In the business of professional criticism and review, one dilemma which can quickly arise is having to resist repetition. It isn’t simply the creators of various media (such as comic books based on 1980’s franchises) who face this challenge; the reviewers themselves do, too. It can be very common to be able to predict what a particular review is going to consist of based on little more than an educated knowledge of a particular reviewer’s tastes, quirks, grudges, and preferences. When the right combination of ingredients merge – such as a creative team producing inferior work in the view of a particular critic – each review can become a chore of endurance. The flip side of that is when a creative team is on an endless roll of success, it can also become challenging to come up with new ways to describe how awesome everything is. To a degree it isn’t a bad problem to have, especially in a market as much sheer volume of comics as this one. It’s the pleasant dilemma which some of IDW’s other licensed comics (such as Transformers, Ghostbusters, and in this critic’s eyes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) faces as well as creator owned series such as “Saga” or even solid “big two” runs like the Waid/Samnee era of “Daredevil”. Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell’s “Jem and the Holograms” has reached this point. The home run issues keep piling up, and it’s almost impossible to imagine an issue which is merely “pretty good”.
In the tradition of any good 1980’s cartoon, the previous issue left readers on quite a cliffhanger; the Misfits’ overeager groupie Clash infiltrated the first charity performance of “Jem and the Holograms” and seemingly put plans into motion to destroy Jem before her career speed hits the limit. Fortunately, Jem is saved, but one of the girls of the band almost pays for it with her life. As far as Pizzazz is concerned, however, everything has backfired and they’re still set to have a “battle of the bands” with the upstart group in due course. All of the various interrelated subplots which have run through the course of the series come to a boil by the time the issue ends. The inter-band romance which risks everyone’s loyalty is put to the test. The tension between Rio and Jerrica also increases as his “suspicion” of Jem’s true identity risks putting the kibosh on their love before it has really blossomed. As the cover teases, everything comes to a head as the Holograms and the Misfits have their first battle sooner than either band expected. Fingers are pointed, mistakes are made, and pastries are flung!
All of the strengths which were in previous issues are still here; they’re design, not fluke. Each issue progressively continues forth on all of the various interrelations between the assembled characters while seeming to add more with each completed story (as Aja seems to find a new “friend”, for instance). The contrast between the Holograms and the Misfits can’t be more stark, and the display makes for some of the series’ best scenes. Aside for that, this is a proud pop music romance series, and it embraces soap opera antics with a crisp knowledge of modern trends and sensibility. Kimber continues to steal almost every scene she is in, although if any of the Holograms gets more to do within this month’s issue, it’s Aja. As the principle romance of the series, the dynamic between Jerrica, her alter ego Jem and Rio was critical to nail, and it is something which Thompson has absolutely mastered. Rather than repeat what was done in the cartoon, the tension that Jem brings to the pair is handled in a completely different yet, arguably, more realistic way. While it is easy to be distracted by the super-science trappings of Jem, at heart she is a stage persona that the incredibly talented but also terribly shy Jerrica has to rely on in order to maximize the potential of both herself and her sisters. In reality, no end of singers, actors, athletes, and other public figures have had to put on a public face, even to the extreme – easy examples in music include KISS, Slipknot, and Daft Punk. Rio’s immediate suspicion of who Jem really was helped spark his romance with Jerrica, but it isn’t something that she is ready to admit out loud to someone outside of the bad for obvious reasons. It’s a push and pull of both of them knowing, but neither wanting to outright admit it to the other; it isn’t many shades different from similar tension between Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Superman. All of the other characters are handled masterfully as well.
Flanked by the exceptional color work of M. Victoria Robado, it is difficult to tell if Sophie Campbell’s artwork has ever looked better. It is clearly a passion project for her, and after such strong work it becomes harder and harder to imagine the series drawn or designed by anyone else. There is care and attention to detail in every panel of every scene of every issue. The designs of all eleven main characters (and counting) would alone be worthy of laurels, but Campbell goes beyond even that. Everyone on the cast seems to change their hair and clothing to fit the day or the setting as often as possible. It gives the sense that these are “real” people living their lives rather than groups of licensed characters who never change outfits. That atop of a joyful embrace of all body types for all sorts of characters makes this book, visually, unlike any other out there. As terrific as Thompson’s scripts are, Campbell’s art could sell the series by itself with ease. Pizzazz’s pajamas are but one highlight within this week’s issue, and as always, she’s not one to mess with.
The only nit to pick is that once again, “My Little Pony” has a small cameo. While it makes perfect sense for those characters to appeal to some of these characters, the fact that IDW also publishes it makes it smack of in story advertising even when it may be completely unintentional (or an inter company joke). It isn’t quite as shameless as when a character in Marvel Comics’ recent “New Warriors” volume happened to wear a hoodie with an “Under Armour” logo on the chest at the same time that Under Armour paid for ad space within Marvel’s comics, but it’s too close for comfort. However, at this point even this nit is about as inconsequential as getting a delightful sundae with icing and sprinkles and noticing that some of the sprinkles are slightly irregular. It’s literally the only thing keeping it from absolute perfection.
Thompson, Campbell, and Robado are the perfect team for Jem and the Holograms. It is virtually impossible to imagine any other creative team managing to hit all of the beats they’re hitting any better, or even just as well. Their combined passion and love for their work and their characters is obvious to someone whose never watched an episode of “Jem” in their lives, and must be extremely satisfying for most hardcore fans. One of the themes of the franchise is that passionate talent will (or should) be obvious to all those around so long as it is given a stage to appear on, and that’s a theme which this creative team is living up to here. Every issue is a well written, well drawn, well colored good time. The upcoming film relaunch would be successful if it could emulate even half of what this comic produces every month. It has everything which fans new, old, and everything in between should want in “Jem and the Holograms”, or in good comics, period.
If you’re not already on board with this series, give it a try no matter what your reasons were for avoiding it. You’ll find yourself asking for an encore at the end of each issue in no time.