Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rai #5 Review

I've got a bad habit of not getting into good comics while they're ongoing. I was late to the Scott Snyder/ Greg Capullo train for Batman, late to the Lemire/ Sorrentino train for Green Arrow, and completely missed the Matt Fraction/ David Aja train for Hawkeye. The book we're looking at here is no exception to that, and I once again have to call myself a giant idiot. To be fair, I did hop on this book before it technically concluded, so I was able to get the full story. I was just not all that well-versed for the 4001 A.D. event comic is all. Stuff happens. 
Rai is the Valiant book that takes place the furthest in the future, in 4001 A.D. It's based in Japan, although Japan is not what you think it is. And even when you think you know what it is, the aforementioned 4001 A.D. story tells you you're wrong...but it's still really cool.

New Japan, as the country is now called, is basically the last refuge for humans in the world. Or, at least, over, the world, as New Japan floats a giant country IN SPACE. New Japan is split up into different areas, called Sectors, that are numbered off for ease of access and for the purposes of organization. Each sector is, for the most part, unique. Some sectors are part of a larger city area but will have different parts of the city. Other areas are more unique, such as sewers, an aquatic sector, a sector where there are dinosaurs. 

At the top of all of it is Father, the AI that controls New Japan. Think of him as Big Brother is Big Brother wasn't just an idea, but actively participated in New Japan as both their guide and their God. Father instills fear and control in everyone through his teachings as well as through his son, Rai, who is a humanoid cyborg. Rai is a superhero from a certain point of view. Some see Rai as their guardian, while others see Rai as their natural enemy, since he sides with Father. 

While the setting of future isn't entirely unique, the spin that Matt Kindt (writer) and Clayton Crain (artist) take on this is amazing. What's more is that they actually involve elements of the Valiant Universe into a story set about 2,000 years after what we're seeing now. My jaw dropped when I found out that one of the classic Valiant villains wasn't just a cameo in this story, but an active participant in it! 

The story so far has been pretty complex, but has let to a rather easy idea: take down Father. 

However, what the creative team has done well so far is to help establish a multitude of characters, settings, and ideas that make them all stand out. Spylocke, Rai, Momo, Lula, Dr. Silk, and even Father itself have all served a purpose so far and have been very interesting characters to see develop and move along in the story. Each of them is tied together by Rai, since they are all either inspired by him or need him in some capacity, and yet Rai seems so focused most of the time that when he does interact with them, he keeps the plot together. This in turn sends the characters out into the world to feed into that. No subplot feels pointless so far. 

But, we're here to talk about Rai #5, the first issue following the first arc "Welcome to New Japan." We've been welcomed, so, how about some backstory before we step in the door? 

Father has been using Rai to hunt down Raddies, a faction of people that are dedicated to the destruction of Father. Lula and Spylocke aren't necessarily Raddie sympathizers but do want to see Father taken down. Lula, a brilliant young woman, idolizes Rai and desperately wants to meet him, despite the risks. Along the way she meets Spylocke, who is known publicly as a fictional superhero...but actually is a superhero! Sort of, he's more of a vigilante. They, in turn, get Rai on the search for the one who can get him answers: Dr. Silk. Despite not trusting him at first, Dr. Silk reveals to Rai his origins: he is, in fact, half-human. Father essentially birthed Rai through the woman who would become his mother. However, his mother was also the "first" murder in 1,000 years in New Japan, and this has Father all in a tizzy. 

Rai now knows the secrets of his past and has decided to do what no other Rai has done before: kill Father. Meanwhile, Momo is looking for a way to not just kill father...but to bring New Japan crashing down to Earth! 

While this isn't going to be one of my "normal" reviews, I will still talk about the cover. If only because it gives me an excuse to talk about Clayton Crain's artwork. Yeah, the cover itself isn't anything too brilliant. A third of the page is taken up by the Rai logo and mostly white space, but the actual art on the cover is brilliant. It's the same style that Crain uses in the book and it is beautiful. It's what sold me initially on reading 4001 A.D. We also get a good vibe for not just the characters in their designs but also the setting. We clearly see the city behind them as well as the futuristic look that Spylocke is sporting. Not to mention that Lula's hairstyle is totally awesome. 

The story for this issue is mostly about Rai trying to keep himself under control and off of Father's radar while the small rebel faction continues their goal of figuring out just how to kill Father. I mean, how do you kill God? Not too easy. 

Rai's journey is the most interesting of the book as we clearly see he is giving in more to his humanity. His dialogue is much less stiff now that he's loosened up and he has to actively think like he would with Father. Again, he is trying to trick God. Although, in an interesting little twist, Father himself seems more human as Rai does. It makes you wonder if Father has been, all along, just a matter of perception for Rai. After all, Rai is the only one that we can hear Father through (unless it's over a loudspeaker or something). He is our direct path to Father, and the fact that Father is more human in tone could speak to how Rai is more human in nature, now. 

We get our first little nod to the Valiant Universe here as we discover that Father essentially lives through a power called Livewire. I find it interesting that they would name the power after the superhero but what's more interesting is the idea of a psiot having so much influence this far into the future. I mean sure, we learn that the Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot, and X-O Manowar all have their own little things to do with 4001, but Livewire, for all intents and purposes, is father. 

Her power knows no bounds, it seems. 

Rai's story for this issue is also the best for new readers. Some may find it strange that I'm not reviewing the first issue of this series, but, that's because I thought this was a pretty good jumping on point. While character backstories aren't explicitly stated in the issue (except for Rai and Momo), their motivations and shining traits are shown off very well in both the dialogue and the artwork. Kindt and Crain do an excellent job in this issue of displaying a multitude of environments for new readers to understand how New Japan functions. Not to mention the all-important interactions Rai has with Father as he continues to try and break away from the AI. 

We get to see more of Rai's powers here, too, such as his "limited transmigration" powers that allow him to teleport via Livewire, as well as his ability to create a sword seemingly from the data surrounding him, as if from the essence of Father itself. Now that's a pretty cool power. 

The other character we see the most of is Spylocke as he tries to set up a meeting with Dr. Silk to discuss what should be done about Rai (keeping in mind that it was just last issue that Rai declared allegiance to Spylocke's cause and Dr. Silk doesn't trust Father at all). We get a good sense for Spylocke's character and how he is strong-willed but has a big heart and wants to believe in this Rai where others have failed. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention? This is actually the 11th Rai. All others have either mysteriously died or have been shutdown by Father. Each Rai is created through the same process, and it's implied that each Rai's mother is kept in captivity by Father so she may never escape and reveal the truth to the public about Rai. 

Speaking of the truth, it seems that there are some who may know about this. Rai goes to collect a man named Toshiro who reveals he knows that Rai is half-human. Not really sure how that is unless it's a rumor, but even then, how could he guess that? Positronics, the cyborgs of this time, look completely human. In fact, Momo looks more like a regular person than Lula does because Momo doesn't have weird hair. I often mistook Momo for a real girl! Rai obviously looks like a robot, and most of his powers aren't at all what a normal human could do. His powers resemble that of a psiot, but even that is a bit of a stretch. 

The problem with this book is when reveals are made that have seemingly been known for a while. It undermines the reveal. The big deal with both this issue and the last is that we find out the whole truth about Rai's birth. Well if this guy Toshiro already knew then how big of an impact for our main characters can it really be? 

We do find out why Toshiro knows, but he also screams it at his bodyguard, which implies that he's told other people. So, yeah, my bad...but there's still that little problem. 

Momo and Lula's subplots oddly parallel each other in a way that totally works. Momo, a positronic that has gone rogue after Rai murdered her human, is looking for a man underground in order to send New Japan back down to Earth. Lula, meanwhile, gets her own positronic: a pink-haired one named Grace that Lula tasks with helping her make a bomb. 


I like their subplots, brief as they are. It's good setup for Rai to meet a pair of new characters while also showing off their motivations and character traits. Momo is inspired by Rai to do this for her kind but is taking a bit of a darker path while Lula gets excited about making a bomb. 

Lula is awesome. 

For me, the real treat of Rai will always be the artwork. Clayton Crain's art jumped out at me from Day 1 and has never left me since. Stunning is an understatement. In a book about a world that is kept underfoot by an evil AI, you'd expect something gritty, dingy. EDGY. Instead what you get is a friggin' painting each panel! 

I mean look at that! Colors are leaping off the page and there are, basically, five completely different panels in this one page that have new colors and layouts and Crain makes it work almost effortlessly. Great art will help even an average story, but thankfully, Kindt continues his epic here. You'd think that with him basically commandeering all of Valiant's books that he would be a little lazy, but no. This story is still complex with deep, interesting characters that are easy to get invested in. 

Rai #5 is the first major turning point for the story as our characters head off in their new directions and it is brilliantly told and displayed. Rai is one of the most in-depth Valiant characters on their current roster and his supporting cast is very memorable, even when they're shown in small doses. 

Next time, we conclude the year with a look at a comic timed perfectly to a film I've been waiting for since 2012: Assassin's Creed #12. And later that day, make sure to check out my Top 10 Comic Book Issues of 2016 list! 

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