By Spencer Irwin and Ryan Desaulniers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: An interlude is meant to be a break, a diversion, something different from the norm. In the case of Lazarus 27 — specifically billed as part one of a two-part interlude — it means that Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are taking a break from the story of Forever Carlyle to instead focus on her brother Jonah. Jonah’s adventure isn’t just an interlude for readers, though; it’s one for Jonah as well, a chance for him to experience a lifestyle far different than anything he’s ever seen before. Unfortunately, like most interludes, I fear this experience may be a temporary one for Jonah.
Lazarus 27 is a strangely-timed interlude, though. It’s been over a year since the last regular issue of Lazarus was released, and once this story concludes, the series will be moving to a quarterly publishing schedule, meaning it will be close to 19 months since the last installment of Forever’s adventures before we eventually return to her story. Moreover, the kind of story told in this issue — one focused on a minor character instead of Forever — feels closer to an issue of Lazarus X+66 than something that belongs in the main series. I’m going to trust in Rucka and assume he’s made these choices for a good reason, but in the meantime, there’s one other excellent reason for telling this particular story in the pages of Lazarus proper: the returning regular art team of Michael Lark and Santi Arcas.
We’ve long lavished effusive praise on Lark’s work here at Retcon Punch — and he’s deserved every word of it — yet I still find myself blown away by his work on this issue. Lazarus 27 isn’t necessarily as impressive in terms of structure as that Forever/Sonja fight I just linked to, but on a pure, aesthetic level it’s quite possibly the most visually stunning issue of Lazarus Lark and Arcas have ever produced. Every page is rich in color and especially texture; I feel like I could reach right out and touch the ocean in most panels, and several times Arcas treats us to absolutely jaw-dropping sunsets.
It’s the very fact that this issue is an interlude that gives Lark and Arcas the opportunity to create scenes like this; Scandinavia, especially the peaceful village Jonah washes up in, is a world away from the clinical labs and bunkers and gritty, war-torn landscapes so much of Lazarus has revolved around. The change of scenery has got to be as refreshing for the creative team as it is for readers.
More importantly from a story standpoint, it’s just as refreshing and rejuvenating for Jonah. After being spared by Forever and set afloat in the ocean, Jonah is rescued by Bittner fisherman named Jens and his family. Despite the danger he could pose, they take him in and make him one of the family. It’s a remarkable act of compassion on Jens’ behalf — he offers up, not only the diamond in his wife’s wedding ring (no doubt hard fought for, giving that his family is considered waste), but quite possibly his own family’s lives in war to the Bittner magistrate in order to guarantee Jonah’s safety. That kind of selflessness is rare today, but even moreso in the cruel, harsh world of Lazarus.
That kind of compassion is especially alien to Jonah. His twin sister/lover betrayed him, and his own father attempted to have him killed. The genuine love shown by Jens and his family is a stark contrast, and it’s a joy to get to see Jonah soak their life in.
This sequence is Jonah learning what it means to be part of a real family. It’s him learning to work, but him also learning what it means to find genuine compassion and love and camaraderie. Jonah also eventually finds romantic love with Pernille, and the issue ends in a happy, hopeful place for the two. That is, unfortunately, almost certainly a bad omen, especially with the time-bomb of Jonah’s true identity and the war ticking away in the background. I can’t imagine this kind of peace lasting, but it gives Jonah something to strive for and fight for. It gives him a real reason to live, perhaps for the first time ever.
Lazarus 27‘s interlude also gives readers a much closer look into the world of Lazarus, especially outside of Carlyle territory. This is different from the fact-collecting, world-building guidebooks Rucka has published — it’s a chance to see what it’s like to actually live in this world. Life in Bittner territory can still be harrowing — Jens is certainly walking on eggshells around the magistrate — but it also seems much freer than we’ve seen in Carlyle (or even moreso, Hock). The lives Jens and his family lead aren’t that different from our own. He and his family work and take care of each other. The war, the families and their drama, seem so far away that they barely effect their daily lives.
Perhaps this should be comforting, but I, frankly, find it a bit chilling. This isn’t too different from any political discussion you’d find taking place in any bar or pub; how bad could things be for us if we’re essentially already living the lives of waste? How close are we to dystopia? Probably closer than anyone dares contemplate.
Thus, even in an interlude, Rucka and Lark find a way to make Lazarus resonate as strong as ever. How did this one work for you, Ryan?
Ryan D: I found this issue to be incredibly effective, Spencer, and I attribute that to having the incomparable team of Rucka, Lark, and Arcas returning to the helm. While I found the X+66 issues to be interesting explorations of some of the world’s facets, I can feel the presence of the original creators in this issue’s pacing and comprehensive grasp on this universe and the people inside it. The amount of panels where the story is told sans dialogue, or the dynamics between people of a house vs. waste really make scenes live in a way that I was missing in the +66. For example, I love the moment in the pub when Jonah, who had been shown as fairly reserved, blending into the background of the family which adopts him, snaps into reflex analyzing the movements of the different houses while politics are being discussed at the table. I really enjoyed that dialogue seeming to burst out of him, an undeniable product of his former life and rigorous upbringing.
One of the huge successes of this issue falls on the depiction of this Danish town, as you said, Spencer. I find it very appropriate to set this interlude here considering the involvement of the Scandinavian nations in a world conflict like WWII. During the first eight months of the war, it was known informally as “the Phoney War” seeing as not much seemed to be happening aside from political posturing and troop movements; however, the Scandinavian countries — despite their decidedly neutral stances — found themselves quickly involved, though they might not have been part of the “official” theatres of war. Norway, for example, held a key position along the sea which made them a point of high contention for both the British and Nazi maritime forces and were occupied by the Nazis in 1940 — something I never learned about in high school history. Or maybe you read the classic Lois Lowry novel Number the Stars back in the day, but the Danish resistance tried to help Jews of their country to safe harbor in Sweden, a country which itself was coveted for its iron ore mines as crucial to the Nazi war machine. Knowing how deeply involved the Scandinavia countries were in WWII, I found it so fitting to read that these territories, even in this dystopian future, still find themselves points of interest, having been originally property of Bittner, then taken by Rausling, only to return to Bittner with the threat of the Russian House Vassalovka looming.
Nowhere is the spectre of WWII more present then when we see the Bittner representative to the town of Jans and his family’s town of Agger. Magistrate Anders looks like he could have held a very comfortable place with the various forms of military police placed by Nazi forces within the cities and towns which they overtook, and seems to be sporting his very best Gestapo-esque jacket.
So it is even more interesting seeing Anders sitting down for a pint with Jans, a notable leader of the town, at the local pub, reminding me of the tenuous peace people often struck with the Gestapo so as to avoid becoming enemies of the state and maintain the closest thing they can to normalcy of life.
We see some of that normalcy at the end of the issue between Jonah and Pernille. Even though Jonah’s history remains a big question mark to her and her family, Pernille falls in love with this man she took in. What results is a very beautiful scene of emotional and physical intimacy. And sex scenes are difficult to do well, let’s be honest. A certain amount of artistic rigor is required to make a scene like this really work, and it works beautifully. The two find themselves back on the same bench, naked and vulnerable, where Pernille first lay with Jonah, sharing her body heat with him to save his life from hypothermia, now sharing more with him, perhaps trying to save his life again by pulling him away from his history as a major player in the wars between houses.
The scene never feels gratuitous, but genuine, though I wonder now whether the tears which Jonah shed are purely of happiness, or might be from knowing that this romance, like every interlude by definition, is destined to end.
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?