Today, Patrick and Ryan M. are discussing Jem and the Holograms 7, originally released September 16th, 2015.
Patrick: One of the things I find most invigorating and fascinating about serialized fiction is the series’ need to evolve beyond its initial premise. And I’m using “premise” in the broadest possible sense of the word, to include things like patterns of storytelling, linguistic ticks, artistic vocabulary. If had stopped reading Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman after a dozen issues, I never would have known that the series and its creative team was capable of telling beautifully colored stories, or if I had given up on LOST after two years, I never would have known that there’s a time-travel component to the story. These developments to both the narrative and how the narrative is expressed arise organically and only over time. As Jem and the Holograms begins a new story arc with artist Emma Vieceli stepping in for Sophie Campbell, the new DNA of the series reveals itself, promising a richer experience to come.
And actually, Vieceli, as though staking her claim on the series as early as possible, lays one of her visual trademarks on in the very first panel.
This is the top row of panels, and right off the bat, we have this narrow panel with the solid black background. That band of black extends all the way up to the top of the page, violating the gutter that all the other panels so graciously give way to. We’ll see black bands appear on several of these pages – sometimes running behind the other panels, sometimes as the background of a panel that extends beyond the vertical or horizontal gutters, and sometimes as individual panels with literally nothing else in them. That’s an interesting choice primarily because the color black is sort of the antithesis of Jem‘s candy-colored visual aesthetic. Both the Holograms and the Misfits are dripping with electric color. And those same bright colors are used in the bubble-gum explosion that represent their performances. But black? Black is something new for the series.
It only stands to reason then, that black serves as a visual cue for new characters, new plot developments and new thematic material. There’s a touching scene where Kimber bonds with Synergy because she so closely resembles her mother. Synergy seems to recognize that this might not be the healthiest coping mechanism for Kimber, suggesting that she reach out to her sisters for comfort before they recreate a mother-daughter Law & Order marathon. The scene takes place over two pages, one punctuated with a horizontal black and band the second with a tall vertical black-backgrounded panel running through the right side of the page. In fact, the lead-in to this scene on the previous page telegraphs new thematic material in-coming with a repeated black bar.
That’s thematic material that’s pretty new to the series – we might have seen a few mentions of Jerrica and Kimber’s mother in the past, but not in any way that showed that the girls were lost without her. I look forward to seeing how the lack of a strong maternal figure effects the Holograms going forward.
But there are also plot developments that are being foreshadowed with the same signifiers. There’s really just one page of Shana applying for a fashion internship, but the whole page ditches the white gutter entirely in favor of — you guessed it — black gutters. To this point, we hadn’t had to worry about any of the Holograms’ commitment levels, but if Shana gets this internship, you better believe that will be a source of conflict.
Perhaps the most active use of the solid black color is in the character of Eric Raymond, the Misfits’ new manager. He wears a simple black suit, with a white shirt and a skinny black tie, and imposing shadows darken his face. His whole deal is that he wants to help Pizzazz and the Misfits destroy the Holograms, which is consistent with the Misfits goals, but frames success in the terms of their enemies’ failures. The whole kerfuffle at the Band Battle was at least presented as both bands wanting to best their opponents fairly – if you’re not beating the best version of your enemy, then what’s the point? Eric seems like a much more malicious player. We’re introduced to him with some narrow panels — like we see elsewhere in the issue — only these aren’t black. They’re blues and purples, all in-line with the familiar cotton candy aesthetic.
What’s remarkable about this introduction is that the bars are in front of Eric when we first see him (on the left side of the page), but by the time our eye travels to the right side of the page, he’s in front of those same panels. It’s like it takes him no time whatsoever to disrupt the narrative already in progress.
Ryan! All of this and I’ve not mentioned Rio’s impending interview with Jem or Aja’s date. Jeez, there’s a lot of stuff going on here, right? The issue didn’t let us spend any real time with Stormer, who we know is just destroyed over the way she left things with Kimber.
Ryan M.: Patrick, you’re right, there is a ton going on but the issue never feels scattered. Each of the Holograms had an individual story, plus we had the Misfits, Eric Raymond, his hacker for hire and Stormer’s sadness fueling her songwriting.
The way that writing was presented on that page was an extension of the way the series has presented performance. It can be difficult to show the writing process, without making it external through a monologue or using a signifier like a bunch of balled up paper in the wastebasket. Here, the space behind the panels is a page from Stormer’s notebook, complete with doodles in the margins, and words crossed out. The stack of lipstick smudged cups tell us that Stormer was true to her word and did wait all day for Kimber. Through her writing, Stormer’s feelings evolve. Anger and resentment at Kimber develop and she ends up leaving her a terse voicemail. It’s an effective sequence and my favorite in the issue. In a fresh and accessible way, Thompson and Vieceli are able to visualize an internal change within Stormer.
Another visual cue that I found striking was the transition between Jerrica’s reaction to Rio’s interest in interviewing Jem and Shana’s moment before pushing send on her application. They’ve never looked more like sisters. They have the same wide eyed look and matching crease between their brows. They also fill the frame in the same angle with the tops of their heads cropped by the panel.
All of the Holograms are going through things separate from their lives as a band. Aja is definitely having the most fun. And her motor bike date with Craig was a nice break from the anxiety of her sisters and the plotting of the villain Eric Raymond. Oh, Eric Raymond, I was wondering how he would be introduced in this version of the story. I didn’t know if he would have the style or flair of the other characters. He is the most conventional looking character and I think you’re right, Patrick, that he may be the most malevolent.
In a way, it is only fair that The Misfits have Eric Raymond, because Synergy is a pretty powerful behind-the-scenes force for The Holograms. In the first arc of the series, Synergy was a bit functional and expository, but in this issue we get to see her in a more maternal role. The fact that Kimber calls this out makes me think that it is something to pay attention to. I don’t know that I need more origin story for Synergy, but that the girl’s father built a sentient robot who looks like their mother is definitely something I would be happy to see explored in the future.
The hacker introduced in the last couple pages of the book remains unnamed and is an interesting threat. The individual members of The Holograms may be dealing with heartbreak, falling in love, conflicting dreams, and maintaining a facade, but a threat to Synergy would unite them all. This issue introduces so many ideas and deals with each one so deftly that I cannot wait to see where it all goes. And that is what new arcs are about, right?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
Great note about Stormer’s lyrics, Ryan! I also love how that stands in contrast to the way music is usually portrayed in this series. Maybe it’s because these lyrics don’t have the sheen of performance, or maybe it’s because the content is a little bleaker, but I love seeing (again) a black and white representation of Holograms/Misfits songs. It just means so much more after we’ve seen so many colorful performances.