‘Jem’ #1 Has All The Glamour And Glitter, Fashion And Fame That You Need In Your Life
I've been excited about Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell's Jem and the Holograms comic since before IDW even announced that there was a Jem comic to be excited about, so getting an advance review copy was a pretty big deal. It's easily my most anticipated new series of the year, but at the same time, that means that I'm expecting an awful lot from it. Outside of our own Betty Felon, I'm the biggest Jem fan here, and there's nothing that'll disappoint me faster than a book that just doesn't get it quite right.
Which is why I've decided that the first issue can only be judged on the objective criteria laid out in the theme song. With that in mind, I'm happy to announce that a) Jem is excitement, b) Jem is adventure, and, perhaps most importantly, c) Jem is truly outrageous, truly truly truly outrageous.
The thing that really gets me about the first issue of the comic is that it improves on the first episode of the show in virtually every way. Don't get me wrong, I love that cartoon to bits, but the origin story was always the weakest part of it, if only because it didn't really go far enough in justifying the elements that formed its central premise.
There's no real reason for Jerrica to have a secret identity --- and really, there's no reason for her to keep it up other than Rio's grumpy hatred of "liars and deception" --- and the Holograms just sort of randomly form a band once a supercomputer gives them a bunch of instruments. There's a lot of it that comes up later, like Kimber wanting to make it as a solo songwriter, but in that first episode, that's really all there is to it. Aja does some air-drumming, then they find a room full of instruments and decide to go win a contest being thrown by a record label that they actually own.
It could use some work, is what I'm getting at here.
In the comic, on the other hand, Thompson and Campbell seem to be going out of their way to address those problems and streamline that origin story. They are not, for example, owners of a record label, at least from what we know in this first issue. They've made music a part of the characters' lives from the beginning; four sisters who are already in a band at the start of the story and are trying to make their big break and shake off the pain of their father's death. And best of all, they've given Jerrica a reason to be Jem.
Campbell's art in this comic is spectacular - it's pretty close to being my favorite thing she's ever drawn, and considering it's stacked up against Glory and some amazing issues of TMNT, that's saying something --- and a lot of it has to do with the new designs that are on display. Rather than the cookie-cutter bodies of the original cartoon, the Holograms (and the Misfits for that matter, even though they haven't shown up yet) have a great amount of diversity in terms of their body types, and while that's great, what surprised me was Jerrica herself.
In true Jem and the Holograms fashion, the promo art only featured her superstar alter-ego, so actually reading the comic was my first time seeing her, and I loved how small Campbell made her.
She's tiny - even though she's the oldest sister, she's dwarfed by the rest of the Holograms, especially Kimber, who's basically David Bowie in stiletto heels on the stage.
Campbell draws her relatively plain, too, at least when she's contrasted against the rest of the Holograms. Shana's got her awesomely towering purple mohawk and Aja's got that dramatic slash of blue hair and the Sonic the Hedgehog spikes, but Jerrica just has that simple blonde bob and a little bit of barely-there facepaint that seems more like a concession to the look the others are going for rather than something she would've chosen for herself.
With every panel she's in, Campbell is underscoring the shyness that makes Jem necessary for Jerrica to perform with her sisters. She constantly draws Jerrica huddled up, slumped over, flinching away from attention and worried about how other people are going to see her, which makes it work beautifully when she finally finds a way to control exactly what people are going to see.
I don't really think it's a spoiler to say that this issue ends with Jerrica using a supercomputer named Synergy to turn into Jem --- that is, after all, the entire deal with this comic --- but when it finally happens, it feels more like a transformation than it ever did on the show.
Jem's not just more glamorous, she's six inches taller, has five feet of hot pink hair, and the pink wings on her eyeliner are ten times more vivid than Jerrica's. She's an idealized version, the person who can go out on stage and belt out a song about how sharing is caring without having to worry about what people are going to think, and the dramatic shift between the two identities makes everything snap into place perfectly. It's the sudden flash of Jerrica realizing who and what she needs to be to feel more comfortable with what she's doing, something that was always missing from the franchise before now. Jerrica Benton is suddenly the glam rock Billy Batson, and it's awesome.
Plus, the reactions from the characters who see it are amazing. Just check out Kimber when the issue comes out and see how stoked she is that things are going to be even bigger and more covered in glitter and lasers than she could've possibly imagined. It's great.
The whole issue is built towards that, and while there are spots where it moves maybe a little too quickly over the details --- Jerrica immediately recognizes that the earrings are miniature hologram projectors with no explanation, for instance --- but none of those little details matter. What matters is that the characters come through beautifully, with everything about their situation and their relationships building elegantly and engagingly to the setup of the first issue and the reveal of Jerrica's new identity.
The only thing it's missing is the Misfits, but hey, it's only the first issue. Not every first Jem story can have them riding into an office on motorcycles shaped like giant guitars.