The following review contains spoilers for Jem and The Holograms #13.
Ever since Jem and The Holograms began the “Dark Jem” story arc, one problem has been springing to mind. The only people who know about Synergy are Jerrica and her sisters. I guess Techrat knows something about it, as does Eric. But neither of them really knows what Synergy does. The point is that the only people who had any chance of fixing whatever’s wrong with Synergy were the same people currently under this weird, goth-wannabe hypnosis. I figured it might take a couple more issues before this was resolved, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive a bit of resolution in Jem and The Holograms #13.
There were actually a lot of interesting plot developments in this issue. And a few of them have given me far more respect for Kelly Thompson’s writing than I ever had for the original show. I’m not saying the original series was bad, but one little problem always stuck out to me—Rio constantly kisses both Jem and Jerrica without knowing that they’re the same person, and it never occurs to Jerrica that Rio might be a bit of a playboy. In this issue, we learn that the version of Rio concocted by Ms. Thompson and artist/story collaborator Sophie Campbell is much more faithful. He’s expressed disinterest in Jem before, but it is now confirmed that he has no desire to kiss another woman…even if she does kiss exactly like his girlfriend.
Having brought Campbell into the conversation, I should state that this issue of Jem and The Holograms has some of the best artwork I have ever seen in this series. After the Jem/Rio kiss, Jerrica begins to realize that something is wrong with her. Her hologram goes haywire, and the result is some of the most intriguingly abstract (or I suppose cubist?) art I have ever seen in a comic book. I’m not saying I’ve never seen abstract art in a comic before, but I’d be lying if I said I had expected it in this one. Admittedly, this also led to my least favorite plot development, which is that Jerrica requires romantic trauma to come to her senses while the rest of her sisters simply get better for no reason. But this was mostly forgiven upon the reveal of more wonderfully unique artwork at the end, when we finally get a shadowy glimpse at whatever is messing with Synergy.
This artwork might not have been as effective if not for the amazing colors provided by M. Victoria Robado. The art and color have always helped define this series, with Campbell providing an amazingly down-to-earth range of body types while Robado adds the necessary glamor to ensure that these unique takes on classic characters retain the rock and roll flair for which they are so lovingly known. Robado really does utilize one of the most robust and spectacular color palettes I have ever seen, and there are a couple of full-page spreads where she really gets to show it off. She and Campbell made magic in the hologram scenes in this issue, to the extent that it’s almost worth picking up for that alone.
But Jem and The Holograms is a series that weighs style and substance on equal scales, so you can bet dollars to donuts you get some nice characterizations here. On the artistic front, you can tell that some tender love and care went into Blaze, from the hair to the unique skin tone. But Thompson pulled her weight on this character as well, largely through subtle touches. Blaze had a big moment back in Jem and The Holograms #12, stating for (I believe) the first time in dialogue that she is transgender. She was very nervous about this, and you see the same nervousness when she wonders why she gave the performance of her life only to see it fall flat before an audience that didn’t respond at all. It’s clear that the audience is hypnotized, but Blaze’s dialogue and her almost heartbroken facial expression make it clear that she still suspects herself of sharing some blame. It’s one of those moments where you just know that Thompson and Campbell were meant to work together.
There’s a similar moment with Pizzazz. I’ve been a bit bummed at the loss of her voice, as she’s always been my favorite character in this series. But she has a moment where she’s watching Blaze’s performance on a cell phone in the dark of her room, and she appears utterly terrified that her allegedly temporary replacement is actually talented. I love when Pizz goes psycho, but it’s these little moments of humanity that really make her my personal favorite.
Even the boys get their decent moments in this one. First of all, I don’t know why, but this is my favorite issue thus far for Rio’s hair alone. But we also see more of Aja’s boyfriend, Craig, a character who doesn’t always get to shine much in the spotlight. He takes part in a scene that sort of references the Valentine’s Day special, and we get to see him take a pretty sweet punch from his girlfriend. After that punch, you can forget what I said about Rio earlier. Clearly, Craig is the most loyal boyfriend in this series.
But above all else, my favorite part of Jem and The Holograms #13 was the letters column. There’s only one letter, but Kelly Thompson is the one to respond to it, and she drops some pretty neat hints about the future of the series. Apparently, it might not be too long before we get to see Raya. And apparently, they’re sitting on any design reveals because they’ve chosen some unique mystery approach to introducing her. I have no idea what that could imply, or if it means that Shana will be leaving the group. Either way, I’m excited to see what Thompson and Campbell have worked up for the future.
Jem and The Holograms #13 is one of the most ambitious issues released thus far, with amazing bits of abstract/cubist artwork and Thompson’s signature characterizations that cause you to realize the strength of just a single well-written line when combined with an appropriately subtle facial expression. Jem and The Holograms is a true team effort, and this issue makes that clearer than any before it. Maybe I didn’t love how certain plot elements were resolved, but this was still the most enjoyable reading experience I’ve had since getting hooked on this series.