Saturday, 9 January 2016

Post-Christmas Reviewapalooza: A Look At Jem & The Holograms: Showtime Part 1


Despite being one of the 1980s signature toy properties (and perhaps the most tied to the decade thanks to its lovely choices in fashion) Jem & The Holograms never had any kind of comic book presence until March last year, this is almost
certainly because the conventional wisdom of the time was that girls didn’t read comics (American girls anyway, Britain has a long history of girls comics, hell we even had one called simply ‘Girl’, we don’t fuck about with titles). Times have changed since then, well, sort of, enough for Jem & The Holograms to get a comic anyway, it’s from IDW but you probably already knew that because it’s a licensed comic and all licensed comics come from IDW don’t they? Dynamite what? Anyway the property was redeveloped for the modern age by virtual unknown Kelly Thompson (she also wrote the Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps) and indie darling Sophie Campbell who is one of my favourite comic book artists and produces one of my favourite comic books, Wet Moon. She also drew some Turtles stuff and a great little graphic novel called Water Baby so she’s totally cool in my book*.
As I came too late for the toy line my only real exposure to the franchise then was re-runs and vhs releases of the cartoon show but I’ve had this thing for Jem & The Holograms since I was small, though it was never as strong a thing as my thing for the Care Bears it was one of the various girls toys/shows that I was interested in that infuriated my maternal grandfather (and still does) but it did mean that my mother didn’t even think about batting an eyelid when I wanted her to buy me the first Jem trade paperback (or whatever pretentious name we’re expected to use for them now – graphic picto-fic compilations or some shit) during our previously mentioned bonding/shopping Christmas trip. I think I’ve read the series about 10 times through now so obviously I like it, I’m sure I’m going to moan about things because I always do and I think we’ll look at the actual books so are you sitting comfortably? then I’ll begin: 

Showtime Part 1 (Jem & The Holograms issue 1)
Quick Summary: while at a professional video shoot they’ve cancelled on two times already Jerrica Benton literally chokes from stage fright and runs out the studio where they’re trying to record their entry for the Misfits Vs competition – which closes tomorrow. Kimber exposits to her and tells her that if they fail to make the competition she’s had enough and leaving, this leaves to an argument with the other two holograms – Shana and Aja – that Jerrica overhears, pushing her to run home. While playing and singing the storm knocks the powers out and um… Synergy appears, a hologram and ultimate audio-visual synthesiser, the storm having booted her up. She allows Jerrica access to her late father’s safe and she finds earrings that can project holograms and only Aja has anything resembling a normal reaction to their life becoming a sci-fi/superhero origin story as the find their father’s secret lair. Jerrica knows exactly what to do with the technology – make the world a better place? Fight crime? Fuck that, make herself look like a pink haired amazon to negate her stage fright and enter the competition.


The art in this issue is gorgeous, Sophie Campbell isn’t quite as details as usual but her style is still one of the most visually pleasing things in comics, the colours (by an M Victoria Robado) compliment them perfectly – somehow looking both flat and giving depth, it’s weird but it’s exactly the sort of colouring the book and Campbell’s art should have. The writing’s…not so great, the dialogue’s mostly ok, Kimber’s massive exposition dump early on doesn’t feel too forced at all, in fact it feels pretty much exactly like someone reminding someone else of everything that’s happened as a way to explaining why they’ve had enough, only jaded old bastards like me see through it for what it is – an exposition dump. The following fight is a little stilted, I get what Kelly Thompson is going for, that one problem causes an argument about something unrelated but it still really about (I think Thompson may have sisters, or multiple daughters/nieces) but I just felt it didn’t’ flow that great until Shana got involved, I know that’s vague, but then so’s the problem. The main writing issue though is how rushed the everything feels, I feel a bit dirty saying this when I so often complain about decompression in modern comics but this is a pretty far out premise here both for readers and more so for the four people who so far have lived in a world completely devoid of sci-fi tech and I think everyone could do with a little time to let it sink in and get used to it but no, Thompson (and Campbell) speed through the whole set up, feeling very much like they’re just getting all this shit out of the way so they can go back to writing about what the stuff they want and having read the whole series so far, that ain’t the more fantastical element of the Jem concept, in fact I think they’d be happy just writing about a bunch of bands in a real-life setting. This means that from now on the character-based stuff will be excellent but it does feel like they’re doing the concept a disservice by not using the sci-fi elements to their fullest. Mind you we’re only one and a bit stories into things so there’s still time, but an issue showing Jerrica getting used to her Jem abilities sure would be have been nice. This is just ‘bam, powers, set up done, on with the show’, I will admit that the original ‘toon was like that too, but surely something like a new comic book allows us to do what the show couldn’t?


I’ll move on, because the book certainly does, and moan about redesigns; actually I won’t because most of the redesigns shown off in this issue are great – Shana, Jem and Jerrica are just straight modern updates and look damn spiffy, Jerrica has been made littler and cuter to accentuate the differences between she and Jem a little more which I’m fine with it, the new Jem look is pretty fucking awesome, with all this huge hair and very stylised costumes rather than sparky 80’s stage gear. Aja, Synergy and Kimber have had far more of a radical redesigns and, meh, I suppose two out of three ain’t bad; Aja has put on a few pounds because Campbell has a fetish for BBWs but it really suits her and she looks utterly adorable and still looks like Aja (rather than just chubby Asian woman), they’ve retained her angular hair and I dunno, she just still feels like the same character; Kimber’s redesign into a wafer-thing, pale as a sheet lesbian took me a minute to get used to, probably because Kimber was always my preferred Hologram if you get my drift but after the initial shock and knee-jerk turning up of nose to something so different it’s grown on me, she still looks really hot and still looks like Kimber and her ‘standard outfit’ with the frills adapts very well to skinny lesbian, as for her switch in sexuality…well I’ve seen that episode with her and Stormer so I totally get where they’re coming from, I might have left her bi to fit in with the original cartoon a little better but, yeah I see where they’re coming form. Synergy I just flat out hate, I mean it’s not too much of an issue as she won’t be appearing much in this arc (I know I said I’d move on, but I was lying), I agree she needed one – her old look would never fit with today’s fashion or counter-cultures – but I just don’t like the final outcome, I think it might just be too different, or maybe to muscly and androgynous or maybe I just don’t like it as a design period, whatever it is it ain’t for me.


Showtime Part 2 (Jem & The Holograms issue 2)
Quick Summary: after a performance and interview with Lin-Z the Misfits (Pizzazz, Stormer, Jetta and, shit, the one with white hair… Roxy!) discover one entry in their Misfits Vs competition is actually good (though Pizzazz won’t admit it) and getting a lot of votes – Jem & The Holograms. Rio, the reporter covering their competition gets thrown out for telling Pizzazz they’re screwed and finds out about the band on his phone while listening to clunky dialogue. At Holograms HQ, the band are also finding out how popular they are online, well except Aja because she won’t wake up and keeps throwing shoes at Kimber. The Holograms go and volunteer at the Starlight Community Centre, teaching kids how to play instruments, and get asked to play a fund-raiser then Rio turns up, initially thinks it’s Jem working with orphan Ashley, then asks Jerrica out on a date, after assurances that he’s not doing it just go get a story (he can’t even if he wanted to, because he’s covering the Misfits). Meanwhile Kimber skips out to go to a Misfits in-store singing where only Stormer hasn’t bailed, pulls her and the two go for coffee, as they get on famously the other Misfits – who were shopping – see them and Pizzazz is furious, to be continued.


This was much better than the first issue, probably because it’s nearly all what the two want to write, but the dialogue was a lot stronger too (and it was already pretty strong), other than that one page where Rio is using his phone outside the Misfits dressing room, that was a little painful, lots of slang, sayings and ‘musicy’ terms being dropped unnaturally by a writer I’m going to assume doesn’t use them herself – you can always tell when someone doesn’t use a term and then does and there seemed to be a lot of it on this page. Other than that it was a breeze to read, Jerrica even spends a page talking about how strange the Jem powers are (well, it gets brought up a couple of times) but I’d rather see it, still it’s not fair to criticize something for not being something else you personally thought it should have been. It also has the first scene to make me genuinel laugh out loud and that is the two scens with Aja throwing shoes at Kimber, I think Aja may have graduated to ‘favourite Hologram’ for this incarnation (“you will run out of shoes Aja!” – great). Oh yeah and the Misfits debuted, given how they’re not in the film I was relieved to see them debut so early, as they should, they’re in just about as many episodes of the TV series as the Holograms and had just as many dolls. They make as good an impression as their page time allows – Pizzaz is unpleasant, bratty but cool, Stormer is the nice one but now turned up to 11, Roxy and Jetta don’t do much but they will get more panel time later in the story, so they made an ok first impression but , well, it’s a ‘problem’ that the Misfits have always had and that’s that they really are quite likeable, they’re far more flawed than the Holograms but they’re not evil, I don’t want to see them fail, the comic seems to be casting them more a rivals than enemies and I’m ok with that and Campbell’s redesigns of the Holograms have gone a little way to balancing out another issue the Misfits always had – they’re the cool kids, they’re the Alternatives, Jem & The holograms are bubblegum pop, in the real world they’d be the enemy (see also: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers) but the Misfits are still too likeable. 


Redesigns! Lin-Z is pretty much the same as she was so nothing to talk about there and anything that makes Rio look less like an 80’s douchebag is fine by me, and he still retains that ‘annoyingly attractive and stylish’ look, just updated (and this time doesn’t look like a compete douchebag, I’m jealous of him here, I flat out didn’t like him in the original incarnation of the franchise). The Misfits…well they’re all too cute, that’s just Campbell’s art style but it doesn’t help with the whole ‘likeable’ issue, I want to cuddle Pizzazz (not sure she’d like that though) other than that…well Roxy’s just a straight update, she looks good, Jetta meanwhile continues to the be sexiest thing in the franchise though she’s switched instrument and, um, race – well she’s still common English trying to be upper class British but now she’s black BUUUUT she was originally supposed to be black and her designer was asked to change her to British (I forget why) so this is fine by me and dark skin works really well with a black and white outfit and hair so she actually looks better this way I find. Pizzazz looks fucking awesome with her Goth Punk makeover and I’m not just saying that because it agrees with my own counter-culture leanings, I’m saying that because that is totally what Pizzazz would look like today (and she has an awesome green Mohawk), it feels like a natural choice when updating her look to today’s (anti)fashions is what I mean in sensible words. Stormer’s now look sucks though, I just utterly hate it, I’ve thought about why for a while and decided this: unlike say Aja she no longer feels like Stormer, the changes to her face and hair and increase in her ‘the good one’ role are so severe that combined with her new body type I can no longer see the previous character, just a girl using the same name. Her outfit was brilliantly updated but the rest of her, not at all.


Showtime Part 3 (Jem & The Holograms issue 3)
Quick Summary: The Misfits storm in (ha) and having a row with Stormer in the coffee shop and it makes the evening news, Pizzazz is pissed at Stormer even though they only ended up on the news because of the scene she caused, also Clash is there them now. Jerrica meets Rio for their date and he takes her to a local broadwalk while Kimber mopes about Stormer and forces Aja to advise her. Pizzazz takes out her frustration on everyone at a recording and only becomes even more annoyed when she finds Clash reading about Jem & The Holograms playing the Starlight benefit gig, a guitar is broken, forcefully. In order to please her favourite band Clash calls her old friend Blaze, who is going to be working at the charity do, to make sure that Jem & the Hologram’s first gig will be their last.

And the book just keeps getting better, even as Stormer feels less and less like Stormer and more like Campbell’s dream girl. The odd dialogue issue that plagued the previous two issues is seemingly completely gone, Thompson seemingly having now perfected the art of a group of annoyed girls arguing over trivial bullshit that is none-the-less very important to them and to the story. The book has also morphed into one about bands in a real world setting, no mention is made of the, y’know, living hologram or the sci-fi tech or the hi-tech secret basement and these more fantastical elements will now take a back seat for the rest of the arc. The upside of this is that we get to spend all our time with a bunch of really likeable characters; the downside is, well, we’re missing out on about half of the concept.


On other topics, Jetta and Roxy get more panel time this issue and get to make a good impression, they’re becoming ‘those two guys’ and I couldn’t be happier, there’s two panels at the end as Jerrica and Rio kiss goodnight, one with big tough Roxy painting her nails and the other with Jetta stuffing a bacon & egg sandwich down her throat and these somehow convinced me that this incarnation of both characters is thoroughly acceptable, I’m yet to figure out why. Roxy also provides us with this issue’s funniest moment (isn’t I great when you have to narrow down the funny moments to funniest?) as she mourns some bagels. Jerrica comes in second during her date, which is actually a major focus of the issue but didn’t need a whole lot of recapping, noting that her huge stuffed animal needs hadn’t been met; that date is delightful, Rio and Jerrica have good chemistry, they’re very cute and both actually seem to make the good impression that the story is telling us they’re making on each other.


Clash is the only redesign introduced in this issue (Blaze is new), though if you didn’t know who she was you may still be wondering who the hell she is, she’s now very thin (and has an odd shaped nose) but still very attractive, she’s lost that brat feel and style and like all the Misfits has become more adorable and likeable, I’m in two minds about her really, I get the redesign but would have liked it to be a bit more faithful to the original look. Blaze is all new, and apparently Trans though this isn’t mentioned in the comic itself I don’t think, anyway it’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned, whether she started out a boy or girl doesn’t really matter, all I care about is that she feels like a natural addition to the cast, looks like a natural addition to the cast (looking like an updated version of a character, even though she isn’t) and she’s totally hot.


That Look At Star Wars: Heir to the Empire fully put me off doing six full-size American comics in one go ever again so I’m going to end things here

Next time: food fights and big performances



* Yes, Wet Moon was credited to a Ross Campbell, in case you missed it Ross Campbell is now Sophie Campbell. 

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