GLOW #1 – Comic Review

IDW’s first GLOW issue is a breezy delightful introduction.

Note: this review originally ran on Set the Tape (link).

Netflix’s GLOW absolutely reeks of the 80s, although despite the negative connotations of the term ‘reeks’ I do mean that in a positive way.  In the current pop culture landscape which has been stripping the bones off the decade synonymous with cocaine and synthesisers, precious few of those various films, TV shows, records etc. go beyond the obvious visual signifiers and nostalgia receptors.  TV shows like Stranger Things and Indie bands who eventually discovered synthesisers and drum machines bend over backwards to replicate the look of Amblin Entertainment productions or the sound of bands featured on one of those Best of New Wave compilations that line charity shop shelves in the months following Mother’s/Father’s Day, yet are still undeniably tethered to the modern decade in feel and fundamentals.  But GLOW accurately replicates the energy, style and tone of cheesy 80s movies and TV shows with an unashamed gleefulness – the tacky excesses, the juxtaposition of wild fun and hopeful possibilities with sobering realities, the willingness to go all-in on a musical montage with a conspicuous needle-drop and not calling it out as dumb – that places it head and shoulders above its contemporaries.

So, where else for the 2010’s most 1980s TV series to go except the medium of monthly tie-in comics?  A marriage so obvious, I’m quite shocked that Netflix hadn’t already inked a deal well in advance of the show’s initial 2017 debut to run in between seasons.  In any case, IDW have finally brought GLOW to the world of comic books with the first issue being released last week.  There’s extremely fitting pedigree on the creative side with Tini Howard on the script (likely thanks to her experience writing for Boom! Studios’ various WWE comics), Rebecca Nalty on the colours (previous of Heavy Vinyl), and Hannah Templer on the art.  That last one is especially telling since the first thing my mind jumped to upon glancing the main cover for Issue #1, a gorgeous recreation of the main promotional cast shot for the show, was Jem and the Holograms even before I found out that Templer was responsible for many issues of IDW’s Jem series.   (Show creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch are credited as Executive Producers.)

All the elements are on the table for a successful transfer to this new medium, and the inaugural issue provides a solid base to start from, particularly in its wholehearted embrace of 80s comic aesthetics and mechanics.  Templer’s art has a lovely rounded feel to it, almost sketch-like at points with the slight roughness of an 80s cartoonist’s pencil and traces of Shōjo manga to certain poses and panel layouts, complimented by the warm colours of Nalty which are bright without becoming gaudy.  Different decade (very early-00s), I know, but the visuals really do remind me of the sorts of comic magazines my brother and I would sometimes buy from the corner shop in our little village growing up, albeit of a higher-standard which seems very much intentional.

Howard’s script, meanwhile, goes a little hijinks-ier than the GLOW TV series usually does but not so much that it gets untethered from the reality of its source material.  Our first arc concerns Sam, in an effort to recoup losses caused from a few sponsors pulling out after a match “where someone decided it was a good idea to introduce weather effects and spray the audience with a hose,” having signed the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling up for an appearance at Reseda Wrestlefest, a convention filled with real professional wrestlers, and the opening issue follows the various ladies finding ways to raise the money required to pay for a motel.  (Sam and the network, unsurprisingly, aren’t exactly forthcoming with money or sympathies.)  Whilst the issue doesn’t devote a whole lot of time to explaining who all of the characters are by name – although the initial credits pages do suggest for those completely uninitiated in the world of GLOW to jump to a Casting Call at the issue’s back-end – and what the status of their relationships are, it is still remarkably easy to jump into regardless of your GLOW history.  I, for example, have only just started Season 2 (long off-topic story) yet never felt lost or like I had missed out on something by not keeping up with the show itself.

So, it’s very much a first issue, heavy on the table-setting and dropping a minor cliffhanger in just when things seem to be revving up.  Or perhaps it’s not.  Reading and re-reading this first slice, I slowly got the sense that Howard and company have designs less on exploring the serious systemic issues of sexism and stereotyping within the professional wrestling industry and the 1980s especially that the TV show often does – although parts of the former are still evident in Carmen’s fear of the GLOW ladies showing themselves up in front of “real” wrestlers – and more on crafting a fun light-hearted hangout comic.  To be clear, I in no way consider this a bad thing.  Many of the best moments of GLOW the TV series come from the cast hanging out, being awesome girlfriends and straight bonding, to such an extent that I would love a comic fixated largely on that.

Issue #1 gladly provides.  Its middle-stretch takes a vignette-style approach to the ladies pairing off in an effort to raise some money and said stretch is an absolute delight.  Howard captures the various characters and their dynamics very faithfully, right down to the specific way in which Ruth and Debbie’s relationship is still wounded but in a better state than at the show’s start, whilst pushing things just enough into the absurd at points that event feels uniquely suited to the medium of comics rather than just another episode of the TV show, in particular with a brief glimpse into Sheila’s scheme for money raising.  The inaugural GLOW is a breezy and attention-hooking delight that I look forward to reading more issues of in the near-future, especially with the concluding promise of official wrestling on the horizon.

Callum Petch feels the rain like an English summer, hears the notes from a disco song.

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