Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Clayton Crain
Over the last few years, Valiant Entertainment has successfully brought back a number of series that were originally published in the 1990's such as X-O Manowar, Eternal Warrior, and Quantum & Woody, with well-regarded creators such as Robert Venditti, Greg Pak, Joshua Dysart and Matt Kindt. One of the most recent of those series is Rai, an engaging science fiction story about the protector of Japan in the 41st Century. Written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Clayton Crain, the series thus far presents a dense, detailed, visually stunning and complex world that is an unusual and great setting for a mystery. Even if you haven't been reading any of the other Valiant series (or are, as I am, unfamiliar with the original Rai series), this is an interesting, enjoyable read.
In the current issue, Rai thwarts the attempts to destroy the solar collector, and forces a Raddie to take him down to Earth to confront their leader, who turns out to be someone surprising. Meanwhile, Lula demonstrates her resourcefulness by escaping from Spylocke with Rai's secret. Rai learns the true identity of the woman who was murdered, which leaves him (and us) with more questions and answers.
The art has a hyper-realistic painted feel (sort of like Alex Ross) which also effectively conveys the shiny, futuristic aspects of the story, while at the same time effectively portraying the fact that most of these people live in a moody, confined space without any natural light. So all of the light in the story has an artificial feel which speaks to the nature of the entire world these characters live in. Crain's sequential storytelling is very strong here as well. Notwithstanding the painted appearance of the artwork, there is a lot of action in the first 3 issues of this book (and it escalates as the story moves along) and Crain excels at showing both fight and chase sequences. There are some interesting and innovative panel and layout choices in the story that move the action along and focus the reader's attention where Crain wants it to be. Rai himself comes across as being not-quite-human in his speed, and the fluidity of his motion. We get his power, and the regard (and fear) with which other characters view him. Rai's appearance itself is remarkably rendered, as he both feels human and not human at the same time.
Matt Kindt is building a complex story here. As much information as is provided in these first three issues, it's clear that there's a lot more that's not yet known. It's also an interesting take on a murder mystery; we know who killed the woman (the Raddies) but at the outset it's not clear who she is and why she was killed. Kindt also makes a choice in the case of Lula that's helpful to the reader. Lula keeps a running journal throughout the story, and serves as a "point of view" character explaining aspects of Japanese society. It's useful to have her here, as without her narration (which can be somewhat heavy on a few occasions) it's likely the story would be significantly more confusing. She's also a relatable and likable character, and an easier way into the story than Rai himself. There are also times in the story where Rai provides the narration, and it's also useful to see his point of view. He is faithfully devoted to Father (whom Rai can hear but the reader neither sees nor hears), but also hides things from Father and while Rai may be an artificial intelligence, he is not an automaton and has emotions. Rai is also discovering that there's a great deal about himself and about Japan that Father has not told him, and there are at least 2 different characters that know more about Rai than he himself does.
Kindt and Crain are doing a lot of thorough world-building in this story. The idea of an entire nation transplanted to a giant space station* is a fascinating one, as the story alludes to a number of societal issues. Lula has rarely gone beyond her specific sector, and it appears that the socioeconomic status increases as you move farther up in Japan. Status remains pretty stratified, and society (including birth rates) is tightly controlled, given the space limitations. While the Raddies are clearly terrorists in this story, it appears that they (and others) may have legitimate complaints as to the cost of the peace and security that Father provides them. As the story continues, the creative team will hopefully explore further aspects of this society.
The story has an overall serious feel to it, but the dialogue has wit and there's some nice humor sprinkled throughout the series ("Earth" itself has become something of a curse work, and bonus points if you can spot the visual gag reference to the movie "Demolition Man" in Issue 2). This isn't a light, breezy read, but an interesting science fiction story that feels like it will reward careful reading.
* Japan appears to be located several hundred miles above the earth, but still within Earth's atmosphere.