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Rai #1 [Review]

Rai #1 Plus EditionWelcome to New Japan

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clayton Crain
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Associate Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($4.99 “Plus Edition”)

This is–even more than Unity–probably my most-anticipated new release title from Valiant. And while I normally avoid variant editions like a plague, I wound up picking up the “Plus Edition” when I found it a couple days after having bought/read the regular edition.

On the whole, I mostly prefer the regular edition…the only really worthwhile (to me) part of the “Plus” material was the map of Japan 4001 A.D. that gives a lot of detail to the various levels of the future country that can’t possibly fit in-story (at least not in a single issue). I really don’t care whatsoever for the “bonus” Spylocke stuff, and would have been quite content leaving that to what it was in the regular edition. The “selling point” of the “Plus Edition” is that these 16 pages of material won’t be reprinted in the collected edition…though somehow, I can’t see the map going for long without inclusion, as it could prove a very useful bit of information to have (at least in the eventual deluxe edition hardcover). I groused last year about DC‘s “poster” fold-out from Superman Unchained #1 and how that seemed pointless…seeing this map, this (again, to me) is exactly the sort of thing worthy of being a poster fold-out!

The bulk of the issue itself is focused on the fact that for the first time in a thousand years, a murder has been committed. This leads to the involvement of Rai–a guardian of Japan. Our viewpoint character is someone curious to see Rai “live,” to see this legendary figure, and we get a fair bit of context from her narration before we shift to getting the same from Rai himself.

This issue felt rather immersive, as I just sort of got lost in the reading and the exploration of this futuristic Japan. I was certainly influenced by knowledge of the classic version of Rai from the ’90s Valiant universe and what I’ve come to know of that version of the character. It’s that knowledge that made me all the more curious about what I’d find here, and to see what would be done with the character. As with many first issues, I found myself taking this in much as I would a tv show I was checking out–I recognize where we may have been introduced to supporting characters, though with only a single “episode” there’s little telling what will last and what’s just setup outside of the title character himself.

The story certainly interests me–I’m very much looking forward to the next issue–but I can’t just rattle off names of characters or anything on the initial read-through and re-perusal.

Visually, this is a beautiful issue–I really like the character designs, and nothing stood out to me as distraction. The art just fits the story and has something about it that just fits the title, the character, and the overall concept. It’s got a realism to it that I like but it still manages to be recognizably a comic and not something trying to be a photonovel or anything of that sort.

I don’t touch on covers (other than grousing about variants) as much as I ought, but this cover is–to me–possibly the most “iconic” of the Valiant issues this year, and probably for the entire current run of the publisher. The title logo is properly familiar yet simple and new; the cover image is really only about half the cover, but is nicely offset by the white bar with the logo (regular edition) and offset by black on the plus edition (which I like slightly better). The cover design itself is eye-catching and shows all the issue’s information clearly (publisher, issue #, title, creators) with a striking image of the main character.

Rai #1 Regular EditionTo me, this is the best of the Valiant launches–the title catches the eye from the cover, the interior is great visually, the story is engaging with a solid balance between divulging necessary information to hook me as a reader while leaving plenty of details to the imagination or future exploration, and simply leaves me quite interested in the next issue. Further strength lies in this being officially set in the Valiant universe, in the same time-period (4001 AD) as the most recent Eternal Warrior arc, and yet you don’t have to have read ANYTHING else from the publisher to “get” this story and its characters. This can be read entirely by itself, as nothing more than a sci-fi story set in a futuristic Japan.

While my ultimate preference would like in a singular edition with no variance in covers and content (even at a $4.99 instead of $3.99 price point), this is about as good as it gets when it comes to first issues these days. Whether you’ve read anything else from Valiant classic or present, if you enjoy sci fi or futuristic stories, or just something with a legendary guardian figure wielding a sword, I highly recommend checking this out, whichever edition you’d find.

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