By Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, and M. Victoria Robado
Jem and the Holograms was a 1980s animated genre show. Like a lot of animation at the time it was highly imaginative despite the more commercialized nature of the storytelling at hand. It was a show cut from a similar cloth as the big names of the decade like Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The big difference was that Jem and the Holograms was a genre show for girls, revolving around a girl band that ended up swept up in crazy adventures thanks to their hologram technology. As the bottomless repository of nostalgic revisionism that is the Internet has been dominated by the adolescent memories of male generation X-ers Jem and the Holograms hasn’t been given its due over the last decade or so. Now, however, people are waking up to the idea that women can like geeky things too and Jem and the Holograms is finally getting reappraised and a big part of that is a comic book reboot from IDW that is not only amazing, it’s the best ongoing comic of 2015.
Jem and the Holograms the comic revolves around a band, like the original show did, only now the manner of that focus has shifted somewhat. Here the central band members are up and comers led by two sisters, Jerrica and Kimber. Jerrica is the heart and soul of the band but can’t perform due to her severe stage fright that borders on anxiety. Luckily, her father left her and her sister a holographic system called Synergy that’s able to project an image around her. The holographic imaging allows Jerrica to adopt a new persona on stage as Jem, helping her overcome her anxiety and lead her band to great things.
That may sound like a lot of set-up but it’s only because Jem and the Holograms works more off of its set-up than a driving narrative. Rather than a series of conflicts or challenges to make-up each issue Jem and the Holograms takes a leisurely but character driven approach to stories following the lives of the various band. It’s certainly not a comic to read if you’re someone who needs a lot of complex story or action to become engaged with the material. The greater draw here is firmly grounded in the series’ excellently written characters and the phenomenal artwork.
The art by Sophie Campbell and the colors by M. Victoria Robado are a massive draw for this series. Campbell does a superb job designing every character to look fully realized and unique without ever letting the panels feel cluttered. Both the Holograms and the Misfits wear these elaborate outfits with a ton of unique individual components that easily could end up blended together poorly, but Campbell and Robado make it work perfectly. Robado’s color work is a big help to this too, each of the characters are done with a unique defining color that always stands out the most to identify them amid their unique outfits. What’s more there’s also an interesting color dichotomy formed between the characters and their antagonists; the Holograms sporting much lighter pastels complemented by accenting neons while the Misfits, the rival band, use black as a base color. It’s a subtle distinction, but it tells you a ton about how each group’s music should sound and their personalities overall. It’s also tremendously refreshing to see so much diversity in the main cast, both in terms of race and body type. It goes a long way to help define character that neither the Misfits nor the Holograms look like an idealized clone army; they look like real people.
The characters are all wonderfully written and incredibly engaging thanks to Kelly Thompson’s great scripting. Jerrica balances between passionate and anxious perfectly and her unique strength makes you almost instantly invested in her struggle. Kimber’s loud personality and low impulse control is the perfect counterpoint to her sister. She basically plays the role of a character who gives into their id, but unlike most group comedies this doesn’t make her a total monster, it just makes her more relatable and fun. Pizzazz, leader of the Misfits and arguably the series villain, isn’t even that villainous so much as she’s just confrontational with a short fuse. No one in the comic feels short-changed, even supporting characters like Stormer, Aja, and Rio are fully realized characters with a unique personality that sets them apart from just being more band members.
What’s ultimately so great about Jem and the Holograms though, is that it’s an adventure beyond the standard realm of comics. So much of the experience of comic books comes from the mind of guys and is focused thoroughly onto our world of experiences and ideas that it’s supremely refreshing to see a book grounded in something so different from all that. Reading Jem and the Holograms lets you experience something new and fun and different and beyond yourself. It’s a comic that takes you out of your comfort zone but not by being dark and disturbing, just by coming from somewhere so different from what we’re used to. Check it out and have a new experience.