Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus #1 from Image Comics is the kind of hyper-intelligent, hard-edged, sci-fi story that reminds you why the very best comics are not just for kids.
Any book that starts with its lead character being gunned down by thugs only to miraculously come back to life and take vengeance on her attackers is the kind of book that will pique curiosity. When its written by Stumptown’s Greg Rucka, one of the kings of comic noir, and illustrated by Scene of the Crime’s Michael Lark then you know it will also deliver with the kind of gritty drama that pulls no punches, either figuratively or literally, and makes for an utterly compelling read.
This opening scene was the inspiration that helped Rucka develop the world of Lazarus. Fleshing it out with a post-‘Occupy’ back story where the 1% have become the 0.001% and established a Plutocratic Society where the all powerful Family reign supreme. This is hard-edged near future sci fi with a message and the woman gunned down in the opening scene is Forever Carlyle, a genetically superior member of ‘the Family’, who dispatches justice on those who seek to disrupt the natural order. But Forever is being plagued by feelings – feelings of guilt and remorse for her actions, that are leading her to question her motives and her position within the family.
The idea of an enforcer who is plagued with guilt is nothing new, but as you would expect from a writer of the caliber of Rucka its made to feel fresh. The script is tight as a drum, packed full of smart dialogue and technically rich exposition with the opening salvos narrated using a cold, analytical style as Forever recounts her mission to her therapist. It is packed full of medical and military detail that give the book and Forever’s character both a cold detachment and also a real depth and edge.
Forever joins Rucka’s roster of strong, credible female leads and there is no better writer out there for creating books around powerful, believable women. Forever is both super tough and completely in control , but is developing an air of vulnerability that gives her depth without diminishing her character. This is Sarah Connor for the new millenium or The Fox from Wanted (which Lazarus feels totally similar to, albeit without the excessive swearing and violence) and is the kind of uncomplicated lead character that makes books like this so engaging.
Rucka’s writing is ably backed up by Lark’s dark and moody visuals. Making comparisons between Lark and Sean Philips is inevitable considering their past involvement with Ed Brubaker on Scene of the Crime, and their similar realistic, gritty style gives their work a distinct look and feel which is hard to better. However with Lazarus, Lark may be about to eclipse his former inker and set a new high water mark. Every page is brilliantly conceived and tightly composed, with Lark using a brilliant mix of long shots and tight detail to create a sense of action and drama. His use of shadows is supreme giving the early scenes a taut, tense feel before expanding out into the more light and airy desert scenes towards the second half.
This is then made even more potent by the subtle and smart colouring from Santi Arcas, whose muted colour palette give the book a slick modern feel and creates a brilliant juxtaposition between the various locales. The military bases are cold and blue and dark, while the dessert is warm and sepia hued. The world Rucka and Lark have created mixes modern tech with future gazing scifi machinery and feels both cold and ultilitarian but also eerily familiar.
Evoking the look and feel of the recent Winter Soldier series from Marvel or the aforementioned Wanted, every page feels like a perfectly crafted work of art that is epic and cinematic in tone. Indeed this is the kind of book that will be snapped up by Hollywood before you know it, as it oozes summer blockbuster material, so be sure to read it now and be ahead of the curve before it hits a multiplex near you.
“Smart intelligent story telling and brilliantly mature artwork without relying on shouty, swearing, blood-splattering excess. (Although there is still plenty of the latter!) Lazarus #1 may well see Rucka & Lark overtake Brubaker & Philips as the kings of gritty, adult-oriented genre book and is an absolute must for anyone who’s pull list include the like of Fatale, Criminal or 100 Bullets.”