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★★★★☆ Book Review: Mr Tino (Volume 1) by Russell Molina and Ian Sta. Maria

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An elderly shopkeeper becomes an unlikely superhero in this exciting debut.

You know the old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’? Russell Molina and Ian Sta. Maria’s brand new graphic novel Mr Tino blows that wide apart, with a 66-year old sundry store owner as its protagonist.

Set in the Philippines, the titular Mr Tino isn’t just an ordinary senior citizen though; on a fateful night when his dementia-ridden wife wanders outside, he finds it within him to save her from a near-fatal accident with some newly-discovered superhuman strength. But this isn’t just a case of one-time hysterical strength during a high-stress situation; over the next few days, he continues to experiment with these newfound powers, and realises that he’s well, superhuman now, somehow.

All of this is shown in detail thanks to Ian Sta. Maria’s dynamic artwork, depicting action scenes with gusto. We can practically hear the sounds of conversation in crowds he’s illustrated, or the feeling of apprehension as Mr Tino walks across town on a moonlit sky. There is a power in these black and white panels that both showcase Sta. Maria’s unique style, while capturing the grit of a modern day city with a dark underbelly, and those who live in it.

Mr Tino’s success is also thanks to how writer Russell Molina imbues Mr Tino with a tragic backstory, characterising him as more than just a man with powers. We can’t help but empathise and understand that this man is a good father, a good husband, and all around good guy in the neighbourhood, and root for him because of his otherwise ordinariness. You can’t exactly hate someone whose best friend and sidekick is a cheery, sassy wheelchair-bound man after all, and watching his sheer joy as he discovers the extent of his powers for the first time is magical, as if he’s been gifted with new life. 

As the story continues, we dive deep into the noir storyline, and learn that children in his neighbourhood are beginning to disappear. When Mr Tino finds them, they’re certainly different from how he remembers them, and hints at an even greater, shadier truth that’ll unfold over the next few volumes, with countless losses and tragedies to follow. This first volume of Mr Tino isn’t afraid to hit us in the feels and make it known that there will be plenty of sacrifices that our hero will make and challenging foes he’ll face in future, and marks the debut of a thrilling, action-packed new series that shows superheroes can come in all ages and backgrounds. 

Recommended for: Readers who love superheroes who don’t wear capes, and a gripping, thrilling adventure that isn’t afraid to put you through the emotional wringer. 

Mr Tino (Volume 1) is published by Epigram and available here

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