Review: Lazarus Vol. 2: Lift trade paperback (Image Comics)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's Lazarus is many things -- family saga, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, crime drama (and that's all without mentioning the invincible sword-wielding ninjas), and above all eminently, eminently enjoyable. Rucka's first volume packed a riveting story into just four issues; at five issues, Lazarus Vol. 2: Lift decompresses just enough to give readers a greater look at the world in which Lazarus exists, while at the same time not taking away from protagonist extraordinaire Forever Carlyle.

Greg Rucka fans, go read Lazarus. Gotham Central fans, go read Lazarus. Y: The Last Man fans, go read Lazarus. Secret Six fans, go read Lazarus. Everybody, go read Lazarus. I just can't say enough good things about it.

[Review contains spoilers]

Rucka rather wisely here backs away from the cliffhangers of Lazarus Vol. 1, instead letting Forever's reaction to the idea that she might not be Family Carlyle play out subliminally, in the choices she makes and the flashbacks to her childhood. Even Johanna Carlyle, seemingly the villain of the piece, is largely un-villainous in these pages, working with and showing perhaps genuine care for her "sister" Forever. As befits a creator-owned title such as this, Rucka seems in no rush to bring the big drama quickly, instead letting the emotional resonances, rather than conflict, drive the story.

As well, much as one would expect from a Greg Rucka work, Lift blurs Lazarus's lines between hero and villain. Forever is by no means angelic, turning a rival family's soldiers on one of their own in a gruesome early scene; she and Johanna use non-violent coercion to coax out plans for a bomb from the civilian "waste" Emma, but then Forever doesn't hesitate to "break" one of Emma's friends in interrogation. It would be easy to see the Family as unfeeling oppressors of the "serf" and "waste" classes -- and to a large extent, they are -- but at the same time the Family rules by a strict sense of honor that defends the innocent and, in the case of Lift, even results in an unexpected happy ending.

Lift's bomb threat plot evolves slowly, focused as the story is in large part on the plight of a Waste family, the Barrets, coming out of Montana. Here again, Rucka takes his time, introducing the family not just when they've joined the procession to try out to be "lifted" to serf status by the Carlyles, but earlier, when a flood comes and they risk losing their farm. (Said "procession" is illustrated masterfully by Lark, somewhere between a cataclysmic traffic jam and a desert festival wonderland.) I'm not sure if the family is just a set piece to demonstrate to the reader the lives of the Waste in Lazarus or if they'll appear again, but Rucka works slowly to make sure we'll care about them. Rucka plays against post-apocalyptic type, revealing that the Waste are not the unwashed lowest of the low, as is often the case in these stories, but rather that they're educated and keep shelves of books, for instance. The family's plight, with their house washed away by a storm, hews fairly close to reality, as a matter of fact, making them all the more relatable.

The first volume of Lazarus ended suspensefully but not necessarily tragically, but after we see the Barret daughter murdered, the father shot, and young Michael Barret's girlfriend dismissed from the Lift selection (and then seemingly also murdered), I definitely thought the book would end with just Michael rising to serf status and leaving his family behind. That the whole family ultimately succeeds in becoming serfs is again an example of the book playing against type, and also another example of the Carlyles' unexpected, almost bizarre magnanimity. Even this idea of the Carlyles sponsoring a Lift to raise Waste up to serfs suggests a recognition among the Carlyles of a utility of all people, regardless of status, which is hardly what we'd expect when they call their kingdom's largest subgroup "waste."

Lazarus tells its stories in an unusual space between what we know and what we don't know. We don't know what happened to the world, we don't know how far removed it is from our own time, we don't know how many Families there are, we don't know how every Family came to have a Lazarus or really what a Lazarus is made of; at the same time we're up to date enough on the immediate conflicts and issues for Rucka to be able to tell a readable story. Lift's flashbacks teeter just on the edge of answering some of these questions, then don't; we see Forever's training and the start of her slavish, brainwashed loyalty to her father, but the real answers lie just a hair's breadth away, before these flashbacks -- who is Forever (my guess is she's a Waste) and how did she come to be associated with the Carlyle family? Here again, Rucka takes his time, which is fine so long as there's the promise of more Lazarus stories to come.

There's a lot of creator-owned series I like right now, including Lazarus, Mind MGMT, Sex Criminals, and Saga. Of those four, however, I think Lazarus is the most accessible (Saga being by far the funniest), with the four-issue first trade and familiar sci-fi tropes, even if Greg Rucka keeps knocking them down (I described Lazarus in my last review as "Downton Abbey with ninjas," and I stand by that). Lazarus Vol. 2: Lift upheld all the promise of the first volume, and I implore you all to check it out as we wait for the third collection.

[Includes cover thumbnails]

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4 comments:

  1. Did you just say that "Saga" is funnier than "Sex Criminals"? I think you might have just instigated the Tumblr Comics Civil War. Just wait until the "Wicked + Divine" and "Chew" factions get involved...

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    1. Probably I insulted Kirk Kiefer's religion there, too.

      But yeah, in composing the sentence, I was thinking how accessible Lazarus is, and then I thought, "But more than Saga?" Mind MGMT is definitely not accessible, and Sex Criminals ... loved that book, but it's not what I'd hand your average Captain America movie fan and say, "You'll like this, too." Saga is not so hard to get into, but then again it's a bit ribald itself. That knocks it down just a bit in the "accessible" category.

      Saga ... if I had to take a non-DC book to a desert island, it would probably be Saga, and when I was thinking about what puts Saga over all the others for me, it's the creativity and the heart and the ribaldness, but what came to me is, the book is funny. I think I can confidently say every joke in Saga lands for me; with Sex Criminals, maybe two out of three land for me? So that's why I wrote what I did. Your results may vary and all that.

      What's that? Tumblr Comics Civil War? That Tumblr address is '80s Marvel Rocks, yeah ...

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  2. Regarding a timeline for Lazarus, at least in the single issue version you get a timeline for all events leading to the dystopian world and the world described in X-45 feels very 2020-ish.
    Taken into account that the families devided the world 65 years ago we must assume that Lazarus is set in the year X+65.

    The world described in X-45 in the timeline has a 2020 - 2030 feel so we can establish that Lazarus is set somewhere around 2130 - 2140.

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