Jennifer Chu (Knockout) has always kept her body fit alongside her studies, which is why one day at the gym she’s passed a flyer for the East Side Roller Girls. Masie Huff (Ithinka Can or CanCan) arrived after discovering her boyfriend was cheating on her. They’re the newbies, trying out and about to discover like so many before them how roller derby is a way of life to cure most ills.

An incredible emotional empathy transmits from Pamela Ribon’s writing. She wants you to like both her entry level characters and the world of roller derby, and pulls out all the stops to ensure you do. Maisie and Jen are an engaging pair, both talented, but Maisie lacks confidence and even Jen finds there some are some things she can’t master instantly, which comes as a surprise to her. Starting with them, Ribon gradually expands the cast, building some beyond initial cartoon assumptions from the awesome Velvet Coffin to the not quite as awesome, but very likeable Theo. It’s amazing how quickly Ribon defines someone, and then adds depth via an anecdote or background.

As roller derby consists of constant flowing action, without a sense of movement much of Slam! would feel very flat, but Veronica Fish’s loose style ensures the cast keep moving, while the bright colours applied by Brittany Peer are almost as important in cementing the flash and speed. Fish nails some moments incredibly well, with Ribon knowing when to let her tell the story, and her page revealing Velvet Coffin’s day job is stupendous.

The plot moves as fast as skates, but the necessity of explaining roller derby and introducing a wide cast eventually results in an artificially generated schism, more melodrama than drama, used to set up everything very nicely for a tense finale. That ends in a cliffhanger, to be continued in The Next Jam, but the plot is very much secondary to the empowerment and inspirational tone Ribon propagates throughout Slam! Time and again she delivers some classic dialogue or a great emotional moment, and it makes Slam! stand out for all the right reasons. Too many publishers are bandwagon-jumping the increasing demographics for women reading comics, and too great a percentage of their publications are contrived, but Slam! is the real deal, an acutely well observed upbeat celebration.