By John Smith
He’s back! The greatest football Comic Book Hero of them all has returned, at the ripe old age of 65. Except he’s not 65 any more, he’s 16 again.
Roy of the Rovers, the man we first met in 1954 in Tiger comic, and who went on to become synonymous with every real life football story with a fairy tale twist, is back, and hopefully will be as big as ever.
I bend at the knee to nobody in my love for Roy of the Rovers, so when I first heard about a reboot featuring a young Roy Race, striving to make a name for himself in the lower leagues, I admit I was sceptical. However, four books into the new regime (two traditional comic stories and two longer form fiction stories), I’m a total convert.
Rebellion Publishing took on the title and re-launched it late last year, and as far as both myself, and my football obsessed son are concerned (who in all honesty, might be more like the target market), they haven’t put a famous left foot wrong so far.
The new story finds the mighty Melchester Rovers fallen on hard times; languishing near the foot of League Two, facing ground closure, living in the shadow of their nouveau riche neighbours Tynecaster, and having to sell most of their first team. But this is Roy of the Rovers we’re talking about, and all of this hardship, is of course merely paving the way for a new fairy tale. The Rovers are forced to fill their squad with youth team prospects and new, hungry young things, including our boy Roy Race.
Vintage Racey may have dealt with everything from football hooliganism and kidnap, to earthquakes and car bombs, with a bit of Spandau Ballet sprinkled in along the way; but the new, raw teenage Roy Race has altogether more domestic, though no less pressing concerns.
His father has suffered a stroke and requires constant care; something the comic doesn’t shy away from, and handles with sensitivity. His sister is a budding football star in her own right, which feels very important for our times. And his saintly mother is struggling to make ends meet financially, keep Roy’s Gola-clad feet on the ground, and hold the family together. Roy has to contend with predatory agents, burly defenders and social media traps, as well as his burgeoning feelings for Ffion, a girl from college, who is, naturally, a talented player herself. This is the whole package for the teenage football fan with aspirations to make it big, or just the hopeless old romantics like me who will enjoy the odd dip back into a comic from time to time.
Those older fans of the original character shouldn’t worry, however, this brave new world hasn’t discarded the comic’s illustrious history completely. With Kevin ‘Mighty’ Mouse as manager, and Johnny ‘Hard Man’ Dexter as coach, and a host of recycled player names such as Paco Diaz, Lofty Peak and Vic Guthrie (not forgetting the inevitable Blackie Gray) turning out for Melchester in younger form, there are enough nods to the past to keep long-term readers happy, and ease them into this new version.
Nor is it all domestic familial strife. There’s still plenty of room in here for physics–defying wonder goals, and logic-defying comebacks – this version has simply added a steel and a touch of reality to a much-loved character. In football terms, this Roy is not just a glorious show pony – I’ve no doubt he could do it on a wet Wednesday at Portdean as well. There is more than enough magic here to suggest that both Roy and the comics have a long and glorious future laid out in front of them.
The team behind the relaunch have clearly done their homework and have the true essence of the story at heart. More than just reheating past glories, they’ve decided to make Roy Race relevant to the modern game, and appealing to the modern football fan. I suspect that this iteration of the character won’t have to contend with magicians imposing curses on him to stop him scoring, or an embittered actor shooting him to, well, stop him scoring, but the early signs are that things will not lack drama.
It’s a bold move that they’ve made, and I for one hope that the team behind it get their just rewards.
It’s a feel good comeback story worthy of…..well, you know.