Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Jem and the Holograms Vol 1, Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell

Cover of Jem and the Holograms Volume One, Showtime, featuring four girls with diverse skin tones, hair colours, and body types performing on stage.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

A lot of 80s kids have fond memories of JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, and I’m no different. I spent seven years in the Hell Decade1, and Jem et al were one of the things that brightened it up.

That said, the vast majority of my Jem-related recollections have to do with my awesome star stage that was also a tape deck, and with how my one Jem doll2 was way taller than everyone else’s Barbies. If I ever saw the cartoon, it's faded from my memory.

So for me, Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell’s JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS [Amazon | The Book Depository | comiXology] falls into that strange realm between nostalgia and brand newness. I have an emotional connection to Jem as a beloved thing from my childhood, but not Jem as a particular story.

Which is to say, I don't mind the ways this incarnation of Jem may or may not differ from the older version.

Jerrica Benton and her three sisters, Kimber, Aja, and Shana, are ready to burst onto the music scene as the Holograms. The Misfits Vs! contest offers the perfect chance to get their video in front of thousands of listeners, especially since they’ll have an opportunity to face off against the uber-popular Misfits in a live battle of the bands if the video gets enough likes. There’s only one problem: Jerrica’s stage fright makes it impossible for her to perform in front of even a small crowd. Ulp!

Luckily, the girls’ scientist father left them the ultimate solution in the form of Synergy, an AI that can project three-dimensional holograms over anyone or anything--including Jerrica. Armed with an amazing stage persona for Jerrica and some kick-ass visual effects to go with their awesome music, the Holograms are ready to take on the world--provided the Misfits' jealous lead singer doesn’t sabotage them before the big day.

JEM is a fabulous addition to the all-ages comics revolution that’s flourished over the last couple of years. Even though the key players are all over eighteen, the focus on family, music, and friendship is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as people who’re old enough to (sort of) remember Jem’s original incarnation. I've tagged the book as young adult because the villainous Pizazz's temper might scare the youngest readers, but there's truly something for everyone here.

Sophie Campbell’s painfully cute art sets the tone. Every single character is some variety of adorable. Even better, the cast is composed almost entirely of women who represent multiple races and an enormous range of body types. And before you ask, their clothes aren’t the standard painted on comic book duds with windows in awkward places. Everyone looks stylish and comfortable and like they dressed to suit themselves rather than some undefined male viewer.

The colour palette is bright and attractive, too, and ginormous stuffed My Little Ponies appear on more than one occasion.

What, like you’re opposed to ginormous stuffed My Little Ponies?

Thompson and Campbell give us as much variety with their characters’ personalities as with their designs. Each of the women we meet is her own distinct self, from capable but stage-shy Jerrica to perpetually lovestruck Kimber to hot-tempered Pizazz, and they forge such wonderful relationships with one another. The bonds between the sisters are sweet, supportive, and impossible to deny. (This doesn’t mean they never fight, of course. It just means they’re good at making up afterwards, because that’s what family does.) The two romantic relationships we see on the page crackle with chemistry. It’s obvious why Jerrica and Rio jive so well, and why Kimber and Stormer are drawn to one another. This makes it easy to root for everyone’s happiness, even as Thomposon and Campbell place daunting obstacles in the way.

It’s so significant that they’re all women, too. Like, that’s worth repeating. Rio, the journalist with whom Jerrica starts a relationship, is the only recurring guy, making JEM another comic to add to the ever-expanding list of books about women who do stuff for, with, and in spite of other women. More like this, please.

Then there’s the music! Thompson and Campbell rise to the challenge of visually representing an aural experience. The lyrics snake across each page in ribbons of colour, blazing through montages of the bands either performing or living through the events that inspired the song in question. It’s more than simply impressive; it’s exciting to see this sort of thing unfold on the page.

This first volume does, perhaps, end a little abruptly, but what a wonderful road it travels to get there. JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS is adorable and fun and firmly focused on the bonds between women. You want it in your life.

I should add, too, that the preview copy I received only included the relevant issues sans back matter, so I can’t comment on what extras will appear in the finished volume. I was able to read a couple of the single issues a few months back, though, and I’ll be surprised if the character profiles aren’t included in the trade, at the very least.

  1. To paraphrase Gaiman and Pratchett, my favourite thing about time is that it’s taking me further and further away from the 1980s.
  2. My parents wouldn’t let me have Barbie dolls because Barbie was a bad influence or something, but I snagged that one, lone Jem doll and stage at their company’s holiday gift exchange. Jem made me want fishnet stockings in the worst possible way, so who's the bad influence now?

    (No one. Kids are allowed to want cool stuff, dammit.)

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