Posted by: Abhay Khosla on October 12, 2013
LAZARUS, a comic by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Santi Arcas, and Eric Trautmann, published in 2013 by Image Comics:
As Mr. John Kane has already discussed more efficiently and with more of a sense of humor, LAZARUS is a talking head comic told in the faux-cinema vernacular of modern comics, which is to say it fails to offer any inspiration as a comic itself. Michael Lark’s art is yolked to rendering nothing more than a televisually-limited depiction of Rucka’s script.
Though Lark’s style can be pleasant within the proper genre (e.g. Lark arguably “fit” with the detective comic Scene of the Crime), here, he’s drawing a science fiction comic, a genre where, at least in comics, an artist’s visual imagination tends to be a deciding factor. Lark’s studious if not photo-referenced style doesn’t offer any pleasure on its own terms, not to the degree an attentive reader can find from other science fiction comics (see, e.g. the late Paul Gillon’s Les Naufrages du Temps, to pick a random example), especially in the brief action scenes which are disjointed, and, in disregarding the 180-degree rule from panel to panel, don’t flow much at all. While the 180-degree rule’s applicability to comics is admittedly extremely questionable, even for action scenes, LAZARUS disregards it in the context of a comic that otherwise is attempting to recreate the visual experience of watching a 10 pm NBC television drama.
Consider this action sequence from page 7 of the first issue, which given the lackadasical nature of “modern” comics pacing means that we’re still in the opening scene, the “hook”:
And so the reader begins viewing this sequence from in front of the girl, with a man holding a sword to the reader’s left. Then, the reader is pulled behind her with the man now holding a sword to the reader’s right; then, the reader is again jolted in the other direction and the man is again holding the sword on the reader’s left. Any attempt to define the geography of the action terrain in the first panel is undone by the latter two panels. No flow.
(This is not an isolated instance of this in the opening action sequence: the camera has an even worse shift in orientation on the page before, and a similar shift on the subsequent page.)
Again, one might find similar “problems” in a good action comic; after all, comics are comics, arguably a very lawless medium, and the 180-degree rule is a movie rule, not a comic rule. But with its “widescreen” panels, unexaggerated “un-cartoony” plain-jane figure drawings, and “grass is green, sky is blue” color palette, the comic tries relentlessly otherwise to suggest the visual storytelling of movies (or perhaps mid-budget television, in the goodly Mr. Kane’s estimation). Therefore, unlike other comics where that might not be the case, the violation of the movie rules here sub-communicates within the first 8 pages of the comic (exclamation mark) that we are not only watching a movie but a bad movie, photographed by an inattentive cinematographer.
Of course, the rest of the comic is talking, dialogue scenes, more “Widescreen” panels of course, panels of small heads making that narrow range of expressions that’s possible with the faux-reality style Lark has selected, adjacent to word balloons and caption boxes and, of course, nothing more. Make no mistake that this is all rendered very pleasantly– Michael Lark is a skilled and experienced artist, and consequently, every panel shows an attentiveness to detail and effort and especially an attention to the texture of objects, the texture of locations, the subtle differences between tile and mud, etc. Within the parameters of the choices he’s made, Lark perhaps excels, at least.
The moment where LAZARUS most crosses over from dreary to yuck is in issue 2. Consider this chunk of uninterrupted dialogue from the middle of that issue, set Family Ties-style in a kitchen:
Jonah: “How LONG is she going to be there with him?
Another character: “Jealous?”
Jonah: “This is FAMILY business. She shouldn’t even BE there! She’s not even his REAL daughter, she’s just–
Beth: “You shut your FUCKING MOUTH, Jonah. You don’t SAY it, you don’t even THINK it, ANYwhere she could POSSIBLY hear. Do you know what happens if she learns what she REALLY is? The QUESTIONS she’ll start to ASK?”
Jonah: “So she LEARNS the truth and she goes BUGFUCK CRAZY, big deal. We put her DOWN… And then you and James play hide-the-pipette for a while and make us ANOTHER one.”
Beth: “I’ll fucking KILL you– You miserable little ABORTION, you MALIGNANT piece of SHIT–”
Jonah: “aah! AHHH!!! Crazy BITCH let GO–”
Beth: “– I will flay you open, I will–”
Jonah: “Let me UP let–”
Beth: “– DRAIN every worthless DROP of your BLOOD–“
These are the characters whom the reader is paying to spend time with.
Besides the fascistic amount of bold-facing (and the weird comedy created by its ill-advised attempt at Altman-ish overlapping dialogue, at least when Beth says “I will flay you open, I will” like a crazed Dick-Van-Dyke in-Mary-Poppins), what’s striking about the scene is its relentless inauthenticity. A character driven to rage using a three-syllable word like “Malignant” while waving a knife around? Of course, lengthy Shakespearean monologues during fight scenes have been a mainstay of comics since time immemorial; three-syllable words never hurt Stan Lee’s career as a “writer with an asterix next to the word writer” any. No what rankles is that in its “ooooh, edgy” invocations of abortions, its relentlessly over-the-top references to malignancies and Bobby “flaying”, how this dialogue seems to spring not from any observation of people but from an observation of internet flamewars. This is internet flamewar dialogue, thrust into people’s mouths.
The internet creates this illusion now that any user can be a voyeur; Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window could’ve spent all that time on the Something Awful forums, end of movie. And with “geek culture ascendant,” more and more, perhaps people believe this alternate MMORPG reality their twitter accounts and tumblr dashboards feed them resembles reality, rather than the funhouse mirror it actually is. A reality where it’s acceptable to ever use the word “amazeballs”, or certain bad, tedious special-effects films are somehow “original” and deserve championing over other equally bad equally tedious special-effects films, or every viewpoint that differs from our own must, must, must be a result of “privilege“.
But in LAZARUS, the reader can see the consequences of that at least to our art, a comic filled with carefully drawn, walking-talking Youtube comments.
What annoys with LAZARUS isn’t merely the moment-to-moment writing of it; other comics suffer in that respect far, far worse, after all. Again, Rucka is an experienced professional so while LAZARUS is moment-to-moment dull, so dull, it rarely is as moment-to-moment dumb as many other comics now on sale.
(One might quibble how much that is the result of the very, very low numbers of chances Rucka took with the material, i.e. people who make the good old “we’re fine looking dumb because we tried something special here, man” argument might be irked to any undue praise to the relatively generic pleasures of LAZARUS. Not sure really who “wins” in that argument– probably not readers.)
But LAZARUS pretends to more than its mere story, as it pretends to offer the reader a “critique” of late-stage capitalism. The concept of LAZARUS is as follows: the super-rich (or “the 1%“, if you must) have become feudal “families” who have divided a near-future world into geographical swaths; those who work for them are considered “serfs” while the remaining population of the super-poor are considered “waste.” The comic, however, does not focus on the serfs nor the waste, but on Forever Carlyle, a highly-specialized, technologically-enhanced, high-ranking member of a particular Family (owners of the Monsanto empire who now control Los Angeles and its surroundings, apparently). Every super-rich Family includes someone like Carlyle apparently, a “Lazarus” who handles the Family’s violent business for them and has to face-off against the … Lazari (?) of other family.
The comic hints that the story of LAZARUS will be the “strong female character” of Forever questioning her sociopolitical surroundings and ultimately opposing the income inequality posed by the Family’s very existence.
And so, once again, a slight variation on the Batman Fantasy. In the Batman, the reader is presented a fantasy that in a broken-down society, a rich person will lead a war to repair that society, which war will involve the rich person waging a brutal war of violence upon the filthy lower-class. At no time is it questioned that the rich person is inherently and unavoidably the beneficiary of the broken-down society, or that the under-class on whom he wages violence are reacting to the very inequalities that created him.
While the variation that LAZARUS presents is a main character who wages war on the “filthy upper-class” instead, the underlying deficiency to this fantasy is the same: the fantasy posits that the only true “Solution” to late-capitalism must unquestionably come from the victors of that same capitalism. And so, the reader is comforted that they are nothing more than a victim of late-capitalism, with no agency in their own impoverishment and no agency to end that impoverishment. Most importantly, the reader is given no tools to question the structure of late-capitalism or hint that any such tools even exist, other than to hope, hope, hope for a Redeemer to arise, to save them. In making the Redeemer a member of the upper-class, it is thus inherently sub-communicated to the reader that the current social order is in some way correct, and that the class structure they are imprisoned in is as a result of the heroics of these “rugged entrepreneurs” who bestride the world of late-capitalism, who are contained within the upper class. What is left for the lower classes but to marvel upon the spectacle of these figures whether they are robber barons, the fairy tale “benevolent multi-conglomerate” Wayne Industries, or now Forever Carlyle? What is the reader truly told but to stay asleep?
In previous feudal systems, the Redeemer superhero in question was at least Christ, who say what you will about beard-rock, offered a more comprehensive lesson-plan for the lower classes than the lone-wolf warriors advanced by late-capitalism, whether that be “criminals are cowardly” with Batman or whatever thin “eat the rich” sentiment LAZARUS ultimately evolves.
The business of comforting the reader is not the business of critique, and thus LAZARUS fails at its very core in that mission.
What makes the LAZARUS critique especially obnoxious is the possible autobiographical aspect of it. Namely, to the extent that LAZARUS is the ‘dutiful servant’ who learns that her masters do not have her best interests at heart, to what extent is that an attempt by Greg Rucka to rewrite his own history in comics, to reposition himself as the victim of that history, and to posit the existence of LAZARUS itself self-flatteringly as a redemptive act?
Consider the year 2005. According to Wikipedia, Dan Didio had been named Vice President -Executive Editor, DC Universe in 2004, and so in 2005 we see him before the series of events that would make him the Co-Publisher of that company. And 2005 also marked the great legacy of Greg Rucka to mainstream comics, in the publication of Countdown to Infinite Crisis, a comic which he co-wrote and far and away, the most important comic he ever wrote to the history of mainstream comics. As its title portends, Countdown commenced a wave of DC crossovers, with those crossovers then culminating in the Infinite Crisis mega-crossover, soon to be followed by a host of other crossovers, including Final Crisis, Flashpoint, Blackest Night and so forth. This in turn triggered Marvel Comics to shift away from their previous strategies to a similar strategy of crossovers, endless crossovers, with Marvel presently publishing about two-to-three mega-crossovers right this second, eight years later.
Critically, this is not the first time this happened in comics; this all happened before in the 1990’s. Every single thing about it had happened before. And so, unless they are canaries or simple creatures of limited memory unable to remember 5 years earlier, it should have been well known to comics professionals that a crossover-driven environment is inherently one in which editors become supreme, editors become bullies, and the creative personnel suffer accordingly. The current situation in comics, which now sees freelancers write coded “I heard from a birdie that someone somewhere is getting bullied maybe” hints out of fear, and sees even that little lauded as “courage,” can all be tracked to that ascendancy of Dan Didio, an ascendancy to which Rucka is inextricably intertwined at its roots. Rucka contributed to Countdown, 52, a myriad of Final Crisis tie-ins, whatever was asked of him…
… Until he woke up to “discover” that despite being a “good soldier,” Didio somehow did not respect his contributions to the horrible edifice to which he had willingly contributed, that in late capitalism, there is no “loyalty” to the employee and any such concepts are just advertising for commodities. Oh, the shock of it all…
And so, LAZARUS, the comic where it turns out that the good soldier was just being lied to all along, you guys, was a decent person who was mislead, wasn’t wasn’t wasn’t an oblivious clown who got clowned and deserved to get clowned for their sins, and certainly didn’t have their head in their sand as to the mistreatment of others or their own responsibility for the state of things because they were at all times guided by their own sense of honor and code.
How fucking convenient…
Thus, both within and without, LAZARUS suggests over and over again that the only way to receive late-capitalism is with a victim mentality. Greg Rucka’s attempts to rewrite his own history accordingly simply lack credibility.
This might be tolerable if LAZARUS had the decency of being entertaining. Whether this comic is entertaining will differ reader by reader, but for those who think the job of being entertaining eludes Rucka and Lark, LAZARUS offers a uniquely obnoxious comic experience.
Never Not enough hentai.