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by Matt Kindt, Clayton Crain

Although the content of Rai has always been well-received, there has been some frustration due to its somewhat erratic publishing schedule. Personally, I am far more patient than most because 1) I appreciate that Valiant is committed to maintaining Rai’s distinct aesthetic rather than bringing in a fill-in artist, and 2) Valiant has done a fantastic job of organizing and communicating with its fans as to when they can expect the next issue (as opposed to, for instance, Afterlife with Archie, which has been delayed as much as 6 months in between issues, and often leaves readers scratching their heads as to when they can expect the next issue). Now, after a few months’ wait, the climax of the “Battle for New Japan”-arc is out. How does it measure up?

FULL SPOILERS HEAD!

Rai #8 details the resistance movement’s (both the Raddies and the Positronics) full-assault on Father. The uprising is quite successful with Rai himself eventually reaching Section 4001 for a final confrontation with his creator. Father reveals that he has created a new Rai, who is even bigger and stronger. The two Rais’ battle through multiple districts before, landing upon the secret sector 0 where the future Geomancer was once held, and in a surprisingly twist, our hero is defeated and sent plummeting towards Earth.

Matt Kindt does something very clever with the story; at first it feels like what should be an epic plot—an all-out assault against Father—is rushed, because it is told in retrospect through narration; however, the twist at the end is that the narrator is actually Dr. Silk speaking to Father. Throughout the issue, the reader (or maybe just me) had assumed that it was either Momo or Lula recounting the battle, with the assumption being that the resistance had won. The revelation that they were defeated is a nice way to play with the readers’ expectations, especially since this kind of narration as a storytelling device has been overused to the point of cliché. Additionally, the surprise ending also works considering that we are only eight issues into the title. Kindt made a wise decision to delay Father’s overthrow, because readers haven’t really had the chance to settle into the current status quo. The only drawback is that the issue ends on yet another cliffhanger, and we’ll have to wait until August for the next installment. Still, having your audience impatient to read the next issue is a good problem to have.

One of the other interesting aspects of this issue is the way in which it is apparent that the characters have evolved. While Matt Kindt is a great writer of characters, Rai isn’t a particularly character-driven work (especially in comparison with Divinity and Ninjak). Yet, both Rai and Momo have evolved to some degree. Their romance was probably inevitable, although one of my few complaints is that I don’t know if Kindt has truly sold me on it from Rai’s perspective. That said, his bond with both her and Lula allows for a lot of growth on his part. More importantly, the change in his personality during his battle with the new Rai was incredibly well-played. His character has become much stronger as the distance between he and Father grows, and I liked that by this point he was quipping while exchanging blows. It’s great to see him brimming with confidence. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to change once again now that he has been defeated. While characterization has not been one of the title’s primary concerns, Kindt has still delivered strong work in this regard.

By now, I think that we have all run out of accolades for Clayton Crain’s work. Although Valiant has so many talented artists (pencilers, inkers, and colorists) in their line-up, Crain’s work always stands out, not just among the Valiant titles but among everything else on the stands simply because his style is so different from most comic artists’. As much as I like his work, he wouldn’t be the right fit for every title, but he’s perfect for Rai. His heavily stylized and detailed approach with digital coloring is perfect for New Japan. I also love the small, but important variations between the different Rais’. Rai VII, for instance, not only sports a beard, but his skin is off-white (to emphasize his aging) and there are sections missing where we can see what appears to be Livewire. Meanwhile, the newest Rai is the polar opposite of the protagonist; dark where Rai is white, big and muscular while Rai is lithe and athletic. Finally, it must be mentioned how much work Kindt and Crain have put into giving each sector of New Japan its own distinctive look. During the course of the Rai-Rai battle, we see both a beach and a Candyland/Munchkintown-esque Sectior 3127.

While some of my colleagues at Valiant Central weren’t quite satisfied with parts of this issue, for me at least, I felt it was another strong outing. Admittedly, this title is probably my second-favorite Valiant title (and considering that I love everything Valiant publishes–except Shadowman, that one is pretty rough) that’s saying a lot, so there’s probably more than a little bias in my opinion. Regardless, anyone who has enjoyed Rai until now will probably continue to do so. Even though August feels like it’s a long time away, if it means that we continue to get this kind of quality, then I am happy to wait.

Originally from ValiantCentral.com

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