52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Although well-known for his spy related comic work, in recent years Matt Kindt has started to dip his toes into the superhero end of the comic pool. Before 2012, Kindt had never done a solo ongoing series but following that endeavour, he took on superhero work from the likes of DC Comics, Marvel, and Valiant Entertainment. After brief runs on books like Suicide Squad and Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, Kindt graduated over to Valiant to write books for the characters of Rai, Ninjak, and Unity.
Rai Volume 1 – Welcome to New Japan
In the year 4001, New Japan has ascended high above the planet Earth, becoming an unprecedented technological hub. With thousands of different sectors built on top of each other, New Japan is constantly pushing itself forward in new and creative ways for the future. When the first murder in over a thousand years occurs in New Japan, The Father, a mysterious force that oversees New Japan, sends out its techno-humanoid enforcer, Rai. Rai is capable of travelling all over the “grid” of New Japan, appearing anywhere within the reach of The Father to disperse justice accordingly. When Rai arrives in the sector where the murder occurred, he is forced to track down “raddies”, humans who hate The Father and don’t respect technology in the same way that other citizens of New Japan do. Life becomes difficult for Rai when he begins to encounter the legendary Spylocke, as well as discovering that he has a personal tie to the victim of the murder. The truths that Rai begins to uncover threaten to destroy everything he thought he knew about his existence, leading him down a bloody path on his way to finding these shocking revelations.
Matt Kindt reboots the character of Rai for the Valiant Universe with this first collected edition of Rai stories. Kindt unleashes a series of issues that leave me feeling unfair in terms of the judgement I want to dole out on them, as by the end of the volume you can’t help but feel as though you’re missing part of the story. Full disclosure: I’ve read a small amount of Valiant comics so it’s definitely not a company of which I have a ridiculous amount of knowledge towards. As such, I was a little taken out of the action of this volume as it felt like there was some form of subtext I was supposed to be picking up on from the history surrounding this character. Coming into this story knowing that this was a full on reboot of a character I’d never even read before made me feel at peace with what I was about to dive into but then as the plot picked up, parts of it just didn’t connect in the way I felt they should.
I found the concepts of what was at play fairly easy to pick up on but struggled to connect to the characters and none of this was helped along by a predictable plot. In the far future, Japan has industrialized itself to the point where it no longer is part of Earth and constantly builds sectors on top of each other to help push technology forward. As such, there are thousands of sectors, with how high up your sector is directly correlating to your social class. A higher sector equates to a higher social class, with your lower sectors, who are less technologically advanced, coming to resent the sectors above them and resulting in the formation of anti-technology radicals or “raddies” for short. These “raddies” look to directly overthrow the Artificial Intelligence that governs much of New Japan. This AI, known as The Father, is a mysterious being of whom no one has ever seen or spoken to. Your central conflict falls between The Father and the raddies as each are out to assert their own dominance over New Japan, with the Father looking to wipe away these less essential humans while the “raddies” want to cripple everything The Father has built. This leaves Rai in an awkward middle position as the enforcer of The Father’s law but begins to become weary of The Father when he realizes that there is a lot of information being withheld from him. It’s all fairly straight forward; your radical “non-believers” versus a “holy spirit” with the conflicted hero in the middle. It actually becomes a near battle of faith versus science, as Rai must choose if he agrees with the beliefs of the “raddies” or the scientific nature programmed into him by The Father.
Rai struggles the most with making you connect, which is odd considering how technologically centred the story is. It feels like the themes at play are ones that should be quite relevant for this current generation but nonetheless, it just feels like there are times when you’re trying to process a little bit too much from Kindt. It’s all intelligent work, but there’s so much that gets packed into just four issues that you can get lost in a bit of delicate complexity. The plot has a constant forward moving attitude, such to the point where you barely get time to digest what’s occurring in front of you. You go from learning about this mysterious Rai character, to watching him quickly try to solve this murder and instill Father’s justice on the culprits, to fighting “raddies” and then making allegiances with characters you just met. It’s a steady stream of new information which can be good, but it’s thrown at you in such a way that you really don’t have much time to decide what you’d like to see done with it. Have you ever tried to read a book, climb through five or ten pages of words only to then realize that you really didn’t take in what happened on those pages at all? You suddenly hit a point in the story where that information you didn’t take in becomes relevant but you can’t bring the information forth because it didn’t stick with you. That’s a lot what reading this first volume of Rai felt like. The information is all there, and it all makes complete sense when you slow down to take it in, but it just doesn’t stick in the moment sometimes.
When it comes to the characters, they’re simply forgettable. Rai speaks too much in caption for his own good and not enough through natural dialogue. It hurts the character tremendously even if it makes sense for how the character is. Here is a half tech half human character who is seldom seen or heard coming into the scene to try to solve the first murder in New Japan in over 1000 years. The character is already naturally set up to not be a social butterfly which, again, makes sense given the context of everything going on in the story. But then he’s put in a position to develop and flourish but he never does. Time and time again he’s given characters to speak to dynamically, who can change how he acts and his words just hit in a flat manner. It’s like a master musician hitting that one note that takes you out of the song entirely. Then Matt Kindt seems to have the same problem with introducing the other characters as well, as from Spylocke to Lula or even Augustus Silk, none of them remain truly memorable in my eyes. That’s not to say that these characters don’t have their own moments, either with Rai or even other characters, that spark general interest, it’s just that for the most part they don’t have any dynamic effect with what they choose to do.
Like I mentioned early on in the post, things like the concepts and themes of this book are what ended up being the most engage part of this comic to me. The structure of the New Japan government was the runaway most fascinating piece of work done by Matt Kindt here, and that does largely centre on the character of Rai even if as a character he wasn’t overly compelling. Although the relationship between Rai and The Father is plainly predictable, it is still interesting at points of the story to see where it begins to push Rai. The deceptive nature of this overlord like A.I. and how little he’s actually told Rai provides some twists you can see coming from a mile away but the prospect of how they will influence Rai down the road is an appetizing tease for fans who will stay loyal to the series. Even with predictable twists, Kindt still churns out a book with a moment or two that will shock the reader and give you faith that with time this series can iron out the kinks it has in its system
Collects: Rai #1-4
Best Character: Rai
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “He doesn’t want to see me get hurt. I get that. He can’t bring himself to say it…he needs me.” – Lula
Best Scene/Moment: The exhaust release management scene – Issue 4
Best Issue: Issue 4. Issue 4 is when my feelings for this series finally started to turn a corner. Matt Kindt’s set up in the previous three issues actually pays off in a fairly satisfying way with this final issue in the collection. You have a Rai driven to carnage over the truth before coming to grips with it, a somewhat team up between Spylocke and Lula, plus Rai finally encounters The Father. It all comes together with the final pages of the issue as Kindt sneaks in a genuinely surprising scene I never saw coming.
Why You Should Read It: All negativity aside, Rai is a series you should read after you acclimatize yourself with the Valiant Universe a bit more. It’s definitely not what I’d recommend as an entry-level read but it is a book that payoffs your patience if you’re willing to give it a shot. Rai is far from perfect but there’s still enough going on that I’m positive it reads better a second time through when you have a bit of a better understanding of what you’re jumping into. It’s got some brilliant concepts and ideas at play, is visually beautiful, and has a moment towards the end of the fourth issue that completely redeemed my entire outlook on the series up to that point.