If the debut issue of a new comic book series is difficult, then the second issue can seem almost impossible. Having first hooked readers in with that opening round, it’s up to the second to real them into the first arc (and beyond). Thankfully, incoming comic book writer Kelly Thompson and longtime artistic talent Sophie Campbell avoid any sophomore slump in their second issue of IDW’s fresh retelling of “Jem and the Holograms”. In fact, this second issue is even better than the already outrageous first! Having already established Jem and her band as the heroines of this series, issue two powers on with introducing their iconic rivals as well as Jem’s love interest for the series with the same progressive spirit and imagination as the origin sequence got.
Having stumbled across the holographic technology “Synergy” at her father’s old house, the shy singer Jerrica Benton created the bombastic alter ego “Jem” to headline her band the Holograms and produce their first song just in time to enter a historic contest. As embellished within this issue, that contest is a promotional “versus” competition against the already established band, “the Misfits”. Headlined by the green haired force of nature that is Pizzazz, the Misfits release their newest song, “We are The Night” to the glee of their fans and the media that covers their every move. Despite the arrogance of Pizzazz that their annual “battle of the bands” is a done deal, they quickly see that Jem’s opening single is not only well produced and sung, but is quickly becoming an online sensation. It also attracts the attention of Rio Pacheco, a writer for “The Score”, who tracks down Jerrica, Kimber, and the rest as they do their work at the Starlight Community Center. Speaking of Jerrica’s spunky kid sister, she manages to get a bit closer to one of the Misfits than Pizzazz considers appropriate, and it seems that their rivalry has become personal in a heartbeat.
Everything which made the opening issue memorable and addicting is cranked up to eleven in this one. With the introduction of the main cast and their origin out of the way, Thompson and Campbell have more time to introduce their main antagonists as well as Rio. This issue seems to be more packed than the previous one did, with several pages having up to eight or nine panels each to move the story along. To a degree this is likely to make up for the musical numbers, which are represented in one and two page splashes. Handling songs in a static medium like comic books (which aren’t “digital first” or “motion”), and as “Jem & The Holograms” is mostly about the music world, handling such a thing was probably as critical in the series’ development as the redesigns were. Fortunately, the songs never overstay their welcome and prove to be feasts for the eyes in terms of artwork by Campbell and colorist M. Victoria Robado. As terrific as the art and colors are for every panel, the song pages are the visual highlight, which is precisely as it should be. In addition to this, there seems to be an added strength in the writing and pacing for this issue that wasn’t in the last. More characters are introduced and juggled without anything seeming wasted or the pace seeming to be too quick. Much like the Holograms, the Misfits (Pizzazz, Jetta, Stormer, and Roxy) got updated redesigns of their own, which are very vibrant and detailed while also being of opposing colors and styles as the Holograms. Much like the Holograms, they are four ladies of different shapes, sizes, colors, and even orientations. Unlike the Holograms of course, they are mostly petty and vengeful. Pizzazz herself may stand out the most among them, which is likely intentional given her own arrogance.
Rio’s introduction and quick moves with Jerrica may be the most controversial elements of this issue for hardcore fans of the original 1980’s cartoon (at least as imagined by one who never watched it). In the original cartoon, Jerrica and Rio had what is sometimes called “a love triangle for two” which is common for most superheroes with alter egos (a trope which originates in Emma Orczy’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel” from 1905, but is fondly remembered with Superman). Originally, Rio was in love with Jerrica yet infatuated with her alter ego Jem, and the drama came out of him never knowing they were one and the same (and Jerrica’s angst about keeping this secret from him). Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell immediately set out to avoid repeating this trope in their updated retelling of Jem, which like all of IDW’s reboots seeks to pay homage to the past without slavishly repeating it. Secret identities are things which are even rarer to pull off in the age of the Internet and a 24/7 media, to the point that even many iconic superheroes have abandoned them (or toyed with doing so). Ditching it not only allows for Thompson to throw in a twist that hardcore fans may not have seen coming, but to allow Jerrica and Rio’s relationship to go somewhere that the cartoon never did. A dashing and confident man (who now sports some blue dye in his dark hair as well as piercings of his own), he’s certainly a good compliment to the shy and reserved Jerrica.
The rest of the Holograms also benefit from this issue. Kimber remains an energetic presence with her style and one-liners, only she doesn’t dominate this issue as easily as she did the last. Shana and Aja also get some great moments, and even the community center’s cast and tribulations make their presence known in what time they’re given. This is an issue packed to the gills with creativity, energy, great dialogue and a wealth of riches for the eyes in terms of art. The only downside is that it ends after twenty pages and there won’t be more until sometime in May. In two issues, “Jem and the Holograms” has already established itself as among the best offerings of IDW, and is a series that no comic reader, fan of the cartoon or not, should miss. Music may be magic, but great comics can come awfully close themselves.