In Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell's "Jem and The Holograms" #15, the band must find a way to stop Silica, and they both give and receive help from an unlikely ally: the Misfits. Despite some slow pacing, the issue maintains its usual humor and sense of fun.
The issue begins with a flashback to Jerrica, Kimber, Shana and Aja's childhood. Colorist M. Victoria Robado uses a faded but cheerful palette for this scene, and the emphasis on lavender and pale blue instead of the usual neon hues cues the reader into the timeline without need for captions. Thompson's dialogue and Campbell's art draw the reader into the past by showing the kids at play. It's very cute, and Campbell does a great job of drawing children, while imbuing the scene with a childish energy that feels appropriately lighter and more hyperactive than the present-day scenes.
The dialogue is familiar and domestic and even falls into traditional gender roles with a mother trying to pry a father away from work to spend more time with the kids. Thompson gives the origin of "Dark Jem" a nightmarish feeling when Jerrica's reaction results in a fall into the pool that ends the scene with a classic but still effective visual transition back to the present day. The revelation of Synergy's visual likeness makes sense and lends her even more humanity.
Even in this childhood scene, though, Kimber and Jerrica's personalities remain more sharply defined than Shana and Aja's. For the latter two, there are some broad outlines inherited from the 1980s cartoon: Aja is a tomboy and gearhead, and Shana is sweet and into fashion. They're likable, but their voices don't feel distinctive yet.
Thompson has done great things with taking "Jem" in an LGBT-friendly direction and introducing more diversity in body shapes and sizes; Stormer and Kimber's romance has been delightful. While Blaze's character still feels green, she continues to be a welcome addition to the Misfits.
This may change in the future, but the racial minorities in "Jem" are playing second fiddle right now. Thompson has shown that she can successfully alter canonical patterns when Stormer and Kimber upstaged the frontwomen in previous issues, so it would be a shame if Shana and Aja remained bland. Thompson probably has plans up her sleeve for future storylines, but in -- "Jem and The Holograms" #15 -- the two women remain in their usual roles as supporting cast members. Rio, Jerrica's love interest, also falls into the "good bland person" category. On the upside, Jetta in the Misfits is better-defined, meaner and more flawed, with sharper edges and darker insecurities and secrets.
Once the story is back in the present day, there's a fun scene where some roadies gripe about a "tent" that Synergy made, but -- after that -- the dialogue slows down with information dumps about the villain's abilities and intentions. All the explanations sap energy and momentum out of the storytelling. Worse, it's not worth it, because neither the Silica's motivations nor her powers stand up to much examination despite a lot of hand-waving. Why does Silica want to brainwash the world into a state of conformity? Why does this conformity come dressed in goth clothes and bored faces? The major theme of the "Dark Jem" arc seems to be self-expression and individuality vs. conformity, but the unconvincing villain hampers the meaning.
Thompson and Campbell's skills with humor and strong dialogue return in the scene with the Misfits. Roxy and Jetta's ridiculous "solution" to Blaze and Clash's brainwashing is hilarious, as is their wail of "They've got the Thing!" Techrat's snark is also deliciously funny, while the next scene -- which features the members of the Sickness -- successfully makes a sharp turn towards horror. Campbell's fractured artwork, Robado's lurid colors and Shawn Lee's angular, dripping lettering add suspense and dread.
The return of a major character on the last page feels anticlimactic, which is unfortunate, because I was looking forward to her inevitable reentrance into the plot. The timing and pacing feel off, despite Campbell and Robado's eye-catching outfit design and page composition. The Super-Show Team-Up solution also feels too contrived, even though it's the obvious that this story arc was heading there. The goal of bringing the bands together to fight a common enemy is natural, but the lead-up feels forced.
"Jem and The Holograms" #15 drags in places due to weak characterization and too much overt exposition, but elsewhere the story still has its usual high points of humor, camaraderie and bright visual energy.