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What’s Missing from Jem and The Holograms

Magen Cubed Magen Cubed
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June 13th, 2015

Magen Cubed is a novelist and comics critic. Her superhero/SFF series THE CRASHERS is coming soon from Booktrope.

What’s Missing from Jem and The Holograms
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IDW's Jem and The Holograms has a great deal going for it, as it rides a wave of 80s nostalgia, positive messages, and critical acclaim.  Over the course of its augural arc Showtime, writer Kelly Thompson, artist Sophie Campbell, and colorist M. Victoria Robado have given Jem a much needed makeover for contemporary comics audiences. It's fun, it's quirky, and, more importantly, it provides a safe, body-positive, queer-positive space for its characters to operate in.

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Photo Credit: Matel

Thompson confidently scripts this endearing all-ages title through fun characterizations and compelling inter-band conflicts, delivering stories that can hook even the most uninitiated reader. Campbell's diverse range of elaborate, highly-individualized character designs populates Jem's world with people of all skin tones, heights, and body types. These charming characters are all beautifully realized by Robado's bright, candy-colored palettes, which provide an additional layer of visual engagement in Campbell's typically minimalist panel compositions. Coupled with its positive depiction of LGBTA characters and relationships, Jem and The Holograms is a bubbly, feel-good book with a bit of something for everyone.

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Unfortunately, there's one thing that this title lacks: fantasy. Despite being driven by the introduction of the AI Synergy, who gives the anxious Jerrica the ability to perform as her holographic alter ego Jem, the title has yet to fully embrace its inherent whimsy. Synergy may not be the most exciting AI in contemporary comics, but her presence, and the element of sci-fi/fantasy that she injects into the story, is the catalyst of the series. To their credit, Thompson and Campbell have done an admirable job of reinvigorating the series with interesting characters and striking designs. So far they've used the glamor of Jem's exaggerated pop fantasy world to their advantage in setting the stage for the band's exploits, and it makes for a good read. But the natural sense of wonder, mystery, or at the very least some introspection on the part of Jerrica regarding her persona, is missing from the series.

In today's world of screens and holograms, where bands like the Gorillaz or the Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku have become relatively common place, the lack of Synergy and even Jem herself in these early issues creates a strange sense of dissonance. Would Jem be an oddity in her world? Would the fans embrace her, or is Jerrica in real danger of being discovered as a fraud? Without any real development of this idea, which has taken a backseat to Jerrica's budding relationship with Rio, it's hard to say. Unfortunately, it's also getting harder to care. As the book shifts to focus on plot devices and character drama, the fun and whimsy of the title rests solely on the character designs rather than its high-tech charms. And that's a shame.

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Fans complained about this lack of fantasy in the recent Jem and The Holograms movie trailer, which portrayed a Hannah Montana-esque teen drama with the occasional pink wig to spice things up. While IDW's series is far more compelling than the movie looks to be, the apparent disinterest in its core sci-fi/fantasy elements is disappointing. In a comic book and film industry dominated by the most fantastic characters, creatures, and stories, it's equally disappointing to see such a lack of imagination in a property aimed almost exclusively at girls and young women. We're all perfectly comfortable with movies about giant monsters or heroes fighting rogue AI, but seemingly squeamish about the idea of exploring Synergy and Jem in new or interesting ways. If the only fantasy we can muster for girls stops at shiny dresses and pink wigs, we're doing them a disservice.

For all of its many positives, Jem and The Holograms needs to embrace a little more of its core sci-fi/fantasy trappings before it can become a truly great title. It's a fun and endearing romp, and definitely worth a read for its inclusive character designs and world-building efforts. But without giving its readers the benefit of the doubt in grappling the most basic fantasy elements, sadly this generation's Jem will never as truly outrageous as she deserves to be.

 

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Magen Cubed is a Contributor to ComiConverse.  Follow her on Twitter: @MagenCubed

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