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RASL #13-14
posted June 5, 2012

imageCreator: Jeff Smith
Publishing Information: Cartoon Books, comic book, 32 pages each, 2012, $3.50 each.
Ordering Numbers:

I derive a significant amount of pleasure from reading Jeff Smith's serial comic books. In fact, I think that relationship -- my picking up Smith's comics in serial form -- is one of my favorite exchanges in comics, the kind of thing that keeps me intrigued by and delighted with the comics reading experience generally. It'd certainly be one of the hardest things in comics for me to give up. What I like about Smith's work beyond the very real and never to be dismissed joys of giving myself over to the particulars of the stories and enjoying the art (there's a black and white moment here that matches the lightning strike scenes in Smith's fantasy comics) is that he has an authentic relationship to genre. Smith tells his stories in a straight-forward, unencumbered way that pulls compelling ideas out of the form or forms in which he's working. In Bone, this manifested itself through a series of displayed relationships between elements of the best 20th Century pastoral fantasy genre (Tolkien) and the best urban fantasy from roughly the same period (Barks' Ducks) that underscored their touching, human elements (the desire for home, the feeling of being orphaned, the importance of turning towards danger). In RASL, folding noir particulars into a science fiction story that features multiple worlds discombobulates to severe degree an already unsettled narrative situation. The limited point of view embodied in Smith's protagonist becomes a limited point of view that's fundamentally untrustworthy. The end result is a larger meditation on how we make decisions not through serious reflection and the application of life wisdom but on the run, improvising as we go and terrified all the while.

RASL's latest issue continues the previous installment's dependence on talk as a signal for deferred action -- a stand-off where the personalities clashing, the fact that we get certain individuals in the room, overwhelms the situation with which we're presented. When a bunch of the ancillary characters are disposed of in a stark and alarming moment, what disturbs is how fully we realize that they were clearly not necessary -- and in terms of this story, maybe few people are. We won't miss them even if someone else out there will, and in fact we welcome their departure in that it may bring us more quickly to the clash between the more important players. The story we choose for ourselves has us in a place where we can provide virtuous service to our friends, our loved ones and our community. The story we stumble into puts us into conflict with someone we'd rather not deal with at all, and our own self-destructive nature. I thought these comics were a blast.