Friday, December 9, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Rust

Review by Mike Bullock

(Cross-posted from www.brokenfrontier.com)

As some of you may or may not know, I write a (sort of) weekly column at Broken Frontier called Wonderkind, where I spotlight all sorts of all-ages comics and comic related things. This week, I did a piece on the graphic novel, RUST from Royden Lepp. After completing the review, it occurred to me this story might very well appeal to a lot of New Pulp enthusiasts as well, so I thought it a good idea to cross-post the review here.

So, without further rambling, here it is:

***


For those who aren't familiar with the book, here's the solicitation information:

Rust is a high-octane adventure set in the prairie lands of an unknown time. Life on the Taylor family farm was difficult enough before Jet Jones crashes into the barn, chased by a giant decommissioned war robot! Oldest son Roman Taylor struggles to keep his family’s small farm afloat as the area heals from a devastating world war. While the rest of his family may not trust the mysterious boy with the jetpack, Roman believes the secrets of Jet’s past may be the key to their survival.

Normally when you read things like "high octane adventure" it's either used as pure hyperbole or in some tongue-in-cheek manner that comes off as just plain cheesy. However, with Rust, the octane reference holds up under scrutiny. Knowing a thing or two myself about race fuel, internal combustion engines and the inner workings of all things automotive, it was a nice touch to see the amount of true-to-life detail Royden Lepp injected into the framework of the story. In fact, this very knowledge might just be the keystone to the entire tale.

No, this isn't a comic just for gearheads, not at all. I'm guessing such a thing would have a very limited target audience since most wrench jockeys I know only care to read repair manuals and car magazines.

Thankfully, for the rest of us, Lepp has manufactured an entire alternate history more akin to some science-fictionalized steampunk Middle America than what goes on at the county racetrack.

At some point in the not so distant past, a great war was fought. Based on the clothing of the soldiers, it appears to be about the same time as World War I. However, this war wasn't comprised of the sort of battles we imagine when we hear the term "great War" oh no. During this one, America began fabricating robot soldiers, who marched headlong into the field of battle and secured a casualty-light victory for the good side.

Fast forward to what seems to be a few years after the war and some have repurposed the robotic soldiers into cheap labor, working in factories and on farms.

The star of the story, Roman Taylor, is striving to do just that with an old Model C robot, praying he can have the thing working before his younger brother heads off to school and leaves Roman with far more work around the farm than he can handle on his own.

Into this fairly universal situation of man striving to overcome the inability to provide for his family flies Jet Jones, literally. The young man with a rocket pack strapped to his back lands square in the middle of Roman's field, followed closely by a mechanized horror that even Ma & Pa Kent wouldn't expect to see.
While the story is fraught with intrigue, drama and some really neat visuals, the theme is universal enough that anyone of any age or walk of life should be able to relate to it.

Speaking of the art, Royden's style is one I came to know and love years back when he did the graphic novel David: The Shepherd's Song. The style is at once scratchy and unrefined, yet mature and engaging. Unlike the hyper-realistic art that's so commonplace these days, Lepp's work leaves room for the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps and take ownership of the world and the adventure. For my money, that's what comics are all about.

From simple images like the opening page that merely depicts a forest, to the intricate workings of the machines, Lepp's art has a charm not often found in indy graphic novels.

That beings said, I did find myself questioning some of the panels here and there. In some spots there seem to be too many panels used to convey something that might have just as easily been done in less space.

The story, also, is not perfect by any means, leaving me with a few questions that will hopefully become clear in future volumes. I wasn't totally certain of Roman's place in the family until nearly half way through the book, which pulled me out of the story more than once to contemplate his relationship to others in the tale.

All criticism aside, this is a very engaging, entertaining tome that fans of books like Daisy Kutter,Rocketeer and Flight should thoroughly love.

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