I’ve briefly talked about IDW’s Jem comic before and some things that it improves on when compared with the cartoon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the cartoon, it ran from the mid to late 80s as part of Hasboro’s line of cartoons based off of toys. It followed the outrageous adventures of the titular Jem and the Holograms, a band made up of four sisters and their conflicts with their rival band, The Misfits. In 2015, IDW began releasing a comic based off of the franchise the comic saw its final issue in June but the characters are still going in a couple of mini-series. So, I’ll be taking a look at the first collected volume of the comic. Which includes the first six issues written by Kelly Thompson with artwork by Sophie Campbell and colours by María Victoria Robado.
We open with our heroines trying to record a video for a “Misfits VS.” competition. It’s not going well. Jerrica can’t bring herself to sing in front of the camera crew, all four of them. She hears her sisters venting their frustrations about her stage fright and goes home. A storm knocks out the power which results in the holographic Synergy’s systems being rebooted. She shows Jerrica and her sisters the amazing technology their father was working on, prompting Kimber to ask if he was a super hero. Using Synergy’s holographic technology and the Jem persona that lets Jerrica overcome her performance anxiety, our Heroines are successfully able to enter the competition. Thereby kicking off their rivalry with the Misfits. Things become somewhat complicated when Kimber and Stormer meet at an event and there’s an immediate attraction. This prompts Pizzazz to forbid Stormer from dating “the enemy.”
In terms of story-telling, the worst I can say about the comic is that the dialogue can get repetitive at times. we get such nuggets as “Saw your video. It was great. It was beyond great.” Or there’s also “They always get my bad side. Every time.” Which I can’t criticise too much because it is dialogue and it’s not exactly unusual for someone to say something redundant.
There are a lot more praise-worthy things about the writing. Having the Holograms as an upcoming band entering a competition against the veteran Misfits is a good way to kick off the animosity. Having members of the opposing bands who are trying to make a fledgling relationship work, in spite of that, is a nice method of adding some dramatic tension. Jerrica suffering from performance anxiety and using Jem to disassociate from it provides a compelling reason for her to have a secret identity and Rio being a reporter, and one she meets after they enter the contest, gives a strong motive for not telling him the truth. As opposed to the cartoon where she couldn’t tell her long term boyfriend that they were the same person because… glamour & glitter and she needed a secret identity because… fashion & fame. the comic is also really superb about stopping each issue at a really good point. We get the first appearance of Jem at the end of one issue. The Misfits about to confront Stormer when they see her on a date with Kimber ending another. A light array about to fall on Jem ending yet another. They’re all moments that give the reader a reason to pick up the next issue while also stemming naturally from the events of that issue. There’s nothing that feels contrived or rushed about it. The comic is also very charming and funny. Aja throwing shoes because she wants to keep sleeping while Kimber tries to wake her up is hilarious. There’s a really funny scene where the Misfits argue before going on a television show and those are just a few examples. There are a lot more.
This may very well be the strongest aspect of the comic. Unlike the cartoon, where the villains were just causing trouble because they were the antagonists and it was their job, in the comics there’s a coherent motivation behind everything they do. It’s also nice that the Misfits in this never resort to attempted murder. The worst thing that happens comes from Clash acting on her own because she thinks it’ll please Pizzazz and Clash really wants some mutual pleasing betwixt herself and Pizzazz. The Misfits even react negatively when they find out what Clash allegedly (as far as they’re concerned) did. Pizzazz stops her from admitting to it, though, because she wants to keep the Misfits out of any possible legal issues. The Misfits, in general, just come across as the antagonists because they’re abrasive and needlessly competitive because they see the Holograms as a threat.
The sisterly dynamic among Jerrica, Kimber, Aja & Shana is excellently handled. Which is another improvement over the cartoon where Jerrica and Kimber acted like sisters while the other two acted more like friends. The budding relationship between Kimber and Stormer is, even in this early stage, shaping up to be the best romance I’ve seen in a comic and I find myself highly invested in what’s happening with it. None of that is hyperbolic either.
Campbell’s artwork is gorgeous. The facial expressions are highly expressive. The outfit, make-up and hair designs are consistently appealing. The way she makes up for the lack of music, because it’s a comic and doesn’t have sound, with lively panels surrounded by lyrics makes for some amazing visuals. The action flows nicely. The colours are vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. There are Rainbow Dash and Sunset Shimmer plushies. Yes, this is the same comic company that puts out the Friendship is Magic comic… Which I may have a lot of issues of on my shelf.
The first volume of IDW’s Jem does exactly what it needs to. It establishes the characters, scenario and the underlying source of tension between the bands. It demonstrates a deep understanding of those elements that people liked about the cartoon while also establishing what it’s going to do differently. As a whole, it even uses those elements better with more thought and greater care going into it. It is a damn good comic and I do recommend it for anyone who likes slice of life works. Regardless of whether or not you watched or enjoyed the old cartoon. My final rating for the first volume of this comic is going to stand at a 9/10. It’s truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. Maybe I’ll look at the second volume at a later point. But next month I want to look at something a bit different. Preferably not super hero related because I don’t want my bonus reviews to be too fixated on people running about in tights.