Page 45 Review by Stephen
One of my favourite current comicbooks, this edition collects the third and fourth LAZARUS softcovers along with all the original issues' full-page advertisements from the fictional world itself.
Of LAZARUS VOL 3: CONCLAVE, I wrote:
"The weather's turning. It looks like a storm."
"Is that why you're nervous?"
"There's talk that your Family will go back to Hock."
"It will not happen."
"I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?"
A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family's youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That's what being a Lazarus entails.
If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles' most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.
Then it won't matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever's heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn't happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.
It wouldn't be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL's Michael Lark couldn't convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat. Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock - with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating - interrupts to devastating effect.
Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.
LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.
The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure - the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as "waste" underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You'd surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.
And that's what this instalment's about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you'll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families - or at least their representatives - and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat's Cradle!
But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters' aggravations.
This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn't care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is - much like Professor Stephen Hawking - confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn't mince his words which may include "genetic mistake".
Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn't have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn't have certain compensatory skills. Cristof's comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!
Loyalties, then: Forever's is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?
While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:
"I hope... I hope that was all right."
"I was afraid.... I was afraid I would take of metal and oil."
"That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?"
"Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
"You're my first kiss."
"And second. May I be your third?"
"Joacquim. I may not want to stop."
"I may not want you to."
Of LAZARUS VOL 4: POISON, this:
"I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid."
That's Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana. He's not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: "A patron of holy death."
There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.
Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard's pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means - and most have no means - which involves travelling, In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She's had no training and feels she has no aptitude - all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.
Previously in LAZARUS:
In the not-too far future the world's economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.
It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as "waste".
Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She's been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: "Family Above All."
The structure which Greg Rucka's employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a broadening pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.
And now... for the shooty bits.
Michael Lark's landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That's vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions - in this case a blizzard of snow - and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That's vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers' blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists'.
The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she's made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.
Speaking of revelations, I don't think I've ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It's no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.
"Family Above All."