In writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark’s new comic series, “Lazarus,” a dystopian future takes shape where a medieval caste system has been put in place run by mafia-style families and their enforcers, the Lazarus. It is “Mad Max” meets “The Godfather.” The first four issues of “Lazarus” have been collected into a trade paperback, “Lazarus Book One: Family,” and it features the first arc of this story that deals with current political themes taken to an extreme within a sci-fi setting.
Rucka and Lark, who have paired well together before on series like the Eisner Award winning “Gotham Central,” “Daredevil,” and winning another Eisner Award for Captain America short story in “I am an Avenger” #2, thrive in exploring genre fiction with new twists and turns. The setting and themes of “Lazarus” provide a look at the “what if” as the possibility of this world coming to be is one catastrophic disaster away.
The families (think “Sopranos”) in “Lazarus” are a wealthy ruling class who govern over the useful middle-class known as the Serfs, followed by the cattle that hold no value and are named, quite on the nose, Waste. The families have carved up the world based on positions of power, widening the gap between economic class levels, quite like countries carving up the globe and flying their flags. Each guards their borders with near zealot like diligence. In order to carry out their own security each family employs the aid of a Lazarus, an un-killable fighting machine.
Forever is the Lazarus for the Carlyle family, she is the one member of the family who is given training, technology and assets extending her abilities far beyond those of a regular human. Forever is murdered within the first several pages but due to the scientific edge she is graced with she returns to wreak her family’s vengeance on her assailants. She has been nurtured into this environment of family class warfare, but when her conscience betrays what she was bred to believe the perfect killing machine questions what she has always known.
What Rucka and Lark show is that she is quite different from her brothers and sisters. There is internal strife within the Carlye family and Forever is caught in the middle. The privileged can’t find enough power for themselves and maneuver to obtain more even through the destruction of their own family. Forever is not thought of as a sister but a pawn in the internal political struggle. Her thoughts and feelings betray her actions as she constantly wrestles with the whys of her existence. She is a tool to be used by the family; she questions the eternal purpose of her life and that questioning enriches her character.
Lark’s art evokes a sense that he is a photojournalist taking pictures of the action from an undisclosed location. It gives the books a gritty sense of realism. The way he draws Forever as the perfect human says much about the character. She has the appearance of an Olympic athlete whose body is honed to its pinnacle. She stands taller than her brothers and sisters exhibiting the strength and power she possesses.
The setting of the story plays an important role. The homes of the Carlyle’s are exquisite and show the rich lavish lifestyle of the family in charge. Lark adds details that help put across their wealth. But as the landscape moves away from the confines of the Carlyle estates it is revealed the destruction that led to this economic system. Buildings lie toppled, in ruin, long abandoned with no hope of clean up or reconstruction. The Waste live in concentration camps where they are under the watchful eye of “their betters” trying to just survive on what little scraps they are thrown. These settings are not discussed but the visuals define these elements of the story.
“Lazarus” is a visually stunning story with emotional resonance. The Lazarus Forever’s plight pulls you into this world. The culture she believes in, was told to believe, was bred to believe in is being shaken by the actions of her family. Could the nature of who she is spark something that will get her to betray the upbringing she was given?