by Andy Wolverton
An interviewer once asked movie director Sam Peckinpah why he loved violence so much in his films. Peckinpah responded that he loathed violence; he just wanted the audience to know how much it hurts to get shot. Maybe that’s part of what Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have in mind with Lazarus. On the first page, we see bullets ripping into the body of a young woman, cutting her down with graphic visual and descriptive detail. The violence here — and for the next several pages — is not meant to be celebrated. It’s to show you just what this woman is going through.
In short, it hurts like hell.
We’re used to seeing characters dying from injuries far less intense than these, but this woman named Forever can’t die. She’s a Lazarus, a genetically modified warrior who is a member and protector of Family Carlyle, a powerful family in a dystopian California. We’re not sure exactly what happened to cause this dystopia, but we know that the few surviving families control everything in this ravaged landscape. In addition to a Lazarus, each family also owns a certain number of Serfs, people who have certain skills the families need. Everyone else is Waste.
Forever is sent by her father, Malcolm, to negotiate with the rival Morray family, who has their own Lazarus. Forever knows she’s being followed on this mission, but who’s ultimately watching her is something of a mystery. Things start to go wrong, but Forever knows that she’ll survive whatever happens. Although the physical pain is hell, it’s nothing compared to the emotional pain that comes from suspecting someone from your family may be trying to betray you and start a war.
Lazarus features strong writing and an equally strong female protagonist, two things we’ve come to expect from Rucka. He has worked previously with Michael Lark on Gotham Central with excellent results, and their collaboration on Lazarus is another wonderful blend of story and art. Lark’s work brilliantly captures and contrasts the high-tech world of the Carlyle and Morray families with the bleak poverty of the Waste. Santi Arcas does a superior job of matching the appropriate colors to the mood of the locales: the cool tech blues, the gorgeous Mexican landscapes at sunset, and the ambiguity of tone in the family scenes, which are, perhaps, where the real drama lies.
This volume collects the first four issues of Lazarus, which comes across as one very long introduction. Rucka’s world-building is always impressive, but you feel as if he’s really taking his time in exploring this world and the people in it. I know he’ll eventually get to it, but I wanted an exploration of the “money = power” theme as much as the “inner family turmoil” theme. The greater weight to the latter takes away some of the impact that the volume’s cliffhanger should have delivered. We also suspect the physical pain Forever endures is nothing compared to the emotional devastation we’re being prepared for, but that never quite materializes here. Still, this is only the first volume, and I trust Rucka to take me further into what has the potential to be a great story.
Readers who wait for the trades of Lazarus should know that they’re missing a lot of supplementary material (mostly in the form of essays) from Rucka that appear only in the individual issues. The only extra you’ll find in this trade is a four-page introduction into the world of Lazarus, originally part of the solicitation for the first issue in Previews.
Rated M for language and violence.
Check out Lazarus and other works by Rucka and Lark: