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The last time I reviewed an issue of Lazarus, from writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark, was in November, but there has only been only issue in between that review (for issue #20) and now. So Lazarus #22, the first issue of the series in months, hasn’t progressed that far in its story. It has, however, taken a few major changes that give the series a fresh look. This issue is still setting up elements, so while it’s not as thrilling as some past issues have been, it’s a very solid and intriguing comic.
For much of the recent story on Lazarus, the Carlyle family has been at war with the Hock clan, with Carlyle allies fighting Hock allies. Some major changes are happening with Lazarus #22. For one, Johanna Carlyle – who tried to betray her family on numerous occasions in a quest for power – has taken over the family from her very ill father Malcolm, as no one in the family knows what she did. Meanwhile, the family Lazarus named Forever survived a near death experience, but finds herself out of action. The family has been training a younger clone of Forever, who is only 12 and not yet prepared for battle. She has become friends with Sonya Bittner, a Lazarus taken in by the Carlyles, though Johanna doesn’t like the connection Sonya has to young Forever. Johanna orders Sonya into battle, where she faces a major battle with another Lazarus.
When main character Forever Carlyle “died” and was resuscitated in the last arc, I expected her to quickly move back to the center of the series. Rucka and Lark have made a different choice, having Forever be a background character (the older version of Forever is barely in Lazarus #22). It’s an interesting move by the series creators. Although Forever is a great character and has been at the center of the story since its start, they are showing that Lazarus is more than just her. The Carlyle family and its family tension and dynamics have proven to be a compelling thread, so I think they can have some issues without Forever at its center.
At the same time, I do find Forever to be one of the most engaging things about Lazarus. I root for Forever, who has great physical power but little self-awareness, and find her exploits – to understand her past and her place in the world – make great stories. So while Rucka and Lark are showing that they can have issues of the series aware from her, I wonder if taking a permanent break from Forever would work on a long-term basis for Lazarus. Though the Carlyle family members have many distinct personalities, and the creators have established a number of good secondary characters, I think this series is Forever’s show.
I believe the new development that works best in Lazarus is the promotion of Johanna to family leader. Though her loyalties remain dubious at best, she has shown good strategic instincts and seems to have a will to succeed. In Lazarus #22, we see patriarch Malcolm awake for the first time since his poisoning from Jakob Hock. The presence of Malcolm, especially in a weakened state, could create a power struggle. This would make for a potentially fascinating story direction. The family is at a delicate place, battling the Hock clan and their allies, but that does not preclude internal family power plays.
The art in Lazarus has always been one of its strengths, as Michael Lark is one of the best artists in comics at drawing realistic faces and subtle emotion. When he gets to draw battle sequences, though, he still composes really great moments. There are a few battle scenes in Lazarus #22, at the beginning and end of the issue. Along with Lark and inker Tyler Boss, colorist Santi Arcas also does an exemplary job. For the most part, Lazarus has had muted colors. So one might not notice the power the coloring is conveying, but Arcas does a fine job of distinctly setting a tone and mood for each scene through different color templates.
Though it has been away for some time, Lazarus is still a very good series. It’s encouraging that Rucka and Lark are willing to take big risks with their creative decisions. These decisions push the series into unexpected directions and offer other characters time to shine. The juggling of injured Forever and her younger clone could be tricky, but I think Rucka and Lark have something worthwhile in mind. As the new arc “The Cull” progresses, I think we will see more daring stories.