“Lazarus” #2 by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark picks up the action shortly after the ending of the first issue, in which Forever, the Carlyle’s Lazarus, was disturbed and uneasy in the aftermath of an execution. The last panel of “Lazarus” #1 showed her looking away from James, saying, “I feel fine.” Despite being groomed to obey and serve as sword and shield to the great power of the Carlyles, could Forever be learning to lie to her kin, who are also her masters?
Rucka quietly builds up the mystery around Forever’s origin and her status in the family. From the beginning, there’s an unexpected, uneasy and extreme power imbalance that defines her Lazarus role. Forever is physically far more powerful than any other Carlyle, but her lack of information and her “regimen” make her more akin to valuable property or an honored servant than anything near to being equal to her supposed sisters and brothers.
A family conclave dominates almost all of “Lazarus” #2. The possibility of open war with the Family Morray is the declared agenda, but intra-family conflict steals the show. Except for Forever, the Carlyles fight dirty. The setup of a clan power struggle is classic and Rucka doesn’t deviate too far from the familiar outlines of backstabbing and flattery. His pacing and Lark’s expressive faces make the scenes strong, if unoriginal.
The largest flaw in “Lazarus” #2 is the one-dimensionality of the Carlyle twins, Jonah and Joanna, who seem to have no redeeming qualities. They are presented as selfish, stupid, vain, bullying and Up To No Good. Rucka trots out the Evil Twins plot trope without much customization. The whiff of possible incest is just part of the standard package. Rucka deploys the stereotype well with his naturalistic dialogue, but it’s still a shortcut that detracts from the overall strength of characterization.
Forever is the most sympathetic character, and Rucka and Lark have already made her a complex mixture of compassion and violence, intelligence and blind loyalty. Save the lone possibility of Malcolm Carlyle, the person Forever ultimately answers to, she has no confidantes, and Rucka doesn’t lay out Forever’s thoughts explicitly in voiceovers. Instead, her character is revealed by Lark’s facial expressions and body language. In the panel of silence after Malcolm Carlyle asks, “Why did you do that?” Forever’s expression is wrenching and resigned.
Rucka and Lark depict a person on the brink of moral awakening, and the Forever’s character arc feels like a bildungsroman in its suggested path of independence. Rucka and Lark leave open questions about Forever’s true opinions on her family, the extent of her knowledge and whether or not she has free will. “Lazarus” #2 has a gratifyingly ambitious scope. Along with free will, Rucka is playing with concepts such as the social contract vs. wealth, duty vs. nobility and the possibility of honor in a world of injustice.
The cliffhanger ending is logical and yet unexpected. Rucka opens a door outwards, pointing to even richer material and greater horizons. Though the holdings of the Carlyle’s are rich and vast, they are not the entire world, and although Forever, with her name and abilities, seems unassailable, the world she lives in is dangerous even to her. Rucka’s casual reminder of these facts is deft, and overall, “Lazarus” #2 expands and maintains a well-executed, exciting introduction to Forever’s story.