The Rai Stuff
Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden takes a look at Valiant’s Rai talking to its editor Lysa Hawkins, writer Dan Abnett and artist Juan Jose Ryp…
Valiant’s Rai is hands down one of the best comics out there. Can you feel the groove?
At Valiant, the future of comics is now. And its name is Rai.
One of the many successful reboots of Valiant Entertainment’s kaleidoscopic universe of concepts, the futuristic cyborg samurai found himself in the popular comic book Rai and the 4001 A.D. event of 2015. From there, he made a triumphant return in the mini-series Fallen World in the summer of 2019. And, as Valiant Senior Editor Lysa Hawkins remembers, the character and his fan base have just taken off.
“I was lucky enough to have been given three titles on the day I started Valiant,” Hawkins recalled. “One of them was to relaunch a much-beloved series, Rai. As I read over the books that came before I started to have an idea of where I wanted to take this series. Rai would be launched from a mini-series called Fallen World, which took place directly following the previous 2015 run of Rai. I knew right away that we were world-building and I thought of Dan Abnett almost immediately.
“I reached out to him and gave him my pitch for the book. Basically, I said, think of it like this: The adventures of Samurai Jack and Astro Boy meets Road Warrior/Lone Wolf and Cub. I want this series to feel like episodes of Star Trek. Each issue is the away team landing on some strange planet, each issue, different and compelling. From the moment, Dan and I had our first conversation, I knew he was the right person to breathe life into this world and then I asked him to write Fallen World, so he would really own this world. When I read his first issue of Rai, I knew it was special, but when Juanjo (Juan Jose Ryp) turned in the first batch of pages, I leaped out of my seat for I knew we had just hit gold.”
“Right from the start,” added Hawkins, “Rai has been a joy to work on, and it’s all due to its tremendous creative team.”
And what a creative team it has. First off, writer Abnett is no stranger to bringing the future to light, having already done so for many properties including Judge Dredd and Legion of Super-Heroes. What is it about Rai’s future that has him producing what is arguably his best work in years?
“I certainly love writing what might be called ‘comics with an SF theme,’” said Abnett. “With Rai, we have the chance to craft and shape the ‘future’ of an existing comics universe, and the Valiant Universe is well established, and very much grounded at the ‘realistic’ end of super-heroics. It’s a shared universe built on concepts of technology and development that have an authenticity, which allows us to be credibly speculative. It’s not simply fantastical for the sake of wonder. It’s a place where we can explore things without suspending disbelief. That means it’s a very rich world, with huge potential. But Rai’s story is very simple – his quest, with Raijin at his side, is easy to explain, easy to follow, so the readers can grasp the through-line very quickly. The book is a simple and, I hope, entertaining, path into a world of rich possibility. So the fun, for the reader and for Rai alike, is experiencing what the world is going to show next.
That may be so, but what is it about the characters of Rai that has Abnett returning to this amazing series month after month?
“The dynamic ‘simplicity’ of Rai is very appealing,” Abnett explained. “He’s incredibly focused; a classic ‘questing’ hero. I love the fact that, as we progress, we are starting to peel that away and reveal that there’s more going on inside him. He’s learning about himself, and we’re learning about him. Some of the biggest surprises so far have come from Rai himself: that his motivation and outlook are not quite as singular as we imagined. He’s such a great hero archetype – formidable, driven, and spectacularly superhuman – yet there’s nuance to him, a genuine inner struggle that he sometimes lets out. Rai, like the world around him, is full of intriguing and surprising elements waiting to be revealed.
“I also have to say my unflagging enthusiasm for this book comes from the art. Juanjo’s work is incredible, and supremely cinematic, and I write each issue with a passion, knowing he will bring even simple details to vivid life. That’s a rare privilege. There are many great comic artists around, but a writer often works in a vacuum, sometimes not even knowing which artist they are writing for, and simply hoping the script and art styles will mesh and it will turn out okay. Once we began work on Rai, and I realized how amazing Juanjo was, it established a sense of trust. I could write, perhaps, a simple but meaningful moment, knowing it would not end up as flat or empty on the page because Juanjo brings a detailed significance to every single panel.”
“Well, I would love to say that the latest Rai design is mine,” confessed Ryp, “since it is magnificent and I adore it, but no, it is not. Rai’s design is the work of AJ Jothikumar.
“What I can tell you is that to ‘shape their personality,’ their way of being, moving, behaving, looking, is that they come to mind as two well-known characters: the first is the ‘Man with No Name,’ the unforgettable character played by Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (badass!). And the second, of course, is Ogami Ittō from Lone Wolf and Cub. I think there is no need to explain why. Anyone who knows these characters will see these influences in our Rai, and yes, it is my fault.”
But with these super-cool characters and their kick-ass designs, which character is Ryp’s favorite to draw?
“I don’t have a favorite to draw,” Ryp announced for all to hear. “I don’t usually have them, in fact, I don’t usually ‘divide’ the stories into characters, I don’t like it, I prefer to think of a whole, a complete landscape, rather than separate entities. I adore this story, though. Dan’s work is amazing!
“I am really very comfortable drawing Rai, I could not tell you why, but it seems like a series ‘made for me.’ I think it is to Dan’s merit, he is an incredible writer, man. (Although, I have to say it: I love Raijin . . . who doesn’t?)
Readers can follow the adventures of Rai and Raijin within the pages of Valiant’s monthly Rai series, found at better stores everywhere.