secret identities superhero contest winner: tumbas

As promised, here's the first rendering of the winning entries from the Secret Identities Superhero Contest, where readers were asked to submit their own original idea for an Asian American superhero. This is TUMBAS by Rochell Reyes, as drawn by Jef Castro. And all the details...


We thought this was a well-conceived and nicely developed character, and liked the way the story was set up to establish two brothers as equal and opposite forces -- a classic face-off of nemeses. At first we were a bit put off because the concept does have quite a bit of similarity with the story "Trinity" in SECRET IDENTITIES (which, written and drawn by Greg LaRocque, features not two but three half-siblings who are the children of a super-soldier and have each inherited some of his powers -- and dog tags are central to that story as well!), but we ultimately decided that this character complemented rather than duplicated "Trinity" and gave the creator the benefit of the doubt (Tumbas/Trinity crossover, anyone?).

In tightening the character and editing this origin, we made some small changes -- increasing Tumbas's age slightly from 13 to 15 (would a 13 year old be able to wear his dad's military uniform?) and altered Tumbas's powers slightly. To make the half-brothers more clearly an equal match, Tumbas has super-strength and heightened vision, while his sibling has super-speed and the power of invisibility. Strength versus speed and sight versus camouflage are classic counters. We also gave him a limitation -- his powers are initially limited, requiring "recharge," and must be triggered by adrenaline and an act of will. It's always better to give a hero room to grow!

And now, here's Tumbas, as drawn by Jef Castro, SECRET IDENTITIES' senior artist; Jef chose to draw John as he imagined him immediately after he discovering his powers, rather than "in action" in his dad's military uniform -- so you see him in this pic in all his surfer-boy glory!


TUMBAS by Rachell Reyes

John Reyes is an ordinary 15-year-old Filipino American surfer kid from the San Diego coast. His name and complexion -- and the fact that he lives right next to the America's southern border -- often leads people to mistake him for Mexican. On the other, he's also often asked if he's Hawaiian, Samoan, Chinese, and at least one time, Egyptian. His ambiguous ethnic identity would be a source of irritation for many, but John has learned to take advantage of it, to fit in, or even disappear, as needed.

That skill at camouflage may be a legacy of his father, Marco Reyes, a 15-year veteran of Army military intelligence who recently was reported dead after a covert mission in Afghanistan; although the Army was unable to recover Marco's body, his unit's commanding officer has stated that the circumstances of Marco's death make it impossible that he might have survived.

When John's mother Jaya tearfully tells him the news, she expects him to be devastated; any other normal 13-year-old would be. But John tells her he feels nothing. His father's profession has made him an absentee for most of John's young life; how, he asks his mother, could he miss someone he'd never connected with at all?

A week after the news of Marco's death, John and Jaya receive a small package in the mail -- a box, containing a small metal rectangle bearing the name and rank of his father, LT. MARCO REYES, U.S. ARMY; his father's old dog tag from basic training. Jaya places the tag and its chain around John's neck, encouraging him to use it to remember his father, and to release whatever he has bottled up inside of him.

Later that day, sitting on the beach and holding the tag in one hand, John tries unsuccessfully to remember and mourn his father. In a fit of anger, he picks up a small rock and hurls it at the ocean. As he releases the stone, he feels a surge go through his body; when the rock hits the water, it doesn't skip -- it skates along at supersonic speed, raising a foot-high wake and sending mist and steam rising behind it as it disappears into the horizon.

John, shaken, tries to figure out what happened. He couldn't have thrown that stone that fast -- no human could. But somehow, he did. Piecing together what happened, he realizes that the sudden flash of strength came as he held Marco's tag and focused on his father's memory. But, try as he might, no amount of concentration can bring that power back.

Remembering that beneath his parents' bed is a foot locker of Marco's old memorabilia, John races home, hoping to discover some kind of clue. But the chest contains an old uniform, some snow globes collected from around the world, pictures of Marco's Army buddies. As John grits back tears of frustration and squeezes his father's dog tag in his fist, he feels another surge and the world goes white -- then refocuses with an entirely new perspective. He can now see with microscopic detail and perfect clarity, and even, as his eyes dart around the room, view the interiors of hollow objects. He blinks in surprise, and his hypervision fades, revealing the world in its ordinary state again...but not before he sees that the foot locker has a false bottom. John slides the bottom back. Beneath it is a yellowing notebook -- a diary going back to Marco's days before he'd met John's mother, recounting his days as a promising young high school grad who'd signed up with the Army to honor his late father, a Filipino veteran of the Second World War.

What they reveal is that Marco wasn't an ordinary member of military intelligence, but a recruit for a secret covert unit of super-soldiers, volunteers to undergo a series of experiments that gave them inhuman abilities. But then the diary stops, and John notices that a sheaf of pages have been torn from it. The only other thing left, tucked into the binding of the notebook, is an old black and white photograph -- a Polaroid of his father with his arm around a young Asian woman, who has a laughing baby in her arms. The woman, who looks East Asian, is not John's mother. The baby is not John.

In the days that follow, John learns more about his powers, activated by adrenaline and the memory of his father; the tag is a trigger, but the abilities seem inborn, a legacy of Marco's mutated genes. Unfortunately, the powers have limits; he can use either his strength or his vision, but not both simultaneously, and he can maintain them only for a short period of time. And after using either, he has to allow them to recharge; at first, he's unable to summon a "surge" more than once a day, though as he trains himself, using his father's old uniform and a souvenir mask his mother had brought back from a visit to the Philippines as his "costume," he quickly reduces the time lapse to an hour.

And then comes an encounter that will change John's life again forever. As he prepares to finish high school, San Diego is hit with a string of "silent robberies": Banks are being broken into and their contents stolen, without a trace of evidence -- except for a name graffiti spraypainted on the walls of every ransacked bank: "MARCO REYES."

The authorities question John and Jaya, investigating whether Lt. Reyes is in fact truly dead, and asking if they have any connection to the crimes. The combination of the harsh interrogation and the reminder of the loss sends Jaya into a state of depression, leading John to investigate the crimes himself, to clear his late father's name and raise his mother's broken spirits.

And that's when he encounters Marco Jr. -- the young boy in the secret photo, John's half-brother and elder by a year. Marco had met Marco Jr.'s mother, married her, and fathered Marco Jr. during his secret training overseas, at the USAG Humphreys base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. But when Marco Jr.'s mother passed away from an accident, his grandparents barred Marco from seeing him again, and ordered him to cut off all ties.

But upon Marco's death, each of his sons received one of his two dog tags -- activating the hidden secret within their chromosomes. John has inherited and is learning to use his father's superhuman strength and paranormal vision; Marco Jr., unnatural speed and the power to blend into the shadows. Fueled by rage at their deceased father (enhanced by the lies he's been told by his late mother's family), Marco Jr. has made it his goal to destroy Lt. Reyes's name; John, meanwhile, adopts the alias "Tumbas" (which means "equal" in Tagalog), John goes on a mission to stop his half-brother and clear his father's reputation -- while discovering the truth about the side of Marco Reyes that neither he nor his mother ever knew.

To learn more about Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, visit the website here.

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