- Writer: Matt Kindt
- Artist: CAFU
- Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
- Letter: David Lanphear
- Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Rai #14 Synopsis
In Rai #14, we continue on our (unfortunately) abbreviated journey through Rai’s history. A la Armor Hunters, the main action of the 4001 A.D. event takes place in the titular 4001 A.D. series, while the back story is relegated to Rai. In this issue, we are introduced to Sai, the Rai of the 36th Century. (For those keeping track, Sai appears to be Rai V, if the images of previous Rais are to be believed.) Evidently, she’s been a very good Rai, keeping the peace and whatnot. Unfortunately, it seems that peace is coming to an end. Father has seen what’s coming and decides Sai’s usefulness is at an end.
The Positrons are staging a non-violent revolt, a calculated martyrdom intended to culminate in the liberation of Positrons. If the current state of New Japan circa Rai #1 is to be believed, it doesn’t work. It does, however, treat us to some good ol’ fashioned robo-racism, as well as some gloriously gruesome pages of the new Rai (Rai VI) murdering the P.T. killers. Oops, I apologize. “It’s not murder. It’s a massacre.” Finally, the new Rai has Sai witness a prophetic scene of a section of New Japan jettisoned from the flying city-nation. When Sai asks if she is to be removed as well, the new Rai’s snarl silently answers.
Although part of the current, stellar 4001 A.D. event, Rai #14 largely stands alone. Sai’s adventure is a solitary tale of New Japan, but one that expertly connects to the current story, as Rai #13’s depiction of the first Rai did, by showing how far Father will go to save New Japan. That’s a distinction I think is important, one discerning readers may already have picked up on: Father fights for New Japan. He doesn’t act to save the people of New Japan, but the nation as a whole. As this issue, and both Rai #12 and 4001 A.D. #1 show, Father is more than willing to cut pieces of Japan away to save the whole.
For me, this is what makes Father both a good and bad villain. For the good, it makes him a complex villain. He wants to protect something. Everything Father does, he does so out of what he (or it, I suppose) considers love for New Japan. He was charged with protecting it, and will do anything to fulfill that objective. Yet, it doesn’t make him a very unique villain. Father plays like many rouge-AI type villains in science fiction: obeying the letter of their programming or directive, making decisions based on cold calculations, not heart. If it feels like you’ve seen Father before, well, you have.
Nothing is truly original in fiction, and I don’t like citing ‘uniqueness’ as a mark against a work. Doing so reduces the concept to just words on page (ironically similar to what a rogue AI would do) and neglects to consider execution. For example, I read a lot of fantasy fiction. Much of it (oh alright, most of it) can be reduced down this way to the same basic idea – and that’s unfair, both to the creator and to the work itself. With that in mind, while Father does adhere to what I think are common rogue AI tropes, Matt Kindt still makes this character come to life in such a way that it doesn’t feel tired. Father feels like the oppressive over-mind that he is. Quite honestly, the more recent issues of Rai have done a much better job of showing just how oppressive and controlling Father is that the opening set.
But I shouldn’t ignore the title character, Sai. I shouldn’t, yet I find myself unable to do anything else. Kindt’s style of writing, unfortunately doesn’t lend itself well to standalone issues. Well, it can, but primarily with established characters. Book of Death: The Fall of Ninjak worked so well because it relied upon expectations for the characters and world contained therein. Rai #14 can only say that about setting and Father – Said, despite being Rai, is a new element and must be developed in a single issue. Unfortunately, I can’t say that she does. She’s the current Rai, and full of compassion, which really only serves to contrast her against the newer Rai.
Don’t get me wrong, I love her design – I love CAFU’s art in general, but these two Rai designs have stolen my heart – but her character is…not? It’s tricky for me to say. If I consider all Rais as a single character, I suppose I could make the argument for a character, but alas, was Rai should be treated individually. And Sai, unfortunately, didn’t have the space to flourish, making the issue an event in New Japan’s history, which I suppose was the point. If so, then the issue fulfilled its purpose.
Speaking of designs, I’d like to say how much I love CAFU on this series. Like many of you, I think, I was skeptical about CAFU replacing Clayton Crain as the artist for Rai. Of course I understand why the shift had to take place – Crain’s art is so lush that it would be unreasonable to expect two series a month with that level of quality. All that said, CAFU was a stellar choice for the substitution. His other works with Valiant are qualification enough, but throughout these two issues, he has done a marvelous job of interpreting Crain’s established designs for New Japan, adapting them to show previous eras, but not looking to different. The new Rai’s design is one of my favorites and those energy whips are sick! It’s heresy, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t mind CAFU taking over for Crain if the need should arise.
Final Thoughts on Rai #14
Overall, this is a fine issue that works effectively as a standalone, but is better served as a supplement to the main event. We’re given an interesting glimpse at New Japan’s history, a changing of the guard different from the previous issue (but still violent – violence seems to be a recurring theme in New Japan). While the art is top-notch, the story suffers, in my opinion, as the ostensibly main character Sai simply does not have the necessary space to grow beyond her ‘compassionate hero’ stock character. The issue is well put together, but without a story that feels consequential. Fun, but lacking a something that made the previous issue work much better.
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