Review – ‘Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s’

As a huge football fan interested in comics, Roy of the Rovers seemed like the perfect fit for me, and it didn’t disappoint! For years I’ve heard phrases like “this is real Roy of the Rovers stuff” – such as surrounding underdogs Leicester’s incredible Premier League victory in 2015-16 – but I never fully understood what it meant. However, I saw just how popular this comic was when I took the annual home and my mum reminisced about how her younger brothers’ whole week used to build up to getting the new issue, and I think my dad spent more time reading it than I did!

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Roy of the Rovers is a British comic strip about fictional player-manager Roy Race and his team Melchester Rovers, which first appeared in 1954 and ran as a weekly (and later monthly) comic magazine from 1976 to 1995. That’s almost 40 years of adventures – Roy had an illustrious playing career and the writers were very creative with their storylines to keep it going! This annual is a collection of strips that were published in the 1980s; each weekly strip is 2 or 3 pages long and they run in chronological order. It felt slightly strange to read lots of strips in a row; each one is built to a climax, often with a cliffhanger, to create anticipation for the next week’s issue, but reading so many together meant it was always very high tempo and intense!

In this almost “soap opera” like annual, Roy is at the peak of his career – unleashing many a left-footed volley into the top corner – but is forced to deal with difficult off-the-pitch problems as well. Roy faces criticism after selling fans’ favourite Geoff Giles to their rival club, the Rovers are relegated after a poor season but bounce back the next year, Roy’s wife Penny leaves him because of his football obsession but then returns and becomes pregnant with their third child, and Roy is the victim of an assassination attempt! He is shot in the Rovers’ ground and the police investigation reveals many suspects – from his Mafia-involved cousin to jealous actor Elton Blake. Clearly the strip, though focused on football matches, has much more to it and there is lots of drama, tragedy and victory both on and off the field!

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Roy of the Rovers is definitely my favourite comic that I’ve read so far, mainly because of the football scenarios which as a player I can relate to, but also because of how easy it is to read; the time passed so quickly as I was constantly wanting to know what happened next! A man of outrageous skill and incredible integrity, Roy Race is an amazing character who I think every young reader wanted to be and he certainly is the perfect role model. However, things have changed since the ‘80s and I noticed many differences between football then and now; for example, nearly all of the Rovers are English and homegrown which is not the case in any top British teams nowadays! There are many examples of classic style, from the players’ haircuts (a few mullets) to their very short shorts. The art is colourful and detailed in a classic comic strip style.

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For me, the only thing that Roy of the Rovers is missing is any mention of girls and womens’ football! Of course in the ’80s it was much less popular and it has grown exponentially since then, so I can imagine that any possible modern-day reboot would perhaps feature an affiliated Melchester Rovers Ladies team! Overall, if you are a football fan now or were obsessed with Roy of the Rovers when you were younger, hopefully this has filled you with excitement (or nostalgia) and inspired you to dig out an issue or annual!

– Caitlin

Review – ‘Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted?’

My only experience with any kind of superhero franchise before last week was a trip to see The Amazing Spider-Man at the cinema with my dad five years ago; so reading this spin off, alternate-reality version of characters from Spider-Man comics was a bit of baptism by fire. Spider-Gwen is set in a universe – Marvel’s Earth 65 to be precise – where it wasn’t Peter Parker who was bitten by the radioactive spider, but Gwen Stacy! Hence Spider-Woman is created and dives into her own adventures; facing a battle with the Vulture (an infamous Spider-Man villain, I found out after reading it – one of the many things that went over my head), hiding the truth of her identity from her police chief father, and arguing with her fellow members of girl band The Mary Janes (a reference to another well known Spider-Man character).

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As a story, it is fast paced and very action packed, as one would expect from a superhero comic. However due to my lack of experience in this genre, I struggled to understand what was going on as I missed some references to previous comics (such as Spider-Verse) so found the plot hard to follow. Whilst reading comics over the last few weeks I’ve also discovered something which was especially highlighted to me during this book; as someone who’s grown up reading lots of novels, I tend to focus on the text in comics and not so much the pictures. It’s my autopilot to just read the text boxes or speech bubbles and not necessarily pay close attention to the art – however, in this comic the pictures are incredibly detailed with lots of action so I was missing vital information! I realised this midway through and so spent some time re-reading the comic and paying more attention to the art, which helped it to make sense.

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Spider-Gwen has put a very modern, edgy twist on traditional Spider-Man comics; firstly, the protagonist is a strong woman, which as a girl I find really inspiring but is also positive in terms of representation – and reading this so close to International Woman’s Day was good timing! Also the art style is a bit more modern and digital, while the colour scheme used by the artist is very bold and vivid. Again, this isn’t something I’m used to after my first experiences of graphic novels being with the black and white Persepolis and The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, but it was good to have a change!

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Honestly, I feel a little guilty saying that I didn’t really like Spider Gwen as I know that this is partly down to my inexperience with this genre of comics. So whether you are a hardcore superhero-traditionalist needing to get caught up on what’s cool these days, or a young hip comics fanatic looking for a superhero with a feminist twist, I recommend you give Spider-Gwen a go!

– Caitlin

Review – ‘Asterix in Britain’ by Goscinny & Uderzo

As a change from the three graphic novels I’ve reviewed so far, this week I was tasked by Damon with reading Asterix in Britain, volume 8 in the Asterix series. This is more the kind of comic that I had experience with before being introduced to DCCS; The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals were popular Christmas presents from my granny when I was younger. Asterix is definitely a classic – so much so that my dad was happily shocked to see me reading one of his childhood favourites!

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In this specific book, the hero Asterix is visited by his (very stereotypical) British cousin Anticlimax, who pleads for help on behalf of his village in withstanding the Roman invasion which has swept up the rest of the country – the Roman legions are beginning to take advantage of the Britons’ tendency to stop fighting at 5 o’clock every night and their refusal to engage at weekends. Accompanied by his strong, bumbling best friend Obelix and armed with a barrel of magic potion cooked up by the Gauls’ druid Getafix (one of the many good puns within the book – it does sometimes take a minute for the penny to drop), Asterix heads to Britain to assist his cousin. A stream of mishaps and adventures ensues; from being confronted by pirates to losing the magic potion amongst a sea of wine barrels (yes, the Romans did decide to taste-test them all, resulting in some giddy guards). Obelix is imprisoned in the Tower of Londinium, the gang confronts the Romans in slightly less organised formation, and Asterix is introduced to some of our strange British customs; from the national drink of ‘hot water with a spot of milk’ to a reckless game of rugby in which Obelix realises his true calling in life.

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The book is full of fun and I can see why Asterix was so popular amongst children – yet there are puns and ironies which are maybe only clear to older readers, making it a good read for all ages (this was Damon’s feedback, saying that a lot of the jokes went over his head as a child!) The art has a very classic style that fits exactly what I think of when I think of comics, and the pictures hold an incredible amount of detail, allowing them to be pored over endlessly! I’ve yet to read any other Asterix books but with such adventurous, lovable characters, I’m sure the excellence of this comic was no outlier of the norm!

– Caitlin

Review – ‘The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage’ by Sydney Padua

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When I finished my internship at DCCS in the summer holidays, Damon presented me with the perfect gift for an aspiring female mathematician with a newfound appreciation for comics – The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. At first glance it is a humorous tale of two eccentrically brilliant characters, but as soon as you dive in, the sheer amount of research and information that Padua has packed into this densely illustrated and written book becomes clear.

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The novel starts by telling the true story of Ada Lovelace, imaginative mathematician and daughter of infamous poet Lord Byron, and her collaborations with Charles Babbage, a mechanical engineer / “supergenius inventor” who originated the concept of the computer. However Babbage’s invention the Analytical Engine – basically the first computer – was never completed, hence inspiring Padua’s imagination and compelling her to write the rest of the book set in a ‘Pocket Universe’; an alternate reality where Babbage and Lovelace did finish the Analytical Engine in 1840, and embarked on many a crime-fighting adventure with it. I found the book captivating through its humorous portrayal of two historical figures who played hugely influential roles in the development of maths and computing, yet who I knew next to nothing about; we learn that Ada was raised to be the exact opposite of her father and was conditioned from an early age towards science and against imagination, yet it was her imagination that helped her conceptualise advanced maths. We learn that Babbage was an under appreciated, misunderstood, eccentric inventor who sometimes needed Ada to keep him under control (in the Pocket Universe, she prevents him from offending Queen Victoria who pops up in need of assistance).

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The book also explores complicated concepts such as imaginary numbers and how the original Difference Engine worked, so anyone with an interest in maths would also be entertained! As a maths geek myself I was inspired by Ada’s story and though a lot of the engineering ideas went over my head, it was great to read about maths in a light hearted form. Because of the incredible amount of historical information contained in the book, it is quite a commitment to read, but you are also able to skim over the footnotes and purely appreciate Padua’s detailed yet light art style. It is definitely one to reread as I gained a lot more from it the second time around!

– Caitlin

Review – ‘Nimona’ by Noelle Stevenson

In the summer, when she was our social media intern, Caitlin Mitchell, reviewed Persepolis. In her new role as our Digital Marketing volunteer Caitlin will be reviewing some more comics for us. Here is the first, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson:

As a relatively new entrant to the world of comics, I had no idea where to start and what to read, but Nimona was suggested to me by Damon (having not yet read it himself, this was quite a risky move) [although I’d only heard good things about it – Damon]. However it paid off as I was gifted with a humorous yet touching tale of adventure and conspiracy. The book follows Lord Ballister Blackheart, renowned ‘supervillain’ – I use inverted commas as we learn that the roles of good and evil in this story are not as they first appear – and his sidekick Nimona, a young, impulsive shapeshifter, as they attempt to expose the shady antics of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics.

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Led by Blackheart’s nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the Institution are after the pair, and their plotting leads to much havoc and many near misses before a final battle in the climax of the book. There are many factors that make Nimona a great read; I love the art style, which starts off simple but becomes more detailed and assured as the book goes on. I grew attached to the characters – to Blackheart, who, almost comically due to his supervillain reputation, seems to be the only character who cares about saving human lives, and who turns out to have a much deeper relationship with Goldenloin than we first realise. To Nimona, who is incredibly impulsive and fiercely loyal to her partner in crime, and whose shapeshifting power lends an air of magic to the story.

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

The book takes a darker turn in the latter few chapters as the true depth of Nimona’s power is revealed, yet Stevenson still manages to create laughter and uses dry humour very well throughout, making it an easy read! I think that the book also puts an almost apocalyptic twist on many aspects of today’s society; the need for a common enemy to unite people, even if the designated enemy is not to blame; the gap between different social classes, symbolised by the Institution’s disregard for civilian life; and the ongoing battle between science and faith, explored through scientist Blackheart’s need for an explanation of Nimona’s shapeshifting abilities. Nimona is a tale of loyalty, adventure, magic, science and deadpan humour, and I would definitely recommend that you give it a go!

– Caitlin

Review – ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi

Before I began reading Persepolis, I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first comic in book form (or what some people call graphic novels) – I didn’t even know they existed! I think Persepolis was maybe marketed towards people like me, who don’t have a lot of experience with comics, as from the outside it looks like an ordinary prose book. This is a clever technique and it paid off as I was more confident about starting it!

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The storyline grabbed me immediately; it is an autobiographical comic, memoirs about Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. I also didn’t know anything about this topic prior to reading Persepolis, but I’m interested in politics and feminism so the first chapter, where a young Marji is forced to wear the veil at school, captured my attention. The book taught me a lot about the Islamic Revolution, from the severe laws that were put in place by the new regime (such as the banning of alcohol) to the consequences that it had for Iranian families like the Satrapis, who are ultimately separated by Marji’s parents’ desire to protect their daughter when she is sent from their home in Iran to Vienna by herself. Although there was lots of information in the book, it never felt like a task; I think that it was easier to read because it was a comic, rather than a prose book. Lots of the story was told through the images, along with Marji’s narration, but there wasn’t as much text as in a prose book which I think made it flow very well, and meant I could read a lot of it in one go without getting tired. I think that overall it being a comic added to the book; the gutter, the spaces between the panels in a comic, allowed parts of the story to be more implicit than they would be in a prose book – you make the links between the images automatically in your head, rather than being told explicitly what happens.

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The pictures in Persepolis were in black and white, and were drawn in quite a simple style, which previously I could have thought of as boring, but which was actually really engaging. It meant that more emphasis was put on the characters and the storyline, as opposed to bright colours and really detailed images. As someone who has never read a comic like this before, I really enjoyed Persepolis and would definitely recommend it both to people like me, who don’t know a lot about comics, and to diehard comic fans! The story ends almost on a cliff hanger as the last panel is Marji about to board her flight to Vienna, so I am definitely going to read the next book – Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return – to see where Marjane Satrapi ended up!

Caitlin Mitchell

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The final page of Persepolis