In “Jem and the Holograms” #4 by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell, there are several plotlines in play, but the biggest hit by far is the budding romance between Kimber and Stormer — and it may not be a coincidence that this star-crossed pairing is one of the plot elements and character designs that departs the most from the previous incarnation of “Jem” canon (in which the two were just friends).
All the drama intrigue around Kimber and Stormer’s secret meeting in this issue is delightful, guilty fun. Campbell’s facial expressions and body language are excellent partners to Thompson’s dialogue. All the emotional beats get visual emphasis, from Kimber’s excited and happy “Hi!” to the downcast faces and slumped shoulders when the two part ways. Despite minimal interaction between the two characters, Thompson and Campbell convey their chemistry.
Robado’s vivid colors define a lot of the look for “Jem and the Holograms” and her work is more subtle than it first appears. The neutrals she uses for some of the backgrounds in the bookstore scene keep the action from looking cluttered, and her work also highlights a background joke in the dressing room scene with the Misfits.
Tardiness and the secrets around it are cliches, especially for band stories, but the pacing is well-executed and Campbell’s transitions are clear and sharp. The body language makes the suspense taut, even when the outcomes don’t have a lot of weight yet. I wasn’t really in doubt about whether Stormer and Kimber would make it back in time to their respective bands but, even if they hadn’t, the stakes are lower for the talk show and Starlight Foundation gig than for the future battle of the bands.
Stormer stands out for her particularly strong character development. She has displayed no negative character traits, but she fells well-fleshed out nonetheless. Her romance vs. work dilemma feels contemporary. It can be tough to make “good girl,” hardworking characters appealing, so Thompson has pulled off something remarkable in making Stormer so likable. Part of it is that she’s a refreshing contrast to her meaner, leaner bandmates. She’s the nerd, the one who isn’t conventionally skinny and tall, the nice one, serious about her career and an independent thinker. She could easily have been merely a token for the LGBT and body-acceptance movements, but Thompson infuses her with so much charm and energy that she’s the first character to fully capture the reader’s affections.
The funniest scene in “Jem and the Holograms” #4 is when Stormer returns to the Misfits. The outraged faces on Pizzazz, Jetta and Roxy set the tone, and the extended joke about “sensible shoes” is hilarious. Roxy’s reaction is poignant, too, based on the information in her character profile from the end of issue #2. Stormer outshines Jerrica/Jem, who is technically the main character. This isn’t a problem yet, but it may become later, depending on future characterization for the whole cast.
Jerrica and Rio’s budding attraction has less spark than Kimber and Stormer’s, partly because Rio is too flat a character at this point. He showed some personality in earlier scenes with Pizzazz but, around Jem and the Holograms, he’s just a generic, handsome nice guy. He’s also too smooth to show any vulnerability so far, while Jerrica has all the usual anxiety and doubts about a growing crush. This one-sidedness also makes their flirtation less interesting. Based on their interactions, it’s not obvious whether Rio would be a good thing for Jerrica/Jem yet, even though their pairing is almost a sure thing based on the original “Jem” cartoon.
Another plot element in play is Rio’s job as a reporter and whether he’s going to find out about the big hologram secret. Thompson’s speech for the rattled Jem is funny but, again, it’s hard to get worked up about the stakes at this point. Similarly, the sabotage plot involving Clash and Blaze feels more mechanical than suspenseful. The tense dialogue between them was good, but Clash and Kimber’s collision is too obvious a plot point.
Characterization and the various plot elements are uneven in strength so far but, overall, “Jem and the Holograms” continues to be a great read and an excellent revival of the franchise.
Note: In an attempt for full transparency, Kelly Thompson is a current writer for CBR’s “Comics Should Be Good” blog and a former CBR reviewer.