Kelly Thompson and Ross Campbell’s “Jem & the Holograms” #1 is poised to launch Jem back into the collective pop culture consciousness of a whole new generation. The first installment of a storyline titled “Showtime” introduces readers to Jerrica Benton and her bandmates: Aja Leith, Shana Elmsford and Jerrica’s sister Kimber.
Thompson and Campbell don’t simply drop the ladies into a story and set them on their way, choosing instead to walk readers through the secret origin of “Jem.” As the Holograms, the band is fronted by Jerrica, who has problems with stage fright. She is a dynamic songwriter and singer but, once the cameras start recording, she freezes. That leads to the conflicts of the issue, which are run-of-the-mill band issues and sibling-level bickering. As the father of three teens, I can confidently say Thompson hits the nail on the head, as it’s not hard to imagine Aja and Kimber shouting so loudly over each other that both points are lost.
That minor wobble in a visibly strong relationship doesn’t halt this comic in its tracks, nor is it enough to completely move the story forward. This is Jerrica’s tale. Thompson and Campbell push her out of her comfort zone and craft an origin that is comic booky and fun, approachable for readers of every genre and fully formed to leap off the page. The characters themselves aren’t perfect little dolls or neatly trimmed cardboard cutouts. Rather, they are people we all know, eager to find that one chance that is going to transform their passion into a completely realized dream, if only everything would just hold together long enough.
Thompson measures out the conversation for the page turn, dropping drama on the flip and keeping the reader chugging along with smooth, natural dialogue. She doesn’t burden the story with cutesy marketing lingo reliant upon a decades-old property, nor does she overdo the modern dialogue; she simply writes believable young adults trying so very hard to achieve their goals.
Ross Campbell matches Thompson stride-for-stride, beat-for-beat and note-for-note. His characters are every bit as individualized as the people you pass on the street. They all have different eyes, noses, fingers, statures and postures. They all have their signature look and their signature expressions. Campbell has clearly put a lot of thought into developing these characters and that effort comes through in every detailed panel of “Jem & the Holograms” #1. From the light bounce of curls of hair starting to give up after a long day to the unmistakable difference between an acoustic guitar and a keytar, Campbell owns the visuals for this comic book.
While he puts his own style to work on Jerrica and her bandmates, Campbell does maintain the unapologeticness of their 1980s appearances: big hair, extreme makeup, fierce clothing and — thanks to colorist M. Victoria Robado — bold and loud colors. There are brilliant pinks and vibrant blues throughout the issue. In some spots, the coloring is so rich that the cyan and magenta toner seems to have directly bled onto the page. Letterer Robbie Robbins caps it all off with smart, tight word balloons and onomatopoeia-driven sound effects resplendent with dynamic outlines and drop shadows.
“Jem & the Holograms” #1 is a strong, sassy start for a series which is geared for a teen-and-up crowd. Readers drawn in by the nostalgia are sure to be hooked right away, while new readers will find themselves taken by the believably real characters walking through the panels of this book. The fact that “Jem & the Holograms” #1 is gorgeous certainly helps. The nostalgia factor gets ratcheted up a level by the profile pages included at the back of the issue and the fact that this comic book actually has page numbers. Thompson, Campbell, Robado and Robbins give readers a solid comic book story and leave them with a dynamic holding spot until next issue, where the action should really start.
Note: In an attempt for full transparency, Kelly Thompson is a current writer for CBR’s “Comics Should Be Good” blog and a former CBR reviewer.