Yet another tribute to Archaia’s ability to produce artisan quality books, Rust Volume 2, Secrets of the Cell is a handsome hardback graphic novel. Just as in the first volume, Royden Lepp has opted, instead of either the indie look of black and white or the mainstream look of traditional coloring, for sepia tones that give it a vintage feel. It is such an attractive, curious book that it should be an excellent gift idea not only for your comic loving friends but also for bibliophiles who appreciate the intrinsic value of a well-made book.
The story begins with a prologue, 48 years ago. Jet escapes a hideaway facility staffed with bayonet armed rifleman with World War One helmets. Though he looks like a little boy, in the middle of Jet’s chest is a power cell. After he flies away using his jet pack, he replaces his dying battery with one from an inert robot. We see that he is as much machine as boy when he has to pry the old battery out with a knife, although we see human vulnerability when we see the excruciating pain this causes him.
In the here and now, Jet has not aged a day. His life with the Taylors and the Alcotts continues from the previous volume. He sleeps in the Taylor’s barn and helps with the chores on their farm. The main story of this volume is Jet’s unsuccessful attempt to pass as human and to stay under the radar. Not only does a mysterious stranger come to look for him, but the youngest Taylor, Oz, continues to distrust Jet, and eventually discovers that Jet is a robot. Finally, Jet is outed once and for all in front of everyone in an epic battle with another robot.
The attachment between Roman Taylor and Jesse Alcott is the B arc of volume two; in the comic book genre, which is filled with too many trashy hook-ups, it is commendable to see a romance moving at a realistic pace between two people with self-respect and restraint. The childhood friends work together on one of Roman’s robot repair projects. Roman Taylor’s ambition is to rebuild old robots so that they can run the farm and free his time so that he can live his own life. One of these robots goes haywire, and strikes him. You know that this is not a random, erroneous, attack when it leaves Roman on the ground after a single hit and then seeks out Jet. In the last third of the book, the robot relentlessly pits itself against Jet.
If you are a fan of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, you will like Rust. They have many similarities. Both robots are in the form of boys, both require regular oil and maintenance, and both have daddy issues (In one excellently staged scene, Mrs. Alcott, who believes Jet to be a runaway, prods for a hint about Jet’s father. Jet grumbles, “My father was a liar,” and displays the confused sense of paternity common to sentient constructs in literature.). The pacing to Lepp’s action art is also reminiscent of Tezuka’s pages, both of which abhor dialogue for pages at a stretch while the antagonists in a battle are monomaniacally focused on each other. The new angle in Rust is that of taking the fantastic and making it feel lived in. Like old photographs, these sepia panels give the impression that these moments are memories that were once lived. It is a more intimate form of monochrome than that used by Tezuka. These pages will stay with you.
There’s still time to be one of the cool kids who first read Rust, before Fox makes their movie adaptation. A free preview of the book is available on the Archaia site. You will enjoy Rust most in physical form, but if you don’t have a LCS and don’t want to wait on Amazon to ship it, the series is available at comiXology.