The basic pitch for writer/artist Royden Lepp's Rust: Visitor In the Field would appear to be a sepia-toned tale of robots and jetpacks set in the aftermath of a mechanized version of All Quiet On the Western Front. The story, involving the mysterious Jet Jones and the rural family whose life he disrupts when he comes flying in while being chased by a killer robot fuses sci-fi with family drama, taking its time to tell its tale. In fact, I would have to say that to enjoy what is apparently the first volume in a series of stories set in this world, you would have to be prepared to accept that Lepp is content to draw out the plot at his own particular pace.
Lepp sets his story somewhere around the 1960's or so, nearly 50 years in the aftermath of what looks like their version of the first World War which was waged using robots of escalating sophistication. A quick digression here—Lepp shows the robots initially in direct conflict with humans on the battlefield and later simply fighting amongst themselves which begs the question, is it really a war at that point when the participants are all automatons and no threat against human life appears to be present? The absence of any lives or territory being in peril makes the stakes feel weird.
In the "present," our hero isn't our mysterious boy with the jetpack, Jet Jones, but instead farmer Roman Taylor, responsible for maintaining the family homestead with his father away. Roman's not alone: he tends for his younger siblings Amy and Oswald as well as his mom, and with his younger brother preparing to go to school in the fall, Roman is looking to automate some of the farm work with scrap robot parts. When the seemingly impossible-to-kill Jet comes crashing into Roman's life, pursued by a towering robot bent on killing the rocket-propelled boy, the duo fend off the machine and Jet temporarily joins the Taylors on their farm as thanks and by way of apology for smashing a hole in their barn.
Most of what happens in this volume has the feel of extended setup, the preamble to the real plot and the eventual revelation of Jet's big secret which, unless Lepp has something completely out of let field in mind, is thoroughly telegraphed throughout the book. And here's where we come to the issue of pacing: the book spends a lot of pages covering a single beat, and you may find as I did that even though those particular sequences can run upwards of 50 pages, they're action beats and therefore feel somewhat like you've only just picked up the book before having to put it down again. My take is that in spite of the well-directed action on display, because they don't provide a ton of revelation about the characters they feature, could have done with substantial cuts to communicate as much while retaining the same impact.
Lepp provides his story with some fine illustration (although there are one or two rough patches involving childrens' hands). His robot designs are inventive and seem to take their cue from old rivet and bolt designs (think more complicated, less cuddly looking versions of The Iron Giant), and they often convey a sense of menace. There's an interesting preoccupation with injured/disabled children—two of the three children in the book seem to have been the victims of some kind of event that has cost one a leg and the other her sight—I trust, based on his writing here, that Lepp isn't simply trying to make us care more about these kids by maiming them and that instead they speak to whatever unspoken history has scarred the land where they live.
I appreciate the sepia look chosen for the book, although I couldn't get past this nitpicky feeling that given that we ascribed this type of coloration with memories, flashbacks, and the past, maybe there should have been some kind of means of differentiating the coloration of the "present" with the extended sequence in the past.
Rust: Visitor In the Field is a solid work, at least in terms of introducing of to its world. I still think that in future volumes, Lepp should definitely reevaluate how he paces his story, but he's created a warm and interesting world with this book that I'm more than interested in revisiting in future volumes.
Rust: Visitor In the Field is available now.