This issue marks the second in the new format and the first in the new release schedule of “Rasl,” as Jeff Smith switches from three times a year with 32 pages to bimonthly with 22 pages. Despite issue five’s natural pacing, this one feels a little slight compared to the first four issues, but Smith’s structuring of switching between a history of Nikola Tesla and the ongoing plot of Rasl and Sal’s conflict works to bridge that gap somewhat in the transition period.
The Nikola Tesla parts of the issue help to further provide background details on the dimensional-hopping technology Rasl uses to steal paintings from alternate Earths for profit. The version of Tesla’s biography we get here is narrated by Rasl, who focuses on Tesla’s feud with Edison over AC and DC electricity delivery systems and how that led Tesla to experiment with wireless communication and electromagnetic currents as they relate to the Earth. Since Tesla’s experiments and theories connect with Rasl’s technology, these portions of the story aren’t simply there because Smith finds Tesla fascinating. Exactly what it means is still unclear, but the information given is engaging.
Mixed with this is a small advancement of the book’s ongoing plot wherein Rasl steals another painting and sells it despite the warnings from Sal -- the lizard-faced man that has threatened Rasl -- and various versions of Annie, a woman Rasl has a relationship with, that he hand over the Tesla journals in his possession. Rasl’s cavalier disregard of Sal’s threats results in him landing in a tough spot and provides the issue with a good cliffhanger. However, the small amount of progression of this plot is noticeable in the shift to shorter issues. Again, it only feels slight in comparison to previous issues and because so much of the issue is devoted to Tesla.
Smith’s art in this issue is some of his best work on the series so far as he shifts between his regular style for the Rasl scenes and a more photorealistic style for the Tesla material. It’s not a broad shift as Smith works to make the photorealistic material fit into the visual tone of the series, choosing pictures that highlight the contrast in light and dark often. In “Rasl,” Smith plays with the extreme of black and white quite a bit, which works well with Tesla’s electricity experiments and setting them at night often. One panel, of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, is breathtaking, as Smith captures the overpowering nature of electricity-lit lights. His character work on Rasl is strong in this issue, as well, particularly as he stands against Sal, defiant with a hint of a sneer.
While the main plot progresses a small amount, the strong focus on Tesla does make this issue feel slighter. Smith’s art continues to be top-notch, but, hopefully, March’s issue moves things forward more with the background material remaining more in the background.