By Keidra Chaney
I bristle when people describe Jem and the Holograms as “superheroes.” Jem always struck me more as a mahou shojo (Magical girl) character to me, but honestly Jem is more of a fantasy-based look at the music industry. Growing up, I never actually thought that Jem was an accurate portrayal of life in the music industry, but I was always attracted to the idealiving a fabulous creative/romantic life with your best friends at your side; not particularly heroic, but pretty super.
I was one of the more passionately vocal critics of the Jem and Holograms movie, because at least from the trailer it appeared that it wasn’t going to stay true to the spirit of the TV show. Also it looked corny and cheap. I wanted to do a proper review of it, but it got pulled from theaters pretty much two weeks after it came out. In hindsight (and after reading a couple of interviews) I can step back a bit and say that maybe I was a bit harsh. I think there’s a possibility that Jon Chu wanted to do right by Jem and the Holograms, but I dunno if a feature film was ever the right medium for Jem and the Holograms, not so much because of its magical/fantasy elements, but because of its soapy elements. Jem is meant to be a serial, and the real fun of it is based around the intertwining storylines and character relationships. A film by design doesn’t give you the time or space to build that.
That’s advantage the Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell’s Jem and The Holograms comic had from the beginning. With a series, the story to take its time to develop and the slow.The comic is great, staying true to the multiple elements that make Jem fun: namely, glamour, glitter, fashion, and fame. They also have time to really develop the personalities of the characters and give them moments to shine. For example, Thompson really make a point to imbue Kimber with the bubbly personality and sense of humor that came across in the cartoon. She’s actually more likable in the comic; the cartoon has a tendency to make Kimber kind of shrill and play up her growing jealousy over Jem’s fame, while the comic makes Kimber both flighty and driven when it comes to her music – and romance. Aja’s Jill of All Trades, tough girl personality comes through as well, and even Jerrica, arguably one of the more boring characters in Jem is given motivation for why the Jem persona is needed: she has stage fright. The only Hologram I think is still underwritten is Shana, outside of being even-keeled and a fashion designer, we don’t know much about her, but I suspect her storyline will develop in later issues (I am still catching up)
As for the Misfits, I like the fact that (at least in this book) the Misfits-attempt-to-murder-the-Holograms plots have a lot more realistic setups. They are not outright attempted murderers, it’s mostly the doing of overeager, sociopathic fangirl Clash. Pizzazz is still a spoiled brat, Stormer is still tough but sweet-natured. I LOVE the addition of Jetta as a black woman (fun fact: she was originally intended to be black in the cartoon but the idea was nixed because apparently black “bad guys” were frowned upon in 80’s cartoons)
A lot has been written about the character designs for the Jem comic and honestly, I will admit I didn’t like them at first. Not the diversity of body types, which I think is awesome. I just thought the characters looked too round-faced and young. I realize that was my damage, and actually I now think it’s totally appropriate, they characters probably look more their age here than in the original cartoon. Also, I love (and covet)the multiple hairstyles Shana sports throughout the book.
Little details like that make the comic special, and I imagine 8 year old me loving this Shana even more than the cartoon version, for the hairstyles alone.
The other thing that has been focused on is the romance between Kimber and Stormer. There’s an actual Jem episode that does essentially set up a potential ‘ship for them, and it’s clearly the major OTP of the comic, probably more than Jerrica/Rio. I dig it. They set up a realistic “meet cute” for them and the tension of the star-crossed lovers in rival bands can last for AGES.
Kelly Thompson is a Jem stan. I appreciate this and I think she went out of her way to craft a story that appeals to both legacy fans (and stay true to creator Christy Marx’s original stories) but also attract new/young fans that don’t have nostalgia for a motivation to check it out. That’s HARD to do. Honestly, I think that’s what I have to (grudgingly) give J.J. Abrams credit for doing with the latest Star Wars movie. So I salute Thompson and Campbell for doing right by Jem but I also have a bit more sympathy for Jon Chu because he was never in a position to really do what they did. Either way, check it out.
Summary: Definitely check out Jem and The Holograms if you’ve ever been a fan of the show, but if you like a fun, bubbly, and forward thinking comic with feminist themes, you’ll probably like it too.