Jeff Smith, author of Bone, returns with another adventure epic, this one aimed at adults.
This full-color hardcover omnibus contains the complete story of RASL, edited and expanded from the serialized version, giving us the best way to follow all the twists and turns. I intended to sample just some of it last night, but I had to keep going, riding the adrenaline as Rasl jumps from one parallel universe to another. His scientific discovery, aided by Nikola Tesla’s lost journals, is sought by the government, who wants to use it as a weapon without concern for the potentially destructive side effects. He’s been using it to steal paintings, but now there’s an agent chasing him to recover it, no matter what. (Obviously, the agent is evil; he wears a black hat and trenchcoat.)
You’ll likely want to read this more than once, once you know what’s going on, to keep the alternates straight. It’s a glorious mish-mash of beautifully desolate scenes inspired by the Sonoran Desert; a punk loner tortured anti-hero; a treacherous wife; a good-hearted whore; quantum physics; a Native American maze symbol; the 1943 Philadelphia Experiment; and the inspiration of Tesla’s life and inventions.
As you can guess from several of those list items, although wearing the robes of a sci-fi thriller, there are a lot of noir elements underneath this story. Rasl is one of those last good men, sacrificing everything to do what’s right regardless of his own pain. He gets beat up a lot, both by the agent and by his travel method. Heck, his former partner is even named Miles, the name of Sam Spade’s partner in The Maltese Falcon.
I did find myself grumbling quietly to myself about how I would have rather some aspects were done differently. Much was made in the preview material of Rasl being an art thief, but there’s only one theft shown, with the rest left to implication. Calling him a renegade scientist would have been more accurate. I also wanted to know more about the small variations from universe to universe.
The science fiction aspects sometimes fade into the background in favor of chase scenes, although those do allow Smith to demonstrate his excellent cartooning. Mostly, I wanted to know why the bad guy looked like a cross between a humanoid camel and a lizard, a resemblance that’s remarked upon but never explained.
The version I read was mostly black-and-white, highlighting Smith’s strong, confident lines and atmospheric use of shadows. The desert tones looked amazing in the few color pages, so I’m curious to see how the story subtly alters (as though from another universe almost-but-not-quite like ours) when told in full color (done by Steve Hamaker).
RASL will be available on October 19. It can be ordered from your local comic retailer with Diamond code JUL13 0970. (The publisher provided an advance review copy.)