Look, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, we discuss Jem and the Holograms 23, Reborn 4, and Saga 42. Today we also discussed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 66, and we’ll be discussing Star Wars 27 on Tuesday and Animosity: The Rise 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Jem and the Holograms 23
Ryan M.: Jem and the Holograms is about sisterhood. Jerrica, Aja, Shana and Kimber are not just a band; they’re family. While much of the early arcs concerned romance and the girl’s relationship with fame, it always came back to how those things affected the core relationships among the women. In Jem and the Holograms 23, Shana has a sweet goodbye with her fellow intern before returning to the states. When we met Regine, I anticipated a story of competition with some backstabbing and maybe even a catfight. I should have understood the story that Kelly Thompson was telling was not about to fall into that trap. Instead, Regine and Shana worked together, respected each other and developed a personal bond. The distance between my expectations of their relationship and the way it played out had me examining the rest of the story for Mean Girls.
The Misfits are clearly set up to be the aggressive women who will stop at nothing to keep other women down. However, that’s not really how they operate. Yes, Pizazz is slightly crazed and more-than-slightly paranoid, but within the band, they trust and depend on another. Even their plan to upstage Jem and the Holograms at the event is not directly mean or humiliating. I think they were intending a small explosion with the cake. Perhaps the biggest potential indignity would be if Jem got some frosting on her dress? While the book does not have an overtly feminist message, it presents an intersectional world wherein women are pursuing their dreams and working together with none of the backbiting that we’ve been trained to expect from fictional women.
There is still some excitement in this issue, because Pizazz’ cake explosion scheme becomes a full on fireworks display in the ballroom. Meredith McClaren uses the fire alarm to create a real sense of urgency and disonnance as Jem and Aja work to carry Kimber out of the burning room.
The unending alarm dwarfs the human figures, making the Holograms seem vulnerable. It’s especially effective as they are more exposed than they know. Raya witnesses Jem’s hologram slipping and learns the truth of her identity. I don’t know what to make of her immediately quitting her band to join the Holograms, but given the world Thompson has established, Raya is less likely a threat than a future member of the sisterhood.
Spencer: Reborn feels like a video game. The mission to find Bonnie’s husband provides a rough framework for a variety of adventures, and Mark Millar and Greg Capullo treat each issue like a new level of the game, each providing a world with its own feel, rules, and boss (I suppose this makes issue 1 the opening cutscene). This could actually be a really compelling format for a series, yet in Reborn it just feels shallow.
I think the problem is that each scenario just doesn’t have enough time to breath. Millar and Capullo have been building up General Frost for three issues now, yet he’s dispatched in an instant, and with no real resolution between he and Bonnie. Bonnie barely seems affected by meeting him at all; she remembers Frost being her cat in the “old world,” then immediately slaughters him and moves on. If he was always such a small obstacle in Bonnie’s path, why bother to establish the connection between them at all? Ruby’s former relationship with Bonnie is equally insubstantial.
The rules don’t really add up for me either. For example, these are the rules we’re given about Black Wish Mountain.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I took away from this is that if you kill someone on Black Wish Mountain, you’re allowed one “negative” wish. Bonnie eventually frees herself and her father by using a negative wish to kill all their attackers in one fell swoop, yet not only does Bonnie personally not kill anyone, but no one dies at all before she makes the wish. So why was Bonnie’s wish granted? If she could make a wish without killing anyone, why does Millar establish that you need to kill someone to create a wish? As clever as Bonnie’s plan is, it doesn’t fully make sense.
My biggest problem with Reborn, though, is with its central premise; bringing “good people” back as pure, powerful warriors and “bad people” back as depraved, vicious villains is incredibly simplistic, and leads to shallow characters with little motivation beyond simply being “good” or “evil.” Really, I could forgive all of Reborn‘s plot and structural problems if it had characters or themes worth exploring, but as it is, I’m just not feeling it. Without the emotional punch that made its first issue so compelling, Reborn is just another Empress: a generic, somewhat bland action story bolstered only by its fantastic artist.
Patrick: There is a moment that in the Sin City story “That Yellow Bastard” that I’ve always loved. Our hero, Detective Hartigan has been hanged by Ethan Roark’s goons, and Frank Miller takes a beat the size of an entire splash page to let us contemplate the character’s death. It’s only a split second, because we’re mercifully a page-turn away from Hartigan pulling himself together and escaping his death trap, but the blackness that ends one splash page and starts the next sends a clear sign about just how horrifyingly empty the void of death is. With Saga 42, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples best Miller, making both the death and the blackness as powerful as humanly possible.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – this is yet another issue of Saga that reduced me to an uncontrollably sobbing mess in my kitchen. This creative team is clearly adept at playing my heart strings, knowing exactly how to tune them up and strike a devastating chord at the last second. But I find myself reaching the end of this issue and only wanting to hear something — anything — from a mute choir. Vaughan and Staples are so good at showing moments of violence and loss and heartbreak, that it’s genuinely unnerving when they actively withhold it from the reader. There’s a little bit of this sprinkled throughout the issue – such as the weird close-up images we get of the Timesuck ripping Phang apart, or even the sketchy details surrounding the Wings’ false-flag attack on the Robot outpost, or even the circumstances surrounding The Will’s new enemy. The operative word in all these cases is confusion – a lack of information. That proves to be scarier than the losses we can actively see.
I keep thinking about to this weekend. I’ve been feverishly following the news about our President’s Executive Orders and the resistance at the State and civilians levels. I’m driven to read more, and see more, and experience more because the alternative is what’s truly maddening. Seeing, knowing, understanding – these are comforts. Marko and Alana’s loss at the end of this issue is necessarily invisible – there’s literally nothing for us to see as the life in Alana’s womb is quietly snuffed out. Staples leans into this idea: the same basic image four times, powerless to show us the thing that’s hurting our heroes so much.
And then there’s the end of the issue. Hazel’s voiceover opines relationships lost before they start, in typically effective Vaughan-speak, and it’s sort of comforting to have the end of a world narrated your favorite poet. But the poem stops mid verse, against a solid black page. Swallowed up by the Timesuck? Or maybe we are inside Alana’s womb now? Where are we and what have we lost? It’s an agonizing eight pages of blackness. I kept swiping on my Kindle, praying for that moment of reversal that I got in “That Yellow Bastard,” any sign that things were going to be okay. But Vaughan and Staples know better, and that sign never comes.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?