[21 October 2013]
Forever Carlyle is a weapon. She has the ability to take down dozens of armed soldiers, almost single-handedly. But Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus is scarier by far for its setting. It takes place in the not-so-distant dystopian future, where there is no government and power lies in the hands of the few with money, land, and the means of production. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s only a (very slight) exaggeration of the status quo.
The protagonists of the story are Forever and the rest of the Carlyle family. Much like the reality of the Lazarus world, there are a few citizens that are valuable to the story , but “[a]ll others are Waste,” and get very little screen time. The world of the Waste rarely intersects with that of the family, except at the very beginning of the story (Issue #1). Our introduction to Forever juxtaposes her ruthless efficiency with her remorse, and her reluctance to kill her attackers. “They only wanted something to eat,” she protests, thought her doctor and brother treat it as a glitch to be fixed.
Forever spends most of the first arc trying to reclaim some sort of agency, but at every turn she is manipulated by those she was created to defend. She’s not treated as a daughter, or a sister, but as an instrument. She’s the “Commander” of the family’s forces, but she never manages to do anything that wasn’t an order – indirect or otherwise – from her father or her traitorous brother, Jonah. The former, who she seems eager to please, refers to her as “the Lazarus” in front of his other children, but the reveal in the final issue makes tangible what seemed implicit throughout: Forever is not a Carlyle.
Issue #4 is the last of the “Family” storyarc, and it’s immediately clear that we’ve come full circle. Just like the first issue, we have an unexpected assault on Forever (and Joacquim, the Lazarus of Morray, who was with her), and while she doesn’t die this time, she’s badly injured. But the Carlyle Commander is unstoppable, literally, and she cuts through the soldiers with ease. We see every blow. The stretched-out dialogue between Bethany Carlyle and James, who both monitor Forever’s health, is indicative. It takes seconds for two Lazarus’s to eliminate the threat with mechanical precision.
Initially, the impression is that when Forever goes into attack mode she becomes automatic. In the first issue, she kills the men so quickly there’s no time to think, and when she has to kill the confessed “traitor”, she hesitates. In contrast, she doesn’t hesitate to kill the last soldier here – even though he has enough time to beg for mercy – she’s pissed off and ruthless. And the soldier is just a faceless pawn. It’s tough to know how we should feel about it. On the one hand it’s a badass kill, on the other it’s not the soldiers fault that Jonah is a conniving bastard. Does anyone care or feel the loss? It doesn’t seem like it.
Michael Lark’s contributions on the art side of story are as consistent as ever. His gritty style, perfect for the noir flavor of Gotham Central, adapts deftly to the (mostly) desolate future of Lazarus. He eschews background for focus in the action scenes, but it works because they’re so captivating. The barren, dry land at the Carlyle-Morray border is a stark contrast to the palm trees seen through the windows in Los Angeles. The doctors are panicked when they fear that their prized instrument might be in jeopardy, but they quickly lose that in favor of fascination of what’s happening in the Lazarus’s body as she fights for her life.
Every detail of the story makes Forever’s isolation clear, and the colors (by Santi Arcas) carry the thematic consistency. The issue begins before the attack, Bethany and James mirror Forever and Joacquim at the end of the third issue. They stop to enjoy the gorgeous sunset – a mixture of yellow and sunglow, like a perfect tequila sunrise – and maybe address the sexual tension. They’re interrupted, just as she is, by Jonah’s treachery. The shifts in color tone tell a story in themselves.
Red is the color that descends on the doctors, like a storm of dread and anxiety. This is not the deep read of passion or love, it’s strong rust. It’s the color of corrosion and compromised structure. The progression from yellow-orange to red would seem natural in another situation, but this red is an alarm, the screech of fire. It covers the characters and their equipment; it’s like blood on our camera lens. As the panic subsides, it’s the contrast between the bright screens and the detached faces of Bethany and James that draws our attention. Their motivations are rooted in selfishness.
The next color we get is from a single wide panel, post-attack, and the sky is violet. It’s a preview of what we’ll see from the next page, and transition to Jonah Carlyle’s command room. Violet minus red gives us blue. It’s an ice-blue, cold and calculating. And ruthless. But if there’s one thing we know about ice, it melts. He wants to see Forever die, “to be sure…,” but his twin sister is already plotting against him. Johanna exists in the tone-less room, the only colors are the colors of the room and her purple shirt. Though she can hide her involvement for now, Johanna is tied to what’s happening in the desert.
The violet hue that descends on the desert is not regal and luxurious. It stands in opposition to the calm sunset, and it’s unnatural. The purple and orange are juxtaposed just as Forever and Johanna alternate panels. Johanna says, “...It’s got to look real,” but for her sister it is real. We know the Carlyles sit in the safety of their fancy homes, but it’s starting to look like the Lazarus is just as much a victim of their tyranny. The color change is immediate and ominous because the sky is not supposed to be that color, and something is definitely wrong. It’s the combination of Bethany’s red and Jonah’s blue. Even in the vast desert, Forever can’t escape her controlling and malignant family members.
When night falls the colors dissipate, the tones return to normal, and we see a strange emotion on our protagonist’s face: Anger. When she communicates with her father, we see it from his point of view. He’s sitting in his study, in a robe, and his daughter appears on the blue hologram screen. It’s clear that Forever hasn’t had time to wash up, but she’s pissed off. She’s trapped in a blue square, and that’s how Carlyle wants to see her – as a face confined in a hologram on his desk that he can give orders to.
The last page turns the previous scene on its head with the revelation. What’s most telling is that we see Forever outside of the blue hologram screen and the sun is rising again. Not only is it a new day, but she can’t be trapped by the box her father wants to keep her in. We already knew the information of the secret email (“This is not your family”), but the prospect of Forever breaking out of her cycle is what’s exciting. The first story arc did an excellent job of setting the foundation for her story, but she spent the time merely reacting. She didn’t do anything of her own volition, but now she has a chance to reclaim her agency.