Spencer: There’s a certain rush that comes with new stories, with watching a whole world full of new characters and relationships being established right before your eyes, but it’s a rush that by definition can’t last forever, and late-series attempts to keep things fresh often misfire. The answer isn’t continually adding new characters and concepts, which can often leave a story feeling bloated and distract from its core themes; the best storytellers know the power that comes from mixing up established relationships, throwing together characters who have never really interacted before, and finding new perspectives to view their cast through. Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus is well into its second year and fourth storyline, and it’s exactly these kind of techniques that keeps issue 18 feeling as compelling as ever.
The most obvious example of this in Lazarus 18 is Michael Barrett. His entire life recently has been full of change — losing his sister, being lifted from “waste” to serf, going to school and discovering his “genius” — but by far the biggest comes when he discovers that he’s been brought to the Carlyle headquarters to cure Malcolm Carlyle. Michael should certainly feel honored that Bethany and James have that much faith in him, but he no doubt feels even more frightened. Being tasked to cure the leader of his country puts him under a lot of pressure, especially when he’s already unsure of himself and especially when he knows how deadly the consequences could be should he fail.
Yet, as drastic and important as these new changes in Michael’s life are, to me the most interesting moment in this issue is a much more low-key one: when Michael meets Marisol and Sonja.
The pairing of Marisol and Sonja already reveals new aspects of both characters — characters who were, prior to this, mainly defined by their relationships with Forever. Introducing them to Michael only further mixes things up. Both these characters create a link between Michael and Forever — a character who Michael has yet to interact with — but that’s something that probably won’t happen until far in the future. For now, while Michael’s feelings in the final panel are left ambiguous in typical Lark fashion, it’s clear that they’re making him feel something, and I’m jazzed to see where this leads.
While Michael’s portions of the issue follow the “throwing together characters who have never interacted before” model, Johanna’s instead revisits a pairing we haven’t seen in quite a while.
This is the first time Johanna and Mason have been reunited since the first arc, and the scene reveals some slight changes to their dynamic: now Mason is carrying out Johanna’s plan for his own benefit, not out of loyalty to/fear of Johanna. Beneath the surface, though, what this scene shows is how little has actually changed between these two, especially when it comes to Johanna’s manipulativeness; she clearly knows how to twist Mason around her finger no matter what the circumstances.
Forever too spends much of this issue doing what she does best — being a one-woman army — but we mostly see her exploits through the eyes of her new unit. Lark and Rucka continue to create fight scenes that put Forever’s skill, stealth, and ruthlessness on full display, and it’s masterful. That opening fight especially is a masterclass in stealth and pacing, giving us no sign that anything’s wrong until we get to a severed head, and then slowly ramping up the tension until things finally explode in flash of violence.
Despite its brevity, though, the second fight scene may be even better.
Although it’s easy enough to piece together how each panel flows into the next, Lark isn’t all that worried about depicting smooth choreography and movement here — this is straight-up a montage, just focused on cutting from kill to kill. I get the feeling that we’re seeing this battle as Forever’s unit sees it: Forever effortlessly slaughtering soldiers with her every movement. While Lark’s art alone has been enough to make sure that the readers always see Forever as absolutely deadly, seeing this moment through the eyes of her underlings helps remind us of how truly dangerous Forever is compared to even a standard soldier, and it progresses the relationship between Forever and her unit, who mostly seemed to resent her up until this moment.
The exception to that, of course, is Casey Solomon, who only became a serf because of Forever, but isn’t even sure if Forever remembers meeting her. She does, of course, recalling Casey’s bravery in a moment that not only reminds us of the humanity beneath the killing machine, but forges a bond between Forever and at least one member of her unit. That bond may be more important than ever after the issue’s cliffhanger, which finds Forever shot in the head!
As Rucka points out in the letters page, Forever is practically immortal, but if there’s one thing that can kill even immortals, it’s a shot to the head — plus, Forever is in battle and far from James, who the issue points out is a bit distracted at the moment. Even setting Forever’s safety aside, it’s still a legitimately shocking cliffhanger, and a welcome change in tone and pace after a somewhat slower issue than usual. Outside of the scene with Stephen (which feels a bit like a rehash of last month’s similar moment, and doesn’t really reveal anything new about Stephen), that isn’t a bad thing, as everything this issue sets up is quite intriguing and phenomenally well told, as always, but it is nice to end the issue with a bit of payoff. In a way, this entire issue feels like Rucka and Lark ensuring us that, even in the middle of a storyline and even this far into the series, they’ve got plenty of smart ideas up their sleeves, and that’s great to see.
Ryan! I can’t wait to see your take on the Carlyle family drama, the war, or whatever else from this issue caught your fancy. As dense as this book is, I’m sure you’ve got plenty to talk about.
Ryan: I am right there with you, Spencer; I, too, stand shocked at Forever being shot. It’s just not something you expect. In the same way that one does not worry when a Jedi faces down a throng of bumbling combat droids, there is normally no tension when someone as skilled in combat and enhanced with “gifts” like Forever faces a vanilla footsoldier. No, the dramatic tension — or so we have been trained — should be reserved exclusively for the super-fights with other ultimate badasses like Sonja Bittner, especially after two fight scenes depicting Forever at her most wraith-like and savage. It reminds me of the quote from Apocalypse Now, wherein the main character describes Colonel Kilgore (the “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” guy): “He was just one of those guys with that weird light around him. You just knew he wasn’t gonna get so much as a scratch here.”
But how foolish of us to be lulled into such a naïve sense of security! The first pages of the first issue of Lazarus depict Forever being shot repeatedly in the chest and lungs by common Waste stealing food from one of the Carlyle residences. Also, a shot to the head would not normally be that big of a deal for Forever, as alluded to in a pull from issue #1:
Like Spencer said, though, Forever does not have access to the fancy labs and James this time, nor has she been a good little girl and taking all of her meds, meaning that her induced pluripotent stem cells which allow her to generate new tissue and bone may not work to plan. Ultimately, this physical trauma which Rucka and Lark just put Forever through will most likely be a large step down the path towards unraveling a demi-goddess, or at least dismantling her world view.
I am very interested in the role which Casey Solomon will play in Forever’s rehabilitation. Corporal Solomon has proven her ability to follow and enforce orders through the chain of command, no questions asked, if she finds herself in a situation where she must choose between the Carlyle family and the possible splinter agent of Forever, with whom will Solomon’s loyalties land? Until then, I am enjoying the squad dynamic, as clichéd as it is to have the hard-nosed leader, the green-as-goose-shit new guy, and the jaded, Corporal Hudson from Aliens analog who thinks that the operation sucks. And his snark serves as perfect exposition!
Lazarus has really been keeping things fresh. Consistently. Sometimes it is a soap opera drama of familial plotting a la Hamlet, other times it takes the form of an elaborate spy thriller, deserving the title of “Operation: Bad Habit” (nun joke, lol). The first few issues convinced me that most of its allure would be derived from the “WHEN TITANS COLLIDE” appeal of Lazarai vs Lazarai, but that formula has been successfully supplanted many times, and most recently with issue 17 and 18’s squad-based, tactical, behind-enemy-lines action. Rucka and Lark go out of their way to keep the rising very interesting and varied during this arc, while promising some huge status-quo changes in the future. Spencer, I’m definitely feeling the rush, as well.
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?