Review: Jem and the Holograms Volume 1 – Showtime
Writer – Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell as co-plotter
Covers & Interior Art – Sophie Campbell
Colors – M. Victoria Robado
Lettering – Shawn Lee, Tom Long, Robbie Robbins
Editor – John Barber
Variant Covers – Stephanie Hans, Amy Mebberson, Sara Richard, Agnes Garbowska, Amanda Conner (colors by Paul Mounts), David Lafuente (colors by John Rauch), Marguerite Sauvage, Tommy Lee Edwards, Jenevieve Broomall
Jem and the Holograms is the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. The day it arrived I read the book cover to cover, then immediately read it again. I would be happy having that as the entire review, but I think I’ll go a little more in depth as to why this comic is worth your time.
Four sisters (Jerrica, Kimber, Aja and Shana) are trying to launch their musical career with their group, The Holograms. The problem? Their manager, songwriter and lead singer, Jerrica, has crippling stage fright. Even shooting a video with a skeleton crew is too much for her to handle. The band would have fallen apart if not for the activation of Synergy, their deceased father’s greatest invention. Synergy is an artificial intelligence interface that can project holograms, allowing the unassuming Jerrica to transform herself in to the flashy, confident frontwoman Jem.
With their lead singer back on track and Synergy providing dazzling visuals, they enter a Battle of the Bands competition sponsored by the popular act The Misfits. From there the book is about how Jem and the Holograms start dealing with their newfound popularity, romance (notably showing an open lesbian relationship without prejudice towards either person’s sexuality), the Battle of the Bands contest and the unknown conflict between them and The Misfits. Adventure, romance, drama, and a lot of fun ensues.
There are a lot of things that make this comic work and I’ll discuss the big ones, but first I want to talk about what this opening story arc doesn’t do. For one, the person who attracts the attention of Rio, a music reporter covering The Misfits, is Jerrica and not Jem. The Superman/Lois Lane dynamic is a great one, but seeing it flipped here shows that good relationships come from human connection, and makes the character seem far less shallow than lesser depictions of someone like Lois. It also shows the issues that come with having a secret identity, albeit a plainer one than Clark Kent deals with, and I like the way they handle the conflict in this budding relationship.
Another complete 180 from the normal conventions of fictional relationships is the story of Kimber and Stormer, two openly lesbian characters. While their initial meetings are clandestine, it’s because they’re on rival bands and not because of their sexuality. There’s also very little time between the initial “You’re cute,” and “Do you want to go out sometime?” The same is true for Rio and Jerrica. It feels natural, and it bypasses the usual storytelling to do something new and interesting.
Now to the most obvious point in this comic’s favor – the visuals. This is one of the most gorgeous comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The character designs, fashion, poses, layouts, coloring, they’re all completely on point. The characters all have different body types that are firmly removed from a typically over-idealized style, lending even more variety to the visuals. And of course, the way they handle the musical sections is the enormous cherry on top of this visual sundae.
The art does occasionally have minor hiccups – because of the constantly changing outfits and hairstyles it can be difficult to tell some characters apart right away. The musical sections are incredible, but the layouts have occasionally tripped me up. More obviously, there are a few panels where the background art is black and white, looking more like unfinished inks. Maybe it’s intended to reduce visual clutter, but it sticks out instead.
Jem is visually stunning, but if that was all the comic was then I wouldn’t be writing this. This is an incredibly sweet comic, with the familial relationship between the four sisters anchoring its lightest and weightiest moments. These people really love each other and it shows without touching saccharine territory – no easy feat.
One of the things I focus on as a reader and a writer, in part thanks to Lauren Faust, is examining what feminine-specific characterization and relationships are like. I point to the episode Boast Busters from the currently running My Little Pony, where the prodigy Twilight Sparkle is afraid of being seen as a braggart in showing her special talent. This never would have occurred to me to write, and would never have been shown with a male protagonist.
It’s here where Jem’s writing excels. It provides feminine characterization and relationships in a way that gives it a different and engaging tone, both on its own merits and in comparison to other series. This perspective gives dimensions to every character that I normally don’t see. Character is the name of the game and Jem plays that game brilliantly.
If you love these, you might love Jem and the Holograms: Terra (2008), Power Girl (2009), Batgirl (2009), My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Who is this comic for? Absolutely everyone. But I would particularly recommend Jem to female readers, kids, people on the LGBTQ spectrum, people who love bright and flashy art, and fans of the cartoon.
How’s the trade? This is a beautifully constructed softcover trade. The spine is numbered, and it contains a gallery of variant covers and character profiles. Essays from members of the creative team discuss the importance of making the comic to them personally and some parts of the creative process. Each issue is separated by a cover, and the book presents a complete story arc. If I graded my reviews, the construction would get an A+.