Jem and the Holograms: Dark Jem
I haven’t checked in with the Jem and the Holograms comic in a while, although it’s an engaging retake on the rock-and-roll Cinderella story, with plenty of soap opera to keep fans reading the continuing series.
The first storyline was collected as Showtime, introducing the characters that make up the Holograms band and their rivals. I love the way that writer Kelly Thompson makes this varied group of young ladies such distinct characters with understandable motivations and deep feelings. That’s particularly true when it comes to the Misfits, who have been deepened beyond the one note of being “bad guys”. Artist Sophie Campbell is a welcome creative partner, giving the cast amazing visual designs in costume and particularly hair styles that reflect and distinguish their personalities.
The second collection varies the artistic talent. Issues #7-9 were drawn by Emma Vieceli, in a story where the Misfits’ new manager Eric Raymond sends a hacker after the Holograms. Also in Viral are a set of short stories from the Outrageous Annual, the Holiday Special drawn by Amy Mebberson, and issue #10, a focus on Jerrica’s boyfriend, reporter Rio Pacheco.
Sophie Campbell returns (for her last contribution for now) and co-plots the most recent long story. As you might gather from the title of this third volume, Dark Jem (collecting issues #11-16), the plot here is another standard: Jem turns evil. Specifically, the programming behind Synergy, the magic hologram, has been corrupted, and a controlling personality called Silica is taking over the willpower of those who hear the band’s music, creating unthinking zombies.
But even though the overall story is predictable — you know the cast is going to work together to recapture their unique personalities and fight off unwilling uniformity — Thompson uses the familiar structure to reveal more about the group’s wants and needs. I was also impressed, given the 80s origin of the concept, with how Campbell shows the dark personalities in a fashion reminiscent of the art of Patrick Nagel, whose pale-skinned, dark-haired, sharp-edged women were everywhere in the era.
Looking more closely at the structure, sometimes it seems like Thompson is doing more with the Misfits than the Holograms, but I suspect they provide more room for a wider range of dramatic possibilities. For instance, at the beginning of this story, Pizzazz is recovering from a traumatic throat injury, so she can’t sing. That means her band has to find a replacement for a tour that can’t be rescheduled, a juicy temporary change that gives the other characters a chance to shine. That also allows for revelation of Blaze’s secret, handled in a tasteful but powerful way.
If I have a quibble, it’s that the Holograms are coupling up awfully quickly. Everyone’s got a partner in a relatively happy relationship. That allows them to have scenes with people who have emotional investment in their personality changes, but it’s perhaps the least realistic element, in my opinion, of the story, that all four girls would have relationships working out at the same time.
Artistically, the performance scenes are my favorite, as they’ve found a way to portray music in print, always a tricky subject. The often full-page images, with color-backed lyrics spiraling through montages of moments, is a great choice to evoke the emotional response to hearing the songs. Jem and the Holograms continues to be a fun read, combining friendly, inspiring characters, teamwork, and colorful adventures.
Dark Jem is due out in August. Issue #16, the final of the storyline, is out Wednesday. (The writer provided digital review copies.)