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Hidden Gems in Comics: Greg Rucka’s Lazarus

The World now lies divided not amongst political or geographical boundaries, but amongst financial ones. Wealth is power, and that power rests with only a handful of Families. The few who provide a service for their ruling Family are cared for. All others are Waste.

I didn’t write the above text; it comes straight from the inside cover of the first issue of Lazarus, a comic book written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Michael Lark.

Lazarus is one of the best comics I’ve ever read and I want to tell you a little more about it.

Hidden Gems in Comics: Greg Rucka’s Lazarus

Greg Rucka tosses readers of Lazarus #1 into the deep end and then lets the fascinating world he built around the characters slowly come into focus. It’s a dystopian near-future where resources are managed by a small number of mafia-like Families. Serving a Family as a Serf is the only protection you can get. The rest of humanity is considered Waste, and are entirely on their own as they are exploited by the Family as they struggle for survival in their domains.

Families rule all with absoluteness, jealously guarding and protecting what they have. So, as a metaphor for the evils of oligarchies and income inequality, Lazarus can’t be beat.

The main character of Lazarus is Forever Carlyle, the Family’s genetically-modified ‘Lazarus’ who defends the Carlyle family’s holdings through military might as their protector. Family above all.

Commentary on class structure has been a significant part of art almost since the age of painting on cave walls with charcoal. Indeed, the dystopian genre of literature continues to be popular to this day, properties like Divergent and The Hunger Games being well-known examples.

In this way, Lazarus might sound like an old story, but the strength of the comic isn’t meant to be in it’s originality. The strength of the comic is Rucka taking the very relevant social commentary of the haves-versus-have-nots and telling it through a fresh and cool blend.

Lazarus simultaneously taps into aspects of medieval serfdom systems, strong female characterization, modern medical science, future tech, mafia life, family dynamics, western elements, and what could be realistic depictions of Navy Seals in action. Good golly, if you want more than that from comics, then we may need to revoke your nerd card.

Rucka’s blending of the above elements into a cool story might become a little more clear if I’d give you a bit of a feel for the comic’s first two runs. (Plus this 4-page short story preview.)

Underrated Comics: Lazarus

The comic’s first run was named Family. The purpose of that short 4-issue run was to introduce characters and the world they live in. It was filled with striking violence, hints of incest, subterfuge, and a whole mess of intrigue. You might think you have family issues, but it’s nothing compared to the daddy issues Forever has.

The first run also introduced readers to the world of Lazarus and all the trappings that surround it. Darned if Rucka doesn’t know how to world build! The setting of Lazarus is fascinating and it only gets more interesting as the comic continues its run. But more on that later.

Much of this first volume is setting up future conflict, hooking the reader and making them want more. That said, there’s absolutely no lack of action here. Most compelling, of course, is the story of Forever and the complicated web of relationships Rucka builds.

Sure, Forever is formidable and capable, and she was genetically designed to be. But she’s also stretching past her supposed limitations. She’s learning about family and what that means. She’s learning about sacrifice and being driven by love. She’s learning that she can make her own decisions.

The second run, Lift, actually weaves together three different stories.

  • First, you have flashback sequences to a young Forever who is training to become the efficient weapon that she is. Beyond a look at young Forever, this story serves to introduce her trainer, Marisol, while highlighting the benefits of serving the Family as a Serf and further paint the picture of Malcolm’s (Forever’s father) cold, calculated ruthlessness.
  • The second story of Lift is the story of Forever doing what she is trained to do: protect her Family by foiling a terrorist plot. (One could argue that the story of the terrorists is actually a 4th story that is woven throughout, but the story is light as contrasted against Forever and the action provided by her team of elite strike-force soldiers.)
  • The final story in the 5-issue Lift arc features the Garrett family. The Garretts are “Waste” and Rucka does a beautiful job of showing how these other 99.99% live and the desperation they feel. 

Hidden Gems in Comics: The Art of Lazarus

I can’t hit ‘publish’ on this post without effusively praising artist Michael Lark. It’s odd to describe the violence of Lazarus as beautiful, but that’s what you get with Lark. The art perfectly illustrates the story. All the characters are well-done and the landscapes are detailed and wonderfully immersive. The muted colors and shadows suit the comic perfectly.

The writer and the artist truly seem to bring out the best in each other in Lazarus.

Finally, if there was ever a comic where it benefits to get the floppies over the collected trade, this is it. I’m a fan of letter columns and you get some of the absolute best back matter with Lazarus, which features additional looks into the creative process and source research.

But that’s not all! Each issue of the floppies give several pages of world-building biographical information. There are detailed histories and timelines printed for the fictional Families that comprise the world of Lazarus. It’s a cool touch, for certain.

Hidden Gems in Comics: Greg Rucka’s Lazarus

The most popular comics are rarely the best ones. As usual, the most popular music wasn’t the best music made. Same for the highest grossing movies (seriously, China, stop watching Transformers; you’re ruining it for the rest of us).

“Best” is rarely the same as “popular.” This means that if you want to find the best comics out there, you’re going to have to avoid the distraction of letting the market decide your purchases. Lazarus is absolutely one of the best comics out there, even though you may not have heard of it.

Even though single floppies are best-suited with Lazarus, the trades are certainly the easiest. Volume 1 is an inexpensive entry. Get it here.

The absolute best deal is the first hard cover that collects all the stories I highlighted above, plus the back matter material. Best $20 you’ll ever spend! Get it here.

Current Lazarus stories have gone to a quarterly trade release. And they are certain to increase in popularity as the Lazarus television show is in production at Amazon.