Review by Ian Keogh
Over the previous two books Jeff Smith hasn’t taken a linear path, but has shown how one man transformed from Dr Robert Johnson, experimental engineer working with his lifelong friend, to Rasl, able to travel to alternate Earths. We learned the how and why of who he is, as well as the pressures on him, with most mysteries introduced during The Drift explained during The Fire of Saint George. Except if you’re buying the colour editions where Smith confusingly switched titles, making this The Fire of St George and the previous volume Romance at the Speed of Light. The strange little girl seen on the cover of the black and white edition is one of the few enduring puzzles. If the President is to be believed, she’s God, but Rasl’s not having that.
During previous trips to other-dimensional Earths it’s established there are counterparts to people Rob/Rasl knows, but while they can follow the same life pattern, sometimes they take another path entirely. It’s a neat deception on which the curtain is pulled back in The Lost Journals of Nikola Tesla, but here it enables Rob to revisit Maya, the lost love of his life, on another Earth not a research scientist but the manager of an art gallery named Uma. She’s one of a few characters somehow drawn to Rob, feeling they know him.
In previous collections there’s been a dip into art and science, and here Smith involves myth, enabling a brief try at different form of abstraction and symbolism as seen on the sample art. It’s a nice counterpoint to the polished naturalistic cartooning and quirky design elements form the visual backbone.
Over two previous volumes Rob has transmitted as considerably flawed, and if there’s any doubt he’s a protagonist rather than a hero that’s laid to rest. He’s not responsible for the greatest disaster, in fact did his best to warn about the dangers, and those chasing him are hardly paragons of virtue, but he remains self-serving and slips easily into deceit if the opportunity arises. Is there any form of redemption for him?
A fair amount of bonus material is included after the story chapters, all of it very welcome. Smith explains his thinking about the content of previous volumes, shows page layouts, unused cover designs, reference photographs and encourages you to sample his research.
RASL is available as a complete edition, but only in colour, albeit for a collection that won the Eisner Award for Best Reprint Album. Smith has broken that down into four volumes matching the original pagination. The colour works for brighter scenes, but those are limited, meaning there’s not a lot of variety to dull pages that worked better in the original black and white, which should be the format of choice, and all links lead to it.