Lazarus 6

lazarus 6

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.

Forever conjugates 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.

Forever notices the chalk line

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.

Forever's Stats

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?

8 comments on “Lazarus 6

  1. Oh jeez Drew, that’s a tough one. I don’t think we are meant to ever sympathize with the Carlyle family. They’re not just a government, they’re like the worst possible mix of government, corporation and nepotistic family. And they’re a clear enough Big Bad that just the looming oppression by the families is enough. Did you read the first letter in the letter section? Where someone suggests that the series could use an alien invasion to spice things up? Like there isn’t enough suffering in this world already.

    • I loved Rucka’s response to that letter. He’s just charitable enough to not call that guy an idiot, but like, does this dude just suggest “alien invasion” for every story he doesn’t like? There may not be any stupid questions, but there sure as shit are stupid suggestions.

      Yeah, I don’t think I want to like the Carlyles, either, but like, aren’t the kids just as much victims of their circumstance as Forever is? They were all born into insane luxury. Forever is definitely more sympathetic because of how hard she worked (and continues to work), and how desperate she is for affection (and honestly, her “siblings” don’t seem to get any more as far as hugs and warmth goes), but her evolving attitudes on fairness are only marginally better than theirs. If Forever can make the transition from evil enforcer to champion of the downtrodden (or whatever her heroic trajectory ends up being), isn’t it conceivable that they should be able to, too?

      Again, I don’t really want this, but I’m always uncomfortable being in the choir being preached to. Rucka and Lark painting an unflattering picture of a third party their audience already hates seems kind of circle-jerky to me, even if that picture is wholly accurate. It might be a little pathological, but I immediately question my own views if they’re held by everyone else in the conversation.

  2. Why does everybody assume the young Forever is a flashback? I can’t take credit for the idea, as I read it in a review of #5 in Dec, but it makes a lot of sense that these scenes are not flashbacks. If Forever is the family defender, the tip of the sword, then how could they go another 15+ years without one if she is killed? Since she’s some future uber-version of a test tube baby, wouldn’t you want to have another one spinning up in reserve.

    There’s a quote about foot soldiers, which says 18 year olds are the best because they are at a physical peak but don’t ask questions. Do the Carlyles really want a 30 year old Lazarus that has had 10 adult years to observe and develop her (/his?) own opinions. Maybe the sweet spot is 15-25 (wasn’t Forever brought to the Morray negotiations at 15?) and you want another one ready to go once the current one hits the end of her (/his?) useful service time. And she wouldn’t have to be killed in action, either, as James and Bethany are constantly adjusting her medications. There would just be one last “adjustment”, and then Forever graduates from training and meets her family for the first time.

    This also makes sense as part of the answer to the question “If you can create someone this powerful, why don’t you make more than one?” For several reasons… First of all, if you make an army of genetically superior soldiers, then what happens when they decide they’re superior in other ways? Okay, no army. So you only make a couple of them, and hit on the idea of Family to emotionally bind them to you. But you’ve still got issues. First of all, there’s sibling rivalry, which will generate unpredictable tensions and allegiances. More importantly, once you’ve got more than one, they’re going to talk to each other. Take Forever’s immediate kinship with Joacquim and multiply it by 100. A better approach is to only have one. That way, they can have a special, unique place in the family, but also be isolated from uncontrolled influences. But, and here’s the key, you don’t just have one. You have one at a time.

    The only hole in this argument would be Forever’s interaction with external people, such as the Daggers. But that could be dealt with by explaining to the new Forever that she did have an older sister that was, unfortunately, killed before they could meet. If there are no recorded pictures of the current Forever save the family photo, which we know has at least two incarnations, then the new one could take the story at face value and never realize she and the older sister were copies. And doesn’t that give a deeper explanation to Bethany’s “She only thinks she’s my sister” quote? If it’s year X+60 and the active service time of a Lazarus is 10 years, Bethany may have already gone through a couple of iterations of the Lazarus.

    One last point to wrap up a the longest comment in the world. Other than the “flashbacks”, the entire story has been told in one constant, forward-moving timeframe. Maybe there’s no “other than”, and we are truly seeing the _entire_ story unfold. If the main point of the “flashbacks” is to show how Forever’s childhood was not a childhood but rather the building of a weapon, then what better way is there to drive the point home other than to reveal that she isn’t really even an individual person, but just the latest version of the Forever Weapon? Plus it would blow people’s heads apart since everybody believed the things they saw, things that were crafted that way intentionally, without really questioning them. Kind of like the Forevers believe the things they see without really questioning them.

    Right or wrong, this post better earn me one of those damn Family patches! 🙂

    • Oh man, that’s a super interesting and super sad theory. To me, Forever represents one little light in this dark Carlyle world; sure, she’s loyal and lethal, but she’s also shown empathy towards others. I feel bad for her and I hope she can power through this horrific system and maybe even help fix it, but if she’s as expendable as you suggest, that is just depressing.

      Did you get your Carlyle patch for your comment?

      • The Carlyle children are 60 years old, and she’s an 18 year old that works for them who thinks she’s their sister. I’m pretty sure _they_ think she’s expendable. But what happens when the expendable super soldier realizes they’re expandable? Nothing good for the status quo, I’d imagine.

        Rucka has said the introduction of Abigail, the mother, will be a major turning point, and there was also a comment somewhere that could be taken as Abigail being a former Lazarus. That would probably make her the first Lazarus, as she and Malcolm were married before year X.

        No patch yet, but it’s only been a day. 🙂 I think I can plead my case when Rucka comes to Emerald City Con in a couple of months.

    • That’s a fascinating theory. It certainly would give the name “Forever” an even more literal meaning than it already has. I did notice a lack of time stamps on the “flashback” tidbits here, but I seem to remember there being some indication that it actually was the past in the previous issue (I’ll confirm this when I get home if nobody else can before then). I was struck by the family photo we see the young Forever looking at in this issue since the family as a whole looks basically the same. That could support your theory (and that that photo is actually a very recent one), but it could also indicate that the family as a whole benefits from some of the same miracle medicine that keeps Forever in peak physical condition (in which case, I’m kind of imagining a surprise physical showdown between Forever and her dad somewhere WAY down the line).

      WAIT. Could the reason the family doesn’t want Forever to appear on TV be because they don’t want her backups to see her? I’m liking this theory more and more…

      • I am spending way too much time (at work) refining this theory, and I just added the “no recorded images” bit. The “explain she had a sister” idea has been modified as follows:

        One hole in this argument would be Forever’s interaction with external people, such as the Daggers. That could be dealt with by explaining to the new Forever that she did have an older sister that was, unfortunately, killed before they could meet. More likely, potential information leaks are addressed by a general “penalty of death” / “speak when spoken to” hierarchy and the “replacement” of anyone the former Lazarus dealt with too closely. The situation would mostly be taken care of by the fact that there are no known public recordings of the Lazarus, and the belief by many that one does not even actually exist. Privately, there is the ever-present
        family photo, but we have already seen that it is adjusted to match each Forever’s view of her family. Incidently, this gives a deeper explanation to Bethany’s “She only thinks she’s my sister” quote. If it’s year X+60 and the active service time of a Lazarus is ten years, Bethany may have already gone through number of versions.

        • It seems entirely possible that any Daggers that Forever has worked with/might recognize would be retired the same time Forever is “decommissioned.” This only happens when the new Forever is mature enough to be indistinguishable from the old one (otherwise, random yokels might know that she’s been replaced, and might spill the beans).

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