Lazarus 4

Alternating Currents: Lazarus 4, Drew and Shelby

Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Lazarus 4, originally released October 2nd, 2013.

Drew: Ah, feudalism. Its simple, incestuous power dynamics make for some fascinating drama. Sure, there can be warring families, but the real dangers are those from within, as family members pit their love for one another against their thirst for power. It completely upends our notions of who we can trust, leaving each member of the ruling class open to betrayal and manipulation. As an effectively immortal killing-machine, Forever Carlyle was always above that kind of base power-grubbing, but Lazarus 4 finds her pulled into the fray with an anonymous tip about her family.

Not that Forever was ever really under any false illusions about some of her family. She knew Jonah had betrayed the Carlyles even before he launched a missile attack on her. Not that it matters — missile attacks tend to not slow Lazari down, and this one is no exception. With cold authority, Forever and Joacqim easily dispatch the soldiers sent to confirm the kill, and Forever speeds back to LA to confront Jonah. Meanwhile, Johanna has figured out a way to cover her own tracks (and potentially Jonah’s), staging a beating to suggest that Jonah acted alone. Jonah has already escaped to Bittner-Hock territory, but Forever is instructed not to pursue — Marcus fears other needs for her on the horizon. That night, Forever receives an anonymous email:

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We’ve known this for a while, but it’s a bombshell for Forever. At least — I think it is. In spite of spending the better part of four issues with her, I still have no idea what her motives are. She’s obviously fiercely loyal to her father, and seeks his approval, but the rest of her family is openly hostile to her — even before Jonah launched that missile. Actually, they are all pretty hostile to one another, too (remember what I said about jockeying for power in the feudal ruling class?), which means that she is more or less one of them. It’s not entirely clear to me what family means to Forever, or exactly how she has her abilities (does she think she was just selected as one of the Carlyle kids to be their personal soldier?), so it’s hard for me to know how this news hits her. It’s obviously a surprise, but perhaps akin to learning you are adopted — sure, she’s not Marcus’ daughter, but that really doesn’t change anything, does it?

Of course, that ambiguity has always been one of my favorite aspects of artist Michael Lark’s work — especially with writer Greg Rucka. Look at Forever’s reaction shot: Lark doesn’t hit us over the head with what she’s feeling — heck, he barely gives any hint — he simply shows us that she’s feeling something. It’s up to us to fill that expression with meaning, forcing us to create rather than identify Forever’s emotions, a move that effectively puts us in her shoes. It’s an interesting tool, as Lark’s work is otherwise typified by immaculate clarity. Much of his style is defined by the noirish moodiness he applies to even the most banal images, loading every scene with meaning beyond what is said.

And holy crap, is this series leaving a lot unsaid. The Carlyle motto, Oderint dum metuant, translates to “Let them hate so long as they fear,” and is often attributed to Caligula, which all sounds a bit oppressive for what we’ve seen of Marcus. Then again, we’ve only seen Marcus through Forever’s eyes. Perhaps he shares more in common with Jonah than he lets on? Of course, at this point, I don’t fear either of them nearly as much as I do Johanna, who shows the true depth of her deceit here. Issue 3 revealed her to be the machiavellian force behind her and Jonah’s machinations, but while it’s one thing to plan from afar, this issue shows just how far she’s willing to go to cover her ass.

Shelby, I’m really loving this series. There’s a lot to talk about — the fact that Joacqim is apparently a terminator, or even more generally about the power corporations have in modern society — but consider this: Forever is the anti-Batman. While Batman is motivated by the absence of his loving parents, Forever is motivated by the presence of a hate-filled non-family. While Forever is immortal, Batman is famously mortal (though even he can’t seem to be killed). While Batman strictly adheres to a no-killing rule, Forever is required to kill because of her father’s rules. Maybe I still just associate Greg Rucka with Batman, but I was struck by just how different Forever is.

Shelby: While I’m intrigued by Forever’s motives as well, I’m more curious about her identity. I don’t mean who she is, I mean who she thinks she is. We’ve known all along she was created in a lab, her body built to be a weapon, to heal from virtually any wound. Hell, she’s even been genetically coded to obey the Family; for all intents and purposes, she’s a robot. She’s been showing glimpses of her own personality showing through, hints of compassion and empathy; these are dangerous traits to have in a mindless killing machine, which begs the question why the Families aren’t protected by mindless killing machines. What is it about her free will and budding idea of self that that is so dangerous Jonah wants to hit her with missiles and so appealing that she wasn’t replaced by a machine long ago?

There are a TON of things to like about this series. One that I am particularly interested in is the Christian symbolism that practically drips off the pages. On the off chance you didn’t do approximately ten years of Sunday School and another four years of high school Youth Group like I did, let’s do a quick run-down. There’s the title, of course: Lazarus was the man Jesus raised from the dead. Considering Forever and Joacquim’s abilities, that one seems pretty straight forward.

forever carlyle

I love the awkward, Romeo/Juliet moments between those two. Since Forever often goes by Eve, the first woman created by God, and Joacquim is the Spanish version of Joachim, father of Mary (as in Blessed Virgin, Mother of Christ), I’m guessing those two have a heavy future ahead of them. Then there’s Jonah, famous in the Old Testament for being an ungrateful dick to God and getting swallowed by a whale for his troubles; Johanna, one of the witness to Christ’s resurrection who’s name means “God is gracious”; Bethany, the village most known for being Lazarus’ home town; St. Stephen, first Christian martyr (does not bode well for brother Steve); James the family geneticist, also one of the first of Jesus’ apostles. The only major player I couldn’t find in the Bible is the patriarch Malcolm, but I’m pretty sure he’s God in this scenario.

Rucka and his team have given us a story that’s one part dystopian future, one part back-stabby fantasy drama, and one part Christian symbolism, topped with awesome action scenes. The cherry on top of that is Forever Carlyle herself, a bad-ass warrior woman (my favorite!) with some serious personal development and discovery ahead of her. Drew, I am also seriously loving this series, and am seriously happy to add it to my monthly pull.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

10 comments on “Lazarus 4

  1. Lots of good catches there as far as Biblical references are concerned, Shelby. It’s interesting to consider in-universe why a family’s protector is referred to as a “Lazarus.” While Jesus totally brought Lazarus back from the dead, it was under the strange condition that Lazarus believe in him. If I can pull scripture for a second:

    ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

    “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”’

    John 11: 25-27

    Maybe it’s a reference to the fact that Forever — despite all of her distrust of the family — really has no other choice but to continue doing their will, otherwise she loses her power? (or worse yet, a reason to use her power)

    • I think she has no choice because she’s never considered it. In addition to being very much a cog in a machine, she’s also been engineered to remain loyal no matter what. Sure, she would probably lose her regenerative abilities if she went on the lamb, but she’d still be an incredibly well-trained killer. Maybe she could live her life as a mortal woman somewhere (maybe with a metal husband)?

  2. Also, I love those two panels of Eve holding that soldier at machete-point. One with the guy pleading for his life, and then a silent one. Drew pointed out how much this series begs the reader to project their own meaning onto the page, and that’s an amazing fucking example. Is she considering mercy? Weighing the severity of her reaction? Or maybe just waiting to see if he had something more to say before running him through?

    • It’s that same space Rucka and Larkin leave for projecting meaning that made Gotham Central so special. I mean, they’re also fantastic police procedurals, but I think a big part of the work that makes the characters so relateable is done by the reader. That’s one of my favorite qualities of storytelling, and Rucka and Larkin are exceptional at it.

  3. Man, I am really not up to date on my scripture and wouldn’t have noticed any of these references. As cool as the concept is though, I hope that it won’t foreshadow the actual conclusion for those characters, otherwise it kind of kills the suspense of the whole series (although it’S good enough that I would probably read it even if I knew the end point today).

    • You know, I’m never totally sure what to make of biblical allusions, but I think they’re rarely so direct as to have a character named David fight a giant or something — we’ve already read that story (or, you know, chosen not to). More than anything, I think these biblical names are meant to represent the conservativism of the Carlyle family — it strikes me as a very WASP-y. That said, I think Shelby found some fantastic parallels, and a title like “Lazarus” kind of begs us to consider them. It’s unsettling to think that Marcus might be God in this equation, and that his rising-from-the-dead child might be asked to act out his much less benevolent will.

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