By Jeff Smith
24 pages, black and white
Published by Cartoon Books
RASL is one of those titles where I have no choice, mentally, but to "double-dip." I buy each issue as it’s published, and then once the collections show up they end up heading onto my bookshelf and the individual issues of RASL get passed along to other readers. It’s partially because a new Jeff Smith series is too exciting to pass up, but more than that, I stick with the individual issues because I think Smith’s one of those creators who understands simultaneously how to write for both a collected edition as well as the individual issue.
RASL #8 is the first issue after the second collection, but Smith picks up immediately where we left off. RASL is still in the desert, remembering the disaster that happened at the Compound, and the aftermath of the explosion at St. George. A lot of the material here is stuff you’ve probably already surmised, but it’s a nice recap and follow-through on what we’ve seen to date, as well as helping fill in RASL as a protagonist by showing us where he came from. What I found more interesting, though, is Smith’s usage of the creepy girl and the self-proclaimed President of the Street. Suddenly we’re seeing universes begin to collide, and revelations are made that you probably didn’t see coming. It’s that sort of thing that keeps me coming back for the single issues; Smith knows how to craft a cliffhanger, and this is definitely one of the more dramatic breaks we’ve seen in the series so far. It doesn’t invalidate anything we’ve learned to date, but it casts several events in a different light as a result.
As for RASL himself, I suspect Smith is having fun writing him in both the past and present, letting us see his slow fall from grace. He’s a much more tarnished character than I think people would have expected from Smith, but I think that’s in part what makes him interesting. He’s the classic "made a lot of wrong choices" character mold, and those bad decisions shape both his personality as well as the plot of RASL. I’m not sure he could carry a series indefinitely, but as a shorter run story he’s a good central piece.
Smith’s art in RASL is unsurprisingly good. It’s fun to watch Smith draw RASL at various stages in his recent past, going from clean cut to bedraggled, everything from skin to hair slowly devolving over time. That said, with this issue of RASL the real star of the art has got to be the creepy little girl. For a character with a vacant expression, Smith gets a lot out of the silent character, the gaping mouth shifting at times into a slight smile, and eyes focusing and unfocusing on a subject adds a shifting train of trust and suspicion to the reader. Her motives are the least clear of anyone in RASL, and that comes about in no small part due to the way that Smith draws her.
I’m greatly enjoying RASL; it’s a good change of pace from Bone and Little Mouse Gets Ready, and watching Smith stretch his creative wings is fun. And if you, like me, simply can’t wait for new collections, this is the place to find out what happens next after RASL Vol. 2. It’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.