Grand Slam RomanceGrand Slam Romance

Writer: Olivia Hicks
Artist: Emma Oosterhous
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts Surely

There’s a difference between sex in comics and horniness in comics. Illustrating sex doesn’t necessarily mean it’s indulging or fostering horniness. Sometimes it could just be a means to an end, to celebrate or shock or challenge an idea. Creating a space for horniness, to tell a story that makes readers bite their lips while reading a comic, well, that’s something else entirely. I can’t really think of a comic that pulls that off convincingly, to be honest. That is, until I read Olivia Hicks and Emma OosterhousGrand Slam Romance.

There’s no way to prepare you for this book. Like the mysteries of attraction itself, you have to jump in, keep up, and enjoy every minute of it. Grand Slam Romance follows a softball league that that counts among its star players special Magical Girls that are basically super Saiyan versions of themselves that represent the power of Queerness unchained. There’s a bit of Sailor Moon in them as their transformations see a change in gear and uniform along with colorful special effects and a lot of electricity to heighten the effect.

On one side we have Mickey Monsoon, an all-star pitcher of the kind that turns teams into championship contenders. On the other is Astra Maxima, a Magical Girl that makes opposing teammates buckle under her sexual energy. Monsoon and Maxima have a past, and from there things get hot, extra hot, spicy, and then emotional (mixed in with hot).

Hicks’ scripting is punchy and fast. Characters trade lines back and forth with a playful force that keeps the reading pace on a kinetic high. Each player, whether they’re central or secondary, feels storied. They’re not generic faces used for set-dressing. They contribute to conversations, have feelings, and carry specific traits that readers can identify with. It’s as if the softball team mentality carries over to the way the story is told. Romance books can be quite intimate and, in parts, isolated. Here, it’s a team effort.

That horniness I was talking about earlier, about how few books manage to get that across, comes from Hick’s stellar character work and sharp humor. There’s an eagerness to explore different aspects of comedy and sex within the steamier situations that is unafraid to go silly, at times, to get at something deeper. Monsoon and Maxima are wrapped around each other one moment only to later be involved in a conspiracy involving a horse the next. As all this happens, Hicks knows when to slow the pacing to let the characters open up about their frustrations and how it can lead them down a self-destructive path.

Oosterhous is fully aware of the emotional and sexual arcs these characters possess, illustrating them with an unapologetic raw energy that allows each component to feel unique and honest within the story. A lot is owed to the amount of living details present in each panel. Rooms have posters or colorful pieces of clothing strewn about that look like they belong specifically to the character that owns it. Softball uniforms, bats, and the Magical Girl outfits all come with specific fits, wrinkles, and variations that help make each player feel like a special and crucial part of the unit.

Oosterhous’ approach to the sex scenes is especially enticing. They’re not explicit. Rather, they’re orchestrated around intimate highlights that bring you closer to the characters involved. Each of the moments that make it on the page tease something steamier, and it lets the reader fill in the blanks. It generates a lot of sexual power and it trusts the reader to go as far as they want with it without forcing the outcome. In that sense, Grand Slam is quite economical when it comes to these scenes, but going that way actually makes those sequences more intense. They ultimately become more empowering for the reader given the moments they get are more than enough to spur the imagination.

In addition to all this, Hicks and Oosterhous still manage to provide a legitimate sports story with stakes that build up each game. Monsoon considers jumping teams, tournament rankings play a role, and worries over outside influences making it onto the field all converge to tell a fully-formed softball saga. Hicks offers color commentary in a funny but convincing way regarding the sport while Oosterhous makes sure the flow of the game carries weight. It even features a Jason Statham lookalike that plays like a classic sports enthusiast that stumbles his way into the league’s most important games by virtue of failing upwards. Not a beat is missed.

Grand Slam Romance is in a category all its own. I’m not just saying that. Hicks and Oosterhous have managed to harness a special kind of horniness that invites imagination and welcomes exploration. The only other book that I can think of that manifests this, to an extent, is Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, but they’re not the same. Grand Slam Romance’s Queer heart beats at a different pace, mixing sports, romance, and sex for an experience that’ll make you keep the book by your bedside for repeat visits.


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