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Review: Jem and the Holograms Infinite #1

JemInfiniteCoverJem, the Holograms, and the Misfits are back in Jem and the Holograms Infinite #1, which begins as yet another squabble between the rival bands. However,  by the time you reach the final page cliffhanger, the comic has definitely taken a turn for the sci-fi courtesy of writer Kelly Thompson, artists Stacey Lee and Jen Hickman, and colorist Sarah Stern. It looks like the story of two “families” will play out in a futuristic (still unrevealed) alternate universe and not the music industry as the focus flips to the actual hologram technology instead of the band that uses it.

Most of the plot of Jem Infinite #1 is spent trying to dredge up bad blood between the Holograms and Misfits before a side character hastily flips the comic’s genre. However, the writing of the title doesn’t slip thanks to the return of Kelly Thompson. Thompson has a strong handle on these women’s relationships, emotions, and senses of humor and showcased this in the more character driven Jem and the Misfits miniseries, which turned “villains” into some of the most likable people in this universe through the power of authentic backstories. These characteristics aren’t lost under bickering about events in past issues, and Thompson and Lee make room for Kimber and Stormer to exchange sweet nothings while everyone else feuds.

Speaking of Stacey Lee, the art shift from her to Jen Hickman could be much worse, and colorist Sarah Stern bright take on the Holograms’ and Misfits’ complex makeup helps keep continuity through the issue. But there are some hiccups because Hickman’s work is inked a little bit rougher and has less sheer energy and beauty, JemFiercewhich is why it’s a good thing that Lee handled the double page concert spread and the fierce entrance scenes of the Holograms and the Misfits. Her style evokes the pure pop style candy of Sophie Campbell’s original designs while Hickman’s work is a little quirkier, which might end up making her a good fit for alternate dimensions and space. She also nails Techrat’s post-cyberpunk undercut.

It’s a little disheartening to see the Holograms and Misfits fall back into old patterns of physical violence in the first arc or so of the series after growing as characters for 26 issues and a five issue miniseries. Aja’s pure rage at the Misfits is kind of funny, but the Holograms and Misfits square up ready to throw down and then back out. And there’s really no payoff until the final few pages. The bands are pretty one-dimensional when facing each other, but Thompson does a better job with the relationships inside the band. Jetta talks about a mysterious thing called “the high road”, which they learned about in the Jem and the Misfits when they decided to stop selling out and arguing on camera to boost their reality show ratings.

 On the Holograms side of things, the band discusses telling the public about the fact that Jem is a hologram and is actually Jerrica Benton. Shana thinks that by coming clean that they can spin this story in their favor, but for now, the band decides to keep the secret so their band doesn’t get blacklisted like the Misfits were back in the Stingers arc. The discussion about holograms instead of musical sound and fame is actually a nice transition to the Techrat/alternate universe, and it will be interesting to see if their interdimensional travel influences the possibility of Jem going public with her identity.

Jem and the Holograms: Infinite #1 starts strong with the fierce artwork of Silk‘s Stacey Lee, but then it becomes merely average when Jen Hickman takes over in the back half. Most of Kelly Thompson’s story is resetting the rival dynamic between the Holograms and Misfits and then pouring a whole can of multiversal science fiction into the mix. The Misfits and Holograms’ banter is sharp as ever so fans of the last comic book series shouldn’t be afraid to flip through this one.

Story: Kelly Thompson Artists: Stacey Lee, Jen Hickman Colors: Sarah Stern
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.5 Overall: 7.3 Recommendation: Read

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Jem and the Holograms #6

jem006Jem and the Holograms has been one of the nicer surprises in comics in the past year.  As an update of the 1980s animated television series, there was some expectation that it would meet certain standards in terms of entertainment, but there was not really much of a sense as to how the television would merge with the comics to create something sustainable.  While Kelly Thompson is somewhat of a newcomer to the medium of comics as a writer, she proved that a basic approach could and does work with these characters, by focusing on the characters before the outlandish plots, she proved that the series can work with a different outlook in a different medium.  The artwork by Sophie Campbell captured the same overall approach as the characters despite being over-the-top in appearance are full of a contagious energy.

The previous issue featured fall out from the sabotaged stage equipment and resulted in a huge food fight.  With the instigators of the food fight brought before the concert organizers, Jerrica and her colleagues soon find themselves on the wrong side of the blame and are promptly kicked out of the concert.  Jerrica also has to deal with the ongoing concern of Rio as to the absence of Jem at crucial times, feeling that she has forsaken the band at a crucial moment when they needed her help, and this continues to be a fresh take on the usual superhero secret identity cliche in the medium.

There might be those that think that the approach for the new series is somewhat simplistic.  After all after the first six issues, there has not been a lot of development in terms of plot as the character’s have played out the battle of the bands story.  It is true that the story could be considered a bit bare, but stories have to succeed on either their characters or their concept, and while the concept is played out slowly here, the characters are so full of life, thanks to both the art and the script, that it more than compensates for the slow-ish development of the plot.

Story: Kelly Thompson  Art: Sophie Campbell
Story: 8.4 Art: 8.4  Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

IDW provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review


Review: Jem and the Holograms #5

Jem and the Holograms 005Jem and the Holograms has thus far been one of the unexpected surprises of recent comic releases.  It focuses on concepts closely related enough to the romance genre of comics, but also incorporates a plot element with Jem/Jerrica which is close enough in spirit to that of the more traditional superhero comics.  Although the plots available to the tales of an all-girl band might seem to be somewhat restrictive, the creative team has been effective at creating a series which is engaging and fresh, and has proven that there is a demand for such titles on the comic market.

The story here follows on that of the previous issue.  With the battle of the bands still looming, the competition is heating up between the two competitors, to the point that sabotage was in the works for Jem.  Obviously the series can’t do without its leading character, but surprisingly the repercussions of this attempt to take Jem out of the competition are not as evident as they might be expected to be.  Instead once again the issue focuses on the developing relationship between Kimber and Stormer and between Jem and Rio before things get back to being pretty serious.

Some might see it as a huge challenge to create fictional material which is designed to be approachable to all ages.  Part of the problem is that the stories have to be relevant enough for the adult market but also fun enough for a younger audience.  Such is the challenge facing Jem and the Holograms, and while at times it veers off into a territory which is perhaps a bit too sedate, it gets back those moments by throwing in the unexpected.  Such is the case here, as the suggested food fight from the cover gets underway towards the end of the issue, although the issue itself was a bit slower paced than previous issues.  Nonetheless the series maintains the same level of approachable fun which has let it makes its mark thus far, and presumably which will keep it going for a long time to come.

Story: Kelly Thompson  Art: Sophie Campbell
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5  Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

IDW provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review

Review: Jem and the Holograms #4

jem004It can be tricky when updating a previous franchise or fictional property.  On the one hand, one expects the creative team to stay close to the original material, on the other hand, significant changes are bound to occur as society progresses and leaves outdated ideas behind.  In the case of Jem and the Holograms it would seem that many of the changes have been for the better in terms of the characters.  What were 1980s big hair and big shouldered music superheroines were transformed into modern characters that would fit in with the big names in music at the moment.  Part of the approach for this series is that it leaves the characters in the hands of two women, something which is a relative rarity for comics which still tend to be dominated by male creators, and notably when it comes to female characters.  Although there is nothing to say that a man cannot write a deep female character, it is also interesting to see a couple of female creators get their hands on an all-girl squad.

The story in this series continues to be that of the initial story arc.  Having discovered her Jem alter ego, Jerrica is still busy trying to get the band ready for the Battle of the Bands.  Meanwhile Kimber and Stormer are getting a bit more wrapped up with each other romantically, and the romance between Jerrica and Rio seems to be heating up as well, except for the unexpected arrival of Jem in Jerrica’s changing room just after she was seen there.  As before the series is extremely effective in portraying the music scenes as well, with the music styles of both bands being easy to relate to through their presentation.

This series is a success, at least from the sense of being fun and approachable.  At the same time, there are a few problems notable for first time writer Kelly Thompson.  While she is talented she does occasionally rely on cliches or what seems like filler to get more out of each issue.  If there is one drawback to this series, this is it, that she hasn’t yet fully moved into a comfort zone and is not yet ready to let loose.  That will come with time, and for now it seems as though Kelly and Sophie are the two best fits for this series that the comic world could conceive of as this series is all about the girls, and rightfully so.

Story: Kelly Thompson  Art: Sophie Campbell
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5  Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

IDW provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review

Review: Jem and the Holograms #2

jem002The choice to reboot Jem and the Holograms into comics is probably one which left some fans of the medium scratching their heads.  Jem had a decent run on animated television in the 1980s, but her fan base had long since dissipated and there were few that asked for the return of her and her bandmates.  The first issue of the new series from IDW proved something else though, that while there might have been little reason to demand a return for Jem, there maybe should have been.  With the crush of girl-centric books on the market, it made sense to go back to the female rocker from the 1980s that proved that it is possible to be strong and feminine at the same time.

Some might have been a bit disappointed with the first issue in a different context though, specifically that Jem was mostly absent, instead dealing with the introduction of the character through her alter ego Jerrica.  For those that decided to stick around to check out the followup issue, they would find that as opposed to dealing on the past that the band is heading straight to the future.  This is primarily done with the introduction of the anti-Holograms, the Misfits.  The popular group is looking for an easy band to beat in an upcoming battle of the bands contest, and while they are hoping to choose their foe for an easy defeat (as it is their own contest) pressure is building through social media to force the two bands head to head in the contest.  There are a few other factors at play here, specifically the introduction of what might be a romatic interest for Jem, but mostly the story sticks to the battle of the bands and throws in a few curves.

This issue does a good job and bascially doing what it must.  It is still growing into its space a little bit, as the sometimes disjointed conversation alludes to, but most of all this is an overall treat which doesn’t let up.  The art is a treat and while the battle of the bands story might seem a bit obvious, so too do the Holograms need some kind of antagonist in their journey to pop stardom.  They have found it in the Misfits, and the series is better off for it, as it seems to be progressing and developing in a natural manner.

Story: Kelly Thompson  Art: Sophie Campbell
Story: 8.6  Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

We Talk Jem and the Holograms with Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson might be new to the medium of comics as a writer but she has a lot of experience with both comics and creative writing, having previously worked in reporting on the medium, as well as working on creative writing projects.  She joined us to talk about her new series Jem and the Holograms.

jem001Graphic Policy:  Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the new series?

Kelly Thompson:  I was already talking to IDW about some work for hire and potential creator-owned work and so when Jem got announced my name was put forward as someone that might be interesting for it. I was of course all over it and since Sophie Campbell and I had been looking for something to do together for a few years and I knew she was a super fan of Jem it seemed like the perfect project to do together. We started working on our pitch right away. There were a lot of secret texts…sometimes just an all caps out of nowhere “JEM!” text…we were pretty excited.

GP:  Were you a fan of Jem as a child?

KT:  Yes, I was a big fan of Jem. Original creator Christy Marx did such a great job of making the show all about women. They had screen time and agency in a way that not many other women in cartoons at the time did. I’m sure as a kid I didn’t realize that was what I was responding to, but I knew there was something special about it, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it.

GP:  The original cartoon series often featured (relatively sedate) action sequences to appeal to a wider audience (boys).  Do you think that culture has moved to a place where we don’t need this any more?

jem002KT:  Well, I’m not sure how sedate it was! Right off the bat you have a car chase along a cliffside with The Misfits throwing instruments out of a moving vehicle and running Jem and The Holograms off the road. That’s pretty high-octane. There were also people falling off of cruise ships and getting trapped on deserted islands, volcanoes, people trying to run people over with steamrollers, fighting a bear! Quite a bit of action…I don’t know what kind of action you like but I’m not sure it was sedate!

That said, I think your larger point that the action elements were included in Jem specifically to appeal to boys and that it’s not necessary to do that these days to appeal to boys is interesting. I think for a cartoon in 2015 you’d still probably take that approach – i.e. making sure to include some action, but part of that is just because some action is cool and fun and creates natural drama and stakes. I think for the purposes of our comic there will definitely be less action both because we’re aiming for a slightly older audience that maybe doesn’t need that element as part of its draw and also just because of our medium change. Not that comics can’t handle action of course, some would say it’s what they do best (shameless Wolverine joke) but just that our panel time is extremely limited so having prolonged action sequences means other stuff has to get cut or pared back. There will be some action, but it’s definitely less than the show.

jem003GP:  The idea of an alter ego for a pop star is interesting considering the effects that fame can have on people, but do you think that fame is an unfortunate effect of success in pop culture, or part of the appeal?

KT:  Well, obviously this is a generalization, everyone is different, but I suspect for a lot of people fame may start out as part of the appeal and quickly become a really painful downside. Even people that get into it FOR the fame probably find out that it’s a real monster, a machine that constantly has to be fed and one that ultimately demands very high price for its rewards – like having zero private life. Sophie said at one time in our talks about Jem something like, Jerrica creating Jem is in fact a kind of ingenious solution to the insane demands of celebrity. I love that and think it’s both really accurate and fascinating for our storytelling purposes.

GP:  It can be hard sometimes for writers to switch between mediums, and you kind of have to delve a bit into songwriting.  Did you have a hard time coming up with lyrics for the songs?

KT:  It was definitely the thing I was most afraid of when I took this project on but it turned out to be one of the easier things to do. Like anything, if you’ve built your characters correctly, they’ll do most the work for you. So I just did a lot of research looking at music lyrics and song structures and then got into the head of whatever character was writing the music (mostly Jerrica, Kimber, or Stormer) and thought about what they were trying to say and it just started flowing.  I guess time will tell how well the readers think I handled it, though.

jem004GP:  Part of the appeal of the original series was the music, with each episode delivering new music videos.  Comics obviously can’t do this, but do you feel a need to compensate in some way?

KT:  Yeah, I think music is obviously the biggest hurdle we have in that we just cannot possibly duplicate actually hearing the music like the original show. As you’ve seen from the first issue we’re trying to approach the music in a really visual way, using color, icons, and movement to convey sound as an actual physical thing on the page. We’re also hoping to cut loose with some crazy and hilarious visuals for the videos.

GP:  What some people forget is that while Jem is a story about a young pop star, that there is still a strong science fiction element due to Synergy.  Do you think that writers limit themselves with the use of science fiction in more traditional ways without thinking outside the box?

KT:  Well, I’ve seen and read a lot of great science fiction that blows my mind, so while I’m sure there’s plenty of it out there that’s also uninspired or mines familiar territory, that’s usually not my experience. That said, I think Jem’s take on sci-fi, i.e. as this almost matter of fact element that’s actually incredible and highly influential and sort of crazily dangerous if used with ill intentions is fascinating. I hope we can explore some of that, especially as it pertains to celebrity.

GP:  One notable difference is the depiction of Jem, for instance with a significantly higher hemline than in the cartoons.  Do you think that female stars are empowered or exploited by the need to reveal more?

KT:  I don’t actually find the hemline to be that much higher. Jem’s old skirt was more asymmetrical than the first cover image Sophie did so I guess that gives the impression of ours being shorter, but all those ladies in the cartoons wore pretty short skirts, which as far as I’m concerned is really normal and realistic – they’re pop stars. The same way that superheroines probably shouldn’t be in super impractical unzipped and high-heeled outfits, pop stars kind of SHOULD be in those kind of outfits. It’s all a performance and in Jem’s case it’s literally an illusion and so it can (and should) be almost impossible and ridiculous. I think that female celebrities are held to impossible and frustrating standards. Be thin but not too thin, be sexy but not too sexy, be gorgeous but don’t be too confident, it’s exhausting. That said, I think many of our modern female celebrities have made a real effort to rise above that junk and embrace the power they have and have taken real ownership of their image, which is both impressive and encouraging.

GP:  Can you give us a bit of an idea about where the series is headed?

KT:  Well, for this first arc we’re exploring a fairly classic “battle of the bands” idea but with a modern update. Though some of our stories are obviously going to break further away form the original, the core idea remains to look at some of the classic storylines through a 21st century lens. One of the most fascinating things about Jem is how music, technology, and celebrity have changed since the 1980’s. So that’s the sweet spot to me, figuring out what those original stories would look like in a new context.

Review: Jem and the Holograms #1

jem001Comics have gone through a mild metamorphosis in the past half-year.  Whereas before the titles featuring young female heroes were considered to be the outliers, now they are the trend setters. Between Batgirl, Silk and Spider-Gwen, this new focus has changed how certain titles are marketed and changed the stories which are told.  If one looks to the trend a bit deeper, there are other common factors. Diversity is one, as is a more prominent role for social media, but so too is music. Music is notably absent from Silk, but it plays a role in the other two series. In Batgirl, Black Canary forms a band and is on the verge of going on the road heading into Convergence. In Spider-Gwen, Gwen absence from the band spells their doom.  With this focus on music it therefore makes sense that Jem and the Holograms has reappeared on the comics landscape.

Originally launched in the 1980s as a cartoon, the story undergoes a format change here as the characters are thrown into comics instead of animation. This first issue serves as both a reintroduction and as a reboot. The origin story of the characters and specifically Jem is told, but it is done so in a modern way. There is a lot more focus on the characters as real people and not as animated products to capture the eyes and minds of young fans. The story of Jerrica is told as she is shown to be headlining her own band with her beautiful voice, but that she cannot get past her stage fright.  As came before she finds an unlikely solution to this with the sci-fi creature Synergy who grants her an alter ego.

This issue does what it has to do to make things work. There are probably not a lot of fans of the original that are going to be reading this, but there would be some, and the story is not too much bogged down in the past to make it boring.  For the new readers, they are likely to find a lot of new and interesting characters to start to like, and there is really a little bit for everybody, not just the presumably all-female fan base that the television show was after. Jem is after all an alter ego (like a super-hero) and Synergy gives the series a sci-fi feel as well. This series uses enough of what is normal to the medium and gives it a new spin. There really is no other comic like this on the market, and it would be nice to see that this niche was supported as the series delivers on different levels.

Story: Kelly Thompson  Art: Sophie Campbell
Story: 8.4  Art: 8.4 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

IDW provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.