GLOW #3 – Comic Review

GLOW #3 continues the comic’s accurate translation of the essence of its source material.

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

GLOW #2, as mentioned in my review at the time, didn’t climax on a cliffhanger so much as stop awkwardly with the unannounced arrival of Dawn & Stacey, the Toxic Twins, bailing out a soon-to-be battered Ruth by knocking one of the Star Primas out from behind.  Upon further reflection, that at least makes for a justifiable conflict generator in a follow-up issue: how are the two sides who have just come to actual physical blows supposed to come to level-enough terms to construct a series of wrestling matches?  It would seem that things had suitably blown over, which makes it all the weirder when GLOW #3 just… doesn’t address it at all.  Not only do we start an unspecified amount of time removed from those last few panels, with the way that the issue unfolds it’s like they never happened to begin with.  I had to scroll back through the first several pages a few times to check I hadn’t accidentally missed anything.

Perhaps it is supposed to be excused by the idea of both the Gorgeous Ladies and the Star Primas being professionals grinning and bearing it whilst becoming slowly more receptive to each other’s points of view.  #3’s conflict stems from the fundamental clashing of styles between Anasthesia, the head coach of the Primas, and Ruth, the head-by-default-but-nobody-other-than-her-is-happy-about-it coach of the Gorgeous Ladies.  Anasthesia feels that the action in the ring is all the storytelling that professional wrestling needs – during a spar, she notes that Ruth is faster than her and there’s a simple story the audience can latch onto – whilst Ruth believes that the gaudy complex theatrics of her troupe of actresses can be communicated effectively in the ring and that adds to the audience’s investment.  The balance of character-based spectacle vs. technical acumen and wrestling ability, soap opera vs. athleticism.  Once again, writer Tini Howard demonstrates a thorough understanding of the philosophies of pro wrestling – in particular, how this debate from back in the 80s is still raging today in 2019 with the disappearance of kayfabe and constant online debates over the worth of work-rate vs. distinctive character – and works such explorations seamlessly into character-based drama.

Ruth’s natural yet also deliberate slide into unofficial head coach for the GLOW girls continues her innate ambitious neediness arc from the TV series and is the centrepiece of a standout scene where she retreats to Sam – who, it turns out, has been spending much of the time since the crew made it to Reseda sitting in the van eating tacos – for a one-sided conversation about her predicament.  Whilst perhaps a little too ‘this is where we directly spell out the theme of the episode’ in execution, it’s a surprisingly even-handed exploration of the issue, a legitimate ‘both sides have a point’ greying of an issue a lesser work would have simplified into an either/or situation.  Especially when factoring in the growing realisation in-universe by the Gorgeous Ladies that they have actual legitimate fans (as spotted in our brief check-in with Tammé) and enough cred within the industry that it’s actually vag-blocking poor horny Melrose.  I have a decent enough idea of how this first story arc is going to play out by now but, much like with many a pro wrestling story, that’s a testament to the high-quality storytelling fundamentals currently being displayed; I know I’ll be satisfied should my hunch be confirmed.

Meanwhile, we also get some more glimpses of actual wrestling and here’s where there may potentially be some drawbacks in artist Hannah Templer and colourist Rebecca Nalty’s choice in style for the series.  Ruth sparring with Anasthesia makes good use of juxtaposing the usual facially-detailed and slightly angular character designs, offset by warm colouring, with simplified cartoony takes upon impacts to demonstrate how thoroughly Ruth has the wind knocked out of her when hit with a clothesline by the bigger muscular Anasthesia.  But a later journey to an impromptu hardcore match in which two wrestlers (referred to in the cast list as “The Tacky Twins”) take a pair of bumps into a mountain of thumbtacks lacks the stomach-churning punch that the spot has in reality, lessened by the facial detail not extending so much to characters’ bodies and the aforementioned warm smoothness of the colouring.  It is, admittedly, a style choice which has otherwise worked until now – ‘aesthetically appealing’ is a high priority for me when I’m reading a comic – but it doesn’t sell the sequence in-universe like it should, particularly since this is hinted to become a significant plot point later on for characters we care about.

Still, it’s a minor quibble for now.  One counterbalanced by the non-showy frequency in which Templer includes various GLOW ladies in the backgrounds of scenes they’re otherwise not the focus of.  GLOW #3 is very Ruth-heavy, with brief detours for Jenny and Carmen, but this kind of detail keeps the issue still feeling like an ensemble piece.  They’re recognisable but not heavily dwelled-upon in a manner that creates the impression of these ladies having pairings and experiences off-panel we’re not always privy to, like real humans rather than fictional characters.  I highly appreciate that and it’s indicative of the team’s commitment to the little details which make each issue so far an overall delight despite the odd stumble.

Callum Petch, for a little while, was falling in love.

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