Welcome to Unifying VALIANT, our celebration of the 25-year anniversary of VALIANT’s companywide crossover ‘Unity.’ A precursor to the now omnipresent annual comic event, ‘Unity’ and VALIANT changed the face of the comic industry in the early ‘90’s. In each entry we’ll be focusing on one of the company’s storylines until culminating at ‘Unity.’ Follow along as we dig deep and rediscover what made VALIANT the innovative and revolutionary company it was.
This week we’re travelling forward to the year 4001, as Japan floats majestically in space while within her a civil war begins to erupt. Can her spirit protector, Rai, be enough to stem the tides of war? Or will he too succumb to the desolate future that grips the once proud island nation?
It’s Place within VALIANT:
Fresh off the heels of Rai’s introduction in the pages of “Magnus, Robot Fighter”, we meet Japan’s spirit guardian just one month removed from his costarring premier. The character proved to be so popular based on his flip-book appearance that he would become a staple within the universe. The legacy of his lineage would have wide ranging ramifications within VALIANT, guaranteeing that Rai would be a memorable and much beloved character.
In an early sign that Jim Shooter would no longer provide writing duties for the entirety of the VALIANT line, these first five issues, and in fact all eight issues of the first volume of “Rai,” would be written by David Michelinie. Michelinie, the long-time Marvel and DC scribe, had an extensive career working with Bob Layton. As such, it should come as no surprise to find his contributions here. While none of his VALIANT work would be remembered as fondly as his work on “Iron Man” or “Spider-Man”, he does have the honor of writing numerous VALIANT characters, including the introductory arcs for “Rai,” “H.A.R.D. Corps” and “Turok, Dinosaur Hunter.”
Even with the popularity of the flip-book issues of “Magnus” and the growing word of mouth surrounding VALIANT in general, the print runs for “Rai” #1-5 were modest at best. While issue #1 would see 55,000 units produced, none of the other four issues would crack 45,000 units. This is in stark contrast with “Rai” #0, which published just a few short months after, would see its print run almost triple to 130,000. In fact, the print runs for Rai’s second volume, “Rai and the Future Force” #1 would swell to 800,000 prints, and remain consistently around 200,000 units until 1994.
Publication dates: March 1992 – July 1992
Written by David Michelinie
Penciled by Joe St. Pierre & Sal Velluto
Inked by Charles Barnet III, Kathryne Bolinger & Dave Chystek
Colored by Jade Moede, Dave Chystek, Mark Csaszar & Knob Row
Lettered by Jade Moede, Brad Joyce & George Roberts Jr.
With the Spider-Alien threat to Earth defeated, Rai and the whole of Japan find themselves in orbit around the planet. After the departure of Grandmother, the governance of the people has been left to themselves. As such, two opposing factions have risen. The Restoration Underground fights to reboot Grandmother and bring the nation back to its old ways. While the Humanists represent the new rule, one without robot intervention. The Humanists’ fighting champion is Kazuyo, Rai’s wife and former Anti-Grannie sleeper agent. Having confiscated an X-O armor during the Spider-Alien battle, Kazuyo wields incredible power for her side. Making her a champion warrior in her own right, almost at par with Rai himself.
As the civil war rages on Rai attempts to straddle both sides, committing himself to saving as many as he can. Unfortunately, the people have made their choices, as such, by being for no one Rai goes against everyone. Even Rai’s father, Rentaro, chooses a side. Lending a sympathetic ear to the Restoration Underground and doing his best to convince Rai to bring Grandmother back. As the war escalates the ruthlessness of the Restoration Underground causes Rai to finally choose. In remembering Grandmother’s final wish before her departure, Rai chooses to side with the Humanists. Not only adhering to human governed path that Grandmother had set them on, but also choosing the side with his wife and son.Continued below
With a clear focus in his mind and the love of his son in his heart Rai takes arms for the Humanists, fighting side by side with his wife. Having chosen a side, half the populace now despises Rai, and it’s not long before the Restoration Underground targets him directly. While ultimately Rai is able to overcome a series of assassination attempts, the gravity of it all weighs him down. During one particular battle where the Humanists create a rocket to bring Japan out of orbit and back to Earth, Rai is unable to stop them before a chain reaction sets off the rocket from within the planet structure. As the blast devours a huge section of outer wall the integrity of the moon sized country is lost. With millions of people now dead the Country’s citizens are finally united. This time though it is in their hatred for Rai.
Betrayed by people he was once sworn to protect, Rai decides to self-exile himself. Taking his son back with him to Earth and Okazaki Island, where the family once lived in harmony. But even his exile is not enough, as his ship is sabotaged leaving him adrift in the cosmos. With Rai out of the way a third faction hiding within the Restoration government is able to successfully assassinate the president and capture Kazuyo. With their takeover in hand and no way to guide his ship, all seems lost for Rai. Yet, as his son’s life hangs in the balance, Rai is able to channel his spirit energy and propel the ship back to Earth, leaving him drained and almost dead. Once on Earth though Rai is greeted with a strange surprise. Two individuals are waiting for him with the promise of a bigger threat on the horizon.
“Rai” resides within a strange portion of the VALIANT universe. While on the surface the story is utterly fascinating. The breakneck speed of the introductory arc found in the “Magnus” flipbooks has left the series reeling from its events. It feels like the first three arcs of a fantastic movie were played out in 30 minutes, and you are left with a 90 minute prologue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, mind you. Unfortunately, what come across is an ever present reminder that the characters are dealing with the past repercussions of the introductory storyline.
Is this new arc a pleasant read? Most definitely. It has a variety of intriguing plotlines that pay off quite nicely within its 5-issue arc. Additionally, given the void left behind after the departure of Magnus and Grandmother from Japan, David Michelinie presents us with fleshed out characters that bring a whole new level of intrigue to the book. In the end though, it’s difficult to create a follow-up story that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Rai’s introduction. That doesn’t take anything away in particular from these 5 issues, it’s just virtually impossible for all your arcs to be groundbreaking and magnificent.
In the first real departure from Jim Shooter and his all-encompassing writing contributions, David Michelinie does an admirable job taking over the scripting reins of “Rai.” In maintaining the uniformity that VALIANT has strived for throughout this first year, Michelinie channels the essence of the characters extremely well. He’s able to capture Rai’s inner turmoil as uncertainty between his duty, reason and family pull him apart. Additionally, Michelinie’s use of Kazuyo and Rentaro Nakadai bring much needed depth to these characters. Elevating them from their secondary introductions and placing them at the heart of the current and future storylines.
The artistic side of “Rai” #1-5 follow a similar theme to that of the writing. Taken in isolation, the work, which is predominantly that of Joe St. Pierre, is beautiful to look at and conveys the story very well. Comparing it to the original arc though, it falls below the high standard set. This is particularly true in the techno organic facets of Japan’s structures. The “Rai” prequel issues were stunning in their vision of a completely metallic nation housed within a self-enclosed cocoon. While these new issues do a wonderful job with the characters and especially Kazuyo’s X-O armor, the settings do not fare as well. The backgrounds and landscapes, which are as important as the characters themselves within the pages of “Rai,” do not come to life the way they originally did. Clearly each creator has their strongpoints, and it is only normal to expect that while the quality as a whole remains excellent, there will be some natural fluctuations in styling.Continued below
With this being our final visit to “Rai” before the ‘Unity’ crossover, it is easy to see why the character still finds himself as a center point within he VALIANT universe 25 years later. Also, while we have not touched upon “Rai” #0 (the issue will be reviewed after the full ‘Unity’ crossover), it’s is an essential component to the VALIANT universe as a whole and remains one the most intriguing single issues of the 90’s in general.
Coming up Next:
From within the shadows a murky protector emerges. Check out “Shadowman” #1-3 as we get closer and closer to rounding up all the major players for VALIANT’s ‘Unity’ crossover.