Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark (Cover by Owen Freeman)
Publisher: Image Comics
More Information: Image Comics Website
It started with an article in Salon out of out all places. Dated January 6th, the headline read:
The comic book “Lazarus” is a frightening vision of where America could be headed
The subtitle proved more attractive:
A dystopian future where family supersedes government suddenly seems realizable in “Lazarus.”
President Sauron already inspired pop culture connections from Harry Potter to Star Wars: Rogue One. People tweeted questions asking when the White House will institute The Hunger Games, so in this sea of dystopian literature, why not another entry from Image comics? After doing some Googling, I turned to the Winnipeg Public Library to see if they had a copy of the trade paperback volumes and saw a hardcover collection of the first two volumes of the series. Sold.
I ended up reading the collection in one sitting.
I heard of Greg Rucka thanks to Shattered Empire, the story he wrote for the new Star Wars canon. Given the right visuals, in this case, by Michael Lark, the book feels like tuning into a television show. Forever Carlyle’s introduction to readers gives a sampling of the brutal world she lives in, one with her family’s wealth enabling them to rule over people divided into serfs and waste. If you have a useful skill for the Carlyle family, you’re a serf, everyone else gets the name waste until tested otherwise. Forever is the family Lazarus, the family supersoldier, yet she wants so badly to please her father, Malcolm. Daddy Carlyle gives Tywin Lannister serious competition for Father of the Year in the story, ruling his children the way he rules his domain. While the panels overflow with intrigue, it’s a story of family dysfunction played out on a political stage as Carlyle interests are under attack from another family, leaving Forever to visit the Morray Family who controls all of Mexico.
If you’re looking for any type of government in this world, Rucka’s helpful timelines show how it came to be useless. Take the family rule of Game of Thrones and throw in some Godfather, add a woman questioning her identity while still kicking ass and sometimes taking names. The world created is that good and, like any good speculative fiction, has an air of prophecy that somehow comes true.
Case in point, while combing through the extras in the collection, I came across this tidbit:
Like any good nerd, I checked the date of the early issues. Rucka and Lark began the series in 2013, Two years before President Sauron made his infamous Mexicans-as-rapist statement. While graphic novels and comics provide stunning action splashed across its pages, it the human elements giving the story arcs plausibility.
For instance, 16 families carve up the world in Lazarus echoing an Oxfam report about the world’s wealth resting with 62 people. (The same report that helped Rucka create his world.) Forever has prepared for her role as a Lazarus since she was was a child while Malcolm makes sure this strong female character yearns for his love and approval, even as an adult.The rest of the Carlyle clan, Beth, Stephen, and Twins Jonah and Johannah take up roles in the family business from science to looking after the domain of Los Angeles.
While comic readers would have discovered this series, Lazarus proves an excellent choice for those into dystopian stories. I had little comics exposure as a kid and came to this genre as an adult. The panels give my eyes a break from the constant stream of words on a page and in a way, I feel like Alice falling through the looking glass whenever I open a trade book or hardcover collection. (Those are the two forms of graphic novels for those unfamiliar with the genre.)
One more tidbit.
The hardcover collection, with two currently out, comes with supplementary materials Forever Carlyle’s world. In the first collection, we meet Carlyle, Morray, and another named Hock within the story’s context. The map shows what parts of the world each family controls, along with a write up on the sigil, family motto, and a short history of their corporations that helped gained their foothold. The UK’s ruling family nearly had me off the bed laughing. Their name?
This is great, I thought between giggles, it’s perfect. It’s just half-way posh between Cumberbatch and Penry-Jones. Richard Armitage would have a laugh. I figured it’s a coincidence or they saw The Hobbit and thought wow great last name for one of the ruling families in a dystopian world.
I went looking for the next volumes, getting a sense all this extra information would lay out over the story. The Armitage family Lazarus is not a Richard but a character named Sir Thomas Huston. Here he is on issue 25’s cover:
I know that profile, I thought.
I know that profile.
I. Know. That. Profile!
It’s a coincidence, I kept thinking, although, Michael Lark modeled Forever’s appearance on US soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo. It makes me wonder who else shaped a character’s appearance in this universe. Maybe I am looking at things a little too carefully. Something like the last panel in this sequence:
Nope, does not look like Gisbourne’s smirk at all.
Greg Rucka and Michael Lark created a comic series with the kind of storytelling unfolding in fiction. In the past, worlds like this would be a what-if escape now, much like The Handmaid’s Tale, readers wonder if it’s a blueprint for the future, offering clues to how we got to this point and how do we stop it?