I was lucky enough to attend a local comics reading night here in Portland last year, featuring a presentation by Greg Rucka on how he and artist Michael Lark developed the character of Lazarus for their new series of the same name. What surprised me was how much time they spent with the character before even having a story for her. My point in sharing this is to show how character-driven a series Lazarus is. The story builds slowly, and I’m not even sure I can pinpoint what the overall story arc is even after Lazarus Book 1: Family, which collects the first four issues, except to say that doesn’t really matter.
But to say the story builds slowly is not to say the action does. Right from the get-go we readers realize there’s something special, and badass, about Lazarus: she can heal quickly (a la Wolverine) and she can take on a group of men with guns in hand to hand combat.
Rucka offers no flashbacks or blatant exposition. He trusts the intelligence of his readers, which I like, and which works because 1. Lazarus is just such an intriguing character, including how she’s drawn and 2. Speaking of the artwork, it’s awesome, including the background, the world, which is dystopian and noir-ish, but without any rain and night scenes. Instead Rucka and Lark present us a desert-y southern California/northwest Mexico world with no United States – in fact, no Federal Government at all — where rich families rule large fiefdoms populated by lower-class serfs (so this part is a little like Real Life) though there are cities, and civilization, and the rich families live on opulent Mexican-ish villas. But never has a sunny day sometimes seemed so dark, in the hands (and mind) of Lark.
Each family owns/has/hosts a bodyguard-cum-family member, and Rucka leaves that relationship/verb vague intentionally—that’s part of the Lazarus story: She is considered, or thinks she is considered, part of the family, a blood relation even, and for some of the family members, including the patriarch, she is. (Or not? Is he playing her?) Family politics, of the violent kind, pull Lazarus into conflicting directions, while at the same time she’s expected to provide her unique services in the new conflict starting up with the rich family to the south (where she will meet their Lazarus).
Lazarus is not super-humanly smart, and the dramatic irony is that we the readers know more about her, and how she’s being kept in the dark, that she does. What makes her intriguing is, despite not necessarily being human, how human she is, and sympathetic, more so than some of her selfish, greedy, family members that she’s supposed to be protecting. Above all, she just wants to be accepted. She, more than anybody, wants to be a part of, and loved by, her family, and yet is daily reminded of the ways she is not… The big question, the main question maybe, for all of us maybe, is at what point, or why, do we remain loyal to our families when they reject our different-ness?
Rucka has written for just for all the big superheroes of both Marvel and DC. I mean, he’s done everything. Seeing him work on his own project, through Image Comics, is a pleasure. Lazarus is not a super-hero comic, though it will appeal to fans of that genre (like me). As science-fiction, I can see where Rucka could have done Lazarus as a novel (Rucka is a novelist as well), because he’s building to a more epic story, and the individual issues don’t necessarily feel like complete mini-stories, though neither are they incomplete (I’ll say it again that the artwork in itself is compelling). But, if you’re not on board already, you get the advantage of reading it somewhat as what Lazarus should be: a graphic novel.
I tend to be very selective in my comic reading (read: I’m poor), preferring to read collected volumes like this (thanks to my local library), and I’m somewhat clueless of the larger dialogues and hype going on in the comic world. Still, for some reason, I just assumed everyone already liked Lazarus, and was already in fact reading it. So I was surprised to be offered a chance to review it. I, again cluelessly, tend to think a work like this almost doesn’t need a review—all you have to do is see who the creative team is. And just check out the cover art! A badass, strong, attractive-though-not-overtly-sexy female colored with a lot of blues and grays (I just don’t see how this series could be drawn by any other artist without fans rising up in revolt). Who cares what the story line is?! I just want to look at pages of her and her world! And yet, then Rucka gives a good (if still yet to be fully developed) (on purpose) Shakespearean story of family intrigue. If you’re not on board already, buy Lazarus Book 1: Family and have your local comics dealer reserve on-going issues for you.