Guardians of Darussalam

What if Superman and Batman were Bruneians?

That was the question that I’ve asked myself when I was a kid and I’ve pondered with the possible answers ever since.

I’ve always wanted to see an epic blockbuster type action movie set in Brunei. And there’s nothing more epic than a timeless superhero story.

The aim is to take elements of the classic superhero mythos – whether it be the Superman or Batman mythos – and try to fit it in a Bruneian setting.

brunei superhero

Guardians of Darussalam as a Kisah Masyarakat.

To me, a story about a Bruneian superhero should have elements from major superheroes such as Spiderman, Batman, Superman while tackling social themes relevant to Brunei. There is no point in telling a story without touching on subjects that we can relate to.

It is also important to ground it on local legends. We have our own legendary heroes: the super strength Herculean Awang Semaun – brother of the first Bruneian Sultan and Awang Jerambak – a man with lots of extraordinary weapons. I have taken some liberties on their myths/legends to fit in with the themes of the story.

Setting

The story is set in a heightened reality/fictional/alternate version of Brunei. Certain elements with real life basis are exaggerated or modified to serve the type of story being presented.

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Chapters

The current plan is to tell this story in three ‘Volumes’ – four chapters in each volume making it a total of 12 chapters.
NB: Of course, this initial plan had changed since.

Volume I – Origin. It will be a four part origin story. This will be straightforward: the Whys and Hows of the person becoming a superhero/hero.

Volume II – Crossover. Nothing is more exciting than  one superhero crossing paths with another superhero – whether in comics, cartoons or movies. Also, the public’s reactions and how the superheroes react to those reactions will hopefully be explored.

Volume III – Crisis. Final battle.

Although I originally envisioned this as a live action movie or a comic, I thought it would be better if I can initially just write it and let it out of head. Maybe someone who’s more capable and talented would adapt/remake this in another medium.

I accept any feedback or suggestions. Or even assistance :-)

Enjoy!

Commentary: Year One

This is a commentary on the first chapter of Volume II called YEAR ONE which tells the story of how our Bruneian superheroes come out to the public. You can read the story HERE

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And now we move into the meat of the story. A lot of the elements from this chapter (and the few planned chapters to come) can be traced back to one particular year – 2008

The Dark Knight

I’ve always had it in my mind that a Brunei superhero would get his super strength from a magical Ikan Sumpit just like our mythical folk hero, Awang Semaun. And I’ve also always had it in my mind that the Brunei hero would wear our flag themed costume ala Captain America. But what I didn’t know was what would happen beyond the origin story. To me at that time, after the origin story, our Brunei superhero would probably go on fighting several bad guys before he faces his ultimate arch-nemesis in a final battle – that’s it….there was nothing to it.

Until The Dark Knight came out and changed everything.

Batman Begins was cool in its attempt at putting Batman in a more grounded reality. The Dark Knight begged us to question the consequence or impact of such thing. Gotham felt like a real city populated with people from all kinds of spectrum – mobs, cops, lawyers, the rich, the poor, the media, the businessmen. It was about the reaction of these people on both the Joker and Batman AND how those two react to those public reactions.

That was the type of story I wanted to write about.

I saw the potential of a Bruneian superhero story that goes beyond the origin story. I said that if I was to write a Bruneian superhero story, it would definitely have to involve the reactions from all the different socio-political spheres in the country.

It even made more sense at that time when you consider what else was happening in Brunei in 2008.

Social Media

2008 was also the time when Bruneians went crazy about blogging. Everyone in the country had a blog. Even I had a blog where I wasted spent my time writing random things (it was also a period of time when I finished A-Level and was waiting to get offer letters from potential Universities – so I had nothing better to do).

In a way, the social media boom kinda gave us a new sense of community. It made our already small country much more smaller. Stories gets spread faster and you can also get a clear picture of the general reaction among Bruneians much more quicker (sometimes in an instant).

I imagined that if a Bruneian Superhero exist, he would definitely come face to face with social media in the country. In my story, Captain Brunei utilized social media to his advantage.

Jafar: Cemana kan aku contact kita?
(How am I going to contact you)

Captain: Message saja arah the Facebook page
(Just message me on the Facebook page)

Jafar: Wait, are you telling me that Captain Brunei facebook page is not a fan page? And you actually run that?

Captain: Yes

Jafar: *laughs* I thought I have to shoot a flare into the sky or something ridiculous. A real life superhero using social media. I really like that, Mr. Captain Brunei.

He set up a Facebook page as his way getting information or help from the public. He enlisted the help from a Jafar – a character in this story who is a social media personality – to help him promote his public superhero debut.

But I also imagine that social media can also be his enemy. That idea also inspired me to come up with a villain that can be a formidable threat to the Bruneian Superhero.

Jafar: Creating the Villain character – power of information and media

First of all, Jafar was actually named after the villain from Aladdin. Why? Well, why not. But before Jafar was named, I refer to him as ‘Big Boss’. So how did this character of Jafar/Big Boss came to be?

It all started with a story that I heard few years ago. I’m not even sure if this was real or not but it’s nevertheless a memorable one. One morning, a man that was guarding a tower on top of a hill Tutong was surprised to see a group of families arriving. When he asked them what are they doing here, the family replied that they are trying to save themselves from the coming tsunami. It turns out that they heard a rumour (probably from text message) that a tsunami will hit Brunei on that day.

Now let’s think about this for a second. This rumour caused unnecessary panic for this particular family. Imagine if it was an even bigger rumour that causes panic on a bigger scale? Recently, several friends of mine all talked about how a gang is recruiting school kids to create an army to avenge the death of one their gang member. It was spread primarily through Whatsapp. Some of my friends made a big stupid fuss about it. I told them it’s probably fake but they defended its authenticity because it was stated in the message that it came from a report in Brunei Times, one of our main newspaper….which was ridiculous because I followed them on their offical twitter and they never reported such thing! And just like what any good person should do, I double checked by actually visiting their website.

Now imagine a villain who use misinformation to his advantage and use it against the good guys. Plus, imagine if this villain had the star power of some of our famous local social media personalities. He/she would be a really great villain for our Bruneian Superhero. Back when I was still talking about the idea for my Brunei superhero story, I would often describe the villain as “If Rano or BruneiTweet has an evil twin from an evil timeline”

You will hopefully see more of Jafar’s character in the subsequent chapters. In the meantime, here’s a sketch of the Jafar character that my friend made last year when I told him about the ideas for this superhero story.

concept the big boss

If you enjoyed reading my story and wants to sketch your own interpretation of the characters then feel free to email me if you want – trylobyte07@gmail.com

What lies ahead

I have ideas on what is going to happen in the next few chapters but I  still have to decide on details of it (eg. what plotline to tackle first, when is the best time to introduce certain new characters, etc). Hopefully, there will be a new chapter by January.

Am I making this up as a I go along? It’s 40% planned and 60% making up as I go along. It makes the process much more interesting :-)

I accept any feedback or suggestions.

What lies ahead

With the ‘Origin’ story out of the way, we can now take a peek at what’s ahead for Captain Brunei and our other heroes in the next part of the story tentatively titled ‘Volume II: Crossover’

The Crossover

My favourite episodes of those old superhero cartoons are usually ones that involve one superhero meeting another one. It’s exciting to see Spiderman teaming up with Blade to fight a vampire or Spiderman fighting Wolverine. One of my favourite superhero cartoon is The Justice League and it’s a joy to watch all these superheroes argue and later learn to work as a team.

Yes, Adam and Ridzuan will meet and there won’t be any brotherly embrace. Adam will not be a fan of Balau Man’s attitudes and Ridzuan will definitely see Captain Brunei as a joke.

Liza’s storyline

Liza have always been intended as the ‘Third Superhero’ of the story – the Wonder Woman to Adam’s Superman and Ridzuan’s Batman. She won’t be dressing up as a superhero but her story and mission is indeed one of the major storylines. In Volume I, her story was unfortunately put on a backseat to accommodate the Adam’s and Ridzuan’s journey towards wearing their superhero costumes.

Volume II will delve more into Liza’s campaign against the abuse of women and general empowerment of women. Several characters will be involved in this storyline such as Adam’s sister, Amalina and also Adam’s girlfriend, Aisyah. Of course, it will not be entirely a straight up liberal feminist story as Aisyah will definitely have a different take on the role of women. What start as a simple campaign against violence on women will eventually involve a bigger question – what does it mean to be a modern Muslim Bruneian women. That is the main throughline of Liza’s story arc that will hopefully be explored in the next section of story.

The Reactions

The next section of the story will explore the public’s reactions to the superheroes AND how the superheroes react to those reactions.

Characters that have been hinted at in Volume I (eg. Detective Rahman, reporter Vivian, gossip blogger Jafar) will play more significant roles in the next section of the story. They will represent the different types of public reaction to the emergence of the superheroes.

Detective Rahman will be skeptical of the superheroes  while Vivian will remain open minded about it. As for Jafar, it will be interesting to see where he will stand on the issue. What we can be sure of is that he will not miss the chance of getting involved somehow.

How Adam, Ridzuan and Liza react to the public’s reaction will also be a main point in the story. The choice will be between being open to the public or work in the dark. Ridzuan’s Balau Man is intended to be a shadowy figure while Liza’s campaign relies on public support.

The Villain

The supervillain is Bilantapura – an ancient dark entity that seeks revenge on the people that defeated his evil forces 700 years ago. His plan will slowly unfold over the course of the story.

A figure with a calculating mind and supernatural strength, Bilantapura will be a perfect foil for our superheroes.

Chapters

The current plan is four chapters for Volume II but that could always change. The first chapter of Volume II will be (as of now) titled YEAR ONE – an obvious nod to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

It begins around 4 to 6 months after the end of the first volume and we see how both Captain Brunei and Balau Man have become stories that people like to talk about in coffee shops. It will be about how our heroes start to work with the public.

I accept any feedback or suggestions.

Commentary: Origins

This is a commentary on VOLUME I: Origins – made up of the first four chapters – which you can read HERE

All story follows the same basic three acts – the set up, the lead up and the pay off/punch line. The first act of a superhero story (or a hero’s story in general) is the Origin story. How did he/she becomes the superhero he/she is now?

I see FOUR essential things in an origin story: The Person, The Power, The Motivation, The Crossing.

THE PERSON

You start with an ordinary person: A high school kid, a farm boy or even a son of a billionaire. You show them doing something a person of their kind do ordinarily: High school kid gets bullied and falling in love; farm boy living peacefully at the farm and dreaming of making it to the big city or a son of a billionaire attending events with other wealthy people.

For this story, I was torn between two options: a Kampung boy from a modest family or a son of a wealthy family. It was basically a question of should the Bruneian superhero be a ‘Clark Kent’ or a ‘Bruce Wayne’. When I started to think about the scope of the story that I wanted tell, I made a decision to include them both. It was also a way for the story to cover perspectives from two different social classes.

ADAM is the Steve Rogers/Clark Kent of the story. Although he has some doubts about himself, he is ultimately a good person that only wants to do what is right. Adam is named after the First Man – kinda mash well with the whole Ubermencsh/Superman idea.

RIDZUAN is the Bruce Wayne of the story. Unlike Adam, he is confident and ambitious. A bit too ambitious you may say and it can be seen with his vast array of  short lived interests throughout his life. I wanted a Malay name that gives out that sound of wealth, importance and power. Razak was the first thing that came to my mind (eg. Tun Abdul RAZAK, Abdul RAZAK Holdings). But then I thought that Razak doesn’t sound right for a young Bruneian name so I ended up with Ridzuan – it maintains that R and Z sound.

THE POWER

Adam’s power is super strength while Ridzuan’s ‘power’ comes from his vast resources.

Adam’s power and its relations with the legend of Awang Semaun was one of the first idea I had for this superhero story. Awang Semaun was our most prominent mythical hero and I think it’s appropriate to associate him with a modern day Bruneian superhero. So the origin of Adam’s super strength is pretty much a retelling of how Awang Semaun got his powers.

However, Ridzuan is much more complicated. Yes, he is rich and we could say that he could easily buy his equipment from somewhere. But he needed to able to cover it up somehow. And this is where the influence of Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman comes in. In Batman Begins, it was said that Wayne Enterprise used to be defense contractor and that is how Bruce Wayne gets all his gadgets.

THE MOTIVATION

Adam is a good person with good intentions. I needed a series of push that bring out the good in him and makes him realize that he can do good with his powers – Make him involve in a car accident and help rescue the victims; Make him save a little girl from a burning building; His sister was in danger of getting involve with drugs that destroyed her friends so he set out to eradicate drugs and save the youths. These are noble acts that makes him a poster boy for the country.

It also brings up the question of what truly pushed Adam to become a superhero – the super strength he acquired or the goodness that was in his heart all along.

Ridzuan is a whole different matter. He doesn’t need any push, he volunteers to set out and face the bad guys himself. There is a more pro-active and calculated approach to Ridzuan’s journey to becoming a superhero. Adam wants to generally help people while Ridzuan wants to do something much more specific: he wants to show Bruneians that they shouldn’t be afraid and be ignorant of criminal activities. There seem to be an endgame to his plan but whether or not he will willingly retire his costume when that time comes is still to be seen.

It’s interesting to note that there is a sense of naivety for both of the characters. You gotta admit, they both don’t really think through the possible ramification of their actions. This will be explored in the second volume when they have to face the cops, the media, the public and the shadowy supervillain.

THE CROSSING

Towards the end, our heroes have been plucked from their comfort zone and placed in a strange new environment.

Adam  and his girlfriend Aisyah were plucked from their ordinary small town environment and placed into a situation where they had to talk with Ali and his circle of friends – definitely not the type of crowd they interact with.

Meanwhile, Ridzuan literally just came back from overseas and feels a bit out of touch with Brunei (eg. Akmal called on Ridzuan’s exaggerated views on the crime rate). In another scene, Ridzuan disguised himself as a police officer to question Liza. But Liza easily identified Ridzuan because everyone knows he’s the son of someone important. Ridzuan was now in an environment he wasn’t accustomed to when he spent all those years overseas – the Bruneian environment where people know pretty much everybody and their family.

If you’re interested in the topic of a heroes and storytelling, I recommend googling up on the concept of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ put forward by people like Joseph Campbell or Chris Vogler. 

Commentary: Prologue

This is a commentary on the PROLOGUE chapter – AWANG SEMAUN – which you can read HERE.

We start from the beginning. And by beginning, I mean back to the time when the country of Brunei Darussalam was founded.

We all know the basic story: 14 brothers living in Garang (somewhere in Temburong) decided to search for a new place to settle. Their leader was Awang Alak Betatar – not the eldest but the smartest and the most handsome of the brothers. Two of the brothers – Pateh Berbai and Damang Seri – found the Brunei River. Pateh Berbai exclaimed ‘Barunah!’ which roughly is equivalent to the expression of ‘Found it! or Finally! or At Last!’ The term Barunah later became Barunai and eventually into Brunai/Brunei. One of the brothers was also Awang Semaun, a man with an extraordinary strength and was instrumental in expanding the Brunei empire throughout Borneo.

You may notice that the story told in my Prologue is different than the one that are popularly known. Here are some of the reasons:

-  The legend of the founding of Brunei was primarily told in an epic poem called Syair Awang Semaun. What not a lot of people know is that there are at least six versions of it – not counting those that may be in private possession. And these six versions have different length and content.

- The standard list of the founding heroes is 14 brothers. But there is another version that omits familiar names like Damang Sari and included lesser known names such as Patih Bulu Mata Gajah, Harimau Taring, Panglima Kujal, etc.

- The figure known as Awang Semaun was not only just found in Bruneian legend. Variations of the Awang Semaun legend have at least appeared in the stories from Limbang, the Ibans, the Muruts, the Bisayas. I thought that it would make much more sense for Awang Semaun to be of a native Borneon (Murut or Lun Bawang) ethnicity rather than a ‘Melayu Brunei’.

- There is a theory that the Brunei royal lineage could be traced back to the old Cambodian Kingdom of Funan. It is believed that after the fall of Funan by the Khmers, the royal families of Funan fled to North Borneo and founded the state of Vijayapura in the seventh century – believed to be Brunei. In this story, I took the liberty to associate the names with ‘Patih’ on it with the Funanese royal lineage.

- In Syair Awang Semaun, our Bruneian heroes set out to conquer the Melanau kingdom after establishing a new state by the Brunei river. At Igan, Awang Semaun with Awang Jerambak and Damang Sari, fought with a djinn called Bilantapura. Bilantapura was a relatively minor villain in the epic poem but I decided to ‘expand’ his role in this story.

The version that I tell in this Prologue is definitely NOT historically accurate. BUT what is historically accurate? We don’t know.

It intrigues me that there is a lot of Brunei history that we don’t really know much. Specifically, the pre-1500s period (The time before the arrival of Antonio Pigafetta/the time of Sultan Bolkiah).

For example:

- The common story is that Awang Alak Betatar married with a Johor-Temasek (Singapore) princess (daughter of Sultan Bakhei) and converted to Islam – becoming Sultan Muhammad Shah, the first Sultan of Brunei. This is believed to have happened during the late 1300s. BUT the earliest known record of a Johor sultanate was in the 1500s.

- Sultan Muhammad Shah was the first Muslim King in Brunei (1363 – 1402) and Islam was consolidated by the reign of Sultan Sharif Ali (1425 – 1432). Sultan Sharif Ali was also the one that added ‘Darussalam’ (Abode of Peace) to the name of our country. But there are records by the Chinese that revealed that there were Muslim traders in Brunei/Borneo before the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah. Not only Islam arrived earlier but Muslims held considerable influence before it became the official religion in Brunei.

- The Salasilah stated the second Sultan was Sultan Ahmad (formerly known as Pateh Berbai – one of the 14 Saudaras/Founding heroes). But Chinese records showed that Sultan Muhammad Shah had a son named Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan (1402 – 1408) that died young and buried in China. He had a 4 years old son which we can assume to never grew up to become a Sultan. But accounts from the Klias River (Sabah) tells a story about Sultan Koyoh, another son of Sultan Muhammad Shah.

- Sultan Bolkiah (1485 – 1524) is a well known figure in Brunei History. He ruled the country during her golden age when Brunei’s influence extended from Southern Borneo to Manila, the Philippines. But there are two versions of his genealogy. The Salasilah version – the officially accepted version – stated that he was the son of Sultan Sulaiman (1432 – 1485) and grandson of Sultan Sharif Ali (1425 – 1432).

Another version comes from Syair Awang Semaun where Sultan Bolkiah was the son of Damang Libar Daun. Damang Libar Daun was one of the 14 Founding Heroes (with Semaun, Alak Betatar, Pateh Berbai, Damang Sari, etc). He emigrated to Java and married with a local. His son, Sultan Bolkiah returned to Brunei and had adventures with Awang Asmara – the son of Awang Sinuai and grandson of Awang Jerambak, who was Awang Semaun’s warrior friend.

But I think that between the Salasilah and Syair Awang Semaun, the latter’s reliability is much more questionable because the Syair has more fantastical elements in it. For example, the Syair said that Awang Alak Betatar’s father hatched from an egg that descended from the heavens.

There are a lot of things in the history of Brunei that we are not clear about. If you’re interested, you can find tons of information on Brunei History all over the internet. Here are the interesting ones:

Tales from Syair Awang Semaun
http://www.bt.com.bn/golden-legacy/2011/08/01/tales-syair-awang-semaun

Assessing the Epic Status of the Brunei Malay Sya’ir Awang Simawn: Place Names and Toponyms Allen R. Maxwell
http://www.sil.org/asia/philippines/ical/papers/maxwell-assessing%20the%20epic%20status.pdf
(Where I obtained the extra names outside the standard 14 founding heroes – eg. Panglima Kujal, Harimau Taring, Tuan Sabtu, etc).

Headhunting and the social imagination in Southeast Asia
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QFpCRxHDiBAC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
(Despite the title, there is a section about Syair Awang Semaun – notably on the near mythical conquest of Borneo by Awang Semaun, Awang Jerambak, Damang Sari. Also a bit on their fight against Bilantapura)

Brunei Sultanate expands empire
http://www.bt.com.bn/golden-legacy/2010/08/09/brunei-sultanate-expands-empire

Awang Semaun: Tale of a Brunei warrior
http://www.bt.com.bn/life/2008/05/25/awang_semaun_tale_of_a_brunei_warrior

There are also lots of books published by the Brunei History Centre that are valuable to those who are interested in the subject.

http://www.history-centre.gov.bn/eng-bookshop.htm

Tarsilah Brunei: The Early History of Brunei Up To 1432 AD
http://www.history-centre.gov.bn/book-tarsilah_brunei_early_history.htm

There is also this book which piqued my interest as well

The Collection of Historical Documents Related to Bilateral Relations Between China and Brunei Darussalam” printed by the World Affairs Press, Beijing, China
http://bruneiresources.blogspot.com/2006/11/brunei-china-historical-documents.html

For more on my thoughts on Local Brunei Legends, head over to my main blog: http://trylobyte.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/thoughts-on-local-brunei-legends/