Blaze's big debut gets dampened by the gloom that is Dark Jem. There’s not a whole lot of beating around the bush this time around. I half expected Thompson and Campbell to spend a little more time on the ladies spinning their wheels. Instead, an uncomfortable encounter shakes something loose in our hero’s head. With the aid of a handy pair of boyfriends, the hologramatical quartet is set to figure out what's up with their newly corrupted cyber-magical buddy Synergy. It all happens quickly, believably, humorously, and briskly. Kelly Thompson is very skilled at managing her cast and keeping their subplots in sight while executing on her main plot with heart and dramatic tension.
Jem's attempted romantic encounter with the very much not her boyfriend Rio plays out in a refreshingly earnest and painful manner. The Holograms' reaction, however, comes across as equally believable, but a bit condescending toward their leader’s love interest. This book, being a female driven comic about representation and presentation, could do well to remember its males don’t have to exist purely to dote over their lady friends.
Despite what the primary cover art leads you to assume, Pizzazz only appears for a handful of panels. She looks ever so sad. And then the book moves on. It is perhaps a smart choice to avoid dwelling on her continued suffering. That could get really gross and mean. However, as her role in her band diminishes and her visibility in the book lessens, I'd like to see more of how she's coping. Her livelihood and support system are shifting beneath her feet. And all we’ve seen is Pizzazz shuffling around her house, mouth down-turned. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of depression. But I have to wonder where the book is going with regard to her sub-plot.
Something about the art this issue really hits the mark. The lines seem cleaner than usual, the faces are more demonstrative, and the many close-ups feel extremely intimate. Comics are brilliant for their ability to capture complex actions and thoughts and emotions in static moments. This issue uses that strength to its advantage. Sophie Campbell reveals a ton of emotional depth in Jerrica's struggle to break through the literal shell preventing her from genuinely interacting with loved ones. I can't help but think the Dark Jem experience will initiate a very serious conversation about Jerrica's identity. She's a musician, not a vigilante. Hiding behind an outlandish public persona may help her perform for an audience, but it is a layer of separation between Jerrica and Rio that can only hurt them both.
There's one thing in particular worth loving about Jem and the Holograms -- while it may not be especially inventive, but it refuses to be boring. And hard to predict. I’m excited about what the future holds for these characters because the writing takes time to give them charming, relatable, attractive, and sympathetic identities, complete with foibles and strengths. Perhaps we'll get to peer inside Synergy's personal problems in future issues, as she’s the least developed of our main characters. Maybe the bands will merge into a super group with Blaze at the helm as Jerrica finally has that important talk with Rio. There are many places the series can go. And there are few reasons not to go there.
Another satisfying issue.
[button btn_url="" btn_color="teal" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="blank" link_rel="" icon_left="" icon_right=""]Score: 4/5[/button]
Jem and the Holograms #13 Writer: Kelly Thompson Artist: Sophie Campbell Colorist: M. Victoria Robado Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/30/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital