By Ian McCabe
The legendary comic creator Jeff Smith, synonymous with the ever popular comic series Bone is back with his latest collection, RASL. But Bone this is not. There are no such little white cartoon men, dragons or cute furry creatures in this one. Instead RASL is a dark, noir themed thrill ride, full of science, violence and… Bob Dylan? ‘The Drift’ is the first chapter of what looks to be a long and interesting series.
Growing up, I, like a lot of kids, was a huge fan of Jeff Smith’s epic adventure Bone which ran from 1991 to 2004. In fact, even now in my early-mid 20’s I still get a kick out of reading through the giant anthology which takes up about quarter of my bookshelf. A plush Fone Bone doll is a permanent fixture on my desk. It is a timeless tale of adventure, companionship and resolve, a great blend of humour and fantasy. It’s certainly an AMO favourite.
Roll the clock back to March 2008 and I was pleasantly surprised to find Jeff Smith’s name adorning the front of a new comic. And of course, I had to check it out.
That comic, RASL, has since spawned seven issues (with an 8th expected for a UK release in July) and two compilations, ‘The Drift’ ( issues 1-3) and ‘The Fire of St George’ (issues 4-7). In this review I’ll be taking a look at the first part of the arc, ‘The Drift.’
First and foremost, for those who have yet to read RASL, don’t be expecting anything resembling Bone 2.0. RASL is a huge departure from it’s for all-ages predecessor – in many ways. Imagine the darkest themes within Bone… and multiply them by a hundred.
The story appears to be set in modern-day America and follows the mysterious art thief Robert Johnson, aka Rasl. He spends his time ‘drifting’ through parallel dimensions, stealing Picassos in one and selling them in another, all via the use of a unique technology called the T-Suit (consisting of two large turbines and a Native American mask). Soon he discovers that he is not the only person with the ability to ‘drift’ and finds himself being chased and terrorised by a shady and dangerous government figure.
That’s all I can really say about the narrative without giving anything substantial away, and even then I’d be hard pressed to describe much. ‘The Drift’ honestly doesn’t have a lot of story to grab on to, it’s actually an exposition piece to a larger story if anything. But that is in no way a knock on the book or the story. The mystery and the intrigue, especially surrounding the protagonist Rasl, kept me hooked throughout, even during the slower sections.
As mentioned, RASL is set in modern-day America. A gritty, noir America. Each dimension is an exact copy of the other, with only the smallest of differences allowing Rasl to tell them apart (Bob Dylan does not exist in one dimension for example… what a crime!) Its basis, unlike Bone, is set in reality, and there’s nothing exactly overly science fiction about the story despite the talk of dimensions, drifting and technology (although Rasl’s nemesis does look quite lizard like) – the T-Suit and the science is all based on Nikola Tesla theories. Although only touched on briefly in ‘The Drift’, this creates an interesting and even educational read. Personally, I believe keeping the fantastical elements of the story rooted in reality adds a unique authenticity and credibility to the book.
RASL, very much unlike Bone, is not for readers of every age and is instead aimed at a more mature, late-teen to adult audience. I did not expect this from a Jeff Smith piece when I originally picked the book up. There is violence, murder, alcohol, smoking and even a little bit of nudity and coarse language (but not too much, so don’t worry). But it doesn’t ever feel forced, it all works within the story (even a scene which takes place in a strip joint) and should not put anyone off. It’s still not quite Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.
The Rasl character himself is one who is dealing with inner demons, with the narrative often ushered along via the aid of his narrating inner thoughts. There is an air of mystery and intrigue to him, especially when we are shown glimpses into his past as a clean-cut scientist. He also somewhat takes on the look of an 80’s action hero, buff, unshaven with scraggly hair. He even sports a tattoo of the word ‘Maya’ on his bicep. If we were going by appearances alone, in the Bone world Rasl would be seem more appropriate as the antagonist rather than the hero.
The dialogue, as to be expected from a Jeff Smith piece, is quick and clever, although the monologues do often find themselves dangerously close to your typical droning speeches – but not quite. The art work is gorgeous black and white and the characters are given a less cartoonish look than those in Bone. The panels are spaced well and the content is never too cluttered, so you always know what you’re looking at, at first glance. The best thing for me – it still has that Jeff Smith look too it, detailed, clean and soft, yet with an edge to it.
In Summary, ‘The Drift’ is only the beginning of the RASL arc. As the story goes, it only scratches the surface and although it builds up and begins to unfold towards the end (we manage to get a hint of who or what Maya is) there isn’t a whole lot explained to us once the final page has been turned. But still, just by reading these 122 striking pages, you’ll find yourself hooked by the mystery and wanting to go on with the adventure. There’s certainly a large-scale story arc to come with RASL. Whether Jeff Smith expects it to go on for 13 years like Bone did remains to be seen, but it has definitely whetted my appetite to continue on exploring the RASL universe.
Please note, I may have given ‘The Drift’ a solid 9, had it not ended on such a cliff-hanger. If you’re going to purchase a copy, then please be warned that it really is an establishing part of a story on a much larger scale. Although, don’t let that put you off because it is still a very addictive book.
If you are a fan of Jeff Smith and/or Bone, then do not expect this to be anything like Fone Bone’s adventures. The only link here is Smith himself. But if you’re into well crafted stories and comics, especially those with a slow unfolding plot which keep you on your toes, then this might be for you. There really isn’t anything else like it.
8 OUT OF 10
All images © 2010 Jeff Smith