If you don’t have the time to read my full review of Rainbow in the Dark by wife and husband creative team Comfort Love and Adam Withers, I can sum it up with this: It’s the Matrix meets Pleasantville meets They Live meets Sam Elliot wielding a Ghostbusters proton pack in the shape of a silver, electric guitar.
Rainbow in the Dark tells the story of Donna White, a rather bland girl in a bland world that’s entirely colorless. Her life is routine and simple to the point of depression. Then, out of nowhere, a gigantic action sequence breaks out in front of her involving young adults riding muscle cars and fighting rampaging monsters through the use of weapons merged with musical instruments. Not only that, but they’re all in color and it’s blowing Donna’s mind. It also blows the mind of punk rock Indian girl Raina, who notices that this gray girl can somehow see them. Donna is taken with this team and finds herself in a camp of people in color, living happy and free while waging war on the evil forces that keep much of the world black and white. These nightmarish demons, the Veratu, rule civilization and intend on snuffing out Donna’s new friends.
The Complete Saga is an omnibus featuring all nine issues of the series along with a bunch of extras like character sketches, talk of alternate endings, a look at the writing process and other stuff. Originally, the nine issues were split into three trades, told in your usual movie trilogy style. The first three issues introduce the base concepts and end on a happy ending high note that could be a self-contained story if need be. The second batch expands on the ideas and continues to show that evil isn’t truly defeated, eventually escalating to a dark cliffhanger. Then the final act is all about going bigger to build to an explosive climax.
That in itself is why it’s so easy to compare and contrast the comic to the Matrix. The first arc of the book runs parallel to the first Matrix in terms of overall concept. It’s the second story where things really diverge, even though the main antagonist shares a ton of similarities to Agent Smith and his path of existence. Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions tried to introduce more and more concepts to flesh out the world, but all it seemed to do was push the movie away from the characters and the heart that the first one gave us. It was bigger and flashier, but it was still more of the same and rarely seemed grounded. The fourth issue of Rainbow in the Dark and forward is when things truly get interesting because it brings up a concept more compelling than what we got in Reloaded. What if Neo fully liberated the Matrix? What if all the humans were released from its hold or, barring that, became aware that they were in a computerized world? What kind of fallout would we see from that?
There’s a difference in how the two worlds work here and it does show off that the Matrix protagonists are only easy to root for because we’re not in that reality. In that reality, being free means living a hellish existence in a wasteland. Cypher was a jerk, but I’d take his side in a second. Things are somewhat more balanced in the Rainbow in the Dark world, making it easier to argue either side as right. The freedom that comes with being in color has more upsides to it than the constant insistence that, “freedom = good!” When gray people see the colors and see the world for what it is, the reactions vary. Some awaken themselves and break social taboos and find independence. Others are depressed and angry, feeling that the simple worlds they lived in were done away with and ruined any sense of comfort.
It even cuts both ways. Raina is angry that people don’t accept these new ways of life, feeling that they should almost be forced to see the world from her point of view and like it. Donna’s father is in love with the concept of breaking the social norms, but doesn’t quite understand it. Meanwhile, Donna’s mother is at her wits’ end due to her how her world has been flipped upside-down to the point that she barely recognizes her own family. It’s easily the strongest section of the book.
Also extremely interesting is a scene late in the book that goes into a discussion about the concepts of Heaven and Hell that I can’t really delve into because it might get too spoilery, but it’s an eyebrow-raiser whether you agree with the sentiment or not.
The character work is strong. Our heroes are a very diverse group, not only in the racial sense, but also in terms of their musical fashion style. Comfort and Adam intended for the comic to come off as a sequential art rock opera and the rebels certainly pop with their unique appearances. Once awakened out of her black and white state, Donna has an 80’s pop look like she raided Cyndi Lauper’s wardrobe. Raina is a punk rocker with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude. Luke is a calm and collective ladies man with an appearance not unlike Jimi Hendrix. Rocky is a smiling, loud and proud daredevil with a rockabilly look. The wise mentor is Jackson, who mixes country, classic rock and blatantly being Sam Elliott. Then there’s Kenji, the wacky one with his New Wave mojo. Kenji’s tendency to use food words to replace swears is something that takes me out of the story, but then again, fake curses have always been a pet peeve of mine.
Unless it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. That gets a pass.
It doesn’t help that Kenji also gets the most blatant example of the book’s lyrical dialogue gimmick. Tossed in here and there are memorable song lyrics used in normal conversation or loudly exclaimed. I’d love to see some kind of annotation list because a lot of them seem to nearly pass me by due to a mostly clever use of them. Lines like, “We’re one, but we’re not the same,” or, “One way or another… I’m gonna getcha!” or, “Free your mind and the rest will follow.” When it works, it’s great. But when you have Kenji showing up to one-liner, “Mama said knock you out!” it makes you wonder why anyone would ever say that.
The art hits the right notes (I have a “no pun intended” quota to meet with these articles) with a never-ending supply of vibrant colors and expressive and unique characters. It’s pretty cool that none of our heroes are stuck wearing uniforms, shown in the same duds day in and day out. The clothes change, but the style remains the same so much that you barely notice the difference. The Veratu creatures look especially original and creepy, selling them as villains before their intentions make it clear.
Most of all, I love it when differing art styles interact, so any time a colorful character crosses paths with someone who remains in black and white, it’s a visual treat.
The Complete Saga is actually a remastering of the original comics, fixing up some facial expressions, tweaking the colors here and there, changing up the dialogue and making some of the backgrounds busier. It was a nice step up, considering I already had the first trade.
Rainbow in the Dark already had its foot in the door for me by having such a perfect musical reference of a name, but it succeeds in reaching its potential. It’s extremely fun and owns the contrasting, magical and inspired world it creates. Now all I need is for Weird Al to write his own parody comic called Rambo in the Park and I’m set.