25 October 2013

Review: RASL

RASL by Jeff Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being a fan of Bone, I was eager to read RASL. It sort of slipped by me, though, for one reason or another, but I was happy to find the collected edition available at the library. I was quickly reminded of two Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes ("The Pegasus" and "All Good Things..."), but also of The Prestige for its characterization of Nikola Tesla. A dozen other stories also came to mind, and I confess that detracted from my enjoyment. That's not to say that RASL is un-original; there are some interesting ideas, and most of the characters are well developed. It's just that, for some reason, I'm less forgiving of stories that feel recycled when they're dealing with high concepts.

The narrative here is pretty solid, if predictable. I did enjoy that the antagonist, "Lizard Face", was motivated by extreme egocentricity that refuses to acknowledge any other universe as even being human. That's some special kind of bigotry there, folks, and it's not something that I've encountered often in such stories. Typically, it's just taken for granted that anyone who acknowledges the existence of a parallel universe accepts their legitimacy. So, yeah, I give Smith credit for doing something different there.

I did have the feeling that Smith was trying a bit too hard to distance himself from the all-ages storyteller of Bone. The instances of sex throughout RASL rarely feel organic, and the handful of swears are just as conspicuous. It just felt like he was trying too hard with those things, and that also detracted from my enjoyment of it. Not that I mind gratuitous sex or adult language; they're both to be found in my own novel, as well as quite a lot of my favorite movies, novels, comics, etc. But those two-page spreads of RASL with Annie or RASL with Maya didn't even feel like actual depictions of sex so much as Smith peppering in pin-ups. There's a sense that Smith wasn't as committed to exploring that kind of content as he thought he was when he planned those pages.

The Tesla stuff, of course, is all fascinating, and I got a personal kick out of seeing Smith's homage to Frankenstein. I recently re-watched that film on DVD. It's a personal favorite, and perceiving Smith's adoration for it endeared me more to him, to RASL, and to the story itself.

With just a little more polish, I think RASL could have been a lot stronger than it is. I understand Smith self-published, starting with a planned three issues annually, and that's a difficult schedule to maintain as writer/artist. Most parts of RASL feel pretty taut, but then there are some stray passages that seem like his mind was wandering. Reading the whole thing in a collected edition in two settings, of course, gave me a different perspective than I would have had if I had read each issue when it was originally published. Such is the nature of serialized vs. collected storytelling!

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