REVIEW: “Check, Please!” (Volumes 1 and 2) by Ngozi Ukazu

check please cover

If you travel in certain parts of Twitter and Tumblr, you’ve probably heard of Check, Please! – though you’ve likely heard it referred to as “that story about the gay hockey players.” And, to be fair, that’s totally true. But it’s not all that the comic is. It’s a well-written, immensely enjoyable rom-com, and it’s also a delightful exploration of male friendship, a really funny coming of age story, and an exciting look into the softer side of hockey culture. Obviously, I really loved this comic. And the best part about it? You can read it right now for free! (5 out of 5 wands)

Check, Please! (written and illustrated by Ngozi Ukazu) 
Eric Bittle may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It is nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking (anything that hinders the player with possession of the puck, ranging from a stick check all the way to a physical sweep). And then, there is Jackhis very attractive but moody captain.

I wasn’t really sure what I’d think when I started reading Check, Please! Like lots of people, I love a good rom-com but I’m also really picky about them; I rarely think they’re well-written. For me, the most important aspect of a rom-com is its characters. If you don’t have likable romantic leads, then it’s really difficult to understand why they fall for each other and why you should be remotely interested in their story. Luckily, Check, Please! has some of the most developed, three dimensional, and likable characters that I’ve seen in any comic in a long time. From page one, you immediately identify with, and relate to, Eric. He’s just one of those warm people that you want to spend time with and he makes for a really engaging narrator. While he’s warm and likable, he’s also flawed and has plenty of room to grow. He’s clearly the main character, and his development is what is tracked the most throughout the comic.

The same is true for Jack, Eric’s love interest and the closest thing the comic has to a co-lead. Jack starts off as this mysterious, angsty character before morphing into someone who worms their way right into the center of your heart. It’s a lot of fun seeing his development and seeing how he and Eric interact with each other and challenge each other to be their best selves. With these two characters, Ukazu establishes a compelling love story. We spend enough time getting to know both of them before they become romantically involved that it’s very easy to see what they see in each other. We’re invested in their story because we’re invested in them, and that’s the gift of a truly talented writer. It’s such a breath of fresh air to see a depiction of a truly healthy LGBT relationship in a comic. There’s drama in Eric and Jack’s relationship, of course, but they have a brilliantly strong one and it’s so nice to see such a good relationship. Reading Eric and Jack’s story through this comic is an utter joy for all who enjoy stories about love.

Of equal joy, though, are all of the other characters. While Check, Please! definitely has a main character, it’s filled to the brim with an ensemble of compelling supporting characters. As the story revolves around a hockey team, a lot of time is spent exploring the lives and personalities of the rest of the team – and Ukazu manages to ensure each character has their own unique voice. Just like you fall in love with Eric and Jack, you’ll fall in love with the entire hockey team that surrounds them. Large chunks of the story are devoted toward deepening these supporting characters and shaping our understanding of them and how they interact with each other. Through their interactions, we get a glimpse at a softer side of hockey culture. You always imagine hockey players to be these tough, macho men and in Check, Please! they’re just these goofballs that remind you of your friends. And it’s just… so fun. It’s rare in a story like this to see a group of people who support each other so immensely (a rareness that is actually commented on within the narrative) and there’s just something so joyful about the characters in Check, Please! It will legitimately make you feel warm inside as you read the comic.

Obviously, Check, Please! is a rom-com and as such, the bulk of its plot revolves around Eric and Jack’s love story. And a lot of time is spent on it, developing Eric and Jack and eventually exploring their romantic relationship. We see the highs and the lows and all the little domestic moments in between and it’s so sweet and charming and genuinely heartwarming. Eric and Jack’s love story is the heart of Check, Please! and it’s probably what it’s most famous for – for good reason. But if you’re coming for just the love story, you’re gonna be waiting a little while. It’s definitely more of a slow burn for about the first half, before very quickly turning into a fast burn.

Not to fret, though, because that other stuff is really good too. And while the love story is a slow-burn, the rest of the story moves along very quickly and is filled with energy. Like I’ve said, Check, Please! is also about a hockey team and their trials and tribulations on and off the court – and all of that stuff is really fun. There’s shenanigans from the other hockey players, brief looks at their games, tons of weird gags, and lots of fun. Reading Check, Please! is honestly a bit like watching a really good sitcom. It’s often very silly, but it’s stuffed full of heart. It often tackles some serious themes (like trauma) while being surrounded by some over-the-top and silly scenes. But somehow it all works and it’s all really enjoyable. I genuinely feel like Check, Please! has something for everyone. There’s sitcom hijinks, cool sports scenes, great character moments, and a really sweet love story. What more could you want?

Since comics are a visual medium, they are often made or ruined by their artwork. Check, Please! is an example of the former. Not only is Ukazu an extremely talented writer, but she’s a brilliant illustrator too. She has an amazing eye for what each panel needs. There are times where a panel will be very detailed, with lots of attention paid to the minutia of whatever’s in the background. But there are other times where things need to be much simpler, with the emphasis placed squarely on a character’s face. Ukazu balances all of this brilliantly. Equally impressive are her illustrations of the hockey games. She doesn’t often spend a huge amount of time in any specific game, but she’s very good at ensuring you know exactly what’s going on, even if you’re not a hockey fanatic. Her artwork just does such a good job at visually telling the story. It works with her script, enhances it, and brings everything together in such a tight, enjoyable package. It’s really good stuff.

At the end of the day, I can’t say enough positive things about Check, Please! It’s simply everything you’d want a rom-com to be. It’s immediately charming, packed to the brim with lovable-yet-realistic characters, immensely funny, and palpably genuine. It is one of those rare pieces of media that just works on every single level. Ukazu has such a clear understanding of her characters and she imbues every single page with an abundance of life. Equally impressive is her artwork, which is both simple and gorgeous in equal measures. Ultimately, Check, Please! has something for everyone. If you’re a rom-com fan, there’s a beautiful LGBT romance waiting for you; if you’re a sports fan, there’s a delightful story about a wholesome sports team waiting for you; if you’re a fan of good friendships, there’s a story full of them for you; and if you just like a wholesome comedy, then there’s definitely a story for you. If you haven’t given it a read, it’s well worth it. And it’s available for free!

5 out of 5 wands.

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