Today, Drew and Ryan are discussing Lazarus 12, originally released October 22nd, 2014.
‘Inspire a generation’ is our motto. Not necessarily ‘Create a generation’ … which is what they sometimes get up to in the Olympic village.
London Mayor Boris Johnson on the 2012 Olympics
Drew: The bacchanalian nature of the Olympic village is well-documented, with anecdotes about the athletes’ exploits reaching near-legendary status, but even without all of the stories, the orgiastic qualities of the village should come as no surprise — what else would you expect of an international group of twenty-somethings in peak physical condition with little else to do? Throw in the fact that any given day, somebody is celebrating the most important win of their lives, and you have an obvious recipe for partying. Curiously, this is exactly the situation the Lazari find themselves in in Lazarus 12. With their families preoccupied with the formalities and strategies of the conclave, the Lazari are left with little to do other than admire each other’s super-human bodies. The result is a decidedly lighter — and alluring — respite amidst all of the tension of the conclave.
The issue opens with Malcolm’s meeting with an advisor, as the two try to figure out which families can be counted on to stand with them, and which will likely align with Hock. Malcolm continues his streak of uncanny predictions, but my big takeaway from that scene is Malcolm asking for Forever’s advice. I can’t deny that Malcolm may well be buttering Forever up to smooth over the whole “am I part of the family?” question that plagued her last month, but either way, she acquits herself quite well.
The content of the advice doesn’t matter (though, true to form, writer Greg Rucka justifies every word here by issue end) — this serves to remind us how mentally capable Forever is. We know she’s a brilliant tactician, but apparently, her most noteworthy qualification to be giving advice here is that she’s been listening to this discussion “all morning.” Still, she gives thoughtful, considered advice that Malcolm (and the advisor) seem to value equally.
When Malcolm dismisses Forever, he suggests that she relax a bit, but having never done that in her whole life, she instead heads down to the gym. Of course, the other Lazari (receiving similar directives from their families) have the same idea, giving them the chance to bounce off one another.
There’s a lot going on here: the otherwise-alienated Lazari finding company in one another, the palpable sexual tension, and their apparent awkwardness with that tension. This sequence emphasizes their physical prowess, but it also hints at their social ineptitude — they’ve been taught in the ways of manners (which again, Rucka establishes with the upmost efficiency), but have no experience when it comes to romantic desires of their own. Artist Michael Lark’s knack for body language shines in this sequence, as “Sonja fucking Bittner” — the terrifying force of death from last month’s issue — is reduced to bashful stammering.
Even better is Forever’s utter ineptitude when it comes to preparing for the grand ball. Her fear of looking stupid makes her sound more like a middle-schooler than an unkillable one-woman army. That middle-school parallel is emphasized throughout the ball, as Lark fixates on her discomfort, even as she and Joacquim take to the dance floor.
It’s an interesting little arc — a kind of coming-of-age story for an otherwise adult character. I hesitate to draw any connections to Forever’s social retardation and her genetic/psychological loyalty programming — if anything, I think it’s more closely related to her having been utterly sheltered from these kinds of situations. Indeed, James doesn’t even know how to tie his own tie, a subtle reminder of how rare social occasions like this are in the world of Lazarus.
Intriguingly, Forever’s social maturation is followed immediately by Jakob Hock’s reveal that he’s apparently cracked the longevity code, which he does by asking her to dance. It’s an clear enough way for him to draw a line from her vitality to his own, but I can’t help but read their exchange as a kind of Freudian declaration of Hock’s sexual dominance. After all, this issue takes pains to demonstrate Forever’s maturity in mind, body, and eventually, social carriage, but makes it clear that she’s just mature, turning her into a kind of totem of sexual maturity. What better way for Hock to assert his dominance than to dance with this most eligible bachelorette?
My meager attempts at psychoanalytic theory aside, I recognize that my Forever-focused reading isn’t the only way to approach this issue. I didn’t even mention Jonah’s imprisonment, or any of the intrigue we catch glimpses of at the ball. I don’t know, Ryan, were you must struck by Forever’s emotional journey here, or all of the subtle plot machinations? This series is one of the best at juggling both, so it’s always rewarding, either way.
Ryan: Drew, I am right there with you in regards to being locked into Forever’s voyage. I quietly celebrate with Forever the small moments of validation she receives from her patriarch, Malcom — whether or not these instances are genuine or part of his schemes. This, I would hazard, plays directly into Rucka’s goal of putting readers squarely on the side of the series’ titular characters. In fact, aside from the bleeding-heart “serfs who lost everything to the flood” characters, the Lazari are the most sympathetic players in the comic. The audience and these super soldiers both are teased with true moments wherein the Lazari can sheathe their swords and savor elusive moments of humanity in a world which demands from them perpetual perfection and bellicosity (which, I realize after typing, is apparently a real word). Remember that beautiful, romantic sunset which Forever and Joacquim almost shared before an airstrike blew them both to Heck? This issue provides small windows of respite, as these two potential love-birds create an instant of intimacy on the dance floor, in what I believe is the first non-combat instance of physical contact between two Lazari. Per usual, however, the overarching conflicts between the families interrupt the courtship.
The plot, due to Drew’s aforementioned machinations, moves at a break-neck pace — interminable and methodical. These happenings, to me, provide the set pieces for Forever and her character journey. In a way, reading Lazarus reminds me of watching Game of Thrones. Both demand attention to grandiose conflicts and intrigue stretching across the entirety of the established world. Both feature main characters committing incest: the taboo which vies closely with cannibalism for the title of “cringe-worthiest”. Both also feature the main political parties being divided by family or house, all featuring smartly designed crests as seen in the banners.
The dynastic struggles in both series handily stay one step ahead of the reader. However, am I the only one who predominately watches to see what Tyrion Lannister will do next, or read to find out whether or not Forever will discover her true lineage? The rest are the given circumstances which dictate the gauntlets in the way of the characters’ pursuit of their ultimate objectives.
Do not get me wrong: the larger story being told is great. I find it so compelling partially due to the incredible detail Rucka and Lark include throughout the pages. For instance in this issue, the hyper luxurious Triton One facility’s rooms are adorned with collections of classic art.
This is impressive for two reasons. First of all, having Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte by Georges Seurat on the wall tells us that, despite the dystopic, feudal future of Lazarus, the past, up to some undisclosed point, happened as it has in our real world. What, then, was the catalyst to this severe departure and usurpation of the current hierarchies in the 21st Century? The skeletons of many of the America’s largest cities seen thus far allude to a serious confrontation, but little else is known. Color me intrigued.
Secondly, the subliminal statements made by the artistic curation in the rooms of the suites make for thought-provoking nuance. As seen before, the backdrop to Malcom Carlyle is the well-known impressionistic/pointillistic piece. Conversely, Jakob Hock prepares for the gala in front of the more obscure cubist piece Violin and Candlestick by Georges Braque. I’d like to think that the choices were very intentional. Impressionism, while originally drawing criticism by the contemporary art communities, plays as more fundamentally sound and safe than the extremely avant-garde Cubist movement. The former assembles and blends disparate colors to form an image, while the latter breaks and deconstructs. While this observation may be a bit of a reach, I find it to be extremely interesting, especially considering Hock’s revelation in the last panels of the comic.
As well-played as the political maneuverings in Lazarus are, it is the development of Forever and her ilk which keep me picking up this title each week. Furthermore, for all of the talk of “family” by the politicos, Forever and the other Lazari inherently can find comfort, commiseration, and company only in each other. The sense of “otherness” here is palpable and unavoidable. This reader thrills at the idea of an alienated cadre of impervious commando-assassins turning against the corrupt feudalistic systems that created them. Has Rucka already begun planting the seeds of this with Forever’s questioning, or will the ubermenschs forever remain pawns to the selfish 0.001%-ers? Only one thing is for sure as we move forward:
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?
Ryan, if you’re curious about the timeline of Lazarus (and approximately when that timeline enters the realm of speculative fiction), you should be sure to check out the backmatter of each issue. Rucka has provided some remarkably detailed timelines, as well as histories of many of the families. He also responds to letters (and Lazarus readers write some of the best questions I’ve ever seen run in a comic), and writes little essays about everything that points towards Lazarus becoming a reality, from advancements in medical science to legislation that favors corporations. It’s definitely worth a look.
Lazarus and Sex Criminals are the best letters columns on the stand. Both columns are almost as enjoyable of a read as the books they come in, and that’s saying something, cause both books are some of the best around themselves. I guess if you create something thought provoking, like-minded people will usually respond.