Today I read Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (issues 1-6), written by Kelly Thompson and art by Sophie Campbell.
Jerrica Benton and her sisters Kimber, Aja, and Shana are an amazing band, and they’re ready to share it with the world. Well, her sisters are–Jerrica suffers from crippling stage fright, and she’s the band’s lead singer. But a mysterious gift from their late father may just solve their problem–and lead them into a wild, rocking new future! Prepare for glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, with Jem and the Holograms!
How do I begin to explain my love for Jem and the Holograms? It was my all-time favourite cartoon when I was little. Every time we went to the local Blockbuster I always wanted to rent the VHS cassette of the two episodes they had (yes, I’m aware of just how badly I dated myself there, it was an 80s cartoon okay? This was the prehistoric Time Before Netflix). I
had still have my Jem/Jerrica doll. I bought the complete series on VHS off eBay before they released it on DVD, I hand-sewed a Jem dress for Hallowe’en one year in university (no I’m definitely not putting up a picture of that mistake), I have every song from the series on my laptop, I love Love LOVE Jem.
So I can’t even explain just how hard I squeed when the revival started. The DVD releases, the new dolls (which are gorgeous and out of my price range, sigh), the movie (which I had such high hopes for, bigger sigh), and the comic–it’s a good time to be a Jem fan. Ah, the comic. This comic is now officially my personal example of how to do a fabulous reboot. It retains all the charm of the original while updating it for modern tastes and plugging up some of the (many) plot holes. The writing is terrific and the art is gorgeous. The only thing that could have made it better would have been mixing glitter into the ink used to print it.
The original cartoon was a wonderful example of girl power, and Jerrica was the first girl to have it all. She was secretly a world-famous rock and roll star, and in her civilian life she was the head of a major record label and the manager of the Holograms and she was in charge of the Starlight House for orphaned girls and the Starlight Foundation. Her band was composed of her sisters, who each had their own talents and interests in addition to music: Kimber was a talented songwriter, Aja was sporty and fixed things, and Shana was a fashion designer who designed and made all their on stage costumes. They were adults, not teenagers, and they were in charge of their own stories. Jerrica’s boyfriend Rio worked for them as a road manager, they didn’t work for him. Rather than the still-popular ratio of a team of men with one token girl, they were a team of women with the occasional appearance of a boyfriend.
That said, Jerrica’s reasons for not telling Rio that she was Jem were pretty lame, and he was a bit of a jerk for dating Jem and Jerrica both, even though the show tried to portray it as romantic, that Rio was attracted to Jerrica no matter what holographic disguise she was wearing. And except for one brief mention in the pilot, they never discuss calling the police on the Misfits, their constant rivals. The list of crimes the Misfits and their manager Eric Raymond commit is so lengthy it’s absolutely ridiculous–theft, grand theft auto, embezzlement, kidnapping, kidnapping a minor, reckless endangerment, attempted involuntary manslaughter, industrial espionage, accessory to attempted regicide, accessory to terrorism, assault, slander, arson, destruction of property… Seriously, CALL. THE. POLICE! Rewatching things as an adult can really change your perspective sometimes.
The comic reimagines both bands–Kimber, the youngest, has just graduated from college. The sisters want to try to make their band a success before moving on to more mundane careers, and they volunteer at a community center and teach music there instead of running a foster home. The Misfits are a signed band trying to promote themselves via a Battle of the Bands contest, and while they are mean and selfish and don’t care if other people break the law for them, they don’t actually break any laws. Rio is a music journalist writing a profile on the Misfits when he meets Jerrica and is intrigued by her, not a long-standing boyfriend that she really should trust with her big secrets. Jem is Jerrica’s protection, a way for her to be someone else to avoid her stage fright–there is a reason to not tell anyone who she is, in addition to protecting Synergy, the wildly advanced AI and hologram projection system that the Holograms’ father built for them.
While the original Jem and the Holograms did a pretty good job representing racial diversity, with the (eventually) 5 members breaking down as 2 Caucasian, 1 African-American, 1 Asian, and 1 Latina, as well as the Starlight Girls being from multiple ethnicities, the comic goes even further by making them more diverse in sexual orientation and body types. Kimber from the Holograms and Stormer from the Misfits have always had a special connection that disturbed their respective rival bands, and this has metamorphed into a lesbian relationship. The only objection that anyone has is that they are in competition, not that they’re both girls.
The Jem cartoon was first developed in order to sell the dolls, since the toys came first, and they all had exactly the same body so that the clothes would fit all the dolls, which is great for marketing but less great for representation. Since that’s not a concern for the comic, these uniformly tall, slender, curvy characters
have become this fabulous range.
Side note: if you were reading the issues as they came out, you may have noticed that the artist for the first issue was listed as Ross Campbell. After it was published, Campbell announced that she was transgender and issues 2 and after list her as Sophie Campbell, including the trade that I’m reviewing here. She writes in her afterword in the trade that she feels like she’s “finally cut loose and the floodgates were opened artistically and emotionally.” I’m not familiar with her art outside of Jem, but I do know I love what I see here, so if this is what she makes when she’s happy I hope her life is ecstatic. And kudos to IDW for supporting her and using her new name on the cover of the comics. /sidenote
In the end, Jem is just plain fun. It’s super-girly in the best way possible, and shows both the allure and the hard work involved in a career in music. It’s about supporting your family and chasing your dreams. It’s about clothes and music. It’s about glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, and it’s truly, truly outrageous!