Rarely do episodic installments of sequential graphic storytelling (otherwise known as “monthly comics”) attempt to address issues that affect our society directly. The books that do are few and far-between, and often fall into the trap of becoming preachy treatises on societal ills, offering little in terms of narrative to help the reader place the point in context. When they do, and particularly when they do so as directly as the book I’ll be looking at in this week’s Featured Review, it is important that we give them the attention that they so richly deserve.
“Lazarus #1”, the first issue in an ongoing series that re-teams writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark (a pairing well-known to fans of Gotham Central), seeks to dive headlong into one of the most pressing problems facing the world today, namely Wealth Inequality.
Since the beginning of the Occupy movement with the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2010 (an event that Rucka credits for providing much of the inspiration for this work), the subject has been gaining a level of traction not seen since the end of the gilded age, when many of the protections that modern-day laborers take for granted were put into place. For a look inside the perceived, ideal, and actual distribution of wealth in present-day America, be sure to check out this excellent piece from Business Insider.
What Rucka does with Lazarus is carry this disturbing trend to its logical (albeit extreme) conclusion, where the continued concentration of wealth has created what could be described as a neo-fuedal system whereby the top %.000001 have gained control of %99.999999 of all the wealth on the planet, wealth so excessive that they have been able to quite nearly grant themselves immortality.
This is legitimately terrifying. One of the only advantages that the socioeconomically downtrodden have possessed throughout history is numbers and the ability, if the elite became too powerful, to overthrow them by main force. Absent that ability, their plight ultimately inescapable without intervention by a higher power.
In “Lazarus”, that intervention comes in the form of a member of the Carlyle family named “Forever”. While she still abides by the rules of her society in this first issue, it is apparent very early on that Forever is not at ease in this world, despite being an elite among elites. She is the product of genetic engineering, the beneficiary of medical treatment so cutting-edge that it borders on science fiction, though Rucka makes clear in his post-script comments that the science on which the treatments in the story are based on is, in fact, very real.
While we do not seen Forever actively intervene against the interests of her family in the series’ first installment, it is apparent from her dissatisfaction with the means used to control the population under her family’s “care”, as well as suspicious dialogue from some of the supporting characters, that she is a time bomb just waiting to go off.
The World now lies divided not amonst political or geographic boundaries but among financial ones.
Wealth is power, and that power rests with a handful of FAMILIES.
The few who provide a service for their ruling Family are cared for.
All others are Waste.
In each Family, there is one perosn given the best they can offer, training and technology and assets, every scientific advantage. this person is named their Family’s sword and shield, their protector, their LAZARUS.
The trinary society that Rucka has created is a cracked mirror of our own. There are the wealthy elites at the top, the working middle class and, at the bottom, the “useless eaters” who do nothing but consume resources. Again, it is the frighteningly logical conclusion of the present-day trends in wealth and income distribution. The world that Rucka and Lark show us is a dark warning about where our path will lead if we do not somehow change course.
One of the most engaging aspects of this title is the level of detail that has been put into the world that Forever and the cast inhabit. Michael Lark displays an ability to shape his environments with such precision that it becomes possible to fully envision the reality in which the story takes place. The tone he has achieved, one of dark and grimy subsistence of the Serfs and Waste, placed in stark contrast to the shining opulence of the Families perfectly illustrates the divide between the castes while also giving the reader a sense of the how the world itself works. His neo-noir sensibility provides the perfect companion art for Rucka’s script and pushes the title to the next level creatively.
Lazarus is a frightening story. It shines a light on some of the most critical issues facing our society and shows us exactly what we’re in for if we don’t set things right. It is a warning in the form of words and art; a dire prophecy of our own future, but possessed of a glimmer of hope, however dim. Rucka and Lark have a surefire hit on their hands, and this is a book that everyone will be talking about.
Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He also hosts the weekly Infinite Crossover podcast in cooperation with Fanboys Inc. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and daytime supporter of all things technical. contact: email@example.com