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RASL #15
posted August 1, 2012

imageCreator: Jeff Smith
Publishing Information: Cartoon Books, comic book, 48 pages, August 2012, $4.99
Ordering Information: APR120980 (Diamond Ordering Number)

The main thing that strikes me about the final issue of Jeff Smith's science fiction/noir/true science mash-up RASL is how strongly it provides a contrast to the cartoonist's ending for Bone, now almost a decade in the rearview mirror. In the final issues of Bone everything that is actualized on a person to person basis began to subsume itself into great forces of nature. We begin to witness events unfolding as history rather than as moments of individual character development. There's no proper stand-off in Bone, no real final man-to-man (or woman-to-woman) confrontation that sinks into memory, at least none of the kind other popular fantasies tend to offer their readers. Even the final goodbye between the leads in Bone is understated, a moment of pensive separation only as meaningful as a half-dozen such story points that came before. I found what Smith did in his final chapters an elegant expression of the idea that both JRR Tolkien and Carl Barks offer up in their works about the early decisions one makes in an adventure story being the important ones: leaving one's home, standing with family. Then again, I tend to distrust catharsis whether on the battlefield or in the royal audience chamber afterwards.

Smith's last issue of RASL, in contrast, boils down its evocation of histories both real and imagined into a series of precise, overlapping individual confrontations. Man, nemesis, paramour and unexplained phenomenon weave in and out of one another exchanging blows and hastily confessed truths and final declarations of hissy, seething rage. The biggest surprise in the story's conclusion is one traditional to both the fantastic literature and the crime stories that RASL combines: there's a woman at the heart of what's been going on, one whose very real-world motivations clash sharply with those of other characters that process her as a memory or ideal. It's cleverly done, and sent me scrambling back into previous issues to see how what unfolds in the last 50 pages with that relationship is foreshadowed in the previous hundreds. If the last scenes in Bone can be described as melancholy, the ones in this second major Jeff Smith work are outright troubling. There's no returning home for our hero. There's barely an idea of home.