As the focus moves to the aftermath of Pizzazz’s accident at the climax of last issue, Rio takes center stage, giving us a wealth of insight into his identity as a journalist and the inner workings of the Misfits. This issue is an immediate jump up from the previous two and re-establishes what Thompson does best on this book, which is to delve into the emotional worlds of the characters, and to that end Rio, or at least her revamped version of him, makes for a very compelling viewpoint character.
It’s somewhat ironic that while it’s Jerrica who is generally thought of as leading a life caught between two worlds, which is front and center in Jen Bartel’s gorgeous cover, this issue reveals just how completely Rio has one foot in each of the Misfits and Holograms’ worlds and knows each band better than they know each other. Illustrating the point perfectly is that the issue opens with Rio arriving to the hospital before anyone else, followed closely by Stormer who has just discovered that she’s Pizzazz’s emergency contact. As the issue unfolds and Rio tracks down the various members to gather together a story on Pizzazz’s accident, a richer image of her begins to emerge as her bandmates describe both their coping mechanisms for dealing with her mood swings and what they’re able to perceive of her under the public performance she puts on. Of course, this is a portrait that Thompson began sketching almost immediately and began to come into sharp relief when Eric Raymond made his long awaited debut.
It makes a lot of sense that Thompson has built Pizzazz up to make this twist actually resonate with the audience, but it’s also a tricky move because Pizzazz had the biggest presence and was, up until now, the most fascinating and compelling character of the bunch. It’s entirely possible that her rehabilitation will be figuring into upcoming issues, but if it isn’t, then she’s leaving a sizeable hole in the comic, as borne out by how much space she takes up in this issue without having a single line of dialogue. I’m pretty sure that I can say all of that without being unduly biased by my affection for her because all of that affection is wholly based on Thompson and Campbell’s vision of her. With that said, Rio has stepped up magnificently this issue, and the key strength of his position and narration is that we don’t just get deeper insight into Pizzazz, or even her bandmates, but him as well. My presumption though, is that Blaze will be taking center stage when she steps up to take Pizzazz’s place, but only time will tell.
It’s interesting how Rio fights with his editor over how to approach his reporting on the accident, with his editor seemingly looking for a sleazy tabloid take and Rio coming out the other side with a scoop on the Holograms opening for the Misfits west coast tour, burying Pizzazz’s accident in the piece. Rio feels too close to everyone involved to even be the one reporting on the story, but the story he tells us is the evidence that his is the only voice that could do it and everyone involved justice. It’s a very understandable perspective though, especially within the comics industry where personal and professional entanglements have frequently problematized potential reporting on major issues, and it’s one that Thompson herself knows inside and out, having transitioned from a critic to creator. The music industry has a very similar, albeit larger, enthusiast press corps to comics and so there will be a lot of sympathetic head nodding to Rio’s situation in this issue. It doesn’t really do it any justice to say that Thompson brings the most out of Rio that we’ve ever seen, because there has literally never been anything brought out of him, or really anyone until now.
The other interesting point here is how Rio conceptualizes the two bands, talking about the layers that you have to peel back from the Misfits to get at how they really are and connect with each other relative to how the Holograms are very much what they appear to be on the surface and open themselves up much more easily. Rio’s perspective naturally privileges the latter over the former both because he’s dating Jerrica and they’re the heroes of the story. His assessment is certainly correct, but I also think it does a lot to highlight just how much more compelling the Misfits, or at least Stormer and Pizzazz, have been than any of the Holograms. The difficult thing with Jerrica is of course that her social anxiety causes her to shrink herself in a world that’s all about being dramatic and larger than life, but Jem herself isn’t a lot more than a quiet, benevolent presence.
I do like that fact, that Thompson isn’t forwarding the notion that underneath Jerrica’s anxiety is a gigantic boisterous personality waiting to explode onto the scene, because while it makes for some interesting storytelling and is definitely more or less accurate to some of the lives that actual musicians lead, it isn’t always the case. It would be interesting to see her attempt that kind of performance and let it go to her head the way Barbara Gordon did in her first arc in Burnside further down the line though. Even between Kimber and Stormer, it’s Stormer who’s the more grounded and emotionally nuanced one while Kimber is her very own particular brand of manic pixie girl. It’s a dynamic that I appreciate and has definitely paid the most dividends so far.
Corin Howell picks up art duties this month, and while there’s plenty of sparks it just never truly catches fire in a way that speaks to Vieceli and Campbell’s successes on the title. Howell keeps everyone carefully on model and communicates all the right emotional beats, but it comes off feeling somehow unfinished or rushed. What makes it work, though, is that Howell succeeds in areas where a good chunk of prominent artists utterly fail, namely staying consistent with established designs, communicating race effectively through cartooning, and ability to display a wide range of facial expressions to match the emotional beats of the story. Everything most critical to a down tempo issue that was going to rest heavily on the writing one way or another is in place however, so the weaknesses are mostly superficial. Howell hits Stormer and Roxy the best, which again, is something not many artists in the mainstream can do well when it comes to fat or muscular women.
All in all, it’s great to see such a strong bounceback for the title with an issue that plays to Thompson’s natural strengths and reasserts just what makes this title so successful. The only real weakness the series has suffered is the meandering pace, which will hopefully sort itself out as Jem enters into its second year.
Written by Kelly Thompson
Drawn by Corin Howell with colors by M. Victoria Robado
Letters by Shawn Lee
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.