By Taylor Pechter — What family truly means can be complicated. Is it just the people that are closest to you? Or is it something greater? It’s a complex question, and in many ways the answer is a core focus of Image Comics’ soon-to-return series, Lazarus. Written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Michael Lark (with inking assists from Tyler Boss), and colored by Santi Arcas, the world of Lazarus is one rooted in dystopia. After an economic collapse and a war that led to an event known as the Macau Accords, the globe has been sectioned off into regions run by certain wealthy and powerful families. Each family has a specially engineered being called a Lazarus, which acts as both a liaison and the leader of its military force. Forever Carlyle is the Carlyle family Lazarus. This comic is her story.
Who is Forever Carlyle?
Staring in the year X+64 (which means 64 years after the Macau Accords divided the planet), we are introduced to Forever. In this introductory scene, she is shot, killed and subsequently self-revived. She is being monitored from afar by her family members Johanna, James, and Bethany Carlyle, who watch everything from her actions to her vitals.
As James goes over her trauma report, the audience slowly becomes familiar with the unforgiving world of the series. This is a world where the ruling families are in constant conflict over land, where they preside too over civilians separated into a quasi-caste system. The civilians who work directly for the families are their Serfs. Everyone else is Waste, treated as second class. Occasionally, they have a chance to be Lifted to become Serfs. It’s all very frightening.
In the story of Lazarus, the two factions spearheading the conflict are the Carlyle Bloc and the Hock Coalition. Caryle rules most of the Western United States while Hock oversees the Eastern regions. Both of them have allies in conflict across the world. Forever is the pride of the Carlyle Family. She is the commander of their elite strike force called the Daggers. However, Forever gets a mysterious message in the middle of the night that sows seeds of doubt about her role in the family.
The message reads “He is not your father. This is not your family.” As Forever ponders her place in the world, Hock and his allies start to move on Carlyle territory while Carlyle moves on Hock. This conflict comes to a head at the Conclave, driving the plot forward.
The Conclave that Rules the World
The Conclave is a meeting of the families where they discuss terms regarding territory, and—if worse comes to worse—war plans. The meeting takes place on Triton 1, the floating base of the Armitage family, who is officially neutral in the ongoing conflict but has heavy ties to Carlyle. As tensions rise, Forever confronts her brother, Jonah. Jonah was kidnapped by the Hock’s while planning treason to his family. This is the first betrayal that Forever is subjected to and it won’t be the last as she helps Jonah escape custody. She is then thrust into a fight with Sonja Bittner, Lazarus of the Bittner Family, which is then a member of the Hock Coalition. Forever fights to prove her family’s innocence. She prevails in the contest but her father and patriarch of the family, Malcolm Carlyle, is subsequently poisoned and left in a coma. Little does Forever know, Malcolm has been secretly training a younger version of her to possibly be a replacement should she falter.
As the Conclave War rages on, the forces of Carlyle, Hock, and their allied families are in all-out conflict. In the middle of this, Forever’s crisis of conscience reaches its zenith. Not only has Jonah’s betrayal hit her hard, she also starts to forgo her normal regimen of medication, which keeps her stamina in top condition and also allows her family to control her. This does not go over well with her sisters Johanna and Bethany. Johanna breaks and tells the truth to Forever, about her development and her potential replacement, thinking it would build trust with her again. It has an opposite effect.
Forever denounces Johanna, not only for her personal actions, but for the overall way the family has treated her. Forever has been betrayed by the people she holds closest to her. It is then she sets out with her allies on a final push. Along with the forces of Morray and Bittner, they start a Lazarus hunt, targeting first the Rausling family in Central Europe.
The Conclave War
After a decisive victory over the Rausling Lazarus, Sonja Bittner along with Forever and the Morray Lazarus Joaquim (who is romantically engaged with Forever), set their sights on the most dangerous and secretive Lazarus of them all, the Vassalovka Lazarus, simply known as the Zmey, or the Dragon. As the name implies, Vassalovka’s seat of power is in Russia, and they remain a question mark until at last entering the war against Caryle and its allies. The fight against the Vassalovka Lazarus is brutal, with yet another betrayal, with Forever’s paramour Joaquim being forced to turn on her by the chemical control maintained over him by his family.
Meanwhile, after his escape from the Conclave, Jonah Caryle washes up in the Danish town of Agger in disputed Bittner territory. It is there where he creates a new life and eventually falls in love with a local and have a baby. However, a tragic event cuts that relationship short as we move into the Fracture storyline in the upcoming Lazarus: Risen #1, which is due out next week (stay tuned for our review!).
With Lazarus, Greg Rucka weaves a tale of intrigue that is predicated on the concept of family. Forever is a woman trying to find her place. Who she really is as a person is tested not only through her psychological inwardness but also her interactions, not only with her immediate family, but also their allies and enemies. Joining Rucka is his collaborator from his classic work for DC Comics, Gotham Central, Michael Lark. Lark adds a layer of reality with his rough and textured style. The pages are perfectly paneled, whether they are dynamic action scenes or emotional character beats. Adding hues is colorist Santi Arcas whose colors are mood driven, including moody blues, stingy greens, warm oranges, abrasive reds, or even drab tans and browns.
All together, these creators have made a lived-in world that has both its light and dark sides. Overall, Lazarus is an achievement in world building and storytelling with a deeply thought out setting and relatable characters with resonant themes. As a parting gift, I leave you with the Carlyle family motto: Oderint Dum Metuant...which means, Let them hate, so long as they fear.
Read more of Taylor’s writing on our comics analysis page.
Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter@TheInspecter.