Comic Book Bootcamp Day 3: Science Fiction
What we’re reading…
I wrestled with this one a bit. Science fiction is so entwined with comics; it’s practically in its DNA. Comics have a strong relationship with pulp stories, which were filled with adventure and mystery.
Superheroes, one of the trademarks of comics, are rich in science fiction. So, when picking ONE comic book volume that embodies the spirit of science fiction in this medium, I kept coming back to Lazarus (2013) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. This comic series is one of my favorites to come out in recent years, and I always find new things when I go back and read the previous issues. This comic is violent and does have some strong language, but the world Rucka and Lark have built is astonishing. Lazarus is an important recent comic.
Before you read…
Let’s take a look…
Lazarus is by far one of the most complex comics out there. It’s almost impossible to breakdown and unpack. Some have down a far better job than I ever could – see the further reading section for some amazing articles. I do want to bring up some amazing parts of this first volume.
The series opens up with a woman in critical condition. Near death, she begins to recover. She assaults her attackers, outright killing them silently. As she comes to life, covered in blood, and kills a group of men, she presents initially as a horror monster. As far as the reader knows, the woman has no inner dialogue; we are only privy to her report of the incident. It’s as if she tries to explain her perception of the incident, her moral questions related to the incident, but she is repressed. Science fiction is apparent early on in the series through the existence of Forever Carlyle.
Forever is the daughter of Malcolm Carlyle, the leader of the Carlyle Family. In the world of Lazarus, the world is carved up into areas governed by families. The families hold complete control over their dominions, everything from finance to basic food supplies. Those who are not family are at the mercy of the families and their generosity. The families rely on the Serfs and Waste to power the dominions. It’s a delicate balance, one that teeters on the brink of destruction. Lazarus is a dystopian-like story that is built upon the technology and medical prowess of the families. Forever was created by the Carlyle family to be their Lazarus, their protector. She does not die, and she is maintained by a team of scientists to micromanage her upkeep. Forever was created to be loyal; Forever was created to be their daughter.
Forever’s creation is kept in the dark, and a major plot point the first volume is her role in the family. Malcolm trusts and respects Forever. Forever’s siblings, on the other hand, squabble over family control. They see Forever as a tool, not as a sister. Of the siblings, Jonah has the most outright ambition. He is certainly the most stupid Carlyle child.
It is heavily implied that Jonah is having an incestuous relationship with his sister Johanna. In his plot for control over the Carlyle family, he and his sister put a plan into motion that will rid the family of Forever and bring about a major war. Thankfully, Johanna is the more dangerous of the two as she positions herself as a victim and wins over the sympathy of the family.
Family is a major theme running through Lazarus, and related to that theme is the idea of perversion. Johanna and Jonah remark that Forever is a perversion, a person that goes against the laws of nature. At the same time, the relationship between Johanna and Jonah is unnatural and perverse. The Carlyle family is twisted on both the surface and deep below. With the theme of family is also the concept of saving face. The strength the Carlyle family presents to their dominion and others is a farce compared to the deeper issues they are facing. At the same time, isolation from the Carlyle family only brings about more trouble.
My personal favorite part of this first volume is the relationship between Forever and Joacquim. Joacquim is the Morray Lazarus. The Morray dominion borders Carlyle land, meaning the two families have strenuous ties. Forever is tasked with bringing an opportunity for trade to the Morray’s after a infiltration by a small group of Morray soldiers. The two indestructible soldiers have more in common with each other than with their respected families.
Up until this moment, we see Forever as a very stoic individual. We often forget that she is 19 years old. When I reflect on who I was when I was 19, a big part of that was cultivating a romantic relationship. Erikson’s stages of development indicate that a major part of growth for people is romantic connections, and Forever is no exception. In Joacquim, she sees a man who understands her position in the Carlyle family and offers no judgment. He sees her as powerful and beautiful, a dear friend to cherish. In probably the best panel in the volume, we see the esteem Joacquim has for Forever; when an explosion destroys part of his face, he hides the grotesque side from her in shame. For those of you unsure if you want to stick with the series longer, know that there are more Joacquim and Forever moments that will melt your heart.
While volume 1 is a great foundation for a science fiction story, the subsequent volumes and issues layer political intrigue on top of human rights and social justice without losing sight of the science fiction roots. Additionally, Rucka and Lark are a prime example of how art and words work together to convey a story that brings new meaning with each revisit.
What makes Forever different from her family?
Do you agree with the decision of the Carlyle family to hide Forever’s origin from her?
Why do you think Forever is having doubts about her role as the Lazarus? What other problems do you foresee Forever encountering in her role?