5 out of 5
I had my head screwed on backwards when I first read Rasl. After gifting Bone to everyone I possibly could, I squealed with joy to be able to pick up a new Jeff Smith series as it was being released. But the swearing, the looseness of the linework, and the hot-topic usage of Tesla as a plot point all had me feeling like this was a reactive project: that Rasl was simply the anti-Bone; Smith trying to prove he was a grown up with R-rated ideas.
And to a certain extent, yes: Rasl is an adult book, and it’s sketchier art and themes do very much make it clear that it’s not Bone, but I was so, so wrong in thinking that that was its driving force.
Because it is, first and foremost, a goddamned fantastic sci-fi story, using Tesla as backup for its character- and story-driven elements instead of just a namedrop, and providing us with a grounded and gritty tone that serves those characters and story perfectly. And while Jeff has a tendency to draw some characters with fantastically large heads, Rasl’s world has the same attention to pacing and setting and emotion as any panel / page of Bone, with the squirrely figurework a factor in a (I feel) purposeful unease in its tone. After all, the man telling our story – Robert, or the titular Rasl – is a man completely out of sorts, uncertain of his time and place, and Jeff emphasizes that throughout the four issues collected here. When the tie-in to Tesla technology comes about, we’ve already been treated to the sci-fi basis for what we (and Robert) are experiencing; the historical background is sort of just a bonus at that point.
I’ve actually given too much away. Rasl is best read fresh – and I suppose I do mean fresh fresh, with no Bone in mind – and to be swept up in its breezy and yet dense telling is a rare comic experience. Robert, for what we witness, is not a good man, and yet the power of the tale has up wanting to know more, more, more, flipping pages rather furiously to discover just that.
The collected edition of this has, as with Bone, been tastefully colored by Steve Hamaker, ably capturing the dusty desert locale of Rasl just as he did with the forest and snows of Bone.