Friday, April 23, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 79 (4/23) -- Rasl, Vol. 1: The Drift by Jeff Smith

Lighting, contrary to the old saying, is actually more likely to hit in the same spot a second time -- that is, if it happens quickly. That's because the first bolt makes an easier path in the the air -- and here you'll have to pretend that I have a detailed explanation of ions and air pressure -- for that second strike to follow. And so lightning is a decent metaphor for publishing: one big hit can clear the way for another big long as the second strike comes quickly and follows the same path.

But if the second strike comes several years later, and is very different in tone and style -- well, then you're back out in the field with a metal rod, trying to coax down another random jolt of pure energy.

Rasl is Jeff Smith's follow-up project to Bone, and what it has in common with Bone are primarily a four-letter title, Smith's care and storytelling ability, and publication from Smith's Cartoon Books outfit. Like Bone, it starts off at its own pace, clearly the beginning of a longer story than a sequence of issue-by-issue individual stories. Call it "writing for the trade" if you want, but Smith is going to tell one story about Rasl, and tell it at his own pace.

The Drift collects the first three issues of the Rasl series; enough to show the outlines of the beginning of this story, but not really enough to give the reader a sense of where that story is going. It could almost be an artifact of a previous era in comics publishing: the "collected edition" rushed out to give a new series a presence on the graphic novel shelves, a book due to be replaced eventually by a more comprehensive, and better planned, reprinting of the series. Its giant size -- this book measures about 9" x 12" -- adds to that feeling, as if Smith realized that he had to give the readers something if he couldn't give them a large enough chunk of story, and decided to give them bigger pages instead.

In these three issues, we meet Rasl -- a ruffian of a cross-dimensional art thief, who was once a much more clean-cut (though still not overly moral) scientific researcher named Robert. And we learn that forces from "the Compound" are after him, for stealing the gear he uses to jump dimensions (or "drift," as he calls it) and sabotaging the research facility, to make it harder for anyone else to do it. But there's a lizard-looking man in a dark coat on Rasl's tail, and he's got his own dimension-jumping gear. And there are secrets in Rasl/Robert's past that haven't even been hinted yet. While Bone was mostly a gentle fantasy, with occasional mythic underpinnings, Rasl is a noirish SF thriller, with tasteful sex and obligatory violence.

The Drift is very early days for Rasl, and it would be premature to say much about the story at this point; these are the first three chapters of a longer story. Smith's supple, flowing line is familiar from Bone, though the characters and their actions here are very different. And his dialogue is tougher, more growly than Bone, without the earlier work's sense of fun and whimsy. Rasl's world is nastier than Fone Bone's was -- there's a major death in the second issue here, to underline that difference -- and his story will go in very different directions. But, for now, it's all potential -- we have to wait to see where this bolt of lightning will go.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Emily Haines - The Lottery
via FoxyTunes

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