The original 1980’s Jem and the Holograms animated TV series was insane. The premise was kinda tame but then it went ca-razy. Jerrica Benton, record exec of Starlight Music, places a bet with co-owner Eric Raymond that whoever’s pop group wins a battle of the bands will take over the music label.
Eric’s band, The Misfits, enter the scene riding guitar-shaped motorcycles while singing pop punk. They’re a group of girls and they’re mean. Jerrica’s band, Jem and the Holograms, is lead by herself as she performs alongside her sisters. They’re disguised by full-body holograms projected by Jerrica’s earrings which wirelessly communicate with an AI computer.
The Holograms win the battle and The Misfits retaliate by creating their own record label, forever swearing to be thorns in the sides of Jem and her band. The Misfits claimed in the show’s opening theme song that their songs were better, and they’re right. Largely, this was because The Misfits sang songs about being powerful women and crushing their enemies, while Jem and the Holograms sang innocuous ditties about things like the joys of train travel.
The show was bubbly and bright and silly and as a little girl in the 1980’s, I loved it. The first time I remember ever being “in trouble” was because I decided I wanted a punk haircut like the women in the show and cut my own hair. I never saw my Hello Kitty scissors again. It was a children’s cartoon made in a different time. Character development was non-existent, plots were resolved in 25 minutes or less and never mentioned again, and while the show had potential to raise questions about relationships and identity, it didn’t. The original TV cartoon was created to sell dolls, which it did very well.
The IDW Publishing Jem and the Holograms comic by Kelly Thompson (Hawkeye), Sophie Campbell (TMNT) and later Meredith McClaren (Heart in a Box) takes everything good from the original cartoon and makes it better. The fun energy and silliness is still there, but it’s grounded by real human characters.
The Misfits were practically murderers in the original cartoon. They often attempted to beat The Holograms on the music charts by trying to have them killed. Now they’re women willing to do what’s needed to get ahead, but they’re not actively trying to hurt anyone.
After The Misfit’s lead singer Pizzazz is in a car accident, the band temporarily replaces her with groupie Blaze. Upon Pizzazz’s return, she’s miffed that the band toured without her, but still welcomes Blaze to The Misfits. When the band struggles to gel as a 5-person group, Blaze wonders if it’s her fault. Pizzazz acknowledges that of course Blaze has changed the dynamic, but that’s no reason to get rid of her. This lovable, bitchy balance is a fine tightrope to walk.
The Holograms are also vastly improved in this retelling. In the original, the band members were interchangeable with shallow interests – the techy one, the fashion one, etc. Now, Shana is so invested in apparel that she wants to go to fashion school in Milan even though it means forsaking the band. In the TV cartoon, this storyline was handled in two episodes. In the comic, the story plays out across entire issues and is still unresolved.
The comic is more inclusive in ways a 1980’s cartoon couldn’t be. Kimber from The Holograms and Stormer from The Misfits are lesbians and are the “star-crossed lovers” of the series. When their respective bands don’t want them to date, it has nothing to do with their sexuality, it’s because they don’t want them sleeping with the enemy.
Blaze, a new addition to The Misfits, is trans; she’s realistically concerned about coming out to her new bandmates. But The Misfits are supportive because in this universe, even the villains do the right thing.
The art does its share in modernizing the story. The comic isn’t bound to women who look like literal toy dolls. Every character has her own distinct look. They have big and small noses, moles and high cheekbones. They’re tall and thin or short and curvy.
Meredith McClaren’s art has a drastically different look, but her distinctive style feels right at home in a world where the answer to stage fright is to use holograms to create a pink-haired pop star version of yourself.
In this comic, there’s no winning or losing; there’s life. Can Kimber and Stormer every really be together? Will Shana choose happiness in fashion or happiness with the band? How does Jerrica feel about being famous, but not being able to be herself?
The revamped Jem and The Holigrams is a modern retelling of how believing in yourself and your friends can change the world, and that is ALWAYS a story that young women need to hear.
Oh, and uh…something something truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly et cetera.