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Review: ‘Rainbow Brite #1′

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Rainbow Brite #1
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Brittney Williams
Dynamite Entertainment; $3.99
All Ages

Rainbow BriteI had no intention of reading the first issue of the new Rainbow Brite comic book, because I am particularly ignorant of the character, her story and milieu. Created in the early 1980s by Hallmark Cards with the intention of making the character into a highly marketable media franchise, Rainbow Brite was on the very fringes of my awareness at the time: My younger sister had a doll of the main character and her fuzzy sprite sidekick, I probably saw a few episodes of the cartoon show, and I know I watched the 1985 film Rainbow Brite and The Star Stealer one dull Saturday afternoon on cable, but I couldn’t begin to tell you anything about her. Now, Strawberry Shortcake, The Care Bears, Jem and the Holograms, My Little Pony, She-Ra…I was and am still fairly conversant in those 1980s, girl-focused toy line/cartoon show/licensing juggernauts that had a greater appeal to my sister and, therefore, to me. But Rainbow Brite? Not so much.

Of course, then I realized that ignorance might be more of an asset than a handicap when it comes to accessing this brand-new take on the now 35-year-old character. After all, it’s not like any of the kids the comic book series is targeting have any memory of the original Rainbow Brite cartoon, nor are many of them likely to be up-to-date on the franchise’s attempts to refresh itself with various reboots, relaunches, and refurbishings over the decades (in the same way that my nephew didn’t know or care that The Force Awakens wasn’t the very first Star Wars movie ever made when he became obsessed with Jedi, Sith Lords and Storm Troopers).

So maybe I’m actually an ideal candidate to review the comic…for an adult, anyway.

This first issue leans quite heavily into the magical girl elements inherent in the character, and the comic takes the shape of the opening chapter of a fantasy comic, complete with a fairly ordinary girl with a life not unlike those of most of her readers stumbling into otherworldly visitors who bring with them a conflict that threatens to envelope our “real” world.

Wisp is our protagonist, and we meet her when she goes over to her friend Willow’s house to play. They are both interested in vaguely medieval sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and they pretend to be a wizard and a warrior, complete with homemade robes and a wooden sword. When it starts to rain, Willow’s dad drives Wisp home, and there we get a hint that maybe her home life is less than ideal, as she finds her mom asleep on the couch, with a note telling her that dinner is in the microwave and asking her to wake her up when she gets home. Wisp decides not to, given how tired her mom looks.

Then she hears a sound outside, and when she goes to investigate, she sees a trio of large, shadowy specters with red eyes, sucking the color blue right off of her mom’s car. When they notice Wisp’s blue shirt, they chase after her, at which point a tiny, fuzzy, white sprite with antennae and a fanny pack appears to aid her and drop some exposition on her. The King of Shadows has defeated the guardian of blue and is now attempting to drain all blue from the universe. Normally humans wouldn’t be able to see the king’s minions, but there’s something special about Wisp. Before they can figure out what though, they need to teleport to safety, something that will require a chase sequence and on-the-fly strategy by Wisp.

The issue ends with a big cliffhanger moment: The sprite taking Wisp to another world, the world of Rainbow Land.

That the comic is as well made as it is shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the creators.

Artist Brittney Williams’ previous works include Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat for Marvel Comics and Goldie Vance for BOOM! Studios, two books that benefited from incredibly strong and tight character design and flowed so smoothly from panel to panel that the comics could feel practically animated.

Here she seems to have been given pretty free reign to redesign the character, and though we don’t see Wisp assume her Rainbow Brite identity within the pages of this issue, Williams’ Wisp seems to be a bit older than the original…or at least she looks that way, based on Williams portrayal of her as a taller and more realistic girl. (The original was extremely cherubic, with a big-headed, almost Precious Moments figurine-like look that made her seem little more human than the sprites and other creatures she shared scenes with.)

The sprite Twinkle (formerly Twink) has lost his round appearance and bulbous nose, becoming a slimmer and more humanoid figure with a distinct body plan.

With so many other characters yet to be revealed, it might be a few more issues before readers get a sense of how thoroughly different Williams’ Rainbow Brite is from previous incarnations but, again, the target audience is likely meeting them all for the first time here, so that is really more academic than anything else.

Jeremy Whitley is the writer working with Williams, and, like her, he’s an experienced hand with comparable credits to his name. He too has worked for Marvel, writing the charming Unstoppable Wasp book, but he is probably better known for his creator-owned Princeless and his My Little Pony comics. Taking that together, he has a proven track record for writing all-ages comics featuring female protagonists that girls like to read…and yet aren’t made to exclude boys or women or men from the readership (and at least one of those comics was also based on a 1980s media franchise revival!)

Together, Whitley and Williams managed something I wouldn’t have thought possible before reading this issue: They’ve convinced me to read a second issue of a Rainbow Brite comic. And had my sister and I had access to this issue in the mid-1980s, I feel fairly confident in saying we both would have been just as interested in seeing what happens to Wisp next as I am today, if not many times more interested.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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