We slide into a new realm for AfterShock Comics, the YA market, and discover a pleasant escape.
My dog died when I was in college. Her name was Bridgette. She was a Dalmatian/Black Labrador mix. We'd been together since I was eight or so. She was wild as hell, and we were besties. Toward the end, she developed tumors over her body, and seizures struck randomly. One afternoon, I watched one hit while she was on the elevated patio deck. She fell into the slats within the railing and tumbled six feet to the backyard below. It was an awful climax to our relationship, and our family made the euthanasia decision probably a little too late.
I held Bridgette when the needle went in. She died in my arms. That was twenty years ago. The details have faded. The pain remains. I'm not sure I'll ever have a pet again. Although, Lisa, my wife and podcast co-host, would very much like a puppy beneath our feet. We'll see.
I relay all this to say, I knew before I ever cracked the spine on Rainbow Bridge, this comic book was going to destroy me. We posted the book's announcement some time back, and the art and the concept immediately struck us. And Lisa and I have been in the bag for Steve Orlando comics since we devoured his Midnighter series back in 2019. A collaboration with Steve Foxe and Valentina Brancati is a no-brainer. They'll deliver, but was I ready to be delivered?
Then, the comic arrived. What, I'm not going to read it? Am I going to coddle myself? Deny the pleasures of Brancati's flawless cartooning and Manuel Puppo's striking colors? No way. I took the book to a corner of the apartment and steadied myself for a traumatic emotional expense.
Rainbow Bridge did what I feared. It took my heart and stomped on it a couple times. But then it had the courtesy of offering a hug. This comic is everything that little hurt kid in me needed to hear. It's a confrontation with loss, an understanding of grief. And it's probably the comic I should have read after Bridgette got put down.
The comic opens with Rocket stepping off the titular bridge and onto the Forever Fields, the final reward for companion animals. The little corgi discovers a blissful land where tennis balls grow on trees and bones stack into mountains. The only drag is that his buddy Andy isn't there with him, and um...some wretched wraiths are chasing his tail. What's that about?
Back on Earth, Andy is struggling. Rocket's death has torn a hole in his soul. The pain wedges into everything. He doesn't want to leave his room, let alone attend high school orientation. Andy merely wants his dog back, and he can't imagine a future without him. So, he's stuck in the present.
Until the Rainbow Bridge opens for Andy. What? That should not be. Suddenly, Andy is racing across the Forever Fields, excited to find his pup again but also terrified by all the ghostly rage brewing in what should be paradise.
Orlando and Foxe are not really chasing the Young Adult adventure. They're playing all-ages, and I did not feel like an invader as I raced through its pages. The emotions explored are raw and genuine. It's an animal-lovers epic quest, but one that appreciates the tragedy of our short time together. It's not fluff when it suggests an imaginary eternal fantasy. Instead, the comic provides heart and warmth while acknowledging the tremendous importance of human/canine companionship.
Brancati's illustration is bright and sharp without ever getting lost in the rendering. Her panels pop from each other, propelling the narrative at extraordinary speed. Her characters' emotions can be read from a mile off, but if you press your nose to the page, you might discover a subtle turn hidden in the broad expressions. Puppo's colors solidify the Forever Fields as the puppy nirvana described. Together, these artists make a book that beams in your hands.
Rainbow Bridge concludes with the possibility for more, and I hope we get it, but I also don't need it. Rocket and Andy are going to be okay. The love they have is real, and as long as they keep it out in the open, they'll be good.
I want to be them. I let the hurt of Bridgette's loss harden into a rock, and it sits in my chest. I give all my attention to the agony that I've let the love fade. Lisa wants a puppy. We should get a puppy. But we should probably get out of this apartment too. I'll never be able to offer a pooch the Forever Fields, but I can at least get that potential doggo a backyard. Stay tuned.
Quickie Review: Rainbow Bridge is a powerfully emotional confrontation with loss while also delivering bright, cartoonish adventure. Orlando, Foxe, Brancati, and Puppo have built a universe worth multiple volumes, but they're also smart enough not to leave the reader hanging. If this is a sign of what we can expect from Aftershock Comics' new Young Adult line, Seismic Press, we're in for a great ride. 9/10
Rainbow Bridge OGN
Writers: Steve Orlando and Steve Foxe
Artist: Valentina Brancati
Colorist: Manuel Puppo
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
On Sale: 8/4/21
Synopsis: What if you got one last adventure with your best friend? Andy and Rocket grew up together, with Rocket serving as Andy’s guardian through every one of childhood’s ups and downs. So, when Rocket passes away right before Andy’s 14th birthday, he’s rudderless. He can’t imagine making the transition to high school without Rocket at his side. The day before school starts, when Andy is at his lowest, he visits Rocket’s grave and unexpectedly summons the RAINBOW BRIDGE, a gateway to a fantasy world where pets discover their afterlife. But there’s a dark shadow to this paradise, and without Andy’s help, Rocket’s eternity may be grim…
The first graphic novel from AfterShock’s new YA imprint, Seismic Press, RAINBOW BRIDGE was conceived and written by Steve Orlando (PROJECT PATRON, KILL A MAN, Midnighter) and Steve Foxe (Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Grumpy Cat) with art byValentina Brancati (Les Ravencroft, Ghost Writer). Published in the category standard size of 6.5” x 9.5”, this 120-page OGN will resonate with anyone who has ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet – or who has greeted growing up with nervousness and anxiety.