Starting this Wednesday writer Matt Kindt and artist Clayton Crain throw us all in the deep end with this team’s second monumental issue over at Valiant Entertainment, 4001 A.D. #1. The first monument, of course, being their relaunch of the 4001 Valiant Universe with Rai #1 back in 2014. This milestone is HUGE. Not only for the creators, and the company, but also the fans. Rai is an incredibly important character to the entire Valiant mythos, both old and new; so for him to finally get his own Valiant Summer Crossover, which only occurs once a year (crazy I know!), this is big. However it is not completely unexpected. Together these two stunning artists, Matt and Clayton, have been busy building to this event for two long years. So I can safely say that we are all VERY excited to finally see what they have in store for us. But before I jump headfirst into the review of the first issue, I think it is important to tell the story of Rai; of what he means to Valiant, and to their fans.
Back in 1991 Valiant Comics had just broken free from their silly line of Nintendo comics for a more comprehensive universe of licensed characters from the Gold Key logo. With the outstanding quality of both Solar Man of the Atom and Magnus Robot Fighter, Valiant was finally starting to get itself noticed among the never-ending wave of the big tits, big guns, chiseled chins craze that era is still infamous for. The only problem being just that, the characters were still just licensed. However, all of this changed in November.
Starting with Magnus Robot Fighter #5, and concluding in issue #8, Valiant capped every story with a flip-book. In this mini-series Valiant had finally done something that they had never done prior, they introduced a completely new and unique character to the industry, Rai. From there Valiant exploded, and, well, we all know how that unfolded: X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Archer and Armstrong, Shadowman, Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot, Ninjak, this list goes on. Even Rai’s encounter with Magnus sowed the seeds for one of the BEST crossovers in comic book history, Unity. Which in turn led to Rai #0, one of the most comprehensive, and continuity driven, comic books out there.
What was so unique about Rai, and his journeys? Well besides an American Sci-fi take on Japanese culture, it was also one of the first times that a shared comic book universe had been divided by two timelines. Sure there was Marvel 2099, Days of Future Past, and Time Masters, but all of those timelines were dynamic; they were constantly under threat of the present, and ever-changing. Not Rai in 4001 A.D.
For the first time we got a glimpse of the grim future for our beloved Valiant Heroes, and this time it was set in stone. For all of the struggles of Faith, Angelo, and Jack, everything still culminated in the high-tech urban takeover of Japan. It is this aspect of the 4001 timeline that, to this day, still remains unique. It is also one of the few things that Matt Kindt graciously preserved. And along with a few other homages to the original plots, from early Rai creator David Michelinie, Matt and Clayton have done nothing, but show complete competence in whom Rai is, and his role in the Valiant Universe.
Okay with all of that out-of-the-way, let’s do a quick recap for those who haven’t re-read the last 12 issues of Rai in anticipation for 4001 A.D. Two thousand in the future, away from the antics of X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, and the Harbinger kids, Japan has broken free from its earthly tethers and has taken into orbit. Inside of this impressive island nation, the denizens hear a rumor of an event that hasn’t transpired in a millenia. Someone has been murdered. To keep hold of his benevolent reign over this New Japan, the artificial intelligence known as Father sends his beloved son, the city’s spirit guardian, Rai to investigate this mysterious crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Arriving at the scene of the crime in Sector 2555, also known as Blackwater, Rai teams up with an unlikely ally, Lula. Together this soldier of fortune, and 16-year-old girl, venture throughout the city to hunt down the group of anti-tech vigilantes, or Raddies, responsible. Along the way they run into a man who calls himself Spylocke, who they thought only to be a fictitious hero from old action-movies. The three of them shoot, slice, and chase their way through New Japan, saving countless people on the way, like the positronic named Momo. At the end of their journey, Spylocke and Rai encounter the villain Dr. Silk to finally get answers. Dr. Silk, attempting to control Rai himself, reveals truths about Rai’s existence, and Father’s sins.
Rai, unhinged by this new information, gathers his thoughts just enough to save the city before the Raddies kill billions of innocent lives. Broken, but not alone, Rai finds new resolve: to write the wrongs in New Japan, and to get the truth from Father. With allies like Momo, Lula, and Spylocke, Rai was burning his candle from both ends. He could not continue to fight both Father and Dr. Silk for much longer.
When all seemed lost, Momo found a secret army living in the city, and Lula found Father’s hidden weapon. Rai’s mission was on the precipice of success, until Father gave him one last surprise. Overwhelmed, and outmatched, Rai was banished to Earth’s surface, while his friends were left to fend for themselves. Now Rai, alone and afraid, is forced to team up with the surface dweller’s in order to get back home and save his friends!
There you go. I know it seems like a lot, but in all honesty, there is so much more. I left out a copious amount of detail, so as not to spoil this great epic for new readers. Not to mention the amount of story Clayton tells alone with his art. It would take me pages of words to describe the world that he has built-in just a few panels. I could go on and on about how amazing the new series of Rai is, and how well put together the creators were in telling that massive story, but you should really go read it for yourself.
Alright, now for the moment you all have been waiting for, unless you scrolled here first, the review of 4001 A.D. #1.
From the very first page, it is all too clear that Matt and Clayton are pushing themselves further than anything they have done together thus far. Alone, the four page recap of their saga on Rai is nothing short of gorgeous, and it makes my silly two page intro look as if it were written by a child. The rest of the issue grows from here, getting better with each turn of the page.
From dinosaurs burning upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere, to the advanced island nation of New Japan, to the overgrown jungles on the surface, Clayton Crain oozes with talent. It is almost infuriating to see a single man do so much in a 32 page book. Knowing that line work had to precede the digital painting makes it all the more impressive. His attention to every single detail is so refined, that even his most cluttered page does not over encumber the reader. And his color work is peerless. The best way I can describe it is this: imagine an Alex Ross that understands value, and that does interior work.
Aside from his general talent, Clayton had a few key moments in this issue that really stood out, which is saying a lot. The splash of Sector 938 being launched into space was so awe-inspiring that I sincerely pray for it to be lithograph that I can spend my entire saving account on. Next is all of the scenes with Rai on earth. The palette he chose for the jungle, and the characters, were perfect. Perfect to the point of annoyance. And lastly, that massive double-splash space scene at the end. I refuse to spoil this for anyone, but wow.
In addition to Clayton’s work on the issue, I would also like to take a moment to give credo to David Mack. His introduction scenes done in traditional Japanese charcoal is beautiful. Big thanks to both David and Valiant for that special treat.
Moving on from the art, even though I could honestly rave about it all day, let’s go over Matt’s contribution. As I stated before, Matt and Clayton have been building up to this for a long time. And the benefit to this is that you can really see how the characters have grown since the beginning. Matt did a fantastic job showing how all of the events over the past two years have taken a toll on his cast; which is a feature in comics books that is SORELY overlooked nowadays. Father, a once benevolent care-taker is now turned genocidal; Lula, a curious teenage girl turned terrorist; Rai… A once proud spirit broken.
Matt also has this beautiful way of pacing this story just fast enough to keep the reader’s attention, but slow enough to add life to every person, place, and thing. In this aspect he kind of writes this book like George R. R. Martin, spending just the right amount of time per scene while bouncing between characters. This is very hard to do, but if it is done correctly it appears natural and seamless. I also loved that every single one of his scenes is pertinent to the story. This isn’t the most incredible feat in the industry, but it is nice to finally see a comic book event that isn’t bloated with useless shock factor deaths and fanboy wet dreams. And all of the same could be said about his dialogue. Concise, descriptive, and driving.
All in all, this is an A+ book kicking off another A+ event from Valiant Entertainment. I mean, what is there not to like? David immediately draws you in with beautiful charcoal work, while Clayton slams you with one of the best visuals any publisher could ever ask for. All of this accompanying Matt Kindt, who has shown time and time again what an incredible talent he is. Get out there and buy this book, specifically that bitching variant from Ryan Lee. 5 out of 5 stars.
Written By: Matt Kindt
Art By: Clayton Crain and David Mack
Letters By: Dave Lanphear