Sunday, July 13, 2014

Comics You Should Read: LAZARUS

Comics You Should Read: LAZARUS


Greg Rucka is one of those can't-miss comic book writers whose work I've followed for many years. Like many of my favorites, this is a guy who I first discovered through his work on more mainstream superhero books, but then followed as he branched out to more independent, creator-owned creations. Rucka made his mark with me as a Batman guy. In the late 90's and early 00's, he was one of the instrumental writers in the epic Batman saga "No Man's Land," and went on to have long runs on various Batman books, combining great, character-driven soap-operatics with a dark, grim, noirish tone. Later, he and another fave writer, Ed Brubaker, teamed to write a book called Gotham Central. Along with artist Michael Lark, the two created a gritty, sophisticated, and incredibly well-crafted look at the inner workings of the Gotham City Police Department. Basically, it felt like an HBO-style take on the GCPD, and it was one of the best books that DC Comics has ever put out.

Recently, Rucka brought his talents to Image (as many of the top comic book creators have, over the last few years), and re-teamed with Lark for a new book called LAZARUS. Very quickly, it's become one of the absolute must-reads in comics.

LAZARUS takes place in a ruinous near-future world in which the world economy has collapsed, and earth is now ruled by a handful of powerful families - each grasping power due to their corporate wealth, which prospered even as governments and other institutions fell. In this brave new world, you're either a member of one of the families, an elite lieutenant of the families, a soldier in one of their armies, or "waste." It's an extreme version of the whole "99%" thing. While the families live in lavish compounds, most of the population live in terrible conditions, in makeshift camps, in total poverty. As we enter the world of Lazarus, we arrive at a time of relative stability - the families co-exist in a tenuous peace with each other, and the waste has been utterly demoralized, and lacks the will or resources to revolt. However, as Rucka's story picks up, the seeds of change are being planted. Tensions begin to brew between the families. Sparks of revolution flare among the waste. And the biggest x-factor of all ... is the Lazarus.

The primary family that the book follows are the Carlyles. Who, by the way, have more issues than the Lannisters. But they also have a Lazarus - a genetically-engineered supersoldier who has been raised as a daughter of the Carlyle family, albeit a daughter who's learned to kill and fight since birth. Her name is Forever, and not only has she been physically enhanced, but mentally, she's been completely brainwashed into being the unquestioning lapdog of her family. That, of course, is on the cusp of changing, and that self-awakening is what, surely, will lead to a crack in the system that proves irreversible.

Rucka is doing some fine work here. There is *a lot* going on in this world, but part of the intrigue of the book is watching Rucka slowly peel back the layers, revealing to us all the ins and outs of this dystopian future, and how it got to be this way. Rucka has clearly thought though things in great detail, as evidenced by the detailed essays in the back of each issue - about current advances in science and other news items - that inform his writing and the world of Lazarus. There is some massive-scale world-building going on here, but what's cool is how much of it is informed by our current state of affairs. Ultimately though, what drives the storytelling is the character work, in particular the ongoing evolution of Forever. Watching this woman slowly awaken to the reality of her world is making for some really compelling reading. It's a slow build, at times, but I think the eventual payoffs will be worth it.

Meanwhile, Lark's artwork is fantastic, as always. The guy does very naturalistic, realistic drawing that still has a certain stylized quality to it. He makes Forever Carlyle into a real badass, but also shows that she can be vulnerable and in over her head, with his great knack for expressive and evocative art. Lark just gives the book an incredible sense of gritty atmosphere that perfectly complements that ominous tone that Rucka is going for.

Like a dystopian Game of Thrones that mixes a healthy dose of real-world politics with its war of ruling families, LAZARUS is quickly laying the foundation to become a true epic. The book is only 9 issues in (also available in two easily-digestible paperback collections), so it's pretty painless to get onboard at the moment. Check it out.

READ IT IF YOU LIKE: Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, The Hunger Games, Gotham Central, dystopian fiction, badass female protagonists, science-y stuff, socio-political commentary ...

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