Writer: Kelly Thompson, Ross Campbell
Artist: Ross Campbell
Jem and the Holograms was not a show I watched as a kid. I was, after all, a boy and girls obviously had cooties so thus there was no reason to watch a show featuring girls. So, I don’t have a nostalgic love for Jem from my childhood, but I did find the show when I was in college where I very much learned to enjoy it, cooties and all. Jem is the perfect example of a show that is so bad it’s good. The clothes, the hair, the ridiculous amount of fluorescent coloring, and the cheesy dialogue are all afforded that perfect mixture as to be simultaneously hilarious for all the wrong reasons and heartwarming for all the right ones. So my question coming into the comic reboot is, can they capture that same magic or will they try to avoid that cheesiness? After reading the whole first issue, I’m still not sure.
For those who are tragically unaware of the basic plot of Jem and The Holograms, let me fill you in. There is a woman who, for some cruel reason, is named Jerrica and her dead father leaves her “the ultimate audio-visual entertainment synthesizer”. This allows her to transform her appearance to Jem, who is fantastic. Basically she has pink hair, is a rock star, and can turn herself into a one woman light show. Jem and her bandmates, The Holograms who are in perpetual battle with, “The Misfits” who are generally trying to do something shady to show-up our heroes and take their fame. And for the most part this first comic takes the exact same set up and follows it faithfully. Dead dad invents holographic super computer and instead of using this amazing technology to benefit humanity, he leaves it to his daughter. His daughter, instead of using this amazing technology to benefit humanity, uses it to get over her fear of public singing. Granted, who among us can say that in a choice between being helpful and being fabulous, would take the high road?
All in all the comics writing does match that kind of “so bad it’s almost good again” with song lyrics like, “Everyone’s like glitter, shining bright, bathed in light, All true and real made for this.” Which is just…awful but also kind of earnest in the way only teenagers can be. But the comic is also trying to update the series with a more character-based connection between the bandmates and this for me is where the whole thing kind of falls apart. So, on one side you have realistic characters who are genuinely well written and kind of make me care about them. On the other hand you have the stupid setup that is the entire premise behind this comic and the franchise in general. And I didn’t get a clear idea in this first comic how those two things are going to balance. Is the series going to be a tongue-in-cheek joke based on its previous version? Or is the story going to be a modern update which tries to represent Jerrica and her band mates in a realistic fashion? After this first issue, I’m still not sure which direction it wants to go and I think the comic is worse off for it.
Luckily, the art department is great, which I was a little bit worried about coming in. Jem, after all, is a comic about music and with few exceptions, that can be really hard to do. Half the fun of the show was the cheesy intro song. Luckily it turns out the way to fix this issue is to have a really solid letterer. Song lyrics and crash symbols, all clearly and instinctively convey both action and tone behind the sounds which, surprisingly, makes the comic work better than the show. The coloring is also the perfect pitch of neon vibrance, but subtly toned down for the more emotional parts which works well. The actual drawing is pretty great too, although there were a couple of rookie mistakes that bothered me. Mostly stacking panels on the left which is coming into fashion despite my lengthy diatribes against it. All things considered, the art team is solid; I don’t think it’s something that will inspire most to pick up the issue in and of itself but it definitely helps.
At the end of the day I kind of feel like this comic is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. It’s silly and stupid – the hologram activates because, “a storm must have turned me back on” – but also trying to be real teenage drama-type stuff about speakers and who sets them up. There are lots of feelings there and I’m not sure if this combination actually works. I still recommend it as a comic but be aware that Jem is fantastic but this comic book is only okay.
“Jem and The Holograms #1” earns 6/10 – Slight recommendation.