The Summer of Valiant is only days away now, and what better way for us here at SMC to end our own month of Valiant than with the first “original” here for the Valiant Universe. Rai got his start as part of a flip book back-up in Magnus, Robot Fighter issues 5-8, but that garnered such popularity with fans that he soon got his own ongoing series. The series was proclaimed as the cornerstone of the Valiant Universe itself, with events taking place in books like Shadowman and X-O having effects in Rai’s title. It was really quite clever how Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and Barry Windsor-Smith pulled it all together, but when the new Valiant was introduced just last year, where was Rai? The lone image Valiant had on it’s website at the time hinted at Rai. I mean, it even looked like the cover for #0, but still, no mention? I mean, Bloodshot is a huge part of the history that is Rai, right? Rai has to be there. It’s a must. Until then, however, let’s take a look at how it all got started. Let’s dive right into Rai, #1.
The year is 4001, and Japan floats in space. Grandmother, a sentient computer system, controls Japan, and during a savage war, Japan formed itself into a monstrous and metallic dragon to save itself. That it did, but the damage it took was more than it could handle. Japan could not reform with the earth, so instead it goes into isolation in orbit above the planet. Grandmother then leaves Japan, her computer core now just a dormant shell. Rai was created to protect Grandmother and the people of Japan, but with Grandmother now gone, Rai feels alone, lost… without purpose. As Rai ponders this, an emergency is called, and as the protector of the people of Japan, it is his duty to intervene. He doesn’t choose sides though, he fights for the people, even if some of the people don’t want him to. Things are even more complicated though, as Rai’s wife, Kazuyo fights for the current president of Japan. She wears a form of X-O armor, but it’s very evident that neither Rai nor Kazuyo see eye to eye on why each other are fighting. Things are even more complicated than that, as they have a child together.
This is David Michelinie’s first work on Valiant, and let me just say the he crafted a masterful story. With what was written in the back of the Magnus issues, David took that and, in the span of a single issue, was not only able to solidify what was written before, but flesh it out so much more than that. Rai isn’t just some arch-typical protector, here, he has real feeling. He hurts, he’s alone, and he wonders why that is. Michelinie’s writing really brings that across as you read. You come to feel for Rai, even hurt with him as you watch his wife attempt to manipulate him to her cause, prevent him from seeing his own child, and even cringe as the very people he’s trying to protect don’t even want him to be there. It’s amazing storytelling, and a real joy to read.
Joe St. Pierre’s artwork is wonderful. It’s consistent and steady throughout the issue. Rai and his wife are established very quickly, visually, and you can feel the tension between them. As far as Valiant artwork is concerned, Joe’s work stands as a cut above the rest to me. Whereas artwork on Bloodshot or Harbinger felt very stiff, here it feels fluid. It almost seems simple in a sense, but with Valiant, it wasn’t about huge muscles and intensely detailed backgrounds, but more of a trimmed down, smooth experience. Here, Joe St. Pierre accomplishes just that.
With the first issue of Rai, there really isn’t any mention of the world before this. Some of the past may be hinted at, but I didn’t catch it. As the series went on, however, Valiant put out the 0 issue of Rai, and the answered all questions. Whereas the 0 issue establishes the past and a timeline to the future, this first issue of Rai helps build the foundation for what is to come. It works. With Magnus being the other title based in the future of the Valiant Universe at the time, Rai took that foundation and put it solely on Japan. Japan, even now, is kind of an isolationist state, in a sense. In Rai, they take that concept and expand on it tenfold. With Michelinie’s writing and St. Pierre’s art, that point is driven home.
When Valiant first announced its comeback into comics, I was hoping that Rai would be one of the first titles to come back to comics. As I watched the list go from X-O to Bloodshot, then Harbinger to finally resting on Archer and Armstrong, I was kind of disappointed. That is, until I was looking at the background of Valiant’s twitter account. It’s not there now, but if you were to look close enough, just past the huge arm that belonged to Gilad, the Eternal Warrior (gasp!) you would have seen this little guy in a cool ninja pose that looked just like Rai. Things are starting to look pretty awesome for the new Valiant, if you ask me.
Parental concern: None. Lot’s of robot destruction though.