Drew: There’s a scene late in Lazarus 11 that finds Malcolm Carlyle dictating a message for Forever to deliver. We’ve seen Forever take on the role of messenger/negotiator before, but what’s remarkable here is how open Malcolm is about his means of manipulation. He’s considered every action and reaction that will happen as Forever carries out his orders, and is able to maintain exacting control in spite of being thousands of miles from the actual negotiations. It’s an unsettling display of raw power, but also opens the possibility that Malcolm is himself being manipulated — it would only take a mind equal to Malcolm’s to have anticipated all of his actions here. With all of this subterfuge, it’s easy to see why Forever might question if she’s getting the whole truth from her father about her parentage.
And what of that parentage? Beth puts a rather fine point on Forever’s doubts in a hilariously timed exchange.
I’m not sure what’s better, Beth’s just-a-little-too-long pause, or James’ genuine surprise at her reaction. Artist Michael Lark nails both, but the real magic here is in the pacing — we don’t know what the reaction will be (putting us a little in Forever’s shoes, albeit with a hefty dose of dramatic irony), meaning we’re actually surprised when Beth breaks out laughing (which Lark helpfully gives us a surrogate for in James).
Lark has a lot of these moments in this issue, which is a bit heavier on mood than on plotting. Fortunately, few teams handle a slow burn quite like Lark and Greg Rucka. Take Forever’s doubts, for example. She’s very up-front about them, bringing them up both here, and with Marisol in the next scene, but word doesn’t get back to her father until the end of the issue. Indeed, virtually every scene has a consequent in this issue, though the actual fallout seems to be reserved for some future date. My favorite is the negotiation with Bittner’s Lazarus, which opens with her holding a Carlyle guard at swordpoint for what must have been the better part of a day — at least enough time for Forever to travel from central California to southwest Ontario (which Lark again gooses by showing how the Carlyle men formed a perimeter in the meantime).
Getting back to that question of Forever’s parentage, I’m struck by how much the subject apparently means to her. I mean, either way, her family treats her like a servant, right? It’s kind of the opposite of the normal line about adoption — her family has never treated her like family, so why would it make a difference? Heck, their behavior towards her might even be more palatable if she’s not a blood relation. But then again, I haven’t been genetically engineered to be loyal to what I think is my family. It’s possible the steps the Carlyles took to control Forever might make her more inclined to rebel once she discovers the truth.
Feeling Forever’s desertion as an ever-approaching inevitability, I’m struck at how all of the business with Jonah has laid the groundwork for what she’ll be up against. She can’t flee to a Carlyle ally, who would just return her at Malcolm’s behest, but an enemy has little use for her as anything other than a hostage. That leaves her with few avenues, which makes her budding romance with Joacquim Morray all he more intriguing.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Forever is still loyal to the family, but as I indicated in my introduction, she seems increasingly aware of how she’s being manipulated. Nowhere is this more obvious than Johanna’s lying reminder that Jonah is a liar.
Is she starting to smell Johanna’s bullshit, or is she just conflicted about not trusting her brother? As usual, Lark plays it with impeccable ambiguity, and Rucka seems content to leave us hanging. I suppose we’ll just have to let Forever’s actions reveal what she’s really thinking.
Patrick, we’ve talked a bit about series that might be too big for us to really get our minds around, and I think Lazarus might be one of them. Rucka’s world building keeps getting bigger, but the intra- and inter-family politics seem to be getting ever more subtle. Are you finding the story as elusive as I am? (And if so, is that engaging or frustrating?)
Patrick: I’d never call Lazarus frustrating — Rucka moves far too confidently for me to ever doubt that each moment he depicts has thematic and narrative importance. In fact, that reliance on thematic moments, usually at the expense of moving the plot forward, is exactly what makes this issue so strong. Drew, I love the observation that everyone appears to be manipulating everyone else; it suggests a weird kind of theatre that the families have all bought into. While the wheelings and dealings of the patriarchs are the most obviously manipulative here, I’m interested in the kind of pageantry everyone else engages in, and the consequences for fucking up the so carefully choreographed dance.
Which leads me to Sonja Bittner. SORRY, that’s “Sonja fucking Bittner” to the layman.
First of all, what a cool design on this character. If it weren’t for that hooded red cloak, she’d look like your run-of-the-mill armored future-goon, but that simple color accent makes her look like a goddamn superhero. It’s interesting that Forever wouldn’t have a similar visual signature — it’s like the Bittners are just better at branding their Lazarus than the Carlyles are. These two soldiers recognize Sonja on sight, and they immediately understand how they’re supposed to behave. Of course, it’s also a stressful situation (because what if you mess up!?), which is what leads one of this pair to panic and let a few rounds loose. Sonja’s reaction — a muffled “gnh” — perfectly expresses the obligation she feels to slice up the poor dude who made the mistake of going off-script. Did she need to kill him? Tactically, probably not, but the rules of engagement between families are so clearly stated that her hand was forced.
The same is true when Forever shows up to get the Bitner message. As if to hammer home the point that this exchange is nothing but theatre, the perimeter around Sonja and Forever is decked out with bright lights. We wouldn’t want to miss any of the dramatic revelation that unfold in that circle, would we? And we don’t: once Forever enters the circle, our perspective remains locked at about torso height, giving the reader a strict proscenium viewing of the events as they unfold. There are literally four pages that hold this perspective almost exclusively, breaking away only to show when the conversation is over, or to highlight an obligatorily shocking action.
Yeah, I’m talking about Jonah’s finger.
That’s more of that Lark ambiguity Drew was praising above, but it sure looks like Forever is unaffected by this sight. I know there are a lot of ways to read her reaction here, but I think the most compelling is that she’s bored by this gesture — not that it’s even her place to express boredom. This is transactional: Bittner delivers the finger, and that means the families have to take each other seriously. The best is how little the Carlyles seem to care — especially when this is reported back to Malcolm. Here’s the extent of the conversation about the finger:
Forever: Can’t determine if it’s his finger or not, at least not until I get back to Sequoia.
Malcolm: Oh, I’m sure it is.
…and then they move on! Neither of them can spare half-a-second to reflect on the safety of their family member or the barbarism of their enemies. It’s a move. That dictates a counter-move. Nothing more.
That’s what makes Forever’s doubts about her identity work so well. (Generally, Drew, I’m with you when it comes to questions of parentage. Who cares what people birthed you when it’s clear who raised you?) Forever only understands herself as a cog in this machine, but if she’s legitimately not a Carlyle, then why is she even a piece on the board?
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