RASL, v. 1: The Drift
Collects: RASL #1-3 (2008)
Released: January 2009 (Cartoon Books)
Format: 112 pages / black and white / $13 / ISBN: 9781888963205
What is this?: An oversized collection of Jeff Smith’s follow up to Bone, in which an extradimensional art thief is tracked by an assassin.
The culprits: Writer / artist Jeff Smith
RASL stands out, and not just because it’s taller and wider than the average collection or comic book. Its plot is somewhat similar to Casanova, but Smith’s writing is nothing like Matt Fraction’s. Both series deal with ne’er do wells who jump across parallel realities, but while Fraction’s Casanova is an unlikeable jerk in a world of moral grays, RASL’s hero — called RASL or Robert — is more human, more grounded, and more sympathetic. RASL is a thief who jumps from dimension to dimension to steal works of art, then tags the site of the theft with “RASL” and returns to his world with the help of a device of his own creation. This leaves him in pain; to recover, he boozes, smokes, and womanizes. Then, after one theft, he returns not to his own world but to a world where Bob Dylan kept his real name, and there’s a lizard-man assassin after him …
RASL’s plot is slower than Casanova’s. While Fraction bounces from idea to idea with the mad, aggravating energy of a five-year-old mainlining pixie sticks, Smith chooses a more leisurely look at RASL — who he was, who he is, his pains, his solaces. There are more than enough strange and weird ideas to keep readers interested, though. Smith sows superscience, alien creatures, large-scale conspiracy, and noir thriller at the reader, and he doesn’t come close to exhausting the ideas. RASL does feel a little thin because its dimensions are so much greater than its thickness and because of its leisurely pace.
And that pace fits his art. While Gabriel Ba was forced to keep up with Fraction’s frenetic ideas in Casanova’s first collection, Smith’s detailed, distinctive art is meant to be appreciated at a slower pace. It’s the same brushwork that made Bone so distinctive, and the larger format gives readers a better chance to enjoy the details. However, this isn’t an all-ages comic; some readers might be surprised to find those brushes drawing prostitutes and scantily clad strippers. The black-and-white printing also helps here; I can’t imagine how color would improve upon the detailed monochrome Smith uses.
When I read RASL, I didn’t actively compare it to Casanova, and I didn’t want to use this space to slam that series. RASL is fun and exciting and full of depth; to get that across, it isn’t necessary to compare it to a similar non-Marvel / DC series. RASL stands by itself as a series to wait for — and readers could wait a while. While issue #4 is due out April 29, #5 isn’t due until the summer. And the rest of the series? (If there is a rest?) Who knows?
Rating: (4 of 5)