By Latonya Pennington
Jem and The Holograms is both an iconic 80’s cartoon series from Hasbro and a 2015 comic book series published by IDW. Both revolve around a girl named Jerrica Benton and her sisters Kimber, Aja, and Shana who, with the help of an advanced holographic A.I. program named Synergy, form a band known as Jem and The Holograms to raise money for their foster kid program The Starlight Foundation and become famous.
With the comic written by Kelly Thompson and drawn by skilled artists like Sophie Campbell, Emma Vieceli, and Gisele Lagace, the series gained praise from veteran fans of the cartoon and newcomers to Jem alike. Its contemporary take on characters like Jerrica’s sisters and Jem’s rival band The Misfits – and the addition of modern-day features such as social media and reality tv – updated Jem without losing the vibrant, fun, and dramatic spirit of the original cartoon.
Despite being a modern reboot, the Jem and The Holograms 2015 annual issue manages to be an entertaining homage to classic 80’s films and TV, in a series of short interconnected stories written by Thompson and drawn by Amy Mebberson, Arielle Jovellanos, Rebekha Isaacs, Jen Bartel, Agnes Garbowska and Sophie Campbell (who draws a “previously on” page at the start). It all kicks off with “Wired”, where Jerrica and her sisters are unable to sleep. They decide to do a movie night but are unable to choose a movie (even with Synergy’s assistance). Jerrica suggests a classic comedy, Aja wants sci-fi, and Shana suggests fantasy. It’s worth noting that the movie genre suggestions offered by Jerrica and the other girls will influence what happens next. The comic ends as the girls fall asleep, and one by one we see what each of them are dreaming about, starting with Jerrica.
Her story, “Jem Wolf”, is clearly a nod to the film Teen Wolf. In place of Michael J. Fox’s awkward basketball playing teen werewolf, however we instead have Jerrica. Stuck on a basketball course, Jerrica finds herself being asked to change into Jem by everyone around her – and is flustered to learn that everyone already knows her secret identity. However, Jerrica soon changes into Jem Wolf and finds that everyone loves Jem Wolf a lot: especially as she plays (and wins) the game for her team. Arielle Jovellanos’ comical art, Josh Bursham’s bright colors, and Tom B. Long’s and Shawn Lee’s letters enhance Jem Wolf being praised, as she shoots and scores while the crowd cheers.
In fact, people seem to love Jem Wolf so much that Jerrica is hardly given a thought. After Jem Wolf wins the game, Jerrica is pressured by Synergy Wolf, her boyfriend Rio, and her sisters to stay as Jem Wolf because it’s what people want. Beneath the coming-of-age veneer, Jerrica’s “Jem Wolf” dream represents her fear that she is appreciated more as Jem than Jerrica. The comic ends as the crowd chants for Jem Wolf and Jerrica flees into the woods.
After Jerrica’s “Jem Wolf” dream comes Aja’s “Angry Aja” dream, which is heavily inspired by the film Mad Max: Welcome To The Thunderdome. Rebekah Issacs’ art and Joana Lafuente’s colors combine the grittiness of the Mad Max world with the brightness of Jem very well.The comic begins with Aja riding a dystopian looking car through the desert, only to run out of gas outside of “Negotiate Town”. After giving a tape deck to a young girl so she’ll watch her car, she goes to look for gas. However, Aja’s guitar is stolen by a mysterious masked figure and she starts to fight them, only to be stopped by Aunty Synergy. Aunty Synergy tells Aja that she will have to fight the mystery thief in… Thunder Rotunda.
Amid the crowd’s chants of “one woman will enter, one will exit”, Aja starts to fight the mysterious figure out of self-defense until the figure removes their mask. Upon realizing that she is literally fighting herself, Aja refuses to continue the fight and her sisters arrive to take Aja home.
As seen in the cartoon and the comic books, Aja is usually a temperamental and impulsive character. However, “Angry Aja” demonstrates that no matter how angry Aja gets, she can count on her family to keep her grounded.
From “Angry Aja”, the comic continues to “Shana Wars”, which is Shana’s dream version of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It begins with Shana crash landing her star fighter plane into a swamp, where she meets a version of Synergy who speaks like Yoda. When Synergy asks why Shana is here, she figures that it’s because she is having issues making a choice.
Just as Luke Skywalker confronted himself, Shana goes to a cave where she confronts the source of her indecisiveness: being torn over her family and music versus her desire to pursue fashion full-time. Although the theme of confronting oneself was already seen in the previous story, the repetitiveness can be excused since this dream is based on Shana’s favorite film.
It is in the cave that Jen Bartel’s colorful pastels shine alongside Long’s and Lee’s neon white lyrical lettering as Shana’s fears come to life and she sees a dire vision that heralds Jem and The Holograms breaking up. To that end, the comic story ends as Shana decides to leave the swamp and return to her family.
Last but not least, the final story in the 2015 annual is “Jem Babies”, which spoofs the Jim Henson Muppet cartoon Muppet Babies. Out of all the comics in this issue, this is the most whimsical one since it serves to put a cute spin on the rivalry between Jem and The Holograms; and The Misfits. This is due to Agnes Garboskwa’s adorable chibi versions of both bands, which also keep the vibrant colors of their adult counterparts in their character designs and Long and Lee’s lettering.
Given that this is also Kimber’s dream, one could interpret it as her desire to have more innocence in her professional and personal life – especially when it comes to dating Stormer of The Misfits, which is the clear subtext of her story. Ultimately, what brings both bands together is a new kitten, which they end up naming and putting on a concert for. The comic issue ends as Kimber wakes up and Synergy remarks how much awaits the band in the future.
All in all, Jem’s 2015 annual was dreamy in more ways than one, putting a fun spin on movie night that showcased each desire and fear of Jem and The Holograms. Not only did it allow readers to get a more in depth look at each band member individually, but it also foreshadowed the interpersonal problems that would come up in future issues of Jem and The Holograms…
Jem and the Holograms Annual
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Amy Mebberson, Arielle Jovellanos, Rebekah Isaacs, Jen Bartel, Agnes Garbowska and Sophie Campbell
Colours by Josh Burcham, Joana LaFuente, Lauren Perry and Victoria Robado
Letters by Tom B. Long and Shawn Lee
Latonya Pennington is a poet and prolific critical writer whose work has been featured on sites including WomenWriteAboutComics and The MNT, amongst several others. You can follow them on Twitter right here, and their website is here!
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