“Family, Part One”
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Michael Lark
Colors: Santi Arcas
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I haven’t been watching advance solicitations as of late. Often, new titles will turn up on the shelves of my local comic shop and take me by surprise. “I can’t believe So And So had a new book out and I didn’t know” or “Wow, that comic is out already? I thought it was months away.” I was vaguely aware of the approaching release of Lazarus #1, but I had absolutely no idea what it was about, and I honestly, I didn’t care. It was a new comic by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, creators whose past works I’ve enjoyed, notably their previous collaboration on Gotham Central. I was eager to sample a new creator-owned work from them, and the notion they might disappoint never entered my mind. And they didn’t disappoint, but they did take me off-guard. I was expecting something else, something more grounded, something more rooted in or at least connected to the crime genre, given their previous projects. But Lazarus is, if described in broad terms, a science-fiction book, or, more specifically, a dystopian book. It’s certainly a smart book, and it has some strong messages.
In a future that’s sadly not so far removed from our own time, wealth and power are consolidated among a few families, and those that serve them enjoy comfort and privilege. Everyone else is referred to simply as Waste, and they’re forced to scavenge to survive. Each powerful family has a single member who’s been augmented to serve as its enforcer, as its Lazarus. Forever Carlyle is one such family’s Lazarus, and despite efforts to keep her in line, she doesn’t like what she sees in the world, how people live and what’s she’s expected to do to protect her kin’s place atop an ugly societal structure.
Lark offers up surprisingly clean, crisp line art throughout this issue. I’ve come to expect a generally gritty, dark approach from him, one I’ve always enjoyed, but this struck me as a different tack. Nevertheless, the visuals remain just as strong and compelling. While the art here isn’t necessarily bright, per se, it certainly doesn’t boast the sort of noir feel we’ve seen from him before on Gotham Central or Daredevil. There’s a strong sense of realism at play here, reinforced by the limited nature of the sci-fi elements. Generally, the character designs, and specifically their clothing, looks like normal garb, and the tech (beyond whatever processes have made the title character so formidable) doesn’t seem much beyond what we have in the real world today. It’s a smart move, because that overall, familiar look to the people and their environment ensures the relevance of the story elements come through with crystal clarity.
I also loved the coloring work here. While the line art keeps the settings in familiar territory, the colors set them apart from the everyday. Arcas immerses interior facilities controlled by the Carlyles in cool, sterile blues. Save for the spots scarred by violence, those backdrops seem untouched by normal human activity. Conversely, the exterior shot are bathed in muted browns and yellows, creating an arid, barren tone that reflects how the world has withered or even died.
Some of the ideas Rucka explores in this book are far from subtle. He makes some powerful declarations about capitalism, about society. He takes the notion of the haves and have-nots to the extreme here, and I couldn’t help but think of the Occupy movement, about the Koch Brothers, about the growing divide between the rich and the working poor, not only in America but all over the world. Apparently, the real-world resonance was more than intended, as Rucka notes in an essay in the back of this inaugural issue the events of Occupy and other newsworthy, socio-economic developments served as context for the development of this story. I enjoyed the essay almost as much as I enjoyed the story, as it offers an interesting glimpse into the creative process.
What makes this such a compelling story, though, isn’t the economic and political relevance of the backdrop, as thought-provoking as it is; it’s the oddly named heroine, Forever Carlyle. She’s a killing machine who can’t be killed herself, awash in an ethical dilemma. She’s struggling with her emerging conscience, and culturally and socially ingrained obligations to her family and its interests. On the surface, it might seem like she’d practically be an alien character, given her superhuman status and mission in life, but really, Forever is a thoroughly relatable character. What’s motivating her in this opening chapter is twofold: she hates her job and her family makes her uncomfortable — who can’t relate to that? Her job is to do the dirty work of her influential and well-to-do family — or one could say she feels stuck in a job that puts corporate concerns over human ones. She’s the insurance company worker who’s finally had enough of denying claims based on fine print. She’s the dutiful daughter who’s finally realized she doesn’t have to be exactly what her parents expect of her. When one peels off the social commentary and sci-fi elements, Lazarus ultimately ends up to be a basic story about one person deciding to do what’s right, and to do what’s right for her. 8/10
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