Published on March 25th, 2015 | by Lauren McPhee0
Jem and the Holograms #1 – Review
I’m coming at this from a fan perspective; you might not be, you might not know these characters or understand the mad premise of a holographic glam-rock star and her adventure/fashion/fame rivalry with a punky, bad girl band. The challenge, then, of creating a comic like Jem and the Holograms out of a thirty year old syndicated children’s’ cartoon is to produce something that both long-time fans and new readers will enjoy and this is something that writer and artist Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell are well aware of. This is the challenge they have accepted. I actually kind of envy them.
First of all, as they acknowledge, the creators are working with some excellent source material. Developed by Christy Marx, who I personally couldn’t gush about enough, the cartoon is a 1980s treasure, one of the first cartoons to be produced and marketed for girls as well as being remarkably well written, intelligent and mature for what we would expect of children’s television (although, now this is what I do expect). Marx has provided a canvas of diverse female characters, a dazzling aesthetic setting and a technological cornerstone that adapts right into our social media, celebrity, simulacra infused world. So, put into the hands of Thompson and Campbell, what do we get?
Instantly, I can tell you that it is something beautiful. The first page alone is a pastel painting of music, distinctly Jem and yet subtle enough to reflect and enhance Jerrica’s feelings of insecurity as she stands silently at the mic stand. The second splash page, shadows encroaching from the edges of the page, position the band on a stage under harsh studio lights, a blank performance waiting to happen but faltering as Jerrica’s fears drive her from the stage. What follows, occurring in the alley behind the studio, is the setting up of premise and relationships, and the characteristic of Thompson’s voice as she constructs the different characters.
It’s clear in the comic and emphasised by the biographies given at the back that the creators have taken their time getting to know these characters, and crafting unique and true identities for them. This is perhaps the most difficult of the cartoon’s legacies to honour because it came almost before the proliferation of stereotypes in women’s media: the smart one, the sweet one, the sexy one. How then to continue the legacy of complexity that made Jem appealing not just to a variety of young women, but to boys and adults as well?
Visual diversity is a start. Kimber has legs like a giraffe and the visual style of a glam-goth, all pale skin and ruffles. The red wings on her eyes are striking, bat-like, as is her cascade of hair with the shaved sides. Compared to petit, pastel Jerrica with the button nose and pale pink eye-liner, Kimber’s confidence and determination are worn openly, comfortably. Then there is Shana, soft in purple and all curves and waves vs the spikier Aja in electric blue and studded belts and buckles. Their designs compliment character and stay true to history, but it’s the writing that really endows each with personality beyond a couple of buzz words.
Kimber is funny. This was one of the best surprises laid in wait in the comics. I knew Shana would be mild mannered, I knew Aja would be a bit of a hard-ass, but I didn’t know Kimber would be so funny. Meanwhile, the take on Jerrica, being the most dramatic – from company director to shy lead singer – takes the longest getting used to, but nonetheless, her anxiety expressed through the visuals won over my empathy. Then comes Synergy, and the biggest link back to the original series, honouring the character through the use of direct quotes, but with a bit of added sassiness. The bands’ meeting with her is sort of the crux, the turning point of the action, although it feels a little rushed towards the creation of the Jem hologram.
The last page sort of says it all, though: Kimber’s ecstasy, Jem’s striking pose, Shana’s shock and Aja’s look of concern while Synergy calmly observes the whole thing. It speaks to the comic’s concerns, as well as readers’ concerns dating back to the original series. What are the consequences of having a secret identity? Who is Jem? What exactly are Synergy’s motivations? When the premise of a story is to get over your anxiety by transforming into an idealised version of femininity for the purposes of stardom, well? Nothing is ever that simple…or at least we should hope not.
So, what can we take away from this first issue? Firstly, this is a creative team who knows what they are doing and although I think the issue itself felt a little rushed through, it contained all the set up you need to understand the main characters and the story. Secondly, the art is fantastic, from character design, to layout, to colouring. The visual style is both in keeping with and an evolution of the glam-rock influence on the original series, and stands out amongst other comics series. And lastly, the story and emotion and humour of this issue has me on my toes until I can get my hands on the next one. Fan of the show or not, this is a fun book with a lot of intrigue, heart and story to tell and I cannot wait until next month and the introduction of The Misfits to add that extra spice.