Review by Ian Keogh
For those who don’t know, Jerrica is a first rate songwriter, but has the worst case of stage fright, something that’s been holding back the band she has with her sisters. That changed with the application of a intelligent computer hologram program that not only provides a lightshow, but a disguise for Jerrica, enabling her to go onstage and fulfil the band’s potential. So far that’s been a really good thing. The title also looks at the Misfits, a few steps ahead of Jem and the Holograms because they actually have a recording deal and far larger fanbase. Despite them perceiving their more recent rivals as a threat, there has been interaction between band members. They’ve recently lost their lead singer to an accident, but contractual fine print requires the band to continue playing live.
While Kelly Thompson kept the plot intrigue up, Viral was a weaker Jem graphic novel due to the use of many artists, using many styles, and some of them below the ideal standard. That’s rectified with the return of original artist Sophie Campbell, now providing plot input also while Thompson writes the dialogue. Campbell isn’t one for backgrounds, but is otherwise fantastic, creating personalities that express themselves, and a great look for the actual music pages. The plot requires some interesting new visual effects, and Campbell’s inventive, and the bright colouring by M. Victoria Robado giving everything a vibrancy that really sells the art. Events take quite the psychedelic turn, and Robado sells that as well.
In previous books there’s been a contrivance to the personal interactions, but Thompson’s avoided hanging plot points on it. The idea that a record company would insist on a band touring with their lead singer, their focal point, out of action stretches belief. Yes, even in a story where the lead singer of another band is a hologram. Further contrivance is the repeated British swearing, and there’s another problem. Inclusiveness and acceptance should be foundation stones of any endeavour, but the introduction of a transgender character is as subtle as Jim Carrey on cocaine. Persistent little niggles like these distract from the main plot, which has the Holograms adopt a new, darker and more confrontational look for their tour with the Misfits. It’s a clever problem drilling down to the essence of what Jem and the Holograms are, and it brings out the best in Campbell.
Despite the niggles, Thompson and Campbell deliver another slab of teen melodrama that pushes all the right buttons, and there’s even been a change by the end of the book. It sets up Enter the Stingers nicely.