A new GLOW arc kicks off with a new creative team… and the growing pains that fact insinuates.
Note: this review originally ran on Set the Tape (link).
Following on from a highly successful Summer run satiating fans of the show during the Netflix series’ off-season, IDW’s comic spin-off of GLOW returns for another four-issue run to tide everyone over until the show’s final season next year. But for its latest run, this one entitled vs. the Babyface, there has been a change in authorship with Aimee Garcia and AJ Mendez taking over writing duties from Tini Howard. The switch brings with it a surface-level sense of additional authenticity – after all, Mendez was formerly a highly-decorated trailblazing wrestler in WWE for the first half of the decade – but also a slightly worrisome scepticism, since neither woman had credited comics writing experience before now. Could they take over what has been a low-key, tonally-balanced, enjoyable highlight of IDW’s tie-in roster with relative smoothness?
The answer, based on this first entry, is largely positive. Whereas vs. the Star Primas kept itself grounded and somewhat topical, addressing issues of ingrained industry sexism and differences in wrestling ideology in a light manner not particularly tied down to the 80s period setting of GLOW’s universe, the first issue of Babyface indicates a shift into a more cartoonish goofy 80s tone and subject matter. Rather than institutional sexism and an anxiety over what “real” wrestling even constitutes, the societal threat to the GLOW girls this time is a hit-piece from a local television station painting the women and their profession as harmful to children due to a recent rise in elementary school fist-fights; a very late-80s/early-90s kind of moral panic. And rather than a group of accomplished beefy professional lady wrestlers, the outside force encroaching on GLOW’s territory this time revolves around a precocious runaway child called Elizabeth who idolises the women, particularly Carmen, and has recently been living under their training ring.
It’s a shift that works, for the record. As I have repeatedly mentioned, GLOW is a series that frequently and faithfully invokes the spirit, conventions and tropes of 80s media – rather than merely slapping a coat of neon paint and NOW! That’s What I Call the 80s needle-drops over everything before calling it a day – and so such an embrace of cheesy touchstones, in particular a reveal as to Elizabeth’s true nature that sets up the rest of the run, is befitting the series. Mendez and Garcia even have returning artist Hannah Templer and colourist Rebecca Nalty whip up an honest-to-God montage sequence about midway through the issue that I could already hear the low-rent synthesised mall-pop soundtrack to in my head!
That said, there are some noticeable growing pains. There’s a premium on exposition in this issue which forces a lot of the fun character beats and pairings off to the side – after taking centre-stage for Star Primas, Ruth here gets reduced to quickfire jokes about her habitual over-desperation for camera-time, for just one example. It’s often very humorously written exposition, and aided by Templer’s usual quality panel composition, but still an abundance of exposition that comes from a necessary resetting and settling into the new voices of the comic as they get their bearings. (Far better are the issue’s opening two pages which do an excellent job, sans any words, of laying the groundwork for the run going forward.) Future issues will hopefully see such creases ironed out, with any luck. It’s a solid debut at the helm for Garcia and Mendez. Here’s hoping their subsequent issues will build upon this!
Callum Petch, pump up the volume, dance, dance!