GLOW Summer Special – Comic Review

IDW’s pot-sweetening one-shot provides a fun if slightly frivolous interpretation on the GLOW formula.

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

Whilst the first story arc for our comics-based Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is preparing to conclude, IDW have sweetened the pot for the soon to be released trade collection by putting out a special Summer-focussed one shot in the meantime.  Not only does this one-shot have nothing to do with the current story arc – hell, it’s not even set at the same time as the other comics; the initial title card of “Chavo’s Boxing Gym, San Fernando Valley” seemingly places the date as some time in late Season 2 before everyone had to up sticks for Las Vegas in the upcoming season of the show – it also brings on an entirely different creative team.  Devin Grayson of the famed 2002 – 2006 run of Nightwing takes over the scripting, Lisa Sterle of gothic horror series Long Lost brings her pens to the artwork, and the highly prolific Triona Farrell handles the colours.

It’s a line-up change which is immediately apparent, particularly in the artwork.  Outlines on characters and objects are thicker and more pronounced than we’ve seen from regular series artist Hannah Templer, whilst the colours are similarly bolder and more willing to contrast for an extra pop than the warmer and softer tones found in Rebecca Nalty’s work.  That said, it’s not a major change, overall the art here is still close enough to the house style of the regular series that it doesn’t contradict the rest of the book, and these comments are not to disparage either team’s approach to this particular creative endeavour.  Instead, Sterle and Farrell have put their own spin on the general aesthetic and brought it more into line with the script that Grayson has concocted whilst adding their own little touches – I am particularly fond of the different stylised speech bubbles for both Ruth and Debbie whenever they start speaking in their Zoya and Liberty Belle personas.

Said script is situated in a specific 80s anxiety: the threat of nuclear annihilation during boiling point tensions in the Cold War.  The GLOW squad are acting as a field-trip assembly for Justine’s high-school (because 80s) with Ruth, Debbie, and Stacey & Dawn putting together a main event proxy war between America and Russia with additional nuclear (read: Stacey and Dawn’s Ozone and Nuke personas) firepower.  The casual joviality about the idea of mutually assured destruction shared by the older wrestlers – plus Bash who, after an evening televised viewing of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, comes up with the idea to have the match take place in a hastily-built and shoddily-held-together “GLOWdome” – contrasts effectively with the very real anxiety and fear in Justine and her fellow classmates over the same possibility, and Sterle’s more detailed facial expressions communicate that gradual dissipation of excitement at pro wrestling to gnawing anxiety over the people in the ring treating that fear so flippantly.

©IDW, 2019.

A lot of media nowadays which is set in this kind of time period also often treats the nuclear paranoia somewhat flippantly, pointing to the dark absurdity of thinking that “duck and cover” would actually help in any way or treating the very real risk that Reaganism and post-Brezhnev USSR uncertainty would push the world over the edge as nothing but hysteria.  Grayson’s script doesn’t do that but it also explores, through the one-shot’s admittedly limited scope, how entertainment is capable of soothing such fears and presenting them in such a way that they can be drained of their crippling power to provide the catharsis that real-life cannot, regardless of the ridiculousness of the depiction.  It’s an inspiring thesis and manages to touch on the generational divide of the experience (the unspoken fact that people like Ruth and Sam were alive for the Cuban Missile Crisis so can relate to the younger generation going through this fear for the first time) around the edges.

The issue also allows us to see the Gorgeous Ladies as professionals and performers, damn-good ones too, which the show and the comic so far haven’t always been able to properly depict due to the need for interpersonal drama and all.  But I very much appreciated that angle: of seeing everybody involved break down their match layout in a way that keeps specific favoured spots whilst still having them make sense after notes from producers, of reading the crowd and adapting accordingly, of a tangible sense of fun all these ladies have with their work.  It’s a slight issue, the solo issue only covers about 20 of the 32 pages with much of the rest given over to an extended preview for IDW’s new inbound series Marilyn Manor, but the GLOW Summer Special is nonetheless a welcome addition to the series so far.

Callum Petch can fly away to the end of the world but where does it get them to?

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