Warning: I spoil pretty much the entire story in this review. So if you have a problem with that, go and take your humbug somewhere else. Also contains spoilers for Jem and The Holograms #9.
It’s Christmas, which means that you can flip the TV set to just about any channel with roughly a 50/50 chance of finding some spoof or remake of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And if whatever you land on doesn’t happen to be a Dickens rip-off, it’ll probably still revolve around some grump learning to embrace the spirit of giving. It’s a common theme, and it’s gotten more than a little tired over the years. So when I picked up a comic that looked to be all about love and friendship, I was afraid that I’d get pretty much the same thing.
What makes the Jem and The Holograms Holiday Special so interesting, however, is that they manage to utilize a tired theme in a way that should actually give fans a lot of hope for this relatively young series. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, IDW has only been running the series for nine regular issues and an annual, with #10 to be released soon. And while a holiday special seems to be the perfect comic for a one-off, isolated story, it actually picks up sometime after the events of Jem and The Holograms #9.
At the end of the last issue, Jem and The Holograms were in a bit of a weird place with rival band The Misfits. They weren’t sure whether or not The Misfits were involved in a major plot against them, and Jerrica/Jem was trying her hardest to give their rivals the benefit of the doubt. Further complicating the matter was the fact that Jerrica had signed her band with Five by Five Records, the same label under which Pizzazz and her fellow Misfits are managed. Pizz was beginning to become the most intriguing character in the series, showing her human side in between bouts of evil. But when she turned her back on her band, her guilt led to an accidental chain of events that left her badly damaged in a car wreck.
When that panel appears in the recap that begins Jem and The Holograms Holiday Special, it seems as if this must be the issue in which Pizzazz finally begins to show her human side a bit. And she does, albeit with some reservations. She no longer threatens to kick Stormer out of The Misfits for pursuing a relationship with Kimber, but she clearly wants nothing to do with Jem and The Holograms. This causes a bit of a disturbance when Elise of Five by Five Records rigs it so that they draw each other’s names in the label’s Secret Santa drawing.
Both bands have some disagreements as to whether or not they should participate, but just about everyone manages to buy a thoughtful gift. The only one who doesn’t buy a gift is Pizzazz, who had drawn Jem’s name. This actually opens up an interesting question. If everyone thinks that Jem and Jerrica are two different people, did the label simply not care if Jerrica received anything? It’s a minor point, but it still seems like a bit of an oversight.
Anyway, Pizzazz does eventually come to a turning point after she receives her gift from Jerrica. The gift in question is a cat collar inscribed with the name of her Siamese (“Madmartigan,” because Pizzazz is apparently a closet Willow fan). Pizz seems to think that this is the most thoughtful gift imaginable. Not only does she decide to put together a gift for Jem, but she actually gets her a bag full of supplies to benefit The Holograms. She also throws $500 inside of it, because “you’d be surprised how many problems five hundred bucks can solve.”
If you’re wondering why those speech bubbles are dotted, it’s because Pizzazz can barely speak while she’s recovering from her accident. This scene is the most she speaks in the entire issue. So not only does she do something nice for Jem and The Holograms, but she actually puts herself through a bit of pain to do it. We can probably expect more villainous exploits from The Misfits in the future, but I hope that this side of Pizzazz isn’t completely lost. It’s great to see her third dimension every once in a while, and her internal struggles between wanting to be a good person and wanting to do anything to succeed are what make her my favorite character in the series. I actually like her better than Jem/Jerrica at this point, who receives a highly expensive and thoughtful gift yet can’t think of a better word to describe it other than “decent.”
Not to say that I don’t like Jerrica as a character (or that I don’t appreciate how adorable she is), but she doesn’t really shine much in this comic. This may sound like a negative, but the Jem and The Holograms Holiday Special actually succeeds in that it gives us a bit more of characters that have been underutilized up to this point. Shana re-enters the dating pool—something which was set up in Jem and The Holograms #9 and appears to be setting up a future storyline here—and we get some brief yet satisfying moments with Roxy and Jetta.
On the flipside of this, we don’t see some characters that were just starting to get interesting. Since this isn’t your usual super-sized holiday special, we just get the one main story. It would have been cool if they had thrown in some more pages, possibly with short stories about the lesser characters. What do villains like Eric Raymond and Techrat do for the holidays? And why is Clash not hanging out with The Misfits? Is she with her family, including the impossibly named Video (who we still haven’t met)? And where is Blaze in general? I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan who loved her when she was introduced, only to be saddened when she all but disappeared from the narrative. Even Rio only appears in the comic for about one page, and all he does is cuddle with Jerrica.
As much as I would have loved to see more from all of these characters, Clash’s absence is the most notable. Fans of Clash’s nose (yes, her nose has fans) might notice that this issue pays less tribute to one of the things that has been garnering the most attention in this series—body diversity. The basic shapes are there, but they just feel less punctuated. And while Stormer still looks pretty much like herself, there are panels in which Aja appears to be about the same size as Shana and Jerrica.
To be clear, I’m not saying the artwork is bad. And personally, I don’t care about the body diversity thing. But artist Amy Mebberson would have done well to read the letters in the back of previous issues, because body diversity is one of the things that has been appealing the most to many fans of Jem and The Holograms.
Still, Mebberson does a fantastic job on the artwork in general. From the numerous hairstyles to the trippy Jem/Jerrica transformation scene, everything looks like it should without trying too hard to emulate the styles of previous artists who have worked on the series. And as always, characters like Aja and Synergy remind us just how great the colors in this series can be. Between the consistently amazing color work of M. Victoria Robado and Mebberson’s ability to craft an expression, it takes forever to read this comic. You’ll have to stop on pretty much every panel to appreciate the artwork. Even simple panels are made excellent when Mebberson is tackling Kimber, who remains tied with Pizzazz as among the most expressive faces in this series.
Kelly Thompson didn’t write anything outside of her normal fare, but that’s exactly what makes the Jem and The Holograms Holiday Special so successful. It advances the storyline and adds more depth to the characters in a mostly believable way. Everyone stays true to their characters, with the possible exception of Synergy, whose dangling character reveal from the last issue is understandably left unexplored. And as always, the LGBT content remains subtle. Thompson never gets preachy about it. It’s always just…there. Subtlety is something that I’ve always respected in a writer.
With an art style that straddles the gap between Eastern and Western animation, and a story that advances the plot of the series, the Jem and The Holograms Holiday Special is sure to entertain to continuously growing fan base that IDW has been accumulating. And in true holiday spirit, it just may teach readers a thing or two about the values of thoughtfulness, forgiveness, and the extent to which even those of questionable character may occasionally surprise us. This series is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a true gem. It’s nice to see it receiving the holiday treatment that it deserves.
Although it’s kind of weird that they don’t sing in this issue. Not even a Christmas carol. Odd. But hey, bronies will be glad to hear that Kimber becomes a walking Rainbow Dash at the end. Can’t say I’m a huge My Little Pony fan, but she does look cute. So that’s something.