Review by Jamie McNeil
In a not too distant future the political and geographical boundaries dividing the world will be abandoned. Wealth is power and that power is divided amongst a handful of the wealthiest families, the few fortunate enough to provide a service for the ruling class cared for as Serfs, while all others are considered Waste. To protect their wealth and lands, one person in each Family is given the best that Family can offer: training, technology, assets and every scientific advantage. This person is named the family’s protector, their sword and shield, their Lazarus. In the Family Carlyle she is Forever Carlyle, a deadly guardian of the family’s interests and virtually unstoppable thanks to biological advances that can resurrect her should she fall in combat. When an apparent raid on a Carlyle research facility, supposedly conducted by their rivals and tenuous allies the Morray Family, results in the execution of a innocent serf, Forever is conflicted and inspired by the loyalty and compassion he shows, something absent in her own ‘superior’ ruling Family. It also exposes traitors in their midst and when they try to eliminate Forever it incidentally reveals a number of secrets about her origins. Forever is conditioned to obey the Family but what if the Family is wrong? And what other mysteries are they hiding from her?
Writer Greg Rucka’s and artist Michael Lark’s Lazarus is a dystopian science-fiction drama that’s both frighteningly convincing and beautifully rendered, enhanced by colourist Santi Arcas’s skilful eye. Even more unnerving are the personalities of each character, believable and familiar from the coldly refined Carlyle patriarch Malcolm down to the spoilt entitlement of twins Jonah and Johanah and the desperation visible on starving faces. Forever, or Eve as the Family call her, has an internal struggle for purpose apart from the Carlyle rhetoric we can all relate to.
Rucka’s world building is still in infant form here, but the premise of civilisation controlled by the world’s wealthy elite doesn’t seem so impossible in the 21st century when politicians and presidents alike come from a background of privilege that distances them from the realities of ‘normal’ life. That technology and the sciences may remain, even evolve, while society devolves to a medieval caste system does nothing to allay fears. Rucka continually plays on the disconcerting possibility that he is merely observing and commenting on an already existing society, rather than presenting an unlikely alternative making for great science fiction. Of course a number of questions about his society remain, such as how the society came to be, how the Carlyles came to power and just how much do they control?
Lark and Arcas deliver superb settings, the luxurious wealth of the Family and their serfs creating a stark contrast to the harsh conditions the waste class must struggle against each day. There’s a strange beauty in the earthquake ravaged buildings of Los Angeles that reflects the aloof arrogance of the Carlyle offspring, its custodian Jonah in particular, but Lark’s genius lies with his leading lady. Forever has near superhuman capabilities but Lark dispenses with the gratuitous over-exaggerations of the female form so common in comics. Reportedly based on American Soccer player Hope Solo, it’s a physique consistent with that of a physically strong and athletic woman like MMA fighter Gina Carano or CrossFit Games champion Katrin Davidsdottir. It’s realistic yet still retains Forever’s femininity without exploiting it.