Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a graphic novel based on an animated TV series which ran from the mid to late eighties (the TV show was titled simply Jem). There's also a movie release (October 2015) which has created some controversy about faithfulness to the original. Jem is the alter ego of Jerrica Benton. When Jerrica's father died, he left her a prototype entertainment studio named Synergy, run by an AI which has remarkable powers, particularly that of projecting holograms. Somehow it can also project these onto people to make them look different or augmented. Jem, who has been suffering chronic performance anxiety, finds that she can use a pair of star earrings, which facilitate her holographic makeover, and disguised as Jem, she can perform with her band.

The fly in the ointment is The Misfits - a rival, rather unscrupulous band, which runs a contest "The Misfits Vs." - whoever wants to challenge them in a battle of the bands. They've apparently been singularly successful in fending off all challenges, but now Jem wants to take them on, and the Misfits want to sabotage Jem because she's the first real rival they've faced.

Jem's band consists of her tall and willowy sister, Kimber Benton, her younger 'sister' Aja Leith, who writes their material and plays keyboards (a 'Keytar'), and Shana Elmsford, who plays drums. In the cartoon series, Jerrica and her band-mates live in a large house which is also a home to several orphaned children. All of that is excluded from this graphic version. Also there's none of the struggle for ownership of Starlight Records and contingent band showdown. Other than that, it's very similar in most ways.

One significant and very welcome difference in the graphic novel is the diversity and acceptance brought to the characters. There's more racial variation, and more body image variation in the graphic novel than in the cartoon series and (I strongly suspect) in the movie version. The graphic novel illustrator isn't afraid to depict women who are outside the tragic norm of skinny waif that's unfortunately so dominant these days. Some members in both bands are shown to be what might be termed big bodied women (BBW) or large boned as some people call it.

Note that I use these terms in differentiation to them being described as 'overweight' or 'fat', which these characters were not. So kudos for showing some diversity of body type as well as race. You tend not to find that, even in graphic novels, unless it has some bearing on the story being related. In this case, they were just people! There was no commentary, no point to be made, and the story had nothing to do with exactly how they looked, which was very refreshing.

The misfits are pretty much the same as the cartoon: Pizzazz (Phyllis Gabor in the original), Roxy (Roxanne Pelligrini in the original), and Storm (Mary Phillips in the original), the song-writer who becomes very close friends with Kimber, despite the friction between the bands. Jetta (Sheila Burns)???

Overall, I liked the mood and tone of the story, and the "girlie pink" color scheme which paralleled the original cartoon series. I think the story was enjoyable and good fun, and I recommend this if you were a fan of the original series, or if you're into some light and playful storytelling and good graphics, or even if you're just Jem-ing for the movie and need something to "take the edge off" in the meantime!

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