Sunday, 27 March 2016

Lazarus Book 1: Family (#1-4)

"This is normal right?  To feel like this?" - Eve

Gotham Central was a fascinating book, a street level look at trying to be a normal cop in a city full of costumed and superpowered maniacs that was written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, with the main artist being Michael Lark and which ran during the early to mid-noughties before ending with realignment of the Gotham PD in the wake of Infinite Crisis.  I'm kicking off with a mention of this series because for me it has proved the incentive to seek out work by all three of the main creatives on it, including mainstream stuff like Greg Rucka's Batwoman, and the creator owned stuff like Ed Brubaker's Scene Of The Crime (covered earlier this month pop pickers) in which he first teamed up with Michael Lark and this more recent series by Greg Rucka in which the artist is, oh will you look at that, Michael Lark again.  Lark as an artist has somehow snuck into my list of favourites without me realising it, it wasn't until I was reading book one of Lazarus that I realised how much I like his gritty and moody art and just how talented he is at coreographing combat, both gun battles and hand-to-hand fighting in ways that feel realistic, yet exciting at the same time.  He also draws really good women, which puts him ahead of about 90% of most comicbook artists. That's especially good as Lazarus is a science-fiction story about a virtually immortal warrior woman who suffers a lot of physical trauma in this first collection which in the wrong hands could feel "icky" but in his hands feels as matter-of-fact as Greg Rucka's sparse but full of promise world building of which she is part of.
Meet Eve.
The Lazarus of the title is a young woman called "Forever" or "Eve" for short.  She is genetically engineered to be able to take all kinds of horrendous physical punishment up to and including dying, before quickly recovering and coming back to life to fight on.  She is the youngest of five children of the Carlyle family, and acts as a general enforcer.  The setting has been sketched in fairly lightly in this first book, it appears to be a few decades in the future and some disaster seems to have thinned out the human race a bit.  Now the USA is divided into areas controlled by mafia-like families (each of whom seem to have a Lazarus of their own) and the population within it are either "serfs" who do the work or "waste" who are given what appears to be a subsistance existence and left to rot.  The emphasis in this book though is on the power-plays within the family which Eve becomes a pawn in, and the details of wider world at the moment takes a back seat to that.

The story begins with a dispassionate description of the mortal wounds inflicted upon Eve by three scavengers.  A voiceover asks her how long she was "out" (ie: dead).  "Maybe two minutes" she responds, she also says it hurts, "it's like I'm not in myself when it happens, like I'm outside watching myself through glass".

As she recounts this we see her heal up enough to stand and kill her attackers. Her questioner "James" who is her doctor asks her how it made her feel.  Eve doesn't want to talk about it.

Eve: "I killed them James.  I killed all three of them.  They only wanted something to eat".

James says the family provides food for all citizens, but these scavengers made the mistake of breaking into a "family residence" and they also tried to kill her.  Eve is downcast and asks if everyone feels like this when they have to kill someone.  James says "no", but he'll give her something to help with the bad feelings and he won't tell the rest of the family about her doubts, "I would never betray your confidence".
Eve avenges her own death.
Of course we then cut to Eve's older brother Jonah being told by James that Eve is asking some "problematic questions".  She needs someone to "bond" with.  "Show her some love you mean" says Jonah.  Eve then arrives at the facility he is waiting at by helicopter and when she apologises for being late he hugs her and says "I'm just glad you're OK."

A rival family called Morray launched an assault on the grain facility early that morning.  They collapsed the security grid and made for the seed banks but were stopped before they got to them.

There was no system fault so they were shut down not by sabotage or hacking but by someone from the inside betraying the family.  They took a Morray alive but she didn't survive the interrogation.  Eve thinks Jonah is jumping to conclusions about their being an insider, but he says they have to "set an example".
Jonah being a dick.
Eve knows what this means and what is expected of her.  All the senoir staff are gathered in the coutryard.  Jonah tells them if no one admits culpability all will die.  There is a pause then an older man speaks up and says it was him.  His daughter tries to stop him but he just says, "you let this be what this will be."

Eve takes him to one side to execute him.  She says she thinks he is lying and doesn't understand why he would throw his life away.  He says if she really knew about the value of family she'd understand.  She says she'll tell his daughter he loves her.  "Trust me.. she already knows" the man says.

Back with James, he is giving her another checkup and dosing her with something to make her less questioning.  He asks her again how she feels and looking sad she says "I feel fine."

We then move onto Eve coming out of the shower and her older sister Beth telling her to take her pills as part of her "maintenance" schedule.

Eve: "I hate it when you call it that..makes me feel like a machine."

Beth ignores her and subjects her to a check over, then tells her their father wants her in his study in five minutes for her report.
Eve given a check up.
The brothers Jonah and Steve are having an argument about whether they are now at war with Morray.  Steve wants to see what their father says first.  He darkly refers to Jonah and Johanna being up to something in L.A.  Before the fight can escalate their father comes in with Beth.  He asks why Johanna isn't there, Jonah says he thought she should stay at the Palisades residence in case Morray try something again.

Eve then gives her report on the Moray attack on the seed bank.  Losses were substantial but they were repelled.  The old man, Samuel Rosales confessed to disabling the security as an agent of Morray, but searching his quarters and belongings revealed no clue as to how he was recruited and how he communicated with Morray.

They discuss the fact they broke off trade with Morray five years ago and they are suffering from poor harvests and difficulty controlling their "waste" population.  Jonah wants to know what their reprisals will be, he wants to "go to war."

Their father is silent, then sends them all away bar Eve.  He says she doesn't believe Samuel's confession, and she says no she doesn't.  He demands to know why she executed him anyway, "did it feel good?  Did you like it? Did you want to see him bleed?"

Eve: "I had to!  Treason means death.  Jonah made me - he was going to execute everyone if the didn't get a confession!"

Her father sighs and calls Jonah foolish. "Five children and only of the is worth a damn". He tells her to come closer, he has some he needs her to do.
Their father and leader of the family.
Outside the room Jonah and Beth argue about Eve.  Jonah says she's "not even his real daughter".  At this Beth tells him to shut the fuck up.

Beth: "Do you know what happens if she learns what she really is?  The questions she'll ask?"

Jonah says they can "put her down" if she bugs out at the truth, then Beth and James play "hide the pipette" and make another one.  Beth slams him into the counter top and grabs a knife saying she'll flay him.  Steve breaks the fight up.

Eve then appears saying she and Jonah will be going back to L.A. which is still partly smashed up from an earthquake.  Jonah says no point in fixing up the bits the waste live in.  Jonah returns to the house to find Johanna in the bath and cleans his sisters back and gets all too creepy close with his sister.

Jonah and Johanna plot.
Eve refuses to tell them why she is there, but Jonah says he has a man called Mason following her.  He shadows Eve as she walks through the slums, but she gives him the slip and drives way out of the city.  Here she meets a handsome man with a katana backed up by soldiers and he says she is now a prisoner of Morray.

Eve is taken to a Morray family compound in Mexico.  The sergeant leading the soldiers demands she hand her weapons over.  She says no.  The katana-dude says she is a guest not a prisoner but the sergeant says "the capture of an identified enemy Lazarus is of the highest priority".  Eve hands over the gun but not her sword.
Joachim and the Morray soldiers.
When the sergeant pulls a gun on her she slices his hand off with one stroke.  Joachim the Lazarus with the katana then cuts off the sergeant's head saying he exceeeded his authority and he and Eve leave to get some refreshment.

Back in one of the Carlyle compounds, James monitors Eve's lifesigns and when Jonah demands to know where she is, says that his father told him to keep it secret from Jonah.  James then calls the father "Malcolm" and tells him Eve is in Morray territory and that Jonah was asking after her.

Eve and Joachim relax and he gives her some guava.  He recalls the last time he saw her, she was fourteen then, five years ago.  She says he was the first person like her she has met.

Eve: "I don't want to fight you.  I don't want to hurt you."

They share a silent moment, then a helicopter bringing Joachim's uncle Morray, the leader of the family arrives.
Joachim and Eve bond.
Back with Jonah and Johanna, Jonah is panicking about Eve being sent to parlay.  Johanna says they are on the brink of war with Morray and it will take "a breath to kiss the flames to life."  She says Eve can't report back to their father until she is back in their territory, so they will kill her and blame it on Morray.  If she is cut into enough pieces she can be killed.  So they arrange a hit squad to meet her when she returns.

Eve meets with Morray.  She is not there to declare war, she offers a deal.  Normalisation of trade, grain and seed shipments to resume immediately.  In return Morray will deliver some things called "Tarantula Class Interdictors" also they must cease all communications with Jonah, "whose treachery is known to us, as is your collusion with him".

Morray agrees to the terms, saying Jonah is "dead to him".  Joachim is sent to escort Eve back to Carlyle territory.  They drive up to the border and Joachim stops.  He'd like to share a drink of water and a sunset with her.  They relax, but then suddenly a missile hits them full on blowing them up.
Back with James, an alarm goes off showing her vitals crashing.  Jonah is trying to watch what is happening via a drone but the Morray jamming field is delaying the images.  Out in the desert the badly wounded Eve and Joachim start repairing themselves.  Some soldiers approach her and force her on her knees, one of them moves to cut her head off.

Meanwhile, realising Eve is not dead and things could be going pear-shaped fast, Johanna gets Mason to punch her in the face to make it look like Jonah did it.  Before she can be beheaded, Eve manages to fight off her attackers.  Beth admires how all the injections and modifications to Eve are working, James says "for the love of God Bethany! Someone is trying to kill your sister!"
Joachim and Eve make a badass team.
Eve is joined by Joachim and they make short work of the rest of the soldiers.  Angrily Jonah goes to find Johanna but Mason won't let him see her:

Mason: "Your sister says to tell you that if you start running right now.  She'll slow the Lazarus down, long enough to escape".

Alone together, Eve says to Joachim this was not an attack on Morray.  She lets him take her bike as his car got blown up as she plans on returning via the helicpoter the soldiers arrived in.  She and Joachim wish each other a slightly awkward good bye.  She returns to the compound and finds Jonah gone and Johanna badly beaten.

Mason tells her that Jonah has fled and Eve holds a pretending-to-be-upset Johanna about Jonah's betrayal.  Eve meets with her father and asks if she should chase after Johann, but Malcolm says "not at present."  He congratulates her on delivering the message to Morray and says the family will have great need of her in the coming months though doesn't elaborate further.

Later Eve returns to her quarters an discovers an anonymous email which says, "He is not your father. This is not your family".  And on that uncertain note this first volume and story arc ends.
If I were to sum this book up in one word it would be "intriguing".  It leaves you both satisfied and asking questions that I am sure will be answered further down the line.  Eve is a very interesting character, a young woman thrust into a pretty horrible situation where she faces serious injury and death regularly as well as having to take lives herself and we've seen how she has no one fighting her corner.  The only people so far to treat her decently have been her father and another Lazarus, her brothers and sisters just see her as an experiment that can be easily replaced if she gets too curious about things.  I look forward to exploring Eve's world further.  It goes without saying that the art is fantastic.  There is nothing tacky or explotative about Lark's rendering of the violence that Eve is subjected to or perpetrates. I took a risk on Lazarus as I liked the creative team behind its other work and it paid off, I am definitely following this series now.  Image have been really knocking them out of the park lately, some fantastic stuff coming from them. Expect more write-ups in the future.


  1. this looks really cool! also you should cover gotham central :)

  2. I have considered doing Gotham Central, but am a bit wary because of the huge cast it has which might get confusing when summarised. That said if I run out of cash for new comics, I probably will cover it. I dunno, it's a possibility that's all I'll commit to.

  3. I say, this review is on the verge of making me cry :,-(

    I bet women don't lift their legs out of the bath like that in real life. Only in fiction.

    This looks like a very interesting series and it'll be fun to see where it goes next.

  4. Oh I didn't want to induce upset. Eve does suffer a lot of trauma in this volume, I'm hoping future volumes will bring more people who actually care about her.

    I do lift my legs up when I shave 'em, not quite as graceful as Johanna here.

    I have volume 2 scheduled for next month, although I haven't got ahold of it yet, I'm definitely keen to see what happens next to.

  5. Sorry, it's just that whole 'her brother pretending to care about her when he doesn't really' that made me sad.

  6. Yeah it's a bummer, and forcing her to execute an innocent man was a real shitty thing to do as well.