Rasl, a brilliant scientist under contract with the defence department, discovers too late that his work, which revolves around the theories of Nikola Tesla, has an infinity of applications, many of which are too destructive to be trusted to humanity, so he decides to close the Pandora’s box and goes on the lamb. Using his prototype ‘T-Suit’, Rasl now slips between dimensions, earning his crust as an art thief, but his disturbances in the multiverse don’t go unnoticed and mysterious figures begin to ghost his every move while back on his own earth his work is being pieced back together.
It’s been four and a half years in the making, but this month saw the concluding issue (and fourth collected volume) of Jeff Smith’s Rasl, a sci-fi/noir adventure that marks his second long term story in a professional career that has run for some seventeen years.
For those unaware of Jeff Smith, he is perhaps the most successful self-published comic auteur currently in America. His first work, Bone, a book that started as a humour title but soon revealed itself to be a fantasy epic (think dropping Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy into the middle of The Lord of the Rings and you’re on the right track) took him twelve years to complete near single handed. He wrote, drew, inked and published the comic under his own label, Cartoon Books, and eventually it became a bit of a sensation in the independent field then beyond.
Bone’s collected editions have now been colourised and are generally beloved, many, many school libraries holding the complete set. After a brief stop over at DC Comics to create a fun Captain Marvel story Smith then started work on Rasl, which, thanks to his dedicated fan-base, has also sustained its own momentum under Cartoon Books.
So how does Rasl live up to his impressive body of work now that it has concluded? Very, very well, thankfully. Presentation wise, it has been published in an oversized format, in both comic and collected forms (although further collections have been developed in a more manageable size), which shows off Smith’s work in all its glory. It, like Bone (originally) is presented in crisp black and white, but differs by its lack of cartoony characters, though the art style itself still has that defining whimsical bent. Smith’s brushed inking is slick and shows the confidence of a well-practiced hand with the end result of clean, easy to follow imagery that is impossible not to like. In short, textbook comicbook artwork.
It is the story though in which all the originality is held. The story description above suggests a purely science fiction adventure, but the presentation and storytelling is truly that of the best film noir. Double-dealing, femme fatales, tough talk, rough characters and a lone maverick with a soft spot for the ladies. It could just as easily have been set in the seedy back allies of a Sin City-like environment, but bucking tradition, Smith uses the backdrop of the out-backs of Arizona, reinforcing the overall original feel.
From the outset, we are thrown into the middle of the action, catching up with the story as it happens, every step bringing a bit more intrigue. I actually feel a little bad about the small amount of story description held in this review, as the best way to approach this story is with a totally clean slate, but I guess needs must sometimes.
From time to time the story outright stops to relay instances from the life of the extraordinary and extraordinarily overlooked scientist, Nikola Tesla, which, depending on your interest in science could be seen as a break in the story-flow or one of the most interesting aspects of the book. This reviewer leans toward the latter; after all, learning while you’re entertained generally adds a few more points to the enjoy-o-meter.
Unfortunately, come the last chapter the story seems rushed to a conclusion, scenarios playing out with haste, leaving story-logic holes that are absent until this point, and by the end we are left with a number of unexplained situations. The concluding feeling of vagueness may have been Smith’s intent, or it may be that he was adamant in finishing within fifteen issues, but it must be said that an extra issue or two to round things off wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Despite the slightly disappointing conclusion, Rasl remains a very original, entertaining and well told story that’s gusto and effort deserves your attention and cash (much like its author).
A grade – for originality
B+ grade – for artwork
B grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for pacing
Overall grade – B+