After 13 years of working on all-ages fantasy epic Bone, and filling the time between that and this with smaller projects, it’s easy to imagine writer and illustrator Jeff Smith more than ready to start on the next project. This creative energy bristles through RASL like an electrical charge. Its 468 pages might give it the appearance of a lengthy book but its pace is unrelenting, leaving you with your eyes wide, your hair standing on end and your spine tingling.
The plot revolves around a young scientist, one of a trio of brilliant young minds, who have been successfully extrapolating the work of Nikola Tesla into the modern world. Working on a weapon to end all wars for the US government, one of the scientists has second thoughts and goes on the run with a prototype teleporter.
What follows is a high-octane, inter-dimensional chase, mixed up with a little art thievery, a liberal sprinkling of love interest and lots of fascinating stuff about the life and work of Tesla. It’s a wonderful mix of science and sci-fi.
If you’re used to Smith’s drawing from Bone you might find his illustrative style rougher around the edges here. This isn’t designed to look cute but to frazzle your senses with a blistering story. I liked the art a lot – the characters are caught somewhere between realism and caricature, stretching beyond simple classification.
My only disappointment was that I’d managed to guess one of key twists in the plot before the end. This is unusual for me, as I tend to be a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to plot-twists, so I’m usually a sucker for a good shake-down on this score. This only slightly dented my enjoyment of the book and is perhaps a good advert for the transparency of Smith’s work, because while the plot threads and concepts underpinning the book are complex, Smith’s clarity of vision shines through.
RASL confirms Jeff Smith’s deserved position in the hierarchy of graphic novelists and shows Bone was no one-hit-wonder.