Roller Derby can trace its roots back to the banked track roller skating marathons of the 1930s (and as far back as the 1880s), and since the early 2000s has enjoyed a resurgence that is still growing and evolving. With both banked track and flat track versions of the game, there are hundreds of leagues and thousands of players around the world. Roller Derby in popular culture is something very interesting. If you turn on the TV and there’s roller derby involved, it almost always takes place on a traditional banked track. Just a partial list includes the short lived 70s sitcom Rollergirls, RollerGames and RollerJam in the 80s and 90s, the Rollergirls reality series in the 2000s, and (of course) on the big screen was 2009’s Whip It: all of these centred around banked track roller derby. Kath & Kim, CSI Miami, Bones, and Bunheads all feature episodes about banked track derby. Some of this may be because the original derby resurgence in Texas was banked track, but most of it comes from the L.A. Derby Dolls, a large and visible banked track league, being at the epicenter of the tv/film production universe: Los Angeles. Thus, even though flat track roller derby has grown to be played by hundreds of leagues worldwide, the very few, almost exclusively American, banked track players get the all glory. I mention this not to belittle banked track athletes in any way, just as an observation of an interesting phenomenon. To be fair, I should point out that I have traveled all over North America working and playing at every level of flat track roller derby. It may be a touchy observation.
The history lesson is over, let’s talk about Slam! from BOOM! Studios BOOM! Box imprint. Slam! Centers on the story of Jennifer Chu (aka: Knockout) and Maise Huff (aka: Ithinka Can or CanCan) as they evolve from strangers with normal lives into best friends and fresh meat derby skaters, then on to full fledged players on separate teams with the Eastside Rollergirls.
This comic is really good. Veronica Ribon’s story and Veronica Fish’s art, combined with the bold coloring of Brittany Peer, all merge beautifully to give a look and feel that is unique in the comic book world.
The first issue introduces Jennifer Chu, a lonely, bored, boring, Master’s student. When she gets invited to her first roller derby game, she has her mind blown and signs up to learn to play. We also meet Maise Huff, whose world was shaken by the end of a long term relationship. They bond over their shared experience learning roller derby, while also learning to love themselves. As Issue #1 comes to a close, they each learn that they have been drafted onto different teams.
Issue #2 shows the individual struggles that both players go through as they try to grow from fresh meat trainees and into playing with higher level players. It also delves into their lives off the track, as the limited time they have separates them as friends, and as each other’s support system.
Off track pressures, and new on track friendships, further separate Knockout and CanCan in issue #3. The issue closes as the two players are kicked out of a practice for arguing with each other.
The characters, feelings, and drama in this series aren’t just well written, they are authentic. This isn’t superhero schlock or goofy high school hijinx. This is a well written story about real people, with real emotions, going through real personal growth.
It doesn’t matter if you have seen or played roller derby before. If you have, it doesn’t matter if it was banked track or flat track. Slam! is a wonderful, deep read with great art. I give it 4 out of 5, and suggest you take a look.