By Dustin Cabeal
Roller Derby. That is the subject of SLAM! from Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish. I have read a lot of a roller derby comics in my time at Comic Bastards. I know that seems weird, but I can think of more than a few titles off the top of my head. I’m not here to review them, though; I’m here to review SLAM!.
Almost all roller derby comics suffer from one of two problems. They either A) love to tell you the rules of roller derby or B) love to show you how people get into roller derby. It’s a shame because it’s something I think could work quite easily in the world of comics, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t. SLAM! suffers more from the latter than the former in case you were wondering.
The comic follows two characters, and I will only refer to them by their derby name since that’s how it goes in real life too. Did I mention that I know a bit about derby outside of comics? I do. There’s Knockout and Ithinka Can. The issue shows us how they enter the world of derby and some general shots of them becoming friends.
You might have noticed that I haven’t used the word “story” yet in this review. That was intentional. There’s not a story. Not a traditional narrative at least. There’s just a progression of events that all relate, but the comic makes hard cuts after showing something. We’re shown Knockout and Ithinka Can meeting. After that, we just assume they’re friends because there’s no work done with the narrative to show us that. We have a vague understanding of their life. Ithinka Can’s is a bit easier to understand because she’s been dumped by a cheating boyfriend recently and is starting life over. But that’s it. That’s all I know about her. I don’t know what she does for work, how long the relationship was, nothing. With Knockout… she’s smart. Seems to have a lot going on in life… works out… that’s about it.
I do have a general feel for the characters due to the way that Pamela Ribon presented the information, but I have no clue about the story. It jumps around from the future to the past, the present, to a giant one sheet that cheats all the important info about the characters. This info isn’t so much learned through the progression of the story and character development as it is told to us. You now know this, and that’s all you need to know. I’m sorry, but I don’t read that way.
The art is the saving grace, but it can only do so much. Veronica Fish lifts the comic up on her shoulders and carries it to the finish line. It’s a good-looking book when there’s no derby happening. Yeah, sorry, but the derby elements lack the most detail, and all the backgrounds are reduced to solid colors giving you zero sense of the ring and the environment. There’s also no sense of movement or speed when the women are skating. Just still figures. The art is good, but as long as it’s illustrating a story without structure, it’s only going to be able to do so much.
If the goal of this issue was to be inventive and highlight the fun parts of roller derby, then it failed. I can see the effort. I can see it trying, but in the end, it didn’t work. I wasn’t left wanting more or understanding what more of this story would look like. Two cats fight and it’s left for us to assume that these two friends will also fight. The story isn’t subtle and really I still have a hard time calling it a story because it was too focused on the derby element rather than the characters and their journey. If I want derby, I’ll go watch derby. I don’t need to read a comic about it.
Writer: Pamela Ribon
Artist: Veronica Fish
Colorist: Brittany Peer
Publisher: BOOM! Studio