Boom! Studios wants you to fight like a girl with the release of their latest Boom! Box series. Read on for our review of “Hi-Fi Fight Club” #1, which contains minor spoilers.
Written by Carly Usdin
Illustrated by Nina Vakueva and Irene Flores
Colored by Rebecca Nalty
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Film and TV director Carly Usdin (Suicide Kale, RuPaul’s Drag Race) teams up with breakout artist Nina Vakueva for a new series that’s music to our ears! New Jersey, 1998. Chris has just started the teen dream job: working at Vinyl Mayhem, the local record store. She’s prepared to deal with anything-misogynistic metalheads, grunge wannabes, even a crush on her wicked cute co-worker, Maggie. But when Rory Gory, the staff’s favorite singer, mysteriously vanishes the night before her band’s show in town, Chris finds out her co-workers are doing more than just sorting vinyl…her local indie record store is also a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club!
There are so many wonderful influences swirling around in “Hi-Fi Fight Club” #1 that you’d be forgiven for feeling a certain amount of nostalgia for a record store you’ve never been in. That’s the instant attraction and charm of this book, though: Usdin, Vakueva and the team have created a world that’s at once familiar and almost real, evoking the memories a lot of us have of hanging around the local record store when we were teens. Even if you weren’t a teen in 1998, the things that matter to these characters, the problems they face and the passion they have for the things they love are relatable to anyone who was (or even is) a teen.
We follow Chris, a sixteen (almost 17!) year old who’s been working at Vinyl Mayhem for exactly a month, and for all intents and purposes she’s living the dream – a job at the coolest record store in town, working alongside her crush, Maggie, and getting the chance to meet her favorite band Stegosour when they come to town. Chris is the perfect entry into this world, as she’s literally all of us when we were that age: anxious, overthinking, in love with everything with a passion that only teens seem to have. The rest of the cast are much calmer and more collected which, because we’re seeing them through Chris’s eyes, of course they are. There’s the previously mentioned Maggie, “literally the cutest”; D, the surly goth; Kennedy, the music oracle who’s “impossibly cool,” and Irene, their boss. Most of the issue is building up the group dynamic through an average “day-in-the-life,” with only the slightest hint at the titular fight club. Chris, as the newest employee, is yet to be indoctrinated into the extra-curricular vigilante girl-gang so, as our gateway into the world, it makes sense that we’re also kept in the dark for as long as possible. It takes a mystery disappearance to drop on their doorstep for the “Hi-Fi Fight Club” to spring into action in the final pages of the issue.
There are definitely hints of “Empire Records” in the setting of the issue, but the influences go beyond any pop-cultural touchstones set in record stores. The energy of the script and the voices of the characters feel influenced by books like “Scott Pilgrim,” and the Girl Power ethos and spirit of adventure is reminiscent of fellow Boom! Box series “Lumberjanes.” With that in mind, it’s fair to say that “Hi-Fi Fight Club” sits among some impressive books, but thankfully such comparisons aren’t detrimental to this series. In fact, if this issue is anything to go by, “Hi-Fi Fight Club” more than holds its own amongst its peers. The book touches on these influences without ever being overwhelmed by them, and always maintains its own fresh voice and style.
Helping bring that style – and the world of 1998 – to life is Nina Vakueva’s pencils. Instantly there’s an edge of manga stylings to Vakueva’s characterisations, especially in the exaggerated movement and facial expressions of main character Chris, and the pacing of the emotional moments. The inks by Irene Flores and colors by Rebecca Nalty help bring the world to life, adding a depth and a warmth that only increases the charm of the book. This is an inviting, engaging series, and the bright colors and bold tones play a big part of that.Continued below
This is a book meant to evoke a certain time period, and while the style of the book is very 2017, the aesthetic does well to take the reader back to the late ‘90s. The outfits are the best example of this, but the hairstyles too, and even the occasional tattoo, are perfectly suited to the era. It’s not overly stressed within the narrative, however, and for the most part “Hi-Fi Fight Club” could take place at any time.
What’s more important than the time period is the feeling of what it was like to be a teenager. Yes, it’s set in a record store in the late ‘90s, but that’s merely set-dressing. This could easily be a comic store in the late 2000s, or a clothing store in the ‘80s; the relatable aspect of “Hi-Fi Fight Club” #1 is in the charming cast of characters, and the way that Usdin, Vakueva and the team evoke the teen years of your life – be it ten years ago, twenty years, or even if you currently are a teen. There’s an awkwardness that’s intrinsic to the experience, but at its heart it’s about passion for the things you love, a desire to fit in with your peers, and the need to find yourself. Chris thinks music will help her figure out who she is, looking around and seeing everyone else so certain about who they are, not realising – as most of us didn’t – that not only are you not supposed to know who you are when you’re sixteen, but that everyone else is in the same boat.
“Hi-Fi Fight Club” #1 saves its core concept until the final few pages, so it’s up to the next issue to deliver on the promise of a teen-girl vigilante gang. Here, though, we’re treated to a fun, charming and instantly lovable slice-of-life teen adventure, with just the right mix of humor and heart.
Final Verdict: 8.4 – Pitch-perfect characters and the start of an intriguing mystery, with good humor and charm for days.