Set in Japan in 4001 A.D., “Rai” #1 is yet another strong debut from Valiant Entertainment. With a dense story co-narrated by a sixteen-year-old girl named Lula and titular character, Rai, “Rai” #1 Plus Edition borders on overwhelming as a package. The book is full, front to back, top to bottom. There’s a lot to take in as Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain craft as an immersive experience.
The “Plus Edition” of the debut issue includes a twenty-one-page main narrative, a one-page “vid scroll” about the fictional media legend Spylocke, a map of Japan, a three-page Spylocke adventure, a Vidview of “Spylocke: Deadeyes” (the three-page story representing a Spylocke video) and a five-page Lula Lee story that features militant orangutans and Lula Lee, a lemon-headed cartoon character who is both entertainment and spokesperson for a juice company. Rai doesn’t appear in any of those bonus pieces, but each one adds depth and definition to the character’s world, giving the reader a taste of what 4001 A.D. Japan is all about.
The Spylocke story is a rough equivalent to James Bond in this far-flung future, and the review of his adventure is fun and odd. The Lula Lee strip is ultra-violent, with no characters living to tell the tale. Except for the characters that do. Yes, that’s contradictory, but all becomes clear when reading that five-page bit wherein a lemon-headed warrior jams a detached arm down an orangutan’s throat. Not kidding.
The main story itself is a little bit “Blade Runner,” a little bit “Dirty Harry,” and a smidge “Robocop.” New Japan has been a glorious haven for over a thousand years with zero murders in that span. At the start of this issue, however, that streak is broken and the city-nation will never be the same. The murder is not the first and Kindt uses that plot device to introduce Rai and Lula. While Kindt gives the reader copious insight to Rai’s thoughts, he never truly defines the character behind his drive to “protect Japan and its people.”
4001 A.D. Japan is a place where real estate is measured by the centimeter and people are given Positrons – personalized androids geared for the purpose of keeping their “owner” company. There are so many new concepts and ideas jammed into this book and the main story, “Welcome to New Japan.” is filled to the edges with details to be studied and analyzed. Kindt establishes a hero-worship relationship between Lula and Rai, which is charming for now and seems perfect for explaining the champion of Japan as adventures move forward.
Crain’s artwork truly cooks up the immersion presented throughout “Rai” #1. His work is hyper-detailed yet wickedly fluid, almost like a watercolor painting. On top of that, Crain interprets the technology with infinitesimal computer projections that are perfectly crafted onto the page, so much so that readers may actually find themselves leaning in closer or bringing “Rai” #1 closer to their faces in hopes of studying the communiques. Crain does a stellar job giving this brave new world a personality and texture unlike anything else in comics. New Japan feels like a foreign world, but also manages to bring some familiarities, like cherry blossom trees and bar aquariums filled with fish.
Everything about “Rai” #1 Plus Edition demands more time and attention than one simple read-through can process. Kindt has clearly poured a great deal of energy into this experience, much to the benefit of the reader. Valiant has given readers another world-building adventure, this time with a masterful warrior who brings stunning action and choreography to a story filled with battle, swordplay and explosions. While the Rai-Lula relationship seems like a Wolverine-Jubilee analog in the making, Kindt has made a smart choice in pairing the two up and giving the reader a portal to New Japan through this unlikely duo. I’m thrilled to find yet another Valiant book worth reading and cannot wait to see how this world continues to expand beyond “Rai” #1.