Rumble: Soul Without Pity (#1 – 5, 2017) – John Arcudi

3 out of 5

Rumble is, and has been, fascinatingly imperfect.  It might be one of the most ambitious mythologies John has pursued, and while tonally it leans into his Mask / Major Bummer comedic tragedy side, there’s a deep emotional core that, I fear, hasn’t been well served by his artists, even though they (David Rubin replacing James Harren on this arc) have done a damned astonishing job of creature design.  And the antics surrounding those more out-there elements – the battles, the flashbacks, the juxtaposingly imposing and made-of-straw weakness of our scarecrow god – are wonderful, with Rubin’s more angular style perhaps even more striking than Harren’s dashier-line.  But when the tale descends into more subtle stakes or examinations – a mother’s cancer; near-death contemplations on the nature of friendship; the struggle to find worth amidst a world of crumbling principles; hefty stuff – I just haven’t felt the weight in the art.  It’s too expressive, and in the case of Rubin, too comedic, causing this discrepancy between what’s written and what’s seen.

There’s also the oddity – whether this is script direction or something that Harren started that Rubin perpetuated – of the city these characters inhabit being resolutely empty most of the time.  And that our “main character” seems like he rarely shows up.  Combined with the mismatched emotions, it really sets the story in this unworldly realm of tale-telling, but, unfortunately, not in a way that enhances things – rather in a way where it’s not clear how ‘seriously’ we should be taking this, because perhaps it’s all a dream.  Time will perhaps tell if that’s an intended vibe, but it’s a shaky gambit if that’s the case, and I frankly don’t think that that’s what’s going on.

But I started from a good place: calling these flaws fascinating.  Because this story, and this world, is strange and bloated in the most surprising places; lean in others where’d you’d expect other writers to dawdle.  In Soul Without Pity, Rathraq tries to find his path after the last issues’ battle, with Del similarly adrift without a friend to protect or a purpose to latch on to.  Arcudi uses this as an opportunity to re-tell some of our mythology from other, more nuanced points of view, further hinting at the lack of black-and-white definitions of “good” and “bad.”  (Although there is a bad, being set up for antics to come, I’m sure…)  And I’m not uninterested on any page, just caught in a place of uncertainty with the overall intentions.  Rest assured, though, Arcudi’s earned my faith to subject myself to these so-called imperfections; even if Rumble remains on – by my opinion – uneven footing, it’s a wholly unique read and an incredibly ambitious way of weaving through a tale.