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What Treasures Lurk Beyond the Cut: Jog and 2/27 know

Joe McCulloch

RASL #1:

This is Jeff Smith’s new series, a quarterly sci-fi serial of indeterminate length, although it’s been estimated that this first storyline will run eight or so issues. Your $3.50 gets you a very no-frills, no-nonsense Cartoon Books package: 32 pages of b&w comics between the covers, with credits on the inside-front and next issue’s cover on the inside-back.

There’s been some curiosity surrounding this project — beyond its simply being a new Jeff Smith series — in that it’s the artist’s first longform comics project pitched toward somewhat older readers, after a marvelously successful run with very kid-friendly material. Granted, there’s nothing in this issue that I wouldn’t hand to a 13-year old, but it’s not just a question of explicit content. What might this modified Jeff Smith look like?

As it turns out, faintly like some unstuck-in-time, post-Katsuhiro Otomo seinen manga, replete with wordless wandering across detailed environments, fast action racing through subdued page layouts, and strange technologies doing no-doubt scientific things that also happen to look cool – and check out the classic t-shirt getup on our mop-headed anti-hero! Never out of style, that.

It all strikes me as having a very ‘action manga’ visual approach, primed for sleek, fast reading, egged further on by Smith’s preference for white space over background detail. Actually, he might be a little too light; his characteristically nimble, squinty ‘tough’ characters look fine standing around bleeding or posing while wearing odd equipment, but their punches and grappling don’t convey the impact Smith’s storytelling seems to want. It’s more like especially rough slapstick, or maybe the comics equivalent of a direct-to-video action hero knocking down a bad guy, even though he clearly missed the bastard by a mile. Pantomime.

There’s not a lot of plot to discuss – Our Hero is an art thief who leaves the tag “RASL” where he strikes. He escapes the law with the help of a delightfully bulky rocket engine shoulder pads contraption, which allows him to (painfully) zip around time and through alternate dimensions, although he can’t aways predict where he’ll wind up; an extended visual metaphor of a stone dropping and rising through water helps clarify the process, although not a lot of explaining is needed anyway. Guy’s stealing, running. Odd folks and the law after him. Mystery; escape!

A firm chapter one GOOD right now, for its slick style and decent premise, although I suspect this particular sort of drift will move better once collected come 2010 or so.

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