Slam! #1 feels necessary right now. First off, it’s unabashedly a book for and about women. Written by Pamela Ribon (a TV comedy writer relatively new to comics) and illustrated by Veronica Fish (of hip new “Archie” line), “Slam!” focuses on the hard-hitting but joyous world of Roller Derby teams. It’s a fun first issue that earnestly paints Roller Teams as places where women can be themselves and find renewed strength and purpose though the activity of beating the crap out of one another as they roller skate around a track. I wouldn’t advise the President-Elect to try grabbing any of these particular women without their consent, though I’d love to see him try and get what he deserves.
The issue works best when it’s communicating how the brutally hard but ultimately freeing exercise of becoming an athlete in this arena empowers the women at the story’s center. There’s Jennifer Chu, a gifted geologist on her way to getting her masters and who probably has always done everything that’s expected of her. And there’s Maisie Huff, a woman who has placed all her eggs in the basket of getting married to the love of her life, only to get her heart broken and lose direction and her sense of self-worth. It’s great to see female comic characters who look like average everyday women in a story that revolves around the joy of learning to master and compete in something that’s really, really hard. Both Maisie and Jennifer (or Ithinka Can and Knockout while on the track) are winning and interesting characters that feel familiar without being cliched or boring.
Where I think the issue misses the boat a bit is in two areas. First, while Slam! #1 tells us that people love Roller Derby, I’m not sure it actually shows us why these specific characters fall so hard for it. We see them go their first practice, we see them say they’re hooked, but I don’t get to feel the moment that sells me on why that happens. What is it about the first practice that makes Maisie or Jennifer want to dedicate so much of their time to it? It’s almost as if Ribon and Fish feel as if it would be obvious to anyone just by seeing a Roller Derby for the first time why you’d become obsessed. Maybe that’s true, but I still felt we kind of missed that moment where each of our protagonists fell in love. The best way I can describe it is if you were reading a story about a first date, and it’s couple sitting down in a restaurant, and they say hello, and then the next panel has a caption like “Then we fell in love” over a picture of them laughing or something. I believe that they fell in love if you tell me so, but I don’t get why they fell in love because I’m not inside that moment. In a story about two people finding a new passion, I think we could have used a little more of the seduction.
I think this first problem stems from the second, which is a bit of an over reliance on its sense of humor. This is a tricky thing, because other people love and can totally get behind the type of never-ending quippiness of Slam! #1. Don’t get me wrong, I think all the jokes are good, and I think one of the best things about the issue is its stylish sense of joy. But there’s a feel that there has to be at least five snarky, witty or quirky little touches on every page, and it’s just a bit much. It’s not that I thought any of the humor didn’t work, it’s just that I think things would have landed stronger if it didn’t feel like a joke-a-minute. It’s entirely possible that this will even out as the series goes and we settle into a storyline, though.
Fish’s art is a perfect match to the script. I love how all the people in the book look like people you will see in your everyday life. The women in “Slam!” all look great, but none of them look fake. It praises the idea that it’s a good thing to be healthy and fit and athletic, but acknowledges that doesn’t mean your body should look a certain way at all, which is awesome. And while the book is definitely set in the real world, the action still has impact and dynamism, and Fish isn’t afraid to push things a little here and there, exaggerating for comic or dramatic effect.
Slam! #1 shows a lot of promise. Though it’s not without a couple minor flaws, the joy it exhibits, its winning characters, and its focus on one of the few sports dominated and defined by women, makes its sense of fun infectious. 7.5/10,