Lazarus #1

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

If you already read Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s collaboration (plus co-author Ed Brubaker) on Gotham Central back in the day, the fact that Rucka and Lark are teaming up on this new series Lazarus is probably all I need to tell you in order to make you run out and buy a copy right now. But if you haven’t (and if that’s the case, it’s all collected into four volumes and you owe it to yourself to buy it), then you might need some convincing. And either way, here’s the good news: the first issue is excellent.

Rucka and Lark quickly introduce us to a future where a handful of Families rule the planet, and even those Families only take care of a small number of people. And if the Families didn’t already have a strong enough grip on the world? They each have a special enforcer called a Lazarus, with all sorts of special enhancements… including, as the name insinuates, the ability to come back from the dead. As Lazarus #1 opens, we meet Forever Carlyle, the Lazarus of Family Carlyle, who’s starting to doubt what exactly she’s doing for her Family. And of course, that’s only just the beginning of our story…

Rucka’s script for Lazarus #1 in many ways hits all of the notes that it should. We get the basic gist of the world, we get to see what goes on when everything is normal, and we also get the first cracks in that facade. Those cracks, of course, are what’s going to drive Lazarus as a whole and get everything moving. In this case it’s Forever, whose uncomfortable feelings about killing people for Family Carlyle is starting to push all of the wrong buttons. What makes this work in no small part is the environment around her that’s fostering those feelings. When scientist James reports to Jonah Carlyle, he’s just as concerned about including oxycontin into Forever’s bloodstream as he is that Jonah tries to show some warmth towards his sister Forever so that she’ll relax and bond more with the Carlyles. It’s a cold, emotionless setting in Lazarus, and Rucka’s giving us the first glimmerings of Forever’s soul struggling to break free. At the same time, though, she’s still a tool for Family Carlyle for most of the story (even though she’s a Family member); when she threatens to execute a huge number of people if one of them won’t step forward with a confession, it’s not an empty statement. Forever still has a long way to go before she’ll find her humanity, and that’s clearly part of the larger story that we’ll be reading.

Lark’s art works well with Rucka’s script. As mentioned before, they’ve worked together in the past, and the comfort level between the pair shows quite clearly in the finished comic. The opening pages are fast and violent; a series of close-ups of the flare from a gun’s muzzle as shots are fired, the silhouetted figure of a mysterious figure collapsing, and then the revelation that it’s a woman sprawled on the floor dead… until she’s not dead any more. There’s so much that works well here it’s almost impossible to name everything. I love how Lark doesn’t give us any of Forever’s details aside from the outline of her body on the first page; she’s a faceless person going down, with no way to empathize or even worry about this mysterious figure because she’s such a blank slate. And then, before we see her on the second and third pages, we get one clear look at her killers and Lark is able to instantly depict them in a way that you realize that they’re the bad guys, not the person who just went down. There’s something so desperate and nasty about their faces that you instantly know that something’s up. And from there, turning the page, the sprawl of Forever’s body at first seems to be what we’re supposed to be paying attention to, collapsed in a blood snow angel. That is, until you look to the right of the page and you get that final panel of Forever coming back to life, with that look of terror and confusion bursting through her face at us. It’s a dramatic opening, and as good as the script is, it wouldn’t have worked half as well without a talented artist like Lark. And from there, he just keeps going. Laboratories, farms, the insides of helicopters, everything is drawn impeccably and realistically. It’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from Lark, only better.

Lazarus #1 is a great opening to this series, and another in a long line of strong new titles from Image Comics. As much action thriller as it is social commentary, there’s a lot to draw people into Lazarus. Add in a long essay from Rucka about the creation of the series (which is genuinely fascinating reading), and trust me, you don’t want to wait for a collection. Whatever Rucka and Lark want to do with Lazarus, after this first issue I know I’ll stick around to find out. Definitely check this book out.

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