darna helmet and instead wore a headband. A follow up movie would sooin follow 3 years later that tweaked Darna's look even further where she still wore the "Wonder Woman-type headband" only this time lost the winged medallion altogether in favor of "golden leaves". Yet they again made her deflect bullets with her bracelets. So as we can see, every recognizable Darna elememt was slowly stripped away and replaced with accessories that mimicked Wonder Woman. And in addition, they even gave her Kryptoinian-style heat vision. Now granted, many superheroes fly and possess superhuman strength, but heat vision and deflecting bullets using bracelets are iconic Superman & Wonder Woman elements that are SPECIFIC to these 2 characters. They are not meant to be taken and grafted onto DARNA and representing her to the world as "the Philippine copy of Wonder Woman". Labeling her as such and presenting her to look like a copy does a disservice to the greatness of this character.

And from then on, Darna's prestige as a character was put into question because of the damage inflicted upon her image by misguided flimmakers who valued mimicry to originality. It's one thing to be inspired by Superman and Captain Marvel. But it is a completely different thing altogether to
cannibalize elements from foreign characters and graft these elements onto an existing one with a rich history and established lore as Darna.

Darna is about a poor young Filipina girl with a pure heart whose values and virtues made her worthy of weilding the magical powers of a celestial "agimat" that allowed her to channel the superhuaman being "DARNA of the Planet Marte." Philippine folklore has a tradition of presenting humble, pure hearted mortals that are awarded amulets that allow them to (in a way) transform their virtues into superpowers that allow them to battle supernatural evil.
Darna is a character that fused together the concept of the superhero with the traditions of Philippine folklore that give us a unique type of hero in Darna. The yellow/gold stars come from our Philippine flag, the loincloth (bahag) is a visual inspiration from native costuming, and the agimat concept come from our very own traditions.

So it is my hope that this new Darna series will treat this beloved Mars Ravelo character with the respect she deserves and imbue her with qualities that further enhance her uniqueness and not with gimmicks and contrived cliches stolen from other characters. DARNA is worthy of respect and has a very special place in Philippine Pop culture. Not as a "just a novelty" or a character misconstrued to look like a"Wonder Woman Copy-Cat" but as her TRUE self- Asia's First Superheroine: Mars Ravelo's DARNA.

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