I'll try not to overuse the word "fun" in this review, but talking about the animated, energetic "Jem and the Holograms Outrageous Annual" #1 will definitely put me to the test. Kelly Thompson and a roster of talented artists -- up to and including Amy Mebberson, Arielle Jovellanos, Rebekah Isaacs, Jen Bartel and Agnes Garbowska -- have put together an issue that's smart about its format and full of joy in its creative premise. By expanding the series inward instead of outward, this colorful, character-focused issue is almost worth its steep $7.99 price tag -- almost.
Coming home from a concert, the exhausted Holograms fall asleep in front of the TV, and each of the girls drifts into her own fantastical dream. Of course, "It was all just a dream" is probably one of the lamest endings in fiction but, as a premise for an annual, it's surprisingly clever. Self-contained and often limited in the impact they can have on the main storyline, annuals benefit from a concept like this, which allows the creative team to let loose without worrying about the editorial consequences. Thompson deserves kudos for this clever setup.
Artist Amy Mebberson was an excellent choice for the post-concert scenes bookending the issue. Her style exudes comfy energy, with looser lines and exaggerated facial expressions that look almost like a chibi take on Campbell's style. Though I would have preferred for the colors to be a bit more complex, these scenes still clearly establish the Holograms' familiarity with and affection for one another.
"Jem Wolf" is an on-the-nose riff on "Teen Wolf," in which Jerrica dreams that she's repeatedly asked to "transform" into the werewolf version of herself. Thompson uses werewolf transformations as a metaphor for Jerrica's fear of Jem's appeal, giving the other characters obvious lines like "You know you can't do it as Jerrica" and "The wolf is definitely more fun!" It isn't exactly nuanced, but it works because of its happy outlandishness. Arielle Jovellanos' textured linework is great for wolf-y furriness, and she and colorist Josh Burcham give the surrounding crowds convincingly harsh eyes with tiny black pupils, flatly colored irises and large whites that really do look rabid and demanding.
In "Angry Aja," a parody of the "Mad Max" franchise, Aja does literal battle with herself in the Thunderdome. Rebekah Isaacs and Joana Lafuente pay tribute to the movies' style with the same evocative, dusty colors and cinematic framing that call to mind some of the franchise's more famous shots. As with "Jem Wolf," the script is rather on-the-nose, but I quite enjoyed the simplicity of the central metaphor and how Aja's own strengths could work against her.
"Shana Wars" is perhaps the least revealing story, as the reader doesn't get to see Shana in a moment of real weakness. She spends most of the "Stars Wars"-inspired segment snarking about the swamps and caves. Thompson hides some interesting thoughts on family in there, but she downplays them in favor of jokes about how Shana's "never gonna get that smell out of this fabric." Still, it's a fun story, and Jen Bartel turns Yoda's swamp psychedelic with fully outrageous colors.
"Jem Babies," with art by Agnes Garbowska and Lauren Perry, is as adorable as the title might suggest. Lollipop-headed, huge-eyed versions of the bands fight each other over everything from lyrics to kittens, and Garbowska and Perry have a lot of fun with the outsized emotions and layouts. The world looks a whole lot bigger and brighter in this section.
While this book was spirited and entertaining, I do have one mercenary caveat: with a cover price of $7.99, the "Outrageous Annual" may not be worth the price for some readers. Fun as it is, it's neither my favorite issue of "Jem" so far nor essential reading for the overall arc of the series.
Clever and cute, "Jem and the Holograms Outrageous Annual" #1 is a fine intermission between arcs, but it made me even less patient for the next issue to come out.
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.