I’ve swung back and forth over Hannah Templer’s character designs during my time covering IDW’s GLOW comics. The almost uniform rounded softness of the faces works with the warm complementing colours provided by Rebecca Nalty to create this lovely semi-nostalgic visual design to the comic which evokes the spirit of the 80s without tipping over into garishness and feels weirdly comforting to read through. But said uniformity can also make certain cast members hard to tell apart at a glance at times, and from certain angles the facial expressions can look a touch uncanny and blank. Neither of the two critiques have been dealbreakers for me, but it has meant I’m rather a pendulum when it comes to the art of the series.
With GLOW vs. the Babyface #2, that pendulum has swung right the heck back to loving it again. Multiple times throughout this issue, she manages to draw the exact perfect facial expression to make a gag absolutely pop. The tired-of-this-shit zen-like expression Debbie has whilst Bash is freaking out, the slight shift Ruth has in two consecutive panels where the reason for her panic and the facial reaction to them has to be futilely reigned in, the exact right amount of a shit-eating grin on Elizabeth’s deadbeat mother. Her work mostly pays dividends with Sam, currently stuck in the grumpy filter-less yet nonetheless lovable reluctant dad role three times over for the GLOW girls, the tear-away Elizabeth, and his own actual daughter Justine who gets roped in to bond with Elizabeth and find the girl’s parents after Sam forgets to pick her up from school. His facial expressions are absolutely priceless for a good chunk of the issue, most especially during a double-hug near its end, and they do a fantastic job of communicating his crotchety well-meaning-in-spite-of-himself manner even without the reams of dialogue spilling forth from writers Aimee Garcia and AJ Mendez.
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Elsewhere, the issue very much doubles down on the lighter, zanier, and occasionally cheesier 80s comedic stylings of the arc’s debut. Our check-ins with the GLOW girls as they try their best to clean up the mess left by Elizabeth at the previous issue’s conclusion despite the unannounced early arrival of vulture-like reporter Wendi Blayze for “pre-interviews” are played strictly for wacky comedy of the kind where everything which can go wrong will go wrong repeatedly – it’s fair to say that things aren’t going well when Stacey and Dawn’s abysmal effort at cosplaying as Brits is the least of the group’s problems. Meanwhile, the search to return Elizabeth to her parents brings Sam, her and Justine to an ultra-fancy hotel, where the aforementioned deadbeat mother Sherri is currently residing. Through our time spent on this path, we end up learning even more facets of and reasons for Elizabeth’s personality as Garcia & Mendez try to paint an empathetic and somewhat complex picture of a neglected child wildly acting out in an effort to drown out the deep pit of grief which exists in her soul.
I’m not really sure it’s working at the moment, though. The intent is all there and I can see all the bits and pieces required to make this sing in the same way as the 80s Amblin-esque works they’re using as inspiration, but they’re struggling to make those pieces come together in a way that’s affecting. To some extent, I think it’s an issue of tone, the shifts along the emotional spectrum are currently too disparate – to such an extent that each of the three plots for the arc feel like they’re existing in entirely separate universes to one another – and the admittedly funny jokes are subtracting from the emotional nuance the pair want to convey. vs. the Babyface #2 is also a very verbose issue, many pages are practically stuffed to bursting with dialogue that, despite the best efforts of layout designer Christa Miesner, can be a touch overwhelming to stare at, and severely limit Templer’s ability to craft arresting images.
What’s more is that Garcia & Mendez don’t need to rely so heavily on dialogue to get their story across. In the C-plot, which is entirely unconnected to anything else in the issue, Arthie and Yolanda continue to bond, first with Yolanda stewing her ex’s new beau, then by a late-night excursion to Yolanda’s B-boy crew. It’s a genuinely sweet interlude which gains much of its power from Garcia & Mendez stepping back on the words and letting Templer & Nalty take over to translate their narrative into warm, joyous, multicoloured images. There’s a confidence and a relaxed nature to this thread which reminds me why I enjoyed the previous IDW GLOW arc so much, and is something that, even with the comedic pleasures their run is currently offering, I hope Garcia & Mendez can demonstrate more of in the rest of their story.
GLOW vs. the Babyface #2 is out now from IDW Publishing.