Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark
Colour by Santi Arcas
Once a character and his or her world has been established through either an origin plot or any kind of initial story arc, thus providing a series with wind in its sails, the next challenge awaiting the creators is to begin a fresh tale that pits the protagonist or group that the readers have come to know in a new adventure to witness their skill set develop and their personal stories grow. Such is what writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark attempt to do in issues 6 through 10 of their intelligently introduced comic book series, Lazarus. At least, that is what the duo accomplishes in part, leaving another portion of the story for more set-up one hopes will be paid off in the near future.
This time, as opposed to investing the most effort in further establishing the familial dynamics in the Carlyle estate and protagonist Forever’s place within, a multitude of plots are unspooled, chief among them a story involving a set of brand new characters readers previously met briefly in issue 5, the Barret family. They are farmers in Montana whose ranch was the unfortunate victim of a flood. As a result, their estate is tarnished for good, leaving father Joe, mother Bobbie and their teenage children Michael and Leigh with no hope if they remain in Montana. With knowledge that a Lift (a Carlyle initiative by which the family hires new recruits to work for them in a variety of fields from security to medicine) is to occur in Denver in a few days time, they set off by horse, but not before a friend of the family implores them to take his daughter Casey with them. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Forever, the Carlyle family’s chief security officer and daughter of patriarch Malcolm, investigates a looming terrorist attack by a group calling themselves Free.
Having comfortably presented many of the essential details to the world in which Forever lives, Rucka and company opt to play the ever challenging game of juggling multiple storylines at once, even more so than in the first five issues. In addition to the two aforementioned threads, these collection of episodes continue to delve into Forever’s past, with each issue spending the first two to three pages on her childhood and early adolescence when she trained mercilessly under the auspices Marisol, with whom she became good friends during this time. The world building is appreciated, as readers are awarded a behind the scenes look into what made Forever who she is in present day. Even though only a few pages per issue are dedicated to her backstory, a lot is effectively communicated, most notably that, despite her genetic enhancements, she always has been a regular human being at heart. She childishly refers to Malcolm as ‘daddy’ whereas he demands to be addressed as ‘sir’, she worries about the prospect of having to kill Marisol if her father requests, these character details and more say a lot about Forever. The pressure of having to be the ultimate weapon for the Carlyles has, since her earliest years, battled against an innate desire to just be a regular person.
What makes issues 6 through 10 slightly more challenging to get through is the artists’ desire to take some of the focus away from Forever and her family and develop a new series of characters, the Barrets. It isn’t as if they or their plight are completely uninteresting. Their journey from Montana to Denver is filled with challenges and heartbreak, all of which is organically produced out of the general desperation people living in their neck of the woods have to tangle with on a daily basis. When push comes to shove, drastic measures are taken up, and in one terrible instance the Barrets are the victims of a tragic blow. The realities of the plebs, referred as ‘waste’ in Lazarus, is worthy of mention, and in that respect its inclusion in the series certainly holds some value.
On the flip side, it is a bit frustrating to put Forever aside for long stretches of the story. After building her up as such a fascinating creature and continuing to share tidbits of her background, she really does not end up doing a whole lot in present day in issues 6 through 10. Her ability to detect infiltration in a Carlyle compound under the darkness of night in issue 6 is a neat trick, but her role after the small band of wannabe terrorists are caught in the act is frustratingly limited. Sister Johanna, still in her father’s good graces, handles most of the interrogation, preying on the frail psychology of her victim, getting to the heart of how the two parties can work together in order to foil the terrorist plot. While reconvening with the duplicitous Johanna and see one of her many talents on display is nice, it changes nothing of the fact that Forever, sometimes nicknamed ‘Eve’, is much more a background character.
Given that the same team of artists stays on board for this run of issues, not much has changed as far as the book’s aesthetic qualities are concerned. Lazarus continues to sport a strong, diverse colour palette and a smart balance between the level of detail given characters and places and allowing the colours and lighting to share the spotlight in telling the story of a given scene.
On a final note, issue 10 takes a left turn insofar as it relates what happened to Jonah following his thwarted try at usurping supreme Carlyle power. While it obviously takes the focus away from Forever as she does not appear in this issue at all, it is a pertinent and, pending what is to come, an important chapter in the Carlyle saga. Jonah is a slimy bugger, ready and willing to sell out his family to a rival, in this case the Hocks. Little does he know that its patriarch is in no mood to offer comforting shelter to the treacherous Jonah. Nay, there are far more nefarious plans in store for the unsuspecting fugitive.
This set of episodes does not shine through with the same fluidity as did the first five, but in no way does that mean the creators are losing a grip on their project. It seems rather clear that they have big plans in store for Lazarus, ones that depend on a fair amount of set-up. Provided all of this pays off, this stretch of comics can be looked back on even more positively. That, however, remains to be seen.