What does it mean to actually be equal? For all intents and purposes equality should be when one is given the ability to pursue any path or goal in their life regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation given that they have the ability to achieve it. This philosophy usually draws criticism of encouraging tokenism, but its the last bit about ability that pundits often overlook. As long as someone has the ability shouldn't they be allowed to pursue whatever goal they want regardless of how much it goes against the norm? That's the central question behind the upcoming Oni Press graphic novel Play Ball, a coming-of-age story that focuses on the ongoing debate of gender equality and how that gender equality effects a high school baseball team.
Play Ball follows a young woman named Dashiell Brody who has one goal when she starts going to her new school: to play baseball. It should be noted that Dashiell doesn't set out to create any problems, she simply takes advantage of her school not explicitly saying that girls cant try out for the school's baseball team. As she learns however this is because its simply implied that boys play baseball and girls play softball, and Dashiell is denied the chance to even try out. From there the story really takes off, getting into some deeper gender equality issues.
The effectiveness of Play Ball as a story hinges on its protagonist, and Dashiell is a good one. Its made pretty clear early on she has no interest in being a charity case, she just want to be given the opportunity to try out like everybody else. Although it certainly helps that she has the skill to back it up. Writers Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir make you understand why playing baseball is so important to her and why that importance might make her do and say things that hurt those close to her. The book, smartly, doesn't focus that much on baseball itself. Even if you don't know anything about the game you'll follow along just fine. Instead the games are used more as a measuring stick for the character's growth.
Artist Jackie Lewis has a nice expressive style that works well for this kind of story, with a strong emphasis on movement and facial expressions. However something that bothered me was that every once in awhile the characters eyes would become incredibly large, almost like what you would see in anime, which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if that style was consistent throughout. But it just comes out of nowhere. I cant tell if she's doing it to press a dramatic point, comedic effect, or both. All I know is that whenever a panel like it would pop up it would just pull me right out of the story. Those moments are few and far between though, and the rest of the book looks simply wonderful.
As a whole the story is a solid coming-of-age tale that legitimately has something to say, however you also get the feeling that the story itself could be have been a bit more focused. This isn't to say the story doesn't work, it just feels like they're are things with the story and the characters that could have been explored but weren't. When it comes to books from Oni Press your always wondering if the book your getting is a standalone or the first part of a larger story. If its the latter than I hope my criticism will eventually become moot, if not then I just feel that Play Ball is a strong story albeit with some wasted potential.
TL;DR: Play Ball is a flawed but ultimately effective coming-of-age story that legitimately has something to say.
Play Ball is published by Oni Press and is written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir with art by Jackie Lewis. Ask your local comic book shop to order it for April 25 or support Spandexless and pre-order it now from our Amazon web store.
A review PDF for this book was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.