One of this summer’s most anticipated–and subsequently well-received–comic series releases is Lazarus from Image Comics; written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Michael Lark, with color by Santi Arcas.
The first two issues of Lazarus’ first arc, titled “Family”, were released in June and July, respectively, with the third issue’s release coming today. Lazarus finally reunites Rucka and Lark who previously collaborated on the Eisner Award-winning series Gotham Central, so Image Comics knew the hit they had on their hands; thus, they’ve been advertising and previewing the comic’s release for months, including a prelude issue you can read on Rucka’s website here. (PDF file)
Forgoing lengthy, in-universe exposition, Lazarus instead begins with a brief back story, written in prose:
The world now lies divided not amongst political or geographic boundaries but amongst financial ones. Wealth is power, and that power rests with only a handful of families. The few who provide a service to their ruling Family are cared for. All others are Waste. In each family, there is one person given the best they can offer, training and technology and assets, every scientific advantage. This person is named their family’s sword and shield, their protector, their Lazarus. In the Family Carlyle, the Lazarus is called Forever. This is her story.
With that one paragraph, Greg Rucka deftly sets the stage for everything that unfolds within Michael Lark’s brilliantly illustrated pages. The baser plot may seem like a familiar one; partly because the dystopian future of a reinvented caste system is a fairly common trope, but mostly because it’s a story which has quite literally been pulled from the headlines. Lazarus‘ setting paints the landscape of a future our present could very well see someday. Of course, it’s taken to a dramatic extreme for entertainment purposes, but in the Forever Yours correspondence section at the back of each issue, Rucka not only answers fan letters/emails but also provides even more real world context in the way of actual news stories that lend credence to the events in the comic.
One thing that sets Lazarus apart from other stories that may have a similar setting is the fact that the setting is used well: the writing is skillful, and the illustrations are crisp. It’s very easy to explore a well-traveled area, but it is exceedingly difficult to do so in a way that looks like nobody has ever been there before. Lazarus manages to do that because Rucka writes with an innate authority and knowledge to his words that communicates a subconscious investment to the reader; you read Rucka’s work, and you organically feel as though you’ve lived the moment, as opposed to having had it relayed to you. This was true with my first exposure to Rucka in Batman: No Man’s Land; it’s true in his subsequent novel work such as Alpha; it’s certainly true in his other comic work with titles like Wonder Woman and Punisher, among many others; and it’s present in spades here with Lazarus. Greg Rucka just delivers a damn enjoyable read, every time out of the gate. I’m admittedly not as familiar with Michael Lark’s work–although I wish I was–I can say, in my experience with Gotham Central and now Lazarus, Lark’s artistic style is a natural fit with Rucka’s writing; they both paint within a world of action. That is to say, Greg Rucka’s writing is very easy to visualize; I’d imagine it’s quite difficult to capture such writing in a way that is better than the reader’s imagination. That’s why film adaptations of books often don’t live up to expectations. Rucka has certainly worked with some other supremely talented illustrators, but Lazarus feels like the best marriage of his writing to an illustrator’s style; that very well may be thanks to how much of a collaborative effort Lazarus is between Rucka and Lark. Nonetheless, whatever is to thank, I’m grateful.
Of course, the biggest factor that helps differentiate Lazarus from other dystopian futures is its protagonist: Forever Carlyle. I’m going to avoid going into too much detail about the character’s biography, because I want you to learn as much as possible, for the first time, while reading the series. What is great about the character are the subtleties within her design. I’ve written a little before about Rucka’s ability to craft realistic and complete female characters when discussing his run with Wonder Woman; he continues that here. Although, in the first Forever Yours section, he mentions a reluctance to write another female character (he has earned a reputation for his well-crafted female characters), I am glad he decided to make the Lazarus a woman because it’s just a fact that he does it well. It’s unfortunate that it’s still a rarity for female comic characters to be treated as three-dimensional people, but as long as it is, I’ll take any and all chances to see one come from the mind of Greg Rucka.
Beyond just Forever’s actions and dialogue, the design Rucka and Lark created for her is also a breath of fresh air. Yes, she has breasts, because women do, but they’re not cartoonish, and they are not gratuitously exposed. Yes, her clothes are tight, but her outfit is one of utilitarian design. She stands like people actually stand, and not like she’s in an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. She has the athletic build of a deadly assassin, as opposed to a dainty, girlish figure. She’s apparently based on Abbie Waumbach and Hope Solo of the US Women’s National Soccer team, which makes sense (both in terms of crafting a realistic person and in the fact that Greg Rucka has said he is a big fan of football/soccer); she also has a similar build to Gina Carano. The character design does well to juxtapose the perfect image of what one would design if given the chance to construct an assassin against what one usually expects a comic book to construct. A nice change of pace from other, more outdated, character designs–which I enjoy; don’t get me wrong, but different is good.
In case you can’t tell, I more than recommend this series. As I mentioned, the first two issues have been out, and the third releases today; while the fourth–and final–issue of the series’ first arc releases September 18th. If you’re into digital comics, you can download the series from Image Comics’ website or Comixology, if you prefer; if not, you can venture out to your local comic shop, if you are lucky enough to still have a convenient, local comic shop.