Greg Rucka and Michael Lark continue to reveal more about their oligarchical world in "Lazarus" #13, in the third chapter of the "Conclave" arc which brings the ruling families into a very tense gathering. The tension within the Carlyle clan has already been a riveting focus throughout the series, but Rucka ratchets up the drama here by throwing in external conniving and squabbling between the families, as well. It's a shot in the arm that the series was doing just fine without, but the additional friction elevates this already excellent title.
The events of the issue stem from Forever's brother's betrayal of the Carlyle family, and the political complexities arising from it that impact all of the ruling castes. Rucka expounds on the particulars of these complexities, and their potential consequences, via Malcolm's always fascinating and clinical analysis and strategizing. Besides Forever herself, Malcolm remains one of the most fascinating characters in the series, as Rucka perfectly balances the character's love for his daughter Forever and his duties to the family and their territory.
There's no shortage of fascinating players inside this issue, though; fellow Lazarus Joacquim Morray is again featured, and his relationship with Forever is further explored; newly introduced Lazarus Jiaolong Li is fascinating for his unique, unassuming nature, as well as his downright dangerous abilities; and Sonja, yet another Lazarus from the Bittner family, is shown to be a kindred spirit of sorts with Forever; unwaveringly loyal and ruthlessly brutal, but beneath that a seemingly normal young woman who welcomes the company of like-minded people.
Through these characters, Rucka also explores a personal side of Forever. The already-established connection between Forever and Joacquim is strengthened by Rucka, and the attraction between the two is stated clearly by Lark, who captures the sexual tension between the two up close as convincingly as he does from across a crowded room. A scene featuring the two of them alone bleeds with romance and is appropriately colored by Santi Arcas.
The bond of friendship between Forever and Sonja is organically created by Rucka, following a scene where Rucka also establishes just what connects all of the Lazari of the various families, despite some of them being sworn enemies, and with the understanding that being allies today doesn't mean the same will be true tomorrow. The uneasy undertones of the overall status quo between Lazari belies that felt by Forever and Sonja, who forge a genuine friendship rooted in mutual respect, a perhaps somewhat surprising yet perfectly believable development after the violent events that started off the storyline.
The remote yet luxurious setting on a North Sea resort is beautifully designed by Lark, a deceivingly attractive setting for all of the potential bloodletting and clandestine political maneuvers. The designs evoke the finest five-star hotel or luxury cruise ship, yet the complex sits on structure not unlike an oil-rig, surrounded by miles of nothingness. The vacation-like environment paradoxically coupled with such an isolated location and a vibe not unlike an espionage thriller make for an unsettling yet captivating backdrop.
"Lazarus" #13 does the nigh-impossible: makes a great series even better, heightened by a somewhat surprising development at the end of the issue. Many series that start off strong, fail to perpetuate the momentum that Rucka and Lark not only maintain, but escalate.