When a world is as well crafted as the one in the pages of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s “Lazarus,” it might be easy to focus on the dystopian landscapes and hidden agendas of the powerful elite — these elements are a compelling allegory of our current society, after all, and the creators weave details and history through the back matter in a way that teases a deeper canon. But the Image Comics series isn’t just about a world devastated by economic collapse, the private militarization of society, or even the brutality of feudal leadership; this series is about the journey of a woman shaped by these circumstances.
The heart of “Lazarus” is Forever Carlyle, the loyal, fierce protector of her family, created to be obedient and deadly. Although Forever exceeds all expectations of her role, over the past nine issues she has begun to question the truth of what she was raised to believe. As her eyes are slowly opened to the reality around her, Forever prepares to take a stand — will she continue to serve without question? Or will she face down the injustice of the oppressing upper class, starting with her own family?
Rucka and Lark spoke with CBR News about what lays ahead for their protagonist, taking a few detours to elaborate on the differences between the ruling families, the possible return of a fan favorite character and Rucka’s unkind treatment of his characters.
CBR News: As this arc of “Lazarus” closes, we see two characters that have fulfilled the arc’s name — “Lift” — and were elevated to the coveted serf status. We really saw what this opportunity means for people, and how it can change their lives — but what does this tell us about the families? What are they looking for here and how does it affect the story going forward?
Greg Rucka: It’s highly dependent upon the family in question. There is understandably a belief that because of what’s been shown that what Carlyle does is universal, and that’s an incorrect conclusion. Many families follow the Carlyle model, so you will see lift among other families. But families like Hock, in particular? Absolutely not. That’s not how it works. What Carlyle has created is an artificial society. They’ve imposed this pseudo-feudalist society in absence of there being anything like a real middle-class.
What Carlyle is looking for is use. They want people that are going to be able to fill roles, and those roles are very broad. In some cases they want people who are super, super bright. Not only can super, super bright people become dangerous to their way of life, but if they can get those people working on the things that matter to them — like genetics or electronics or computers — that will allow them to keep a technological edge. In other places they’re looking for someone who is just smart enough to follow orders, someone who is tough enough that they can turn into a great solider. They also need to keep the masses happy, so they’ll look for people they can make movies with and use that as propaganda. A lot of Carlyle’s propaganda is very subtle; they very actively manage the population.
Somebody asked me on Tumblr if there was free press anywhere in the world. My response was absolutely not. Under Hock there’s nothing even remotely resembling the free press, there’s not even an underground opposition. Under Carlyle, there is an illusion of free press. That can be used by the powers as it exists in that structure. They are able to monitor what the opposition is doing. It’s very calculated. Carlyle will always allow a certain amount of dissent because then they can locate it.
As with all my answers to you ever, I’ve gone right off the rails on it. I don’t even think I answered the question.
You not only answered it, you gave me a perfect segue into my next question. The propaganda in recent issues — the ads on the back page, the little character bios, who is behind those? Michael?
Michael Lark: I wish I could claim credit for those, but they’re done by Eric Trautmann, who does all of the graphic design stuff in the book — all the computer interfaces, propaganda signs. You’ll see more of that in the next issue. That’s what he likes to do. I’m so busy trying to tell a story with pictures that there’s just no time for it. That’s just the way he thinks — they look like the real things.
â€¨Rucka: We got a string of emails from him the other day that are all these safety signs in Hock’s territory. There are, like, eight of them that get progressively horrible.
Lark: They get better and better! The last one was so darkly funny that I was just lying in bed with my computer, reading them and laughing.
Rucka: You look at the back matter and you see that we’ve been running bios about the other families, their history and the evolution of their branding. Eric does all of that. I’ve known him for a really long time — he actually edited me on the first “Perfect Dark” novel I wrote. He was able to bring me in on that because he’d done a bible for Microsoft — that’s what he does. He’s another world-builder. The ads came out of us talking. I think I’d said that it would be cool to do fake ads for these family’s companies, and Eric jumped in. One of the things that will be in the hardcover that comes out in November are the ads from Eric we didn’t use. There’s an undercurrent of some very black humor in this book and Eric lives in a world of black humor.
Do these ads give us clues about the families we’ll see more prominently featured in the next arc?â€¨â€¨Rucka: Absolutely. Eric and I are working on a side project right now that will require me to definitively complete bios for all of the families. I have notes on them, but I haven’t written up the definitive canon. The way it’s worked is for each issue we run a bio, I sit down and figure out the history of the family. In the next arc, “Conclave,” which technically starts in issue #11 but has its fate set in issue #10, we’re going to see many of the families gathered in one place for the first time. It’s going to be super, super confusing and we may be using call outs a lot, because it’ll be a lot of people initially. â€¨â€¨Lark: Oh, yay!
Michael — how do you keep all of this together and organized to create the visual story?
Lark: Ha! You’re assuming I organize things — that’s cute. Apparently, before I start drawing issue #11, I’m going to have to sit down and design all the characters. [Laughs]
I know who these people are. It gets hard when you have, as a friend of mine who is also an artist calls them, NPCs, non-player characters. Working with all of those NPCs can get kind of hard because they tend to have much less personality than other characters. Most of these characters I know as well as I do my best friends. The more we see them, the more I get to know them, like Forever — she’s a piece of cake to draw. I know how Forever is going act no matter what Greg has her saying. Some of the other ones grow and change, I get to know them and they start telling me what they need to do and I get more used to drawing them. But as far as keeping it organized — I design them and keep it around.
Yeah — that intimacy you have in knowing Forever really translates, especially in a scene like the one between her and the Morray family Lazarus, Joacquim. You could see their history written all over their faces and it didn’t need any further explaining.
Lark: Yeah, that was such a well-written scene. I blew through those pages so fast; they were so easy to draw. I think I was running pretty tight up against the deadline so I was drawing a lot without doing much planning, and I found little things happening because of what you said — the characters became so immediately real. Like you said, their whole history was right there. It was just a joy to draw.
So, there’s a larger cast heading into “Conclave” and it sounds like the world is opening up — what are you looking forward to showing readers?
Rucka: Its about getting people to see what its like not being under Carlyle. You get to see the ruling powers of most of the other families. You’ll be seeing the family heads, you’ll probably meet their Lazarus, if they have one, not every family does. That meeting takes place in a very specific environment. This is the world’s power meeting; they’ve got to meet some place that’s not only secure for each of them individually but collectively. I think one of the things we’ve been able to accomplish in their first year is to establish what the world looks like in macro — you know that this is Forever’s world, this is what it’s like under Carlyle. Hopefully what the audience will have coming out of Conclave is what Carlyle looks like in relation to the rest of the world and how it relates.
The series has a real dark beginning. The world of Carlyle is very brutal, and if you didn’t get that in issue #9, you certainly got it by the end of issue #9. What’s going to become clear is that Carlyle is pretty good compared to what’s out there, which is a scary thought. That will become abundantly clear in issue #10.
As you come out of that macro focus, will Forever begin to discover her place in her father’s plans? As intelligent as she is, we’ve seen moments where she is naÃ¯ve. It seems like she’s already beginning to question her place, and to re-contextualize relationships she has — does that include Malcolm?
Rucka: Yeah, that’s something going on right now. I was told a story about someone who met one of the Koch brothers at a party on a yacht. This famous individual was on a billionaire’s yacht, another billionaire rolls up, and its one of the Koch brothers. The person in question had a brief conversation with the Koch in question about his son, who was on the ship. He was like two or three years old. The person asked when Koch’s son’s birthday was and the response he got was, “How in the world would I know that?”
Malcolm is very, very smart and he has a plan. That plan has not yet reached fruition, but he has a goal and Forever is instrumental in it. Malcolm is by far the smartest member of that family. Johanna is pretty darn clever. Bethany doesn’t give a rat’s ass. Steven has been beaten down and we’re gonna find out what happened to Jonah, who’s ambition outstripped his brains.
Forever’s learning curve is vast — I’ll leave it at that.
Lark: What you have to keep in mind is that we always talk about world building, and that stuff is great, but this is Forever’s story and her journey. That naivete is part of her story; it’s Forever having the blinders taken off her eyes.
Rucka: Yeah, it’s a story about what she becomes. She has the power to either redeem this world or destroy it.
The idea of redemption is interesting, and you briefly touched upon the presence of God in the back matter of a recent issue. Can you talk a little bit about how faith and religion are used as tools by the families?
Rucka: There’s an element of religion that is the opiate to the masses. The historical record shows that trying to eliminate religion is going to fail and all the more so among people who are desperate. Living in the Middle Ages, the church said yes, your life sucks. It’s supposed to, because when you die you’re going to go to heaven and it’ll be great. The paradigm they had was people understanding they had no choice. The idea of things improving was not even something they thought. It was inconceivable.
Like with the press, different families deal with religion in different ways. If you think back to the first few issues, Malcolm meets with the Pope early on. He wants the Catholic Church aboard. If he’s got the Pope saying that his way works, he’s going to have that much more ability to control his populace. Trying to annihilate faith for Carlyle was a no-go, it had to be permitted, but it had to be under certain controls, which is what you see with Sister Bernard. The sisters are allowed to practice their ministry and no one is going to tell them no, but there are certain things that Carlyle expects. Since the sisters are traveling a lot, he wants to know what they see. They might run across people that might be of use to him, he’d like to know their names. And there are other compromises too.
â€¨Does Forever have any concept of personal faith? Is it just devotion to her family?
Rucka: No. Forever is a perfect study of nature versus nurture. We meet her relatively early in her life experience, meaning she’s had a lot of educational experience and not a lot of practical experience. She knows what religion is, she understands religion, but if anything, her religion is science.
â€¨Lark: I think her religion is family.
Rucka: Well, she has faith in her father, she has loyalty to her family, and she has faith in James and Marisol. These are the people who care for her and feed her and give her purpose. The higher purpose she serves is her family.
The way you developed her relationship specifically with Marisol was a joy to read. Was there ever a question about if Forever would kill Marisol or not as she finished her training?
Rucka: No, I knew from the start she wasn’t.
â€¨Lark: We knew how that was going to play out. There’s a part in the story where Forever asks Marisol if she’d kill her if her father ordered it, and she says yes. In the script it said, “She’s lying.”
Michael — thinking about those training scenes with young Forever. Those were brutal. Were they emotionally difficult moments to create?
Lark: No. I’m a little bit detached from this stuff. It’s more like the story has already played out and its just up to me to show it. Its almost sadistic, jerking people’s chains, but I enjoy it. If I manage to create an emotional reaction from a reader, then I’ve done my job, and I enjoy that. In fact, the scene where Marisol has to beat Forever — I remember reading that script and immediately emailing Greg saying that I couldn’t wait to draw it.
Rucka: You also called me a couple of names in that email.
Lark: Well, you’re not nice to your characters! Greg is not a benevolent god. He’s like an Old Testament god.
Which one of you handles the letters column?
Rucka: That’s me. Michael is too busy drawing, so I handle the back matter. Every so often I run something past him, but I really try not to bug him.
You’re too busy having him draw thirty-five NPCs on a page and little Forever getting beaten?
Lark: I’m actually just finishing a page right now that I’m about to email Greg with full rear male nudity. Some full frontal, but it’s in shadow — anyway, penises, asses, little girls getting beat. You know. Family stuff.
â€¨Please tell me that the nudity is Joacquim’s return?
Rucka: Casey, that would imply that I’m a benevolent god. I will tell you for the Forever/Joacquim shippers — if you’ve seen the cover for issue #12, you’ll be very happy with the contents of issue #12. But if you’re waiting to see him in the buff, it’ll be awhile.
Lark: Knowing Greg, if that ever happens, most of his skin will be flayed off and it’ll be his cyborg junk.
I think this conversation continues to show that “Lazarus” is really Forever’s story. She’s what everything comes back to and no matter how the world around her changes and grows, you’re both focused on her.
Lark: I’m the one who is always saying this — this is Forever’s story. This is not a polemic. In the end, there’s no point to this unless it’s Forever’s story. You’ve got to have the emotional anchor, otherwise who cares about the economic apocalypse. It’s a story about her emotional journey, and its one that’s set in motion because of the politics.
Rucka: Yes, Michael’s right. I don’t have any interest in writing a polemic and no one has any interest in paying $3.50 per issue to read it. This is the story of Forever Carlyle and the question is: Can she make this better? Nine issues in, we’ve seen how bad it is for these people. This woman, who is emotionally invested, she feels grief and remorse over the cruelty she’s witnessed and the cruelties she has to visit upon people.
The question is, when is she going to act? What will it take to change it? Will she be able to? What happens when Forever tells her dad to go fuck himself? That’s the moment people are waiting for, and it’s coming sooner than you think — and not in the way you think.
We’ve talked a lot about God, and Forever’s relationship with faith, and I just have one more question for you guys. Do you think God could make a pizza that’s so big he can’t finish it?
Rucka: Hmm. That would be a choice, right? I think God would have to decide that, right? Like, “I’m going to make a pizza so big that I can’t finish it.”
Lark: Wait — is this a benevolent god or a Rucka god?
It’s a Rucka god.
Lark: Man, I’m going to have to ponder that. It’s a good thing I have to work late, because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all.