Kelly Thompson and Jen Bartel bring cutesy, chaotic spark to the love potion trope in “Jem and the Holograms: Valentine’s Day Special.” After Kimber goes overboard with a “resentment softening” potion, the Holograms and the Misfits find themselves enamored with various hipsters, strangers and/or foodstuffs, and it’s up to Jerrica and Rio to run damage control. Though the plot device is familiar, the execution brims with fun character moments. Things admittedly resolve themselves a bit too easily, but — as with so many issues of this series — the joy and good humor are infectious. “Jem and the Holograms Valentine Special” is a sweet holiday treat.
From the first page, Thompson handles the setup superbly. The love potion plot isn’t exactly original, but it’s also perfectly suited to Kimber’s unique foibles. Thompson wisely plays this up in the opening scene; the screw-up seems inevitable in all the best ways — not because the plotting is over-obvious, but because the audience immediately knows this character. If anyone can ramp simple “resentment softening” into full-on infatuation, it’s Kimber.
Thompson also takes advantage of her large cast to make the plot as topsy-turvy as possible. Almost every member of both bands is affected by the potion, and — as a result — the issue feels delightfully Carnival-esque. That said, the plot wraps up a bit too easily. Jerrica and Rio just somehow know that the potion simply wears off, without ever being told that’s so. (It’s also worth noting that this special doesn’t have any bearing on the series’ main storyline, in case that affects your decision.)
Bartel and Reinwand’s art has the simplicity and brightness of a schoolyard valentine. Bartel calls to mind Jem’s cartoon origins with amped-up, manga-style expressions of love, frustration and fury. Whether it’s tears pouring down Kimber’s face at the thought of doing dishes or Aja’s flamed-out eyes in the middle of a fight, Bartel leans into the utterly enjoyable exaggeration at all the right moments. Even when she’s being more realist, her panels are readable and alive. For example, the spread when the potion first kicks in is wonderfully full, and it slyly invokes the tarot cards from the beginning of the story.
Reinwand keeps the series’ neo-’80s palette feeling as cool as ever. Like any “Jem” colorist, he doesn’t shy away from the bright or outlandish, but he still keeps things looking crisp and modern. Occasionally, the characters can look more static than desirable, almost like a paper collage, but aside from those few panels, the art is a treat.
The dialogue is, as always, an asset to “Jem,” with lines like “You are the worst, Rio” creating some great laughs. Letterer Shawn Lee also captures the dramatics of many lines with small, wavering letters or giant, overblown ones. (The tiny “It’s Deathhhhhh” on the first page had me giggling.)
This issue shows just how perfectly “Jem and the Holograms” is suited to a Valentine’s Day special. Funny and frolicsome, this special costs less than a box of chocolates and is way sweeter.