This week I’ll be reviewing a brand new dystopian series: Lazarus, which is written by Greg Rucka with art by Michael Lark. What has always drawn me to science fiction, and dystopian fiction in general, is the way it can take current events and concepts and stretch them just far enough to be believable. Sometimes this can feel prophetic and often pretty damn scary. Lazarus is exactly this kind of compelling and disturbing fiction.
Lazarus takes place at some point in the near future when economic collapse has all but destroyed most of the world’s governments. In their place, the sixteen wealthiest and most powerful families in the world have carved out vast territories which they control through their wealth and private armies. The rest of the population either acts as serfs (those who serve the Families in some capacity) or waste (the poorest of the poor who survive only on the disaster relief given by the Families and the aid of the few remaining religious organizations). Most of the Families also utilize genetic engineering and biological modification to employ a person known as a Lazarus. These Lazari are elite warriors trained in all forms of combat whose singular role is to protect their Families from any threat and, unless dismembered, can take an extraordinary amount of punishment and rise again. Between the private armies and the Lazari, the Families keep iron control over their territories and brutally suppress any popular uprisings.
The series at first focuses on the Lazarus of the Carlyle family, Forever Carlyle, who has been raised with the belief that she is a member of the Family who has been tasked with the sacred duty of protecting their interests at all cost. However, she starts receiving messages that all may not be as she has been raised to believe. Forever must not only serve the patriarch of her Family, in whatever capacity he requires as he schemes to keep the Carlyles among the most powerful of the Families, but also find out if her life is based on a lie. Rucka slowly introduces the reader to the other Lazari as the Families interact with each other and it becomes clear that the Lazari have much more in common with each other than with the Families they protect. This shifting web of loyalties creates such tension that it’s easy to devour issue after issue.
One of the greatest strengths of the series is how incredibly well Rucka has crafted this world. The hardcover edition of the first nine issues (Lazarus: The First Collection) is well worth picking up because it gives a bio on each of the Families with information on their leaders and Lazari. The way that Rucka slowly introduces the dynamic personalities heading up the Families and how they interact with each other makes it feel so damn realistic. In the introduction, Rucka states that he created the Families by browsing Forbes’ list of the 0.01% richest in the world and creating amalgamations of actual companies and individuals. This real-world touch make the future that he’s crafted that much more terrifying.
It’s hard to pick just one character to love but Forever is easily one of the best female badass characters I’ve seen. Rucka gives the reader glimpses of her brutal upbringing and her desperate desire to please the demanding Carlyle patriarch. The mix of vulnerability and badass combat expertise makes Forever an easy character to love. As with most Rucka stories, there are few flat characters. Even the villains are compelling and I couldn’t help but want to get inside all of their heads much more than Rucka ever gives you the chance to.
This is hands down the best science fiction graphic novel series that I have ever read. If you want science fiction that asks some very scary questions about where we’re headed and gives you one hell of a thrill ride in the process, Lazarus is an absolute must-read!