Retelling Book Review: Jem & the Holograms #1- Showtime

Jem and The Holograms #1 (Jem and the Holograms, #1)Jem and The Holograms #1 by Kelly Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Item: A non-superhero comic that debuted in the last 3 years

I am not afraid to admit that nostalgia may have inflated my rating.

However, it’s not as if I’d fawn over any Jem-related property. My reaction to the movie reboot was far from positive.

This reimagining of the JEM canon works because it strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and modern sensibilities. Although the character designs have been updated, their personalities have remained intact while receiving greater depth; story threads that were only subtexts in the original series are brought out into the open here. Also, I have nothing but good to say about the update to the character designs — whereas all the female characters in the original essentially shared the exact same fashion-plate body, in this incarnation we see body diversity along with the ethnic diversity that the show always managed to pull off. Jerrica and the gang come off as somewhat “younger” than they do in the original, but I think that is partially because the original was aimed at kids, where an adult is just an adult, whereas this is aimed at older readers who know how rare it is for someone to be CEO of their own record label at age 23.

This does make me wonder how new readers would treat the more fantastical elements of this story, couched as they are in a more realistic setting without a lot of explanation about how they work. But perplexing newcomers is a price I am willing to pay to keep some of the iconic story elements — ahem, SYNERGY — from the original intact.

Also, there are some things that make MORE sense in this incarnation. We’re never really given an upfront reason for the creation of JEM in the original — why did Jerrica change her identity while everyone else remained themselves? As the original series goes on the viewer starts to perceive that Jerrica needs her alter-ego to “cut loose,” but this is handled in a more upfront manner in the comic: Jerrica, while a talented musician and songwriter, has debilitating stage fright and can only perform when hiding behind the persona of JEM.

And yeah, there are definitely some cheesy moments that in most cases would make me roll my eyes — but when they appear I ask myself, “Would this sort of thing have happened on the cartoon?” When I realize the answer is yes, I just have to sort of shake my head and smile indulgently. And I love all the little details here, especially when it comes to Pizazz. She comes across as a bit more “mean girl” and a bit less “loose cannon” than in the cartoon, but there are these sweet “softening” touches that just make you want to know more about who she REALLY is — who are the science fiction action figures next to her bed? She’s also been given a Siamese cat which seems a perfect fit (Siamese are known for being one of the most “prickly” and temperamental breeds), and in the final frame, just the hint of a tear in her eye as she rants about Jem and the Holograms stealing the spotlight.

The nascent love stories, both between Kimber and Stormer and Jerrica and Rio are sweet, although I’m worried that Rio might discover the dual identity too early on in the series. I will be disappointed if the comic ends up matching the movie in that regard, both because Jerrica’s secret identity provided such an ongoing sense of tension in the original (where Rio never DID find out) AND because dudes with secret identities are allowed to hold onto them (and the power it gives them) for decades against all odds. I hope the new writers will give Jem the same courtesy; in so many other ways they’ve kept this “true” to the things that made the Jem series so beloved.

I’ve already ordered the next two volumes. I hardly ever purchase books new, but when it comes to series like this that are so close to my heart, I just want to keep throwing money at them.

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