The nail which sticks out gets hammered down.
Shelby: Two opposing ideas: one, that speaking up about problems is the only way to call attention to them and get them fixed, the other, that maybe standing out from the crowd and speaking out is more dangerous than it’s worth. I am firmly in the former camp; I believe dissent is the first, important step to affect change. After all, if no one knows there’s a problem, how’s it going to get solved? But maybe I only feel that way because I’ve had the luxury of never being in a situation where that would be the more dangerous approach.
The issue opens with a flashback to Forever’s 10th birthday, where she asked to do an extremely difficult fight simulation. Her father is there, but once he finds out she isn’t ready to fight her trainer/nanny/surrogate mom/only friend to the death, he leaves after dropping off her birthday gift.
Present day Forever raids the terrorist cell Emma was a part of, and finds everybody except one terrorist and one large bomb. The Barrets have moved up slightly in the world, as Michael’s basic first aid skills have earned them a place of importance in the convoy of Waste heading to the Lift. Speaking of the Lift, Forever has discovered the missing terrorist Angel is heading to the Lift, presumably to bomb it. With hundreds of thousands of people en route, Forever is understandably interested in canceling the whole shebang. Her father tells her to quit making excuses and just do her job, which is to protect the Family and its interests.
Greg Rucka continues to interweave layers of political intrigue and personal, family drama as this story unfolds. I am most interested in seeing how the Barrets’ story and Forever’s are going to come together. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Forever go rogue and join the rebel terrorists, but I don’t think she has it in her. We saw it last issue, when, after asking Marisol if she would kill Forever at her father’s request, her only response to the affirmative answer was to ask Marisol to not tell her father she cried. Between her genetic modifications and brutal childhood of training and withheld love, I don’t think we’re going to see Forever become the squeaky wheel. I mean, she’s supposed to stand above the rest, and she still gets pounded down.
She was just trying to do her job, and was completely slapped down for it. With the amount of manipulation that goes on behind the scenes in this family, I can’t help but think Forever’s father is putting her in a situation to fail in order to serve some secret plot of his own.
It’s a stark contrast to the Barret family, who is only looking for a way to make things better for their remaining child Michael and his girlfriend, the daughter-in-law in all but name. But even though Michael has this skill which makes him a stronger candidate for the Lift, he was really defensive about it when it was discovered.
It doesn’t make sense for him to be so concerned about getting in trouble; not only can be now help more people, this has got to make him more likely to be Lifted to Serf. It shines a light on how utterly ass-backwards the system in place is, where the Waste spend their entire lives being beaten down by their ruling family, only to be told the only way to end their miserable existence is by standing out above the crowd. Spencer, how do you feel about the Barrets’ chances at the Lift? Do you love the growing tension about both the Lift and the bomb threat as much as I do? I didn’t even touch on Michael Lark’s gorgeous art; how about that acting in the scene between Forever and her Father?
Spencer: Oh man, Shelby, Lark’s acting is always phenomenal to begin with, but that scene specifically is by far the highlight of the issue. Malcolm never lets down his intimidating glare for even a second, and Forever’s running through a veritable flood of emotions — she’s slightly scared of her father, she’s embarrassed by his accusations, she’s worried about her assignment, she’s concerned about the potential loss of life at the Lift — and Lark perfectly portrays all those feelings through the one simple facial expression. It’s obvious how heavy this case is weighing on Forever’s heart.
Shelby, you mentioned thinking that Forever’s father was setting her up, but I’ve got to say, I didn’t read that scene that way. I certainly wouldn’t put it past him — I wouldn’t trust any of the Carlyles as far as I could throw them — but I get the impression that Malcolm genuinely cares about Forever, albeit in a twisted, abusive way; I believe an earlier issue even implies that Forever is the only one of his children that he doesn’t consider a disappointment. That doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t turn on her if she failed — he most definitely would, and that actually makes him scarier — but I don’t get the impression that he’s setting her up for failure in this scene.
I think Malcolm’s concerns are as simple as what he flat-out says: he wants Forever to do her job, to protect the Family and its interests, and that’s it. Forever seemingly wants to shut down the Lift because she’s worried about the loss of “Waste” life that would occur if the bomb detonated, but Malcolm could not care less about the Waste. He’s worried about the bomb possibly harming a member of the Family or sullying his reputation, which is why he will not shut the Lift down — not only does he not care if Waste dies, but shutting down the Lift would be admitting defeat, giving the terrorists exactly what they want, and Malcolm Carlyle would never do that. The contrast between Forever and Malcolm’s perspectives on the situation is pretty stark, and only goes to highlight how utterly screwed up the world of Lazarus truly is.
That said, as horrible as this world is, I just can’t get behind Angel and his band of terrorists. Their cause of trying to take down the Carlyles is noble, but their method — killing thousands of innocent people just as downtrodden as themselves — is abhorrent. Moreover, I don’t think they have the capability to bring about any real change; even if they kill the Carlyles, another family will simply swoop in and claim the territory — and all its Waste — for themselves. The entire world needs to be reformed, and a few kids with a bomb just aren’t cut out for that. Forever might be, but it’s certainly not going to happen with this group of rebels — she may be a killer, but she’s got too much of a conscience to team up with them — and I doubt she’ll make that move for quite some time yet. With her skills, Forever’s one of the few people alive capable of doing any real damage to the families, but she’s still got a lot to learn about herself and the way the world works before she’ll be ready to take that step.
Maybe that’s the Barrets’ role in this series? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they’ll have a satisfying story arc of their own, but they do seem to be in a unique position to show Forever not only the suffering of the Waste in a more personal way, but to expose her to a healthy family dynamic. After all, not only are the Barrets the polar opposite of the Carlyles in every way — but especially in how their family sticks together — but, thanks to their unwitting association with Angel, they seem to be on a collision course with Forever. This is purely conjecture of the wildest variety, but I can totally see it happening.
The one element of this issue I’m having trouble putting my finger on, though, is Forever’s sister, Johanna. In the previous arc she specifically tried to kill Forever, but in this arc she’s been nothing but sweet to her. In fact, she’s been too sweet — many of her bonding moments look suspiciously like she’s trying to trip Forever up.
I don’t doubt that Johanna’s an excellent actress, but considering that Forever’s walking out of the room at this point, she really has no reason to be acting. Ultimately, Rucka and Lark have rendered Jo almost impossible to read, but purposely so, and it makes her a character who is fascinating to think about — I can’t tell if she’s more nuanced than she first let on, or if she’s just excellent at hiding her true self, but either way, I look forward to seeing more of her.
To answer your final question, Shelby, yes, I am very much enjoying the growing tension of this storyline, not to mention just this series in general. The world Rucka and Lark have created is bleak yet fascinating to read about. I’m glad I don’t live there, but I’m ecstatic that I get to spend a little time exploring it each month.
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?