IDW’s Jem and the Holograms Comic is the Reboot Fans Deserve!
Jem and the Holograms debuted as a cartoon series in 1985, created by Christy Marx, a staff writer for the original cartoon shows of Transformers and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. The odd cartoon that mixed battling bands with sci-fi tech found a way to brand itself into the minds of ’80s kids, even if they didn’t watch it. It was inevitable this “truly outrageous” band would be rebooted. But more significant is that the new Jem and the Holograms comic from IDW, which released its fourth issue this week. . . is really good!
Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell put together this reboot story, which Thompson scripted and Campbell did art on, with colors by M. Victoria Robado and letters by Shawn Lee. There is a clear love for the original story, but Campbell and Thompson are also smart enough to ask what needs to be updated so the story doesn’t just retread old ground.
The comic stays true to Marx’s basic premise. Jerrica Benton is a manager and owner of Starlight Music. Her closest friends are her sister Kimber and her adopted sisters Aja and Shana. After inheriting advanced, experimental technology created by her father, Jerrica creates a holographic rock star alter ego named “Jem,” lead singer of the Holograms (which includes her sisters). As Jem and the Holograms rock out and act as positive role models, they keep clashing with an angsty, cynical band called The Misfits.
It’s a fun concept, but both Kid Me and Adult Me asked the same question from the very beginning: Why does Jerrica need a secret alter ego? Why not just tell the world hey, I’m a great businesswoman and a dynamite singer/songwriter? Why hide behind a holographic mask?
On just the first page, without any dialogue, Thompson and Campbell give us a simple answer that instantly made me empathize with Jerrica in a way I hadn’t before. Being expected to perform in front of anyone outside of her sisters fills Jerrica with such anxiety that she can’t speak, much less sing. The hologram lets her feel safe. Jem is a suit of rock star armor Jerrica creates out of light and hope. This isn’t an alter ego and it’s not an identity created for Jerrica by marketing research. This is her own power and agency creating a solution to her fears. That’s wonderful and empowering.
Of course, Jerrica isn’t the only character of the book. In a short amount of time, we get a pretty good idea of the personalities of the other bandmates and they are a fun, diverse bunch. Diverse in every sense of the word, in fact. They dress differently, speak differently, and have different body types. When so many books feature characters who look like they were use the same closet and walked out of the same “attractive woman” factory, it’s fantastic to see what Campbell has done with the cast. Everyone has their own style that you aren’t going to confuse with the others.
The art’s high points don’t stop there. Robado’s colors are dynamic and highly saturated, letting you know that this is a fun, slightly exaggerated reality. It pays homage to the bright splashes of colors seen on MTV in the 1980s without making the book seem like it’s dated or satire. Campbell’s faces convey so much, complementing the dialogue and actions. You can clearly hear the characters’ voices and tones in your head.
That’s even more important when you consider that this is a series about relationships. It’s about friends and artistic collaborators, how they’ll support each other and argue with each other, how passions get high when music and success are on the line. In the initial cartoon episodes, The Misfits were murderous. Their schemes to disrupt the Holograms’ popularity involve bombs and deadly car chases. Here, The Misfits are aggressive and cynical, immediately seeing the Holograms as a threat to their success rather than welcoming them as another band with strong performers. The Misfits have adapted an “us or them” attitude, one they’re proud to act on.
The book is also about love. Kimber pursues Misfits member Stormer, who’s loyalty is tested because her band considers such a relationship a betrayal. In the cartoon, Rio was introduced as Jerrica’s clueless boyfriend, comically (and oddly) kept in the dark about her alter ego and often falling into the role of damsel in distress. Here, Rio (who wonderfully maintains purple hair and wardrobe colors that many would deem feminine) meets Jerrica for the first time in issue #2 and we get to see just how and why the two become a couple. We’re not just told to accept that physically attractive characters will naturally fall in love. And it now makes sense that Rio is not immediately told about the alter ego because he is new to Jerrica’s life. Will this new guy, who’s obviously intelligent and insightful, judge Jerrica if she admits that she uses a hologram to look like a taller, more glamorous version of herself because she has anxiety? The longer you wait, the worse the lie can get, but it’s understandable that she’s not keen on telling him when they’ve truly just met.
The only criticisms that spring to mind is that so far The Misfits are still largely unexplored. We’ve gotten a fairly good idea about the Holograms’ personalities, but I’m not sure what The Misfits are all about when they’re not thinking about their music rivals. Do they have any real friends outside of the band? If not, even addressing that directly could be interesting. I’m also curious to learn more about Jerrica and Kimber’s father. What drove the guy to build an A.I. and all this incredible tech? Will the band suggest that Jerrica might be selfish for keeping such technology a secret when it could change the music industry? I’m hoping we’ll see all these addressed in future issues, though. After all, it’s still very early in the series.
Ask your shops for issues 1-3. If you can’t find them yet, you can still get issue #4 and know what you need to know thanks to this review and the very helpful “previously” page that opens up each installment. Jem and the Holograms is a great all-ages story that promises fun and genuine human feeling for old fans and those who’ve never encountered the character before. Check it out already!
Alan “Sizzler” Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is the author of the New York Times Best Seller Doctor Who: A History. He is an actor and screenwriter who moonlights as a freelance writer, script consultant and consulting geek, and has been recognized as a comic book historian focusing on superheroes. His work can also be found in the book Star Trek and History and the upcoming The Walking Dead Psychology. He digs time travel, feminism, representation, cartoons, vampires, Scotch, and cooked meats. Look for him at SDCC. http://AlanKistler.com