Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Lazarus 6, originally released February 4th, 2014.
Patrick: Matt Groening had been writing and drawing his comic strip, Life In Hell, for five years before The Los Angeles Way of Death caught the attention of James L. Brooks. Brooks had received a framed copy on the strip and the simple message of the piece eventually lead him to mentor Groening, ultimately developing The Simpsons together. That’s a Cliff Notes version of their history, but that specific Life In Hell strip is notorious for all the right reasons — a quick, clear series of images that expressed the existential slog of living and working in LA, but without being beholden to any narrative, save that which the reader projected onto it. There are clever observations throughout — like that “Gun” and “Cop” are basically the same drawing, or that “Sea” and “Air” are both true and elemental (come to think of it, Fire and Earthquake would also fit) — but the most poignant panels are the last two: “Failure” and “Success.” Both are prisons in their own right, and the uber class system at play in Lazarus makes the similarity between these apparent opposites explicit.
Her faith in her family momentarily shaken, Forever takes up the job of improving security at Johanna’s South Central revitalization project. While on a patrol, she notices that a specific shipping container is marked, so she decides to perch herself on top for the night. It isn’t long before some riff-raff attempt to boost the contents, using their friend to sexually distract the guards. Forever watches as the thieves get away with their loot intact, and then rains down justice… on the guards who were nascent in their duties for the affections of a pretty girl.
The issue begins by reminding us just how capable Forever is. It’s a flashback to young Forever-in-training, and it’s even more superfluous than you might expect. She’s not just succeeding in her training and conditioning, she’s miles ahead of where any of the scientists expected her to be. She’s not just doing push-ups before bed, she’s doing push-ups on her thumbs while conjugating Latin verbs.
Those are “to rule” and “to guard,” respectively — so even when she’s doing something as academic and bookish as learning a dead language, her programming is right on the money. And this is her as a child. Greg Rucka knows that he needs to reinforce the character’s intelligence before the next scene, when Forever wakes up in the present, with a “that’s not your family” text still on her phone. It’s an odd moment, and one that Forever shrugs off — or willfully dismisses — by telling the stranger on the other end that “you’re wrong.” Mind you, she’s also looking in the mirror when she says this, so maybe she’ not as confident in that assessment as she lets on.
The competence parade continues with adult Forever: I love this mostly silent sequence where she surveys the work site. Michael Lark pulls off an absolutely amazing trick with the tagged shipping container. First, we’re lured into a false sense of monotony by Forever’s tour — it’s nearly two pages of her walking around without incident. But one of those panels shows she container with a yellow mark near the door. It’s small, and imminently missable, I know I didn’t catch it until after Forever did.
That night, she watches the whole scene go down, literally from on top of the crime scene. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around why she lets it play out at all — Eve is more than capable of flipping off the crate and dispensing some slicey justice. So what stays her hand? Is she just letting them go so she can trace this singular crime back to its revolutionary genesis? Does she empathize with someone trying to take a stand against the Carlyle family? Or is she just too charmed by this clumsy band of bumbling criminals? Maybe there’s something about them being underdogs, or so victimized that even when they’re deceiving the guards, they can only do so by offering up sex with one of their own. Whatever the case, Forever has to do something about them, even though she doesn’t want to, because it’s her job as the Lazarus to do so. And she just happens to be fucking awesome at it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Joe and Bobbie Barrett. They’ve been repeatedly crushed by a system that allows for basically zero upward mobility. By the absurd metrics of their own society, they are failures, and have to choose between being in debt forever and risking everything to taking their children to the Carlyle stronghold in Denver to try to up-class their children to serf-status. I guess that’s technically opportunity, but — ugh — walking for 500 miles on the extremely outside chance their children can be lifted out of the Waste is pretty grim.
Drew, does it seem to you like everyone is playing out weird little fatalistic scripts dictated by their class? By all rights, that “This is not your family text” should jibe with Forever’s memories to make her question her loyalties, but… well, I’m not sure that it does. She’s trapped by her success as Lazarus.
Drew: You’re absolutely right to question exactly what Forever is believing right now — Lark’s art here is a masterclass in precise ambiguity — but I’m coming down on the side that she is questioning her loyalties. That flashback is largely for our benefit (most of it focuses on a conversation Forever wasn’t there for), but the jump cut suggests that Eve was thinking about how her family never made time for her growing up. Those memories and the mysterious text message have seeded some actual doubt, which I suspect is why she didn’t rush to slicing and dicing the thieving waste.
That is to say, it’s her job to protect family interests, and while some kind of investigation into where stolen goods end up is entirely consistent with that, the first issue revealed that her normal response is just to kill the thieves upon catching them in the act (though maybe she comes down heavier on them if they kill her first). She’s been questioning this “shoot first, don’t ask questions” approach from the very first issue, but this is the first opportunity she’s had to actually not kill the people. Perhaps it’s just empathy rearing its head for the first time in her life, but I can’t help but wonder if Forever’s interest in where the Waste are taking their stolen goods (two acetylene tanks, of all things) isn’t at least a little for her own sake — less to close a case than to see how the other half lives. Is that because she intends to jump ship? She’s probably not ready for that just yet, but might be a step closer after seeing just how desperate her family has made the majority of people in LA.
Oh right, Forever’s present day stuff is all set in LA, which seems like an ideal setting for a parable about a hyper-stratified society. It’s also the ideal setting for introducing the notion of the Carlyle family’s public image, which is as carefully crafted as anything else in LA. Notably, Forever is never on camera. Whether that is to preserve the Carlyle image as a company not preparing to hack your limbs off, or to preserve Forever’s mythological qualities (effectively making the prospect of having your limbs hacked off scarier) isn’t entirely clear, but as with so many scary corporate secrets, it could be both: immoral activity the company can publicly deny, but is known enough to serve as an effective threat.
For me, the omnipresence of the Carlyle name is the most disturbing part of this issue. Forever notably doesn’t finish conjugating custodire, getting cut off before “custodiunt” or “they watch.” She considers herself a part of the family — part of the group that rules and watches — but in fact, she’s likely the most put-upon and closely monitored person in all of Carlyle’s domain.
That’s not to say that other folks — including Waste — aren’t monitored. Indeed, Rucka details a bit more about The Post, the entertainment/communications device we see in the Barret’s home. Like so many TVs in distopian futures, The Post is always watching and listening, a notion that Rucaka points out isn’t even fiction anymore, with devices like the XBox One actually in actual peoples’ homes.
Speaking of the Barrets, I have to agree that their prospects are pretty grim, though it seems they are destined to run into our other major players somehow. What’s interesting to me here is how much more willing I am to excuse a one-sided narrative when the villain is a corporation. Like, a story that only made the villains look like scary, manipulative assholes might otherwise strike me as lazy, or at least lacking in the kind of subtlety that makes Rucka’s works so engaging. It’s early yet, but I doubt Rucka will find any sympathy for the Carlyles. Not that I necessarily want him to — I think few would disagree that massive exploitive corporations that put their bottom lines above humanity are evil — but I think this would give me pause if the situation was different. I’m struggling to draw conclusions about that particular point, so I suppose I’ll leave that to the comments. Do we want to sympathize with the Carlyles?
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?