Review: “Lazarus, Vol. 01: Family”

Intense opening to a powerful story

Intense opening to a powerful story

“Lazarus” is a book that places the reader within a bleak dystopian world in the not-too-distant future, where different families rule different parts of the land. Writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark (who have collaborated in the past) work with colorist Santi Arcas on world building within this ongoing series. This first volume places the reader in the middle of family intrigue, betrayals, and twists and turns that will keep one guessing and coming back for more answers and given even more beguiling questions. The creative team has a plan and it unfolds organically, with art expressing what need not be said in words. This is a true collaboration between writer and artist.

Forever Carlyle is the Family Carlyle’s Lazarus. A Lazarus is a genetically modified member of a ruling family who is meant to protect that family and their assets. Forever is a trained fighter who will do anything for her family and is able to be resurrected after experiencing horrendous death by the hands of her enemies. In Rucka’s story, the reader gets to explore only the basic experiences of Forever and her family. The first four issues in this collection bring up more questions than answers about the world in which these families live, but, judging by the environment, this is one postapocalyptic world that one would never want to come to fruition. Proof of the harshness of this world: people who are deemed “unimportant” are called Waste. That’s evidence enough of what kind of brutal world “Lazarus” brings alive on the page.

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Narration and thought balloons/boxes are nonexistent in the world of “Lazarus”. Rucka handles these absences expertly, allowing the story to commence through his naturalistic dialogue and Lark’s expressive artistic choices. Story is told through character. In one particular scene, Forever is about to execute a man who admits to stealing from the family. As the gun points at his head, Forever says, “Your daughter…I’ll tell her you love her.” He replies by saying, “Trust me, Miss Carlyle…she knows.” Simple dialogue such as this says so much without having to explain through thought boxes or balloons. In Lark’s art, the man looks resigned to his fate, with his eyes in shadow. Forever, gun mechanically lifted up, has a tense brow and lips. She clearly is a woman who is conflicted about her role in the Family Carlyle. The words come alive through Lark’s art, with that art giving those words meaning. The reader knows the tone and inflection of those words coming out of the characters’ mouths because reading the faces is all they need to understand. The visual lifts up the writing.

On the following page, while talking with her doctor, Forever is asked how she is feeling today. She replies, “Fine, James…I feel fine…” That one last panel of issue one says so much. Through conversations, Rucka is able to make the story real, with the reader becoming empathetic toward the character of Forever. With eyes closed, the reader can feel so much bubbling beneath the surface of Forever. She is hardened and pained all in one facial expression. By sticking with dialogue only, Rucka is able to surprise with revelations and characters’ machinations. By dispensing of narration, Rucka allows more leeway for Lark and Arcas to contribute immensely to the story and guide the reader in discovering the truth as it is unraveled issue by issue.

Empathy is vital to this story, with Forever Carlyle molded into a character that expresses so much emotion and becomes “real” in every sense of the word. It’s not important for her history to have been told yet. Just by being around Forever, she has become a comic book character that begs to have more stories told about her. Two specific scenes are heartbreaking just by observing her face alone. When a family meeting is being held, Forever’s interaction with her father is one between a scolding dad and a daughter who wants so badly to please him. She looks down in shame one moment and then looks up at her father the next with eyes upturned, a furrowed brow, and a mouth open with a look of pleading. This small scene is packed with characterization and requires no knowledge of factual information regarding Forever.

In the other scene, Forever is chatting with the Family Morray’s Lazarus in Mexico. Both, despite their training and the expectation that they must be hardasses at all times, let their guard down and flirt with each other. Both of them actually joke around and laugh together. They are kindred spirits because of their similar situations. Forever tells him at one point, “I don’t want to fight you. I don’t want to hurt you.” He replies, “Our families don’t understand.” She then says, “No. They don’t.” The look on the Morray Lazarus’ face is heart wrenching, with the look of a child stuck in a situation he cannot escape from. The same goes for Forever. Lark is able to take Rucka’s realistic dialogue that is so natural and create a scene full of emotion, story, and character.

Bold, beautiful use of color

Bold, beautiful use of color

Lark’s art would not be able to shine without the coloring of Santi Arcas. The world Rucka and Lark have set up is realistic, despite its science fiction undertones. Arcas’ use of dark, earthy colors adds to a sense of reality and that this world could be a dark and distinct one. He grounds the story, yet also allows use of vibrant color to  burst through scenes when appropriate. One particular scene stands out that is colored with such intensity. In the last three pages of the third issue, the Family Morray’s Lazarus and Forever are riding their vehicles in the Mexican desert. Gorgeous purple and pink color the sky, while the desert ground is colored a bright purple and orange. The colors stand out so vividly and seem so out of place, that what happens next seems all but inevitable. It’s the calm and beauty before the storm, which just so happens to be an explosion. The last panel has both of these Lazaruses (Lazari?) being bombed by an airplane, with the red, orange, and brown colors of the chaotic explosion overpowering the little bit of purple sky that peeks from the top of the panel.

Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have created a character who could have ended up being a machine, but instead have created someone who is a strong and complex woman. Strong yet vulnerable, Forever Carlyle is brought to life by a writing and art team that work in sync naturally and beautifully. This is a story that upends expectations and refuses to reveal everything at once. Even those averse to science fiction will feel as if they are in a grounded world, where anything can happen. Forever and the other players in this saga are intriguingly complex, with everyone hiding truths from each other and themselves.

Grade: A

Lazarus Volume One: Family
Written by: Greg Rucka
Art and letters: Michael Lark with Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Publisher: Image Comics
Original Publication Date: December 2013
Pages: 96 pages

You can find this book at one of the following recommended retailers:
CheapGraphicNovels.com
comiXology.com
InStockTrades.com

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