Bringing back one of my favorite properties of the ’80s, girl power enters 2015 still covered in pink. Is it truly truly truly outrageous?
Jem and the Holograms #1 (IDW Publishing)
We open on a shot of a rock band, all girls, modern with some throwback touches.
Ahhh, the keytar. I’ve missed you.
Everyone is playing hard, but there’s a problem. The lead singer isn’t singing. Eventually she gives up and runs outside, with the redhead following to check up on her.
Here we get the lowdown – the lead singer is Jerrica, who has a terrible problem with stage fright. Her fellow bandmates (who are also her sisters) are starting to get fed up with her inability to perform. The band is on the verge of breaking out, and they are trying to enter a video competition to play against the Misfits to establish their cred. They’ve tried to film this video several times, each time Jerrica fleeing when the pressure gets too high.
Kimber, who was rocking that sweet keytar earlier, lays down the law: either Jerrica gets it together, or the band is moving on without her. Her issues are causing the whole band to fight but they want to give her one more chance.
Jerrica gives up and heads back to their home studio, when a bolt of lightning shorts out the power. When it comes back on, a glowing figure appears before her – Synergy, a holographic computer built by their deceased father, who can make all their dreams come true.
The rest of the band comes home and they discover Synergy’s powers – she can create completely lifelike holograms and Jerrica’s father’s final gift, hologram projector earrings, let Jerrica create an alter ego to help her overcome her fears.
Is It Good?
In her author’s note, Thompson gives us her mission statement for this book – this is not the Jem and the Holograms we grew up with. So let’s address those changes.
The bones of the story are the same – the band mates are all sisters (some by adoption) and their deceased father created Synergy, who is still a super powerful holographic computer and synthesizer. Their rival band is the Misfits, and the girls’ basic characters seem to be the same, down to their hair colors.
But in this world, Jerrica isn’t a confident business woman. In the cartoons, even though she’s only 22, Jerrica is running her own company and looks like a grown woman. Here, the characters look and act much younger, even though they are the same ages as the cartoon.
This comic version feels built to appeal to a much wider age range, from the younger-looking characters, to the abundance of pastel colors and “edgy” looks that came from Hot Topic. I did love all the ’80s callbacks: the instruments, the color scheme, even Synergy. That name is just hilarious now. Ironic how her being a synthesizer is completely relevant to the music business today – I bet she’s got an auto-tune feature built in.
I went into this book with an open mind; I genuinely wanted to like this book. I loved the cartoon, and I adored my Jem doll, her massive size making her look like an Amazon next to Barbie (which was incredibly annoying since they couldn’t share clothes). I was excited to see these creators take something fun I had loved and give it some depth.
And the book does that a bit. Jerrica and the band are much more relatable as struggling up and comers, with real world problems. The original lineup was racially diverse and luckily they didn’t change that, and they made their bodies more actual-people shaped than doll-shaped. Campbell’s art overall is fun, active, and lovely. It’s also implied in the character cards in the back that Kimber is a lesbian, so thumbs up for including an LGBT character. All this is good.
However, the writing is just not very strong. There are several amateurish ticks, like characters saying the name of whoever they are speaking to, some really awkward dialog, and WAY too much telling rather than showing. Thompson is very new to the comics industry and the writing industry in general and unfortunately, it shows. The dialog could have used a much stronger editorial polish.
This first issue had to cover the ground we are all familiar with, but I wish it hadn’t felt like they were just checking off all the boxes. Discovering Synergy and what she could do felt especially rushed and anti-climactic. Including the character sheets in the back felt like a shortcut to knowing the characters instead of letting us discover it in the story itself, but this might also be helpful for younger readers, so I’m torn on that on.
There are hints of promise here. I like that Thompson had Jerrica composing a song, a nice throwback to all the original music in the cartoon. The girls have distinct personalities and hopefully in coming issues we’ll get more of their family dynamics. I’ll stick around for more issues, but I really hope the writing improves.
(PS – Marvel fans. Did anyone else look at the Synergy/Jem reveals and think, someone loves her some Medusa? Just me?)