The first arc of Greg Rucka's masterful dystopian Image Comics series "Lazarus" has come to a close, but the story of Forever Carlyle is far from over. As the protector of the Carlyle family, Forever is genetically engineered to be a strong, deadly, obedient warrior -- impossible to kill and fiercely loyal to her parents and siblings. Her role is simple: defend the property, interests and safety of the Carlyle family at any cost. In a future where classism reigns and the divide between the wealthy and the poor is relentlessly brutal, concepts like love and family have been redefined for Forever. With power struggles and betrayal tearing her family apart, Forever is beginning to question everything she's been created to believe in.
With the next arc of the Michael Lark-drawn series beginning in issue #5, Rucka spoke with CBR News about the motives and desires of his stoic heroine, the influence of the current political climate on his writing and his plans for revealing the truth behind the "Lazarus."
CBR News: "Lazarus" is largely influenced by your point of view on current political and economic situations -- you make a concerted effort when interacting with your fans in the letters column to bring up current events and the like. Are those ongoing conversations shaping the next arc of "Lazarus?"
Greg Rucka: I'm not sure they're shaping them as much as informing them. Michael [Lark] and I love getting letters from readers, and that dialogue is, to me, very, very important. Part of where "Lazarus" was born was in the very real-world economic and political situation we find ourselves today, so I think it's important to keep that reference, and to keep that present. And I think that information is always a good thing, you know.
Is the interface between Forever and Dr. Mann/Dr. Carlyle at all informed by the current reality of drone warfare? We see the controlling parties safely in a room at a computer, running analysis and plotting next moves, while the weapon is out in the field. Does this change the relationship the Carlyle family has toward violence?
It's certainly part of it -- the ability for the seat of power to remove itself from the violence it incites and the repercussions of the same is definitely at work, yeah. I think it must change the relationship to violence, too, absolutely. That remove makes it much, much easier to ignore the moral and ethical implications in what's being done. That said, the sequence in question is less about social commentary than it is about both the reality of the world and about how Forever actually works. One of the things we wanted to do with the fight at the beginning of issue #4 was to really demonstrate the nuts-and-bolts of what Carlyle has created in Eve; that she's capable of these superhuman actions, that she has all of these very dangerous, very powerful abilities, but that there's also an enormous support network backing her. And through that, to re-emphasize that, to many in her family, she's not a person, but a thing, a tool, a device.
You spoke a little bit in #4's letters column about enhanced humans and the foundational technology for this currently being present in our world. What do you think the ultimate benefits and risks are of transhumanism? (As an aside, I have a theory that when the elite power class begin modifications/enhancements, they will paralyze the abilities and opportunities for those of us who can't afford such things, forcing the creation of a black market implants/modifications that will introduce infections inevitably leading to the zombie apocalypse. Thanks, rich people!)
I think there's something to that theory; the nature of commerce and capitalism is such that there will always be people willing to sell that technology to anyone who can afford it. Tech moves in some very predictable ways once it reaches the market; costs inevitably come down, systems shrink, become more refined. I think once we cross the "iPhone" moment with regard to genetic modification and bioengineering, it'll be near-ubiquitous in the first-world (whatever that may look like come that time).
There's good and there's bad, obviously. It's contingent on the application as much as the implementation. We're looking at technologies that can, and will, improve quality of life enormously. We're looking at tech that will save thousands, and eventually millions, of lives. We're also looking at technology that will radically alter the playing field, which will allow those who have access opportunities and benefits that those without will simply be unable to compensate against. You get into a "Gattaca" vision of the future. That's very plausible to me as an ultimate iteration. But there's a long way to go, and it'll creep into society in a much different way, I think. We'll see it in the military, and in athletes, and then into a broader commercial market.
So, yeah, there are enormous dangers. There are ethical considerations. There are moral considerations. There are basic science considerations. What are we going to become? What will it mean to be a human being?
As the first arc closes, we see Jonah and Johanna making a power play to take control of the Carlyle family. They seem to think Forever must be out of the picture in order to seize control from their father, but I'm wondering how deep her loyalty goes. Does her role in protecting the family start and end with the patriarch? Would she fight anything, including her own family, that posed a threat to him?
You mean how deep Forever's loyalties go? Well, I mean... c'mon, that's a series question! I can't answer that!
I will say that she is, or at least she has been convinced that she is, the youngest daughter of this family. She's been educated, indoctrinated even, to believe in her family, in her mother and father and siblings. That's where her loyalty lies, and that's further enforced by the various genetic tinkering and therapies that she's undergone. Malcolm Carlyle is the head of the family; he's her dad. And you see in this next arc exactly how Malcolm uses that, and how desperately she wants to please him, how much she wants his love. In that, he's clearly at the top of the "loyalty" pyramid. But that doesn't mean she's not just as devoted to her other siblings, or her mother.
Speaking of family, at the end of #4 we see a message suggesting that Forever's family isn't her real family. Is this part of the direction of the next arc?
It's part of the next arc, but primarily in a subtextual way. I mean, if you look at the timing of the message, what's Forever going to think? She's going to think that it's Jonah trying to mess with her. She's going to think someone is trying to make her doubt what she has never had any reason to doubt before. So it's a seed that's been planted in Forever's mind, and she doesn't know how to address it. Her relationships have changed, you know -- once, she would've showed that e-mail to James right away. In light of what's happened with Jonah, she's not so sure she should even admit that she received it.
It definitely will be coming into play. Just not right away, not overtly, at least.
I wanted to talk a little about the timeline in the back of each issue. How much of that did you have figured out going into "Lazarus?" Are we going to see any of these references or flashbacks to these events?
Everything that's been related through the timeline took place long, long before Forever was born, so its relevance to the story as it stands now is limited. It's the track of how we got where we are, and it's there mostly to explain the sequence of events (and even in that, it's pretty inadequate, obviously -- a lot has happened, and we can only cover so much). What may be immediately relevant when... that's further down the line stuff.
Right now, I'm not planning any flashbacks or anything like that. Like I said, the timeline informs the present. What I'd dearly like to do, and I've mentioned this elsewhere, is put together a selection of short-fiction, get a bunch of writers together and do maybe ten stories that come out of the timeline. Open up the world like that, you know?
Eric Trautmann and I do the timeline stuff together, a lot of the world-building. He's amazingly good at that kind of work, just has the eye for detail and the requisite near-OCD to really keep me focused. I tend to go off down rabbit holes and need someone to leash me back to the specific subject at hand. There are things we've got worked out in great detail, some others we've only got vague ideas about. Some of it is generated as needed, and then, as a result, really has to be fleshed out further. Some of it kinda pops into place fully formed.
It's honestly one of my favorite parts of the book, to tell the truth. We're doing something different with the backmatter in the "Lift" arc; no timeline this time, but instead, mini-bios on the different Families, how they came to be, what their origins were. And we're doing "in-world" corporate ads. I put the first one up on my tumblr a couple weeks ago, and I realized that when you just look at it, it looks too real, you can't tell it's fake unless you really read the fine print!
So far, most of the story has taken place on the family compound, although we have hints about the population of the rest of the world. Are you going to take us to any other locations in the upcoming issues?
Heh. Absolutely. We're sticking to the continental U.S. for the next art, but we're in L.A., Denver and Montana, as well as a few other places. First arc was about establishing Forever and her immediate world; this arc is continuing her story, introducing a new one, and building out from that. We're moving little by little, you know, trying to grow the world in a logical fashion, as well as a story-driven one. We're still primarily with Carlyle and their Domain, though you see hints (very slight hints!) of what life under Hock is like. It's a big world, there are a lot of places to go, and while we may not get to everything, we'll continue to reveal it as the story requires.
Forever's role in the first few issues is to serve and protect those around her. As her story develops, we see her stolen moments with Joacquim in issue #3, and the sense that she could have more in life than to defend the Carlyles. Is Forever able to self-actualize? Will we see her be able to determine what she wants and be able to create the change to obtain it?
Certainly. She's not a robot, she's not a machine; she has emotions, and desires, and needs, and wants, though most of those have been manipulated to service for her family. We're seeing the subtle beginnings of that in the first arc, and the second actually begins with her doing something entirely based on her own desires, though whether she does it well is another matter entirely.
What does Forever want?
Right now? She wants to make her Family, primarily her father, happy and proud of her. That means doing what he asks of her, and doing it well. But, of course, she's starting to wonder if that's all it's cracked up to be.
What has been the best thing about telling this story so far?
There have been a few, actually. I mean, it's hard to put them in any order, to say 'this is first, this is second.' I'm so grateful every day to finally have the opportunity to work with Michael Lark like this. It's something we've both been working toward for over a decade, and it's been everything I could've hoped. By the same token, getting to work with Santi [Arcas] again, and Eric Trautmann again, you know, those are things that genuinely bring me joy.
I've loved working with Image on this. It's been a remarkable experience, unlike any I've had with any other publisher in the industry. David Brothers, Eric Stephenson and Ron Richards have all been an enormous part of that, but there's even more -- seriously, everyone at Image has been amazing, and very, very supportive, very, very kind.
But, I mean... look, if you pin me down and say that I have to pick just one thing, it's going to be the response, obviously. When Michael and I were at NYCC this year, we were both sincerely stunned by the enthusiasm of the readership, just -- it's humbling as hell. It's just been amazing.
"Lazarus" #5 is on sale December 11 from Image Comics.