Anyone that has entered into the realm of serious comic book reading will no doubt be familiar with the Bone series. Primarily meant for kids, Bone transcended age with stories that were appropriate for younger audiences, but written and visually rendered so exquisitely that older audiences were enthralled as well. All this stands as a testament to the extraordinary skill of writer/artist, Jeff Smith. Smith’s art is immediately recognizable and highly imaginative. With his series RASL, now collected in a single, colored hardcover volume, Jeff Smith tells a gritty tale of speculative science, metaphysics, alternate histories, and human drama so intelligent and stark that it precludes the younger audience of Bone.
Beginning with a mysterious main character stealing a Picasso from a upscale New York apartment, the reader is introduced to a man named “RASL” who is able to shift between alternate realities with what appear to be twin handheld jet engines and a Tiki mask. The ambiance and style of the first chapter set the tone as a sci-fi/noir thriller, with the hard-as-nails grifter/thief RASL pulling a job and lying low in a southwestern cantina, only to be accosted by a mysterious lizard-face man in a trench coat and fedora, packing .45 heat.
As the story progresses, however, the narrative descends into a very comprehensive, thought-provoking account of the life and discoveries of the 20th century wunderkind, Nikola Tesla. Tesla was something of a dark horse in life and accomplished wonders in the first four decades of last century that even today sound impossible. Alongside his various acts of eccentricity stand some coincidences of extraordinary phenomena that conspiracy theorists have claimed were far from coincidental, most notably the infamous Tunguska event. Weaving these conspiracy theories and a clear passion for the immense figure of Tesla, Jeff Smith crafts the backdrop for a fast paced science-fiction action drama predicated on the discoveries and demons of one of the modern age’s most tortured geniuses.
In this neo-noir setting, RASL provides a compelling anti-hero, who was once a leading physicist, Dr. Robert Johnson, before discovering Tesla’s lost journals detailing the workings of the universe. And just like Tesla, he does his utmost to keep the power of the gods from the questionable hands of mankind. Populating the world(s) around him are an equally diverse and intriguing cast of characters. There is the “fallen woman,” Annie, a prostitute whom RASL visits often when he comes out of a”drift” and needs to indulge his baser instincts, the “man in the black hat,” Agent Crowe, whose reptilian appearance and shadowy comings and goings fuel the “otherworldly” feel of the book, and the “damsel in distress” in the dual form of Dr. Maya Riley and Uma Giles. All of these characters and their vibrant portrayals (made more vibrant in this technicolor redux) immerse the reader in an engrossing drama that refuses to be put down. Whether you are a fan of comics or not, the pacing and narrative prowess of RASL ensures its enjoyment by most readers. Just close your eyes and take a “drift” into another reality . . .
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
RASL: Art by Jeff Smith, Colored by Steve Hamaker.