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Continuing their brand new, creator owned comic range Boom Studios! unleash Slam! onto the shelves. Set in the world of Roller Derby, our contributor Darryll Robson casts his eye over the first issue.
Review: Slam! #1
Over recent years Roller Derby has become an extremely popular sport. There’s probable not a major city in America or the UK that doesn’t have a Roller Derby team. Anyone who has been to see a live game will have noticed the intensity; not just of the game but also of the relationships between skaters, between teams and between supporters. The Derby world is one massive family with a full contact sport thrown into the middle.
Slam! is not the first comic about Roller Derby but is probably the most mainstream release to date. But does it capture the energy and excitement of the actual sport?
It’s Bout Day and the newbies, or ‘freshies’, are preparing for their first official game. In the changing room a collection of women nervously preparing themselves. Meanwhile Maisie and Jen are in the toilet. Maisie’s nerves are overwhelming her and she hasn’t got the confidence to actually get onto the rink. Jen is trying her hardest to convince her everything will be okay.
Maisie and Jen are the central characters and the narrative jumps back in time to tell each girl’s story.
Jen was a lonely girl who did everything by herself. She trained by herself, lived by herself and avoided awkward conversations with her parents about returning home. But then she is given a flyer for a local Roller Derby game and from the moment the first whistle blows Jen knows that this is a sport that she needs to be a part of.
At that very game she signs herself up. It is also at that game that she first meets Maisie who is also signing up.
Maisie also lives alone, well except for her cat. She has just left a long time relationship and currently feels lost in her world. Motivation and end of relationship blues rule her life, that is, until she finds Roller Derby and the companionship of the team sport.
At the first game the two central women realise that they shouldn’t be alone and decide that they can move in together but news from some drafting derby teams throw a potential spanner in the works.
The talent involved with this comic is amazing. Veronica Fish (artist) has worked on developing characters for film and TV and she is currently the artist on Spider-Woman for Marvel. Pamela Ribon (writer) has also worked in TV and film, having worked on the upcoming sequel to Wreck It Ralph, and has written numerous comics and books. Add to that the excellent coloring skills of Brittany Peer and you know you’re in for a good read.
The problem with Slam! Is that it is difficult to work out exactly what it wants to be. Part story of friendship and part Roller Derby propaganda, the narrative never really settles down into a style that flows.
The comic starts off well introducing the central character’s moments before their first Bout. The Art work uses silent panels to illustrate the physical preparations while the speech underlines a nervousness from the characters.
Maisie and Jen are then introduced in the rather unglamorous location of the toilets. This is great place to introduce the characters because from the beginning Ribon is showing the reader that these women are down to earth, real women and not some glamourized sports stars. From this scene you can tell they are new to the game and non-professional athletes. Basically, they are just like any women reading the comic. Instantly identifiable characters draw the reader in and commit them to the story.
Unfortunately, when the narrative switches to flashback mode to tell the backstories of Jen and Maisie this is where things get a bit muddled. It’s not the stories themselves but rather the way they are told.
Jen’s history is told in a clumsy third party voiceover which reads more like a draft outline of the character rather than finalised script. The reader also doesn’t really learn anything about Jen’s character. She’s determined not to let her current situation bring her down but there is something missing from her life; enter Roller Derby. But as to any details about her lonely life or why so much of her time is taken up in the gym, there isn’t any.
Maisie’s story is told in a different way; using her friends and internal angst to let the reader know all about her recent relationship break up. This is in contrast to Jen because it gives you a lot of information about her recent life. However, whereas the character is more fully rounded, there is a large panel that is just awful. The background color scheme, the script and the overall effect is cringeworthily and catches in your throat. There is a groaning obviousness about the entire image which puts a dampener on Maisie’s story.
And then we get to present day. This part of the narrative is told via 10 facts about Derby Life. And therein lies this comics biggest problem. Roller Derby is very much a lifestyle choice for most women who play it. From personal experience I know who much of a playes life is taken up by the amateur sport. And what Slam! Is trying to do is show you what Derby Life will be like. This is admirable and relevant but it feels like it’s jumping ahead. The characters are barely developed, the plot only really becomes clear in the final pages and virtually nothing about Roller Derby is explained. A collection of images represents sections of the game and related ‘life’ but the lack of exposition means that without already knowing Roller Derby, these could be lost on casual readers.
It isn’t clear who the audience is for Slam! Do you have to be initiated into Roller Derby already or is it trying to convince you to give it a try? There is a story, with characters who have very good growth potential, but this gets lost in the mixed stylistic approach to introducing them and the game they play.
There is some very well-choreographed Derby action with the introduction of potentially exciting characters however there is no frame work or explanation about the game itself. The main audience appears to be seasoned Derby Players who like a touch of nostalgia.
There is a lot of potential in these pages and the Art work is mostly engaging and kinetic, which you need for a fast paced sport like Roller Derby. Pick up a copy then find a Roller Derby girl to explain it all to you. And hopefully, by the second issue, the narrative will have settled on one style.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he might use his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson
Slam! pushes some of the right buttons and looks outstanding. However it still needs to find it’s voice and find a way to appeal to Derby players and non player alike.