For a country that boasts over 7,000 islands, it only makes sense that one of The Philippines’ most popular comic book characters is water-based. And this we have DYESEBEL, created by Mars Ravelo back in 1952. She is a mermaid who has starred in six movies and two live action TV shows, one airing as recently as 2014.
Her origin story tends to change depending on who is running the production. In the original comic, Dyesebel was born of two human parents. Dyesebel’s mom was someone with an overpowering mermaid fascination. As a result, when she gave birth, her baby was born with a fish tail. Now, this sounds like another of your standard goofy Filipino superhero origin stories, but check out the comic art from this issue. It looks like a freakin’ horror story. The story would go down a pretty dark path, with Dyesebel struggling for acceptance, getting out in a freak show, being discovered by actual mermaids, and having her legs restored by a sea witch. It’s basically the Filipino version of The Little Mermaid.
The revisions to the origin story began as early as 1973, which started the idea that hey, she’s an actual mermaid and not the product of her mom’s obsessive hobbies. The current 2014 version should feel very familiar to American comic readers. Here, Dyesebel’s dad, Tino, is a merman prince. He surfaces to confront humans whose dynamite fishing have been destroying the undersea world. He instead falls in love with Lucia, a human woman he rescues from drowning. Dyesebel is born with the ability to switch between human and mermaid forms. The story goes on where she must accept her royal reponsibilities and prevent a war that’s been brewing between the undersea and surface worlds. All while struggling with her love for a human man.
With her feet – or fins – more deeply planted in romance and drama, Dyesebel seems to be following her own path separate from the other Filipino heroes. While Darna gets to punch out Gorgons on the regular, Dyesebel’s real enemy is society, maaaaaan. However, she’s still 1.) a Mars Ravelo creation, and 2.) canonically friends with A-Number One hero Darna herself. So, combined with her enduring popularity, she gets instant first ballot dibs in superhero group shots.