Review time! with <i>Jem and the Holograms</i> #2

You guys do know that Kelly writes for our blog, right? So of course we're going to give her publicity in the form of advance reviews! That's just science!!!!

Yes, it's Jem and the Holograms #2, which is brought to you by IDW and the groovy creative team of Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, María Victoria Robado, and Shawn Lee. As usual, it costs $3.99.

In the first issue of this fine comics periodical, I wrote briefly about the way Robado colors the music that the band plays in the beginning of the issue. In issue #2, that's much more a part of the story, as both the Misfits and the Holograms perform, the Misfits on stage and the Holograms in the video they submitted to be in the Battle of the Bands against said Misfits. In a comic about musical groups, it's unavoidable, and I'm on record as saying that I don't really dig using music in comic books because one thing comics don't do very well is do things with sound.

So this is a pretty big problem, you know? So what do Campbell and Robado do about it? Well, I mentioned Robado colored the sound differently from the "regular" palette of the book, so that it stands out, while Campbell uses amorphous forms that overlay the entire page, using jagged edges for the Misfits' music and smoother lines for the Holograms', which I really hope indicates the differences in their style. Robado uses purple with yellow edges for the Misfits' song, while she uses pink with blue edging for the Holograms', another indicator, I would think. Meanwhile, letterer Lee uses different lettering styles for the two songs - the Misfits' song features bolder, straighter-edged letters in contrast to the Holograms' more rounded letters. [Lee tweeted and Kelly noted in the comments that Campbell does the lettering on the songs. My bad!] Obviously, everyone is on the same page with regard to showing the music. Campbell, meanwhile, does some interesting things with the way she lays out the page. When the Misfits are performing, Campbell uses jagged panel borders to "fit" the tune, and this goes well even with the Misfits' more edgy appearance - the lightning-bolt panel borders fit right in with Pizzazz's hair, for instance. The Holograms submit a video, so Campbell uses more esoteric images, including Kimber as some sort of fairy demon and Jem St.-Georgeing a dragon for no discernible reason. It's a bit odd, considering the song is "total candy-colored pop," to quote one of the Misfits, but it's certainly striking. Does all of this work? Well, to a degree. I can't think of too many examples of better-looking "music" in a comic, but the fact remains that it still doesn't work great in comics.

We have only the Misfits' word that the Holograms are playing a pop song and not something harder, and the way the team draw the music is somewhat at odds with the strange imagery of the video. We have no idea what the Misfits sound like - is it more power rock or is it more punk? I keep picturing the Hex Girls, probably because my daughter is currently obsessed with Scooby-Doo, but I really have no idea. The visuals are very nice, but it's a hard leap to make.

Of course, the music isn't the only part of the issue, and the artists are on fire throughout. Pizzazz gives an interview early in the issue, and Campbell does a tremendous job with her dismissive attitude toward both the Holograms and the reporter conducting the interview. She also does well with the look of contempt on the reporter's face once the camera goes dark. While everyone knows that the Misfits are the "bad guys" of the comic, Campbell does well showing why Pizzazz is disliked just through her facial motions and how the reporter thinks interviewing her was a thankless job.

Kimber's enthusiasm at the numbers the video is getting is wonderful, and Campbell has done a really nice job establishing the different personalities of the Holograms early in the comic. The flirting between the more experienced Rio and the shy Jerrica is beautifully done, too, as is Kimber's bantering with Stormer. Campbell has always been great with body language, so it's not surprising that she's so good at it here, but it does add a wonderful element to the story and makes it feel more personal. The idea of Jerrica being too shy to perform crosses over to her flirting, which is not as smooth as Rio's, while Pizzazz's drive to dominate extends to Stormer's date with Kimber, which ends the issue on a very "dum-dum-DUMMMMM!!!!" note, as she and the other Misfits decide to take action against the budding relationship. The book is so far very concerned with relationships, and Campbell's wonderful rendering raises the stakes on each one.

Kelly is still feeling out the story, as she introduces the Misfits and a raison d'etre for the Holograms to win the contest. We get a good idea of Pizzazz's personality, but not so much with the others, but that's fine. She's doing a wonderful job with the Holograms, as her dialogue when they're on the page really sparkles. Kimber is obviously awesome, but Kelly does nice work with Shana and Jerrica, too, especially when Jerrica talks to Rio and doesn't quite know how to flirt (Aja spends a good deal of the issue, hilariously, in bed, and has only a few lines).

The scene at the community center is a bit to exposition-heavy and feels a bit too after-school special (the Holograms need to win the Battle of the Bands to save the center!!!!), but the plot has to have some stakes, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that one. [Edit: This is poorly written, as Kelly points out in the comments that the Battle of the Bands won't have anything to do with the community center. I was speculating, because it seemed that was where the book was going. It's not in the text. Yes, I suck.] I worry a tiny bit that the Misfits might be a bit too stereotypically eeeeevil (except for Stormer, who digs Kimber), but Kelly has shown in her writing that she doesn't fall into that trap, so I don't worry too much. Overall, the story is moving along well, without many surprises (good or bad), as Kelly seems to be intent on establishing the characters well before really diving into the plot. She's done well with that, and that's usually what I like, so I don't mind too much that she's taking a bit of time with the plot. When she has focused on specific characters in the Holograms and the Misfits so far, she's done very nice work with them. That's nice to see.

The set-up continues, but it's done really well, with crisp dialogue and wonderful artwork, which gives us a nice view into the girls' world and what kind of stakes they're playing for - both the Holograms and even the Misfits. Jem and the Holograms isn't non-stop action and it's not stereotypical young adults being obsessed with themselves - we get interesting characters interacting well with each other, and it's very nice to see. The second issue is in stores tomorrow, so go find it and give it a read!

(I apologize for the scans. IDW puts a big ol' watermark in the middle of the pages so we don't run off and sell them to bootleggers. This comic sells like hotcakes in Paraguay!)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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