Pull List: Jem and the Holograms Is Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous

Usually I reserve Pull List for new or ongoing comics, but this time I’m bucking the trend and featuring a series that just ended because Jem and the Holograms just too good to not talk about. Also, this is my column and rules are made to be broken and whatevs, man, I do what I want. And the series is technically kinda still going with the dual miniseries “Infinite” so I guess it still works. Anyway. Jem and the Holograms is great and you should buy it.

Jerrica Benton, Kimber Benton, Aja Leith, and Shana Elmsford are sisters with a pretty decent rock band. The only thing holding them back from greatness? Jerrica’s petrifying stage fright. When they discover Synergy, a super advanced AI created by their late father, they use her to create a hologram they name “Jem.” With Jerrica-as-Jem at the lead, the other sisters as the band, and Jerrica-as-Jerrica managing from the background, the band rockets to fame, much to the chagrin of Pizzazz, the lead singer of the Misfits. Pizzazz declares war on Jem and shenanigans ensue. Muddling things up are the growing romances between Kimber and Misfits songwriter and keytar player Stormer, Aja and Craig (who happens to be Stormer’s brother), Jerrica and hot boy reporter Rio, and eventually Jem and Riot, the lead singer of upstart band the Stingers.

In Jem and the Holograms: The Misfits, the troubled band gets desperate to rehab their image and signs up for an ill-fated reality tv show. The “Infinite” miniseries crossover is even more bonkers than the main series. Or, as Kelly Thompson put it, “We decided to go about as big as you can go…other worlds, sci-fi shenanigans, reunions, betrayals, death, destruction, saving the world, and also, of course, music.”

If you haven’t heard of Kelly Thompson before now, then I feel sorry for you. She’s one of my favorite writers in the biz right now. Her bibliography is way too long to list, but suffice it to say, Thompson is the bee’s knees. Besides the Jem ‘verse, she’s currently writing Hawkeye (!), Journey to Star Wars: Captain Phasma (!!), and the upcoming Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (!!!). She is definitely one of my favorite comics writers, and one of those people I follow from book to book. I don’t even need to know the title or subject; if she’s writing it then I’m there.

Like everything else Thompson writes, Jem is full of heart, consent, and intersectional feminism. Where other writers might stick to Jem’s glittery, silly surface, Thompson digs deep to get to the truth of experience and the realities of life. She explores what it would really be like to have to maintain two complete personalities when Jerrica has a mini breakdown as she struggles to draw the line between herself and her fictional character. Shana goes through a quarterlife crisis as she figures out who she wants to be and what she wants out of life. When Pizzazz suddenly loses her adoring fans, Thompson peeks behind her iron curtain to see the insecure young woman hiding behind it. And she and her artists are conscientious about portraying a diverse cast. From body shape to personality to gender expression to ethnicity, no two characters are the same. It’s reflective of the real world in an inclusive, earnest, ridiculously fashionable way.

You didn’t think I’d get all the way through this review without squeeing over how fabulously queer it is, did you? Kimber and Stormer’s relationship is a source of ongoing conflict between the bands—they’re basically the Juliet and Juliet of the Holograms and the Misfits. Also, Blaze is trans. When she comes out, no one stops to break it down piece by piece or force her to explain or defend her truth. Sure, she’s insecure about having to tell her new bandmates, but it’s framed as having more to do with her anxious personality rather the band potentially being cruel enough to oust her for being queer (spoilers: they aren’t and they don’t). Most importantly, when artist Sophie Campbell came out as trans after the first issue, IDW went back and replaced her deadname with her new name on all past works. How awesome and supportive is that?

Speaking of the art, holy moly is it an absolute joy. Jem and the Holograms utilizes one of my least favorite trends in comics—a constantly rotating crew of artists with drastically different takes and styles—but I can’t complain too much. I loved nearly all of the artists, it gave work and attention to relatively unknown artists most of whom were women, and they all brought something fresh and exciting to the table. I don’t have the word count to talk about all of them, but I’ll sing the praises of a few. Sophie Campbell’s art is expressive, detailed, and playful, with an effortless charm and easy energy. Emma Vieceli makes the characters crackle with liveliness and animation. Meredith McClaren has a quirky, unique, manga-esque style that I adored. Some of my favorite visual moments—such as the flaming skulls hovering above Jem and Pizzazz during a fierce argument—came out of McClaren’s run. All props to M. Victoria Robado for exquisite colors. That bold, neon, eye-popping color palette brings the art to life. Shawn Lee and Tom B. Long’s lettering is pitch perfect. The flow is easy and the text boxes and speech bubbles not overwhelming. A reader new to comics should have an easy time getting into the rhythm thanks to their diligent work.

Throughout Thompson’s run on the Jem ‘verse, we’ve seen the highs of new love, lows of band breakups, and everything in between. Jem and the Holograms is a story about life in all its permutations and complications. It’s half old school romance comic, half science fiction, and half delightfully bonkers glam rock melodrama. To paraphrase the theme song from the cartoon, it’s excitement, adventure, glamour and glitter, fashion and fame. Add a little sparkle to your longboxes.

Jem and the Holograms writer: Kelly Thompson; issues #1-5, 11-16—art: Sophie Campbell; colors: M. Victoria Robado; letters: Shawn Lee, Tom Long, Robbie Robbins. “Viral”—art: Emma Vieceli; colors: M. Victoria Robado; letters: Shawn Lee, Tom B. Long. “Rio Pacheco, Boy Reporter”—art: Corin Howell; colors: M. Victoria Robado; letters: Shawn Lee, Tom B. Long. “Holiday Special”—art: Amy Mebberson; colors: M. Victoria Robado; letters: Shawn Lee, Tom B. Long. “Annual 2015”—art: Amy Mebberson, Arielle Jovellano, Rebekah Isaacs, Jen Bartel, Agnes Garbowska; colors: Amy Mebberson, Josh Burcham, Joana Lafuente, Jen Bartel, Lauren Perry; letters: Shawn Lee, Tom B. Long. Issues #17-23—art: Jen Bartel, Meredith McClaren; colors: M. Victoria Robado; letters: Shawn Lee. “Truly Outrageous”—art: Gisele Lagace; colors: M. Victoria Robado. “Annual 2017” 0 art: Gisele Lagace; colors: Jason Millet; art and colors: M.J. Barros, M Victoria Robado Katarzyna Witerscheim, Savanna Ganucheau; lyrical lettering: M. Victoria Robado. Vols 1-5 now available.

Jem and the Holograms: The Misfits writer: Kelly Thompson; art: Jenn St-Onge; colors and lyrics lettering: M. Victoria Robado; letters and design: Shawn Lee. Vol 1 now available.

Jem and the Holograms: Infinite and Jem and the Holograms: The Misfits: Infinite writer: Kelly Thompson; art: Stacey Lee, Jen Hickman, Jenn St-Onge; colors and lyric lettering: Sarah Stern, M. Victoria Robado; letters: Shawn Lee. Parts 1-4 out now, and part 5 out September 27.

The anthology Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions is scheduled to be released by IDW in November 2017.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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