In the 1980s, Jem and the Holograms was Hasbro’s girl-oriented answer to the numerous TV shows that catered to the male audience at the time. It’s been almost four decades, but there’s finally a new version of Jem in comic form, and it’s just as glam and over-the-top as the original. Jem and the Holograms Volume 1: Showtime compiles the first six issues into a trade paperback for readers to devour the introductory stage of the comic all at once. Thanks to artist Sophie Campbell and writer Kelly Thompson, the character design, plot, and story have been modernized while still following the then-modern standards of the 1980s cartoon. A lot of the plot and characters have changed, but at the same time could have fit in with the original run.
Showtime introduces us to the new story of Jerrica Benton, a 23-year-old chasing her dream of being a famous singer while battling extreme stage fright. After running away from a recording session for a video contest, she discovers a holographic A.I. named “Synergy” in her house during a thunderstorm. She immediately recognizes the potential of the hologram, and uses it to transform herself into “Jem.” Jerrica is short and a bit chubby, but her alter ego Jem is a towering 5’11 (not including her platform heels), with a slim figure and a more oval face — a projection of what Jerrica wants herself to be, and what she wants people to see her as. In this iteration of Jem, Jerrica’s secret identity is the result of insecurities about her body, as opposed to being work-related like in the original run.
Like Jerrica / Jem’s origin, many things in the comics are similar but not the same as the original plot lines. Kimber dates Stormer instead of Stormer’s brother; Rio Pacheco is still Jem’s boyfriend, but their relationship is just starting instead of having been pre-established; and the Misfits’ creepy manager is nowhere to be found. (His destructive tendencies are rolled into a few other existing characters.) Pizzazz, the lead singer of the Misfits, has a new backstory hinted at, but these first few chapters don’t focus on The Misfits at all (besides Kimber and Stormer’s budding relationship). As the comic continues, more changes will probably become apparent. Thompson’s writing captures the spirit of the original Jem while updating the story.
These comics have the same high level of drama readers might expect from Jem — sabotage, food fights, and relationship troubles are all present in the story so far. Campbell’s art is a far cry from that of the 1980s series; with the characters no longer needing to be based on stock “girl” and “boy” doll models, everyone has a unique body, face, and hairstyle. The amount of colour used in the comics is perfect, with some backgrounds that are purposefully colourless to allow the stark silhouettes and colours of the characters themselves to take centre stage.
Of course, the comic has both strong and weak points. The pacing seems slow in the first chapter, but picks up the further along it gets. There are other comics with a similar page count that handle pacing better, but while Jem can feel awkward at times, the pacing is never slow enough that you lose interest, or so rapid that you can’t keep track of what’s going on. There’s also an amusement park scene that reminds readers that Jem is a Hasbro product with copious My Little Pony product placement — which would be less awkward if the stuffed ponies looked more plush and less like a character’s model was just dropped right onto the page. These interjections don’t detract from the story, but they can feel very jarring.
This updated version of Jem and the Holograms is great for both those who know the original TV show, and people who have never heard of Jem. It manages to capture the spirit of the 1980s cartoon while being modern in style and having very few weaknesses. There are a lot of comics with female leads that you should read right now, and Jem and the Holograms is definitely one.