Greg Rucka has been away from the creator-owned game for too long. While I’ve enjoyed his superhero work on titles like “Detective Comics,” “52,” “Wolverine,” and “The Punisher” (except for that last volume) it’s his work apart from that genre that has been the most memorable. If you’ve never read either volume of “Whiteout” or any his excellent British Intelligence series “Queen & Country,” then you should look into fixing that in the near future. “Lazarus” represents his return to such work, in a different genre but with the same strong female characters and attention to detail. This first volume is an entertaining read even if it doesn’t really show us anything we haven’t seen before.
In the near future the power in the world is controlled by a handful of families. They have their servants, serfs, and everyone else below them is “waste.” However, each family has one member who is trained and physically augmented to protect their interests to whatever extent is necessary. This person is called a Lazarus and Forever is the Family Carlyle’s. After a break-in at one of the Family’s seed vaults is narrowly averted, the most likely suspect appears to be the Family Morrey due to the bad blood between the Families after negotiations between them broke down a couple years back. Forever is sent into their territory to deliver a message with the hopes of defusing the coming war that some members of Family Carlyle so desperately want.
Though “Lazarus” could be defined as science fiction with its futuristic setting and the augmentations each Lazarus has, it’s fairly low-key in that regard. The main focus is on the characters of Family Carlyle and the very dysfunctional dynamics between them. Hotheaded Jonah is the main proponent of going to war with Family Morrey over the break-in and quickly establishes himself as the most unlikeable of the bunch given his derisive attitude to most everyone around him. An exception to that would be his sister Johanna, who clearly inherited her father’s scheming nature. We don’t get to see much of elder brother Stephen here, though it wouldn’t surprise me if his passive nature turns out to be his defining characteristic. There’s also Beth, who acts as Forever’s “manager” and whose all-business exterior masks a pretty violent personality.
As for their father, he makes a fairly strong impression in the one scene that he’s in, and the short at the end of the volume that cements his feelings towards Forever. The man is clever enough to see through most of his children’s pettiness to find a real solution to the problem at hand. Yet this is Forever’s show and while she is devoted to her family, we find out that devotion is more manufactured than anything else. She’s bred to be the family’s sword and shield, but still has a conscience which leads her to doubt her mission when she has to kill waste breaking in to steal some food, or an innocent man to prevent others from being executed. There’s also a fairly large secret that her family is keeping from her, the revelation of which is teased at the end of volume and will appear to drive the story from there. I can’t exactly picture where things are going to go as a result of this, and that’s the way I like it.
All of the character dynamics here keep the story involving even though the world they inhabit is fairly standard issue. Futures where the power has coalesced into the hands of a select few are a dime a dozen, and the fact that there’s plenty of squabbling in these families isn’t a new idea either. The difference between something like this and say, “The Black Beetle,” is that Rucka invests enough detail in the characters to make sure we care about them and what they do. “Lazarus” may not have the visual panache of that title, but I was far more invested in the story here because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Forever and the results of her family’s plotting.
That’s not to say that Michael Lark turns in substandard work here. The man has long been Marvel and DC’s go-to guy for grounded superhero action as seen in his contributions to “Gotham Central” and “Daredevil.” Here, he does a good job realizing the near-future setting of “Lazarus,” making it seem appropriately futuristic while still clearly relatable. Lark also deftly handles the few action sequences in this book while also making sure the more suspenseful scenes, such as Mason’s trailing of Forever, have impact as well. The writer and artist have both worked well together in the past and that trend continues here as well.
In collecting only four issues, this first volume of “Lazarus” is a slim volume. It still manages to pack a good amount of setup and characterization in them to make for a satisfying read. This title may be considerably more low-key than the other big Image launches of the year, yet it’s still plenty satisfying on its own terms.