Retro Review: Rai #0

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Rai #0 (Nov. 1992)

Writers: Jim Shooter, David Lapham, and Jon Hartz (plot), Bob Layton (script)
Artists: David Lapham (p), Tom Ryder (i)

Publisher: Valiant Comics

Never before or since have I read such a broad, sweeping story that touched on every aspect of a comic book universe. Rai #0 revealed the future history of the Valiant comics universe; the events that linked the present day with the future seen in Magnus and Rai. The reader witnesses over 2,000 years pass by in only 23 pages. The world changes many times. The nature of mankind is altered. Many heroes die, but others arise.

Two heroes made their debuts in this comic. Fan-favorite Bloodshot is freed from the lab that turned him into a killing machine by Geoff McHenry, geomancer. Bloodshot’s blood is laced with nanites that enable him to communicate witH hand control machines. His blood, the “blood of heroes,” becomes the most wanted artifact in the Valiant universe. The blood is stolen when Bloodshot is killed in 2028. Centuries later, it is recovered by the first Rai, protector of Japan. Rai was created by Grandmother, the sentient computer that controlled and protected Japan, in the image of Bloodshot. Grandmother secures the blood deep within the country’s body. (By the 31st century, Japan was completely enclosed in a massive structure resembling a dragon. The entire nation rose into space to fight an alien invasion, remained in orbit as a satellite, then crashed to Earth during the Unity conflict.) In 4002, the current geomancer leads Takao Konishi to the blood. He injects it into Takao, transforming him into the last Rai---a new hero and leader for Earth’s heroes! Two new series would spin out from this comic: Bloodshot, and Rai and the Future Force.

All that would be enough for a comic. But we also get:

1. A thousand years of wars between harbingers, mutant humans. They are divided as being with or against Toyo Harada, the telepath whose Harbinger corporation furthers his goals of world domination.

2. The end of necromancer Master Darque, his nemesis Shadowman, and all “Darque Power” in the Valiant universe.

3. Solar letting his wife die, then dividing himself into two beings. One of them would spark the Valiant/Image crossover Deathmate.

4. The deaths of X-O Manowar, Archer, Armstrong, and Harada himself.

5. The H.A.R.D. Corps (Harbinger Active Resistance Defense) leave Earth for deep space. They would later return as the Psi-Lords.

But what really impressed me about this comic is it shows how much thought and planning Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and other Valiant comics contributors put into their fictional universe. You can see how messy Marvel and DC continuity have become from decades of numerous creators making it up as they went along. This proves Valiant was fully realized almost from Day 1. There was a reason for everything that happened. These characters were all connected by a common history that influenced their actions and their world. After reading this, you realize these heroes have destinies to fulfill. You can’t really say that about the more popular superheroes.

Rai #0 is another important milestone in the brief history of Valiant Comics. It was one of the last Valiant books where Jim Shooter was credited as a writer. (His name appeared on a few issues of Magnus and the Magnus/Predator crossover in 1993.) Jim was forced to leave Valiant Comics and its parent company, Voyager Communications, late in 1992. An explanation is given in an article at the end of Rai #0. It’s written by Steven Massarsky, publisher and C.O.O. I quote:

“When it became apparent that Jim Shooter and the rest of Voyager’s senior management team (Bob Layton, Jon Hartz, Barry Windsor-Smith and me) had differing approaches to the management of Voyager and a different view of the future of Valiant, Jim was asked to leave and the company was restructured.”

Translation: Jim was cut out of his company because the others thought they could make more money without him. Windsor-Smith, named Senior Editor during the “restructuring,” left the company some time later. He would later state in print how he regretted his involvement in the editorial coup, and how Massarsky had maniupalted everyone to line his own pockets.

Massarasky compared Shooter’s departure to a singer leaving a popular band. He cites Van Halen and Sonny and Cher as examples. That’s surprisingly prescient. Like Van Halen, Valiant went through several “lead singers” before fading away. Shooter’s solo career, like David Lee Roth, saw diminishing returns. Like Cher, Shooter rarely produces new material, yet remains a prominent and controversial figure in his field with a loyal fan base. Like Sonny Bono, Valiant became a living joke, then died.

Rai #0 was truly the highpoint of the “Valiant Era.” The following year saw a massive influx of new comics and companies, many of them, ironically, inspired by Valiant’s success. Valiant would double the number of comics it published, but overall sales continued to drop. The company was sold to Acclaim in 1998 who relaunched the line with redesigned characters. They finally gave up in 2001. Had Valiant remained in publication, we would have seen some of the stories described here played out in the monthly titles.

How great would it be to have a blueprint for a comic book universe? To actually see what the editors, creators, writers, and artists intended for their characters? Rai #0 was the ultimate preview of things to come. Pity they never came.

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