Page 45 Review by Stephen
One of my favourite five monthly comics.
There will be no spoilers here; just enough to intrigue new readers to snap up book one.
"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."