[Comic Review] Landing — Lazarus #9

[Comic Review] Landing — Lazarus #9

There are interesting parallels to to draw from Lazarus #9, the last chapter of the Lift story arc.

For the past several issues, readers have been drawn into the world of the  Barrets, a family of Waste who lost their farm and home. Knowing their best chance for survival joining in the service of one of the families, the Barrets traveled to Denver, losing one of their own on the way.

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[Comic Review] Primed — Lazarus #8

[Comic Review] Primed — Lazarus #8

As hopeful applicants march on towards Denver for the Lift, Forever Carlyle storms a terrorist cell building IEDs.

Plot threads weave together to form a tightly knit issue in Lazarus #8. We get more of Forever’s personal and physical trials as a Lazarus in training, the Barrets in mourning as Michael makes a name for himself as a healer, and some of the relationship dynamics in the Carlyle family.

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Get Lifted — Lazarus #7 Review

Get Lifted — Lazarus #7 Review
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The correspondence page found at the end of the issue will tell you the creative team needed two extra pages for Lazarus #7.

After reading the issue, it’s plain to see why.

In terms of density, Lazarus #7 earns the title of heaviest issue of the series. Jumping from plot to plot, the events this issue are wrangled into a thick storyline wringing readers through an emotional gauntlet.

And it does it by bringing us even closer to the characters and seeting via flashback and sudden bursts of emotional and physical violence.

Dealing with a possible terrorist threat to her family, Forever Carlyle performs her duties by gathering intelligence and interrogating the lone suspect, Emma. Unable to get anything out of her — backed into a corner, Emma’s responds with, “There’s nothing you can do to or take from me that your family doesn’t already have” — Forever brings in her sister Johanna.

We already know from this vantage point that Johanna’s intentions for her family are traitorous, and we get a good look at why she’s gone undetected for so long. As the good cop to Forever’s bad, Johanna tempts Emma with a lure of fame and serfdom.

 

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In those scenes, we get the political and military wings of the Carlyle Family. Forever, as the armed hand, sees what a bit of diplomacy can do, especially from one so treacherous as Johanna.

We also get to spend some time with the displaced Barrets. With about a week to go before Lift selection, the family camps out somewhere in Wyoming.

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The scene brings to mind the best elements of a Western — wide open spaces, the unfiltered relationships between travellers, the fear of the present, the hope for the future, and the ugliness of humanity that threatens peace.

Lazarus continues to be pull-list worthy, and the creative team deserves that Eisner nomination for Best New Series.

Greg Rucka’s world continues to reveal itself, warts and all, from the Family peaks to the Barret valleys. The major event is the Lift, and all paths look to be crossing there. It’s a testament to Rucka’s writing prowess — there’s no direct threat and imminent threat just yet, just the possibility of one, and we feel the tension and paranoia on the Carlyle side because it all feels very familiar.

The writing could have easily gone the path well-traveled with the Barret tragedy, but instead of drudging up emotion and preying on our sympathies, Rucka gives us just enough to play the rest of the details in our own minds.

The Barret scene also shows how perfectly matched the visual team is with the story. Michael Lark and Brian Level on art and Santi Arcas on colors get down to the nitty and gritty with profound fluidity. In one issue, we’ve gone from the sci-fi and sanitary dwellings of the Carlyles to the dirt and debris of the Wild Wild West, and not once did it feel like the two couldn’t exist in the same world.

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The last page reveals the Lift is in reach, but at what cost? A lot of comic stories rely on that tried and true method of leaving readers with a cliffhanger, and Lazarus puts a twist on that by giving readers a glimpse of hope to go along with that bitter taste left in our mouths from the scenes previous.

Some keep their eyes on the goal, waiting for it to be achieved. What makes Lazarus so sweet is the journey itself — the lives of the characters and the state of the world they live in. The questions are just as important as the answers, and the experience is enriched because of it.

Lazarus #7 (2013)
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Words: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark and Brian Level

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The Lives of Others — Lazarus #6 Review

The Lives of Others — Lazarus #6 Review
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Anyone who’s connected to Greg Rucka through his Twitter or his Tumblr knows he has a keen interest in politics and current affairs.

After diving into Lazarus #6, it’s very clear that Rucka’s interests in things outside of comics has influenced the world of Forever Carlyle for better or worse.

And my opinion is — it’s for the better.

Lazarus has consistently pushed the envelope with mature storytelling that has expanded bit by bit to explore politics, social inequalities, and the day to day lives of realistic characters living on both ends of the economical ladder. From the top of the food chain (Carlyles) to the bottom rung (Bobbie and the other Waste), Lazarus isn’t a title filled with caricatures kicking around cliches. Lazarus, like great science-fiction novels, works because it takes something we know, repackages it, then gives us a microscopic view of it that gets our brains working.

That doesn’t mean each reader will come away with the same meaning or walk through the same thought process, but the fact that it’s provoking — Lazarus isn’t a book you should be reading while you’re doing something else. It demands your attention because there’s so much going on within each page.

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With Lift season in full swing, members of the Waste caste look forward to being selected for work. Being a part of the Waste caste doesn’t mean someone’s absolutely destitute — Bonnie Barret and her clan own land, pay taxes to their governing Family, and eke out an existence.

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Last issue, a storm wiped out the Barret house and crops which forces Bonnie to ask the Carlyle Family for assistance. Help comes at a price, and Bonnie’s clan makes a decision to head for the Lift, giving up their land rights.

Meanwhile, another group of Waste break into the Family Carlyle storage, stealing two acetylene canisters. The thieves don’t know there’s a Lazarus on watch, and Forever gains information that will set her on a trail to discover what the Waste are up to.

The two parallel stories moving forward concern Forever’s journey to make her Family proud while the Barrets head to Denver to get work. Both work for family, but the contrast is that Forever as an agent works on the outside, hoping to be received. Bonnie, on the other hand, struggles to maintain a livelihood that secures a future for her brood.

Rucka’s scripting is sharp and to the point. Each scene reminds us about the location, the stakes, and the possible repercussions that could dramatically change not just the lives of the characters but the world at large.

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That sort of scope keeps Lazarus interesting because a slight shift in direction at the bottom can lead to gigantic ramifications at the top.

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Rucka’s partner in visual rhyme is Michael Lark, and it’s difficult to envision Lazarus with anyone else’s artistic interpretation of this distopian future. There are two pages with just one caption for all of its 10 panels that should be studied by potential comic artists. It’s sequential storytelling by a master of the craft that sets up Forever’s security detail that puts her on the trail of the thieving Waste.

And if Lark’s absence upsets the title by measure and miles, Santi Arcas’ colors would be sorely missed as well if there was a change in the guard. The tones of Lazarus are its soil, it’s environment, it’s life. The creative team of three have a synergy that’s producing one of the best comic books being released, and anyone looking for a story that’s packed with emotion and meaningful plotting should get on board.

Now.

Lazarus is comicdom’s Martian Chronicles with its personal touch and real-world perspective. These characters live and breathe as if they were taken from living constructs. This is a series not to be missed unless you’re only about capes and spandex.

Lazarus #6 (2013)
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Words: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters Michael Lark and Brian Level

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A Storm Is Coming — Lazarus #5 Review

A Storm Is Coming — Lazarus #5 Review

It’s only three weeks until the Carlyle Family’s Lift — a chance given to Waste to be selected for service. For a majority of the Waste, it’s the dream of a lifetime, a sort of Dystopian Idol that can pull individuals from the slop and into a cushy career with benefits.

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System Shock: Lazarus #4 Review

System Shock: Lazarus #4 Review
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Last issue ended with a bang — literally — and writer/creator Greg Rucka doesn’t pull any punches with an intense pickup on action and drama in Lazarus #4.

Forever Carlyle and counterpart Joacquim Morray had a moment to watch the sunset, but their respite was just a calm before the storm. Missiles from a Carlyle chopper sent in by Forever’s brother Jonah rained down on the location sending both Forever and Joacquim into physical shock.

As Bethany and James monitor Forever’s stats back at the main compound, her body begins to patch itself up as Jonah’s team lands to finish the job.

Readers get a front row seat into what being a Lazarus entails as Forever painfully rises and meets the challenge, mercilessly and efficiently taking down all of her attackers. Besides enduring a physical battle while practically rising from the dead, Forever takes care of business knowing full and well the circumstances surrounding her betrayal — she claims right as commander of the Carlyle forces to order the men to stand down — and she has the wherewithal after the fight to make sure relations with the Morray family are maintained.

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Credit Rucka for moving deftly back and forth between the action sets and the chaos inside the Carlyle compound where the two scientists work blind and behind the scenes. Losing a Lazarus could mean losing the war, and a surprise attack like this one can shift the balance in one particular party’s favor. That notion isn’t lost in the brisk pacing of the issue’s plot, and Michael Lark’s pencils — Brian Level contributes — don’t smudge over the details with an eye for composition and cinematic details that don’t lose focus on the main points. Santi Arcas’ colors do their part in separating panels by atmosphere and lighting — and the subtle shades, while not being overtly flashy, have a grounded palette.

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No stone is left untouched — Rucka gives panel time for the other members of the family, including Malcolm who looks worse for the wear now that his family has begun to tear itself apart from the inside. Whether the expression on his face shows guilt or worry remains to be seen, and as complicated as it could be, Lazarus as a title works because its creative team works with a sharp and precise edge not unlike the blades the main character carries.

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Those sublime cuts can be found in the details. In the heat of battle, gunfire erupts hitting any and everybody — Lazarus and soldier. While it could be argued that this is violence for violence’s sake — it all serves a purpose, and the scenes account for the various layers and dimensions.

After all the attackers are finished off, Forever and Joacquim part, and the scene is the heaviest of all. Seeing what Joacquim is literally made of at this point, Forever sees what the future may hold for her as a Lazarus, and their time together has ended for the foreseeable future. Forever goes to confront Jonah only to find a beaten and battered Johanna.

If the first story arc gives us a fair glimpse of what it’s in store for Jonah — vengeance will be swift and painful. There’s a big and compelling picture that’s loaded with emotional turmoil and urgency, and the overall professional quality of the book makes it one of the best comics being released.

Lazarus #4 (2013)
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Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark

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Family Ties: Lazarus #3 Review

Family Ties: Lazarus #3 Review
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On paper, Greg Rucka’s world isn’t very different from ours. In Lazarus, a western gem hidden in a sci-fi thriller, a small few control a majority of the world’s resources and wealth, while a larger group of educated and trained individuals works to keep society running. The rest of humanity fights over the scraps, unable to organize and create an ecosystem that benefits everyone.

Rucka’s first two issues put forth the the idea and the driving forces behind the plot — the basis of the families and the notion of their representatives, the Lazarus. Issue #3 takes a giant step forward by bringing into play the other chess pieces that could figure largely within Rucka’s realm and builds on the growing tensions within the Carlyle Family as Forever Carlyle parlays with the Morray Family to combat a growing and personal threat.

Last issue, Forever’s unstable brother Jonah and his twin sister Johanna were seen working behind the scenes to undermine the Family’s patriarch, Malcolm. Their desire for war proved too much for their father to bear, causing him to send the one child he can trust into the Morray’s domain somewhere in Mexico.

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Caught behind enemy lines, Forever allows herself to be brought in for questioning, and she meets an old acquaintance — the Morray Lazarus Joacquim. The two reminisce over old times, and Forever admits he’s the only one who has ever truly understood her. It’s an interesting discussion that gives insight into what it’s like to be the face and force of a Family. Because they’re tasked with so much, Lazaruses have money and technology poured into them to keep them in top shape. The richer the family, the better the Lazarus — at least from a technical standpoint, and though Families may send occasional squads into harm’s way, the Lazaruses do and take the most damage.

But what money affords for the physical, it does not help with the emotional aspects. Forever’s trip to see the patriarch of the Morray Family might be a meeting of dire consequences, but it also connects her with humanity by putting her in the company of a familiar face — or rather, a friend.

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The meeting with Joacquim’s uncle goes well for both families, but it doesn’t go well for Jonah. As discovered by Malcolm, Jonah has been working against his own kind, and Forever negotiates an immediate end to the Morray’s secret partnership with traitor. Things are about to get heavy as the Carlyle Family plans to purge the sickness within, but before Forever returns home, she and Joacquim are attacked.

It looks like Jonah might get a war after all.

Lazarus so far has been a great series that has so far laid brick upon brick onto its world with a cast of characters and a social structure that provides meaningful structure. There’s a sense that Rucka has taken deliberate steps in creating an immersive world for readers that’s, at once, easy to understand from a social point of view and complex enough to support a deep and plot with threads connecting story elements. Momentum has steadily built up for meaningful action pieces, but Lazarus isn’t this summer’s silly action comic — it’s an intelligent thriller with complex perspectives on themes of family, wealth, power, and greed. It’s to comics what Game of Thrones is to television, and while Lazarus has taken measured steps to keep its cast list, so far, short in comparison, there’s enough of a foundation to bring in more elements later on.

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Right now, the set is staged for a great story, and Rucka’s pacing allows artist Michael Lark room to breathe with great characterization processed through visuals. Lark has a knack for creating storyboards that convey what needs to be seen with precise timing. As far as sequential art goes, if one were to cover up the text bubbles, they would still be able to follow the storyline, and the synergy between art and text creates a forceful comic that tickles the brain after it impacts the eyes. It’s a huge credit to Lark’s true-to-the-story artwork and Rucka’s direction.

The choice to bring Santi Arcas in for colors is also a brilliant one. Arcas gives Lazarus a natural earthy look that skimps on flash. The brown and rusty colors define a world of squalor and lowliness. Though the rich are comfortable and living above the masses, the human world is in pain, struggling for basic needs.

Lazarus is a title that demands a serious look, and there’s an emotional depth to the characterization that makes Forever Carlyle a future superstar in the comic book world. She’s efficient and ferocious, and she doesn’t need to talk about it. Actions speak louder than words in Lazarus, and Forever is the kind of girl that brings a knife to a gunfight.

What everyone doesn’t know is that the odds are on her.

Lazarus #3 (2013)
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Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark
Additional credits: Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Level

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Tight-Knit Family: Lazarus #2 Review

Tight-Knit Family: Lazarus #2 Review
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In Greg Rucka’s Lazarus, a few families control a majority of the world’s resources. Those who serve are protected, cared for, and given work.

The rest are considered Waste — lives maintaining an existence on the fringes of society.

An attack on a Carlyle compound prompts the family patriarch, Malcolm, to call an emergency meeting to brief everyone on what’s going on and plan for the future. Forever, the family’s Lazarus, gets her checkup, receives her “maintenance” pills, and is summoned to brief the rest of the family on how the attack was staged.

As evidenced through Rucka’s sharp and tactful writing — the Carlyle family with its five siblings has more than its share of dysfunctions and secrets. The family dynamic has similes to historical accounts of royal families with suggestions of incest and eugenics.

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Each of the family members plays a role, and within a few pages of terse dialogue, personalities take form.

Stephen, reasonable and rational, follows orders, while the warmongering Jonah argues for quick retaliation on the supposed perpetrators of the raid. Beth makes sure to keep Forever running in tip top shape, and Johanna — the one sibling who doesn’t show for the family gathering — has been involved in an illicit affair with brother Jonah.

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As for Eve — Forever — she may not even be a true sibling, and the secret has been diligently kept by the rest of the brothers and sisters. What Forever really is exactly remains to be seen, and when tasks are given out to the family, Eve gets a special assignment.

Forever travels with Jonah to his domain, Los Angeles, a city left in ruins. Hollywood’s missing letters now spell out Hood, telling a story of what the city has become in just one panel. Jonah’s rule over his domain has left under 3-million people as Waste, and it paints a clearer picture of the merciless and cutthroat man he is.

Forever’s assignment leads her to take a trip through the slums, and she easily loses the watchman on her trail. Once free of her tail, she travels to the heart of Morray territory where she’s captured by Morray’s Lazarus and his crew.

Capture might be the wrong word. Let’s go with received.

Lazarus #2 definitely gives off the impression that Rucka’s created world is constructed from the ground up with long roots. Players follow rules and social norms, filling out roles, fitting in where they need to. Characters show themselves in what they say and do, the approach by Rucka’s scripting is organic.

The pace is blistering, but it doesn’t feel like Rucka’s looking to leave anyone behind — the elements of the story exist in the back and foreground creating a world full of dimension and space. What’s written on these pages feels polished, and Rucka’s scripting leaves little room for unnecessary dialogue.

The artwork by Michael Lark is detailed, unpretentious, and coordinated — it’s relatively easy to distinguish each of the characters even with the introduction of the rest of the Carlyle family. Panels are well-composed, and expressions tell the story by face. Body language is a huge component in how Lark gets the point across, and the family squabbles don’t lack for visual tension as family members threaten and act out violent urges.

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Lark has designed elements for practicality, and the appearance of the Morray’s Lazarus, dressed in long coat, white shirt, and black pants, doesn’t give off the impression that Lark’s phoning it in with lazy paint-by-numbers fashioning. These characters all serve a purpose for the story, and they don’t need to be dressed in vivid colors, wild hairstyles, or ego-centric logos. Some might say it’s minimalist, but this is a future that’s based on survival and efficiency. There’s a sort of Mad Max feel to this story, and Lazarus presents readers with a future full of extremes. There’s poverty, destruction, and displaced people — and the sci-fi aspect of the book uses these plot points to mirror social aspects of real life.

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The colors by Santi Arcas offer subtle shading, and flat tones on characters contrast well with the elaborate and textured backgrounds, specifically those depicting the Hollywood hills and the ramshackle border town. It’s a look that resembles old westerns colored by technicolor, but with a more natural feel. Arcas’ colors paint textures of grit and rust.

Take all of these pluses, and the result is an issue that has a momentum with a forceful pulse. Rucka’s Forever isn’t just a strong female lead who feels like a character dropped into the role, forced to accept the circumstances. Forever Carlyle, product of an artificial nature/nurture, is a living construct based on her family’s programming and planning. She brings to the table talents and abilities that make her more than human with an inner and outer strength that creates an understanding with the reader — she is capable, efficient, and brilliant in word and deed. It’s plain to see in her actions, her words, and the way she carries herself that she’s designed for a purpose, and issue #2 shows off those assets.

Were it not for Forever’s human characteristics, Lazarus would feel cold and distant. Instead, there are numerous compelling reasons to pick up the next issue. With a core story that breathes and dynamic characters whose actions, speech, and lots differ from each other, Lazarus sings.

It’s still a wonder why Rucka chose the book’s title, but after reading two issues, there are several theories. The title could refer to the many deaths Forever will experience. I prefer to think it’s about the many times she rises.

Lazarus #2 (2013)
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Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark

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Forever Changing — Lazarus #1 Review

Forever Changing — Lazarus #1 Review
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Family is at the basis of Greg Rucka’s new Image series, Lazarus. Set in a future where oligarchies control the world’s resources, each Family stakes its power with money.

That money is represented in each Family’s Lazarus, the one chosen to defend and protect the Family’s interests. Given the best in technology, training, and physical care, each Lazarus can go above and beyond what normal humans can in the line of duty.

Rucka’s story focuses on Forever Carlyle, who begins this issue recounting the last time she died. Forever lost one of her lives defending her family’s property, and were it not for the technological advancements given to her, she would have stayed dead.

Death is familiar to Forever, and so is combat. Five pages almost devoid of any wording show how capable Forever is at killing, and Michael Lark’s artwork is a sight to behold. Lark’s panels are clear, detailed, and cinematic — the action sequence is methodical and packed with force as Forever disarms, dodges, and makes easy work of the three men.

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Though it’s just another day in the life of Forever, something has affected her on an emotional, perhaps spiritual level. Conflicted by guilt — the attackers broke into the supposedly uninhabited guest house, hoping to find food — Forever confides in James, the Carlyle Family’s chief physician.

Things continue to go south for Forever when she heads to a facility attacked by soldiers from the Morray Family. Working under the assumption that someone in the facility opened the door for the Morrays to invade, Forever is forced to make an example of a senior member of the technical staff who willingly takes a bullet to protect his own family.

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The issue is loaded with emotional tension, and Rucka’s scripts are tack-sharp. There are no wasted panels and no fat left to be trimmed. Lazarus is a title that mirrors its main character — efficient and precise to the point. Through Forever, a character whose given name suggests her family’s confidence — or arrogance — in itself, a fine line is drawn that will divide families and reveal the person she really is.

Lark’s artwork, for the bulk of the book that isn’t loaded with action, is well-composed. Characters are expressive, and Lark uses body language to convey what’s happening in the text bubbles.

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To that end, Santi Arcas’ colors are atmospheric with tones and shades influenced by lighting. The overlays on Lark’s inks add dimension, and while Arcas’ colors are a bit muted and flat, they’re appropriate for the book and subtle in laying down the various moods.

Lazarus is very much a futuristic sci-fi story grounded in a tale rooted in the Occupy movement. Issues concerning life and what some people will do for family are explored, bringing in a deeper question: What is family?

The word forever suggests stability, strength, and predictability. Forever is a constant. In Lazarus issue #1, Rucka shows how many levels he’s working on. Take a look at the main character’s name. Forever Carlyle couldn’t be more aptly — or ironically — named.

Lazarus #1 (2013)
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Words: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark

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