The first two story arcs of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Image Comics series Lazarus introduced us to a dystopian near future where a handful of wealthy families have divided the world, and the people in it, among themselves. The second two story arcs, collected in the Lazarus Book Two hardback releasing May 18, shows us what happens when these families come together, and when these families go to war.
However, even when the politics, intrigue, and warfare are at their fiercest, the core of Lazarus is its protagonist, Forever Carlyle. Forever grows through some surprising new experiences over the course of these stories, and unexpected challenges, but perhaps nothing can prepare her for the volume’s surprising conclusion.
ComicBook.com had the opportunity to speak to both Rucka and Lark about the narrative direction of Lazarus, balancing world building with character growth and, of course, that game changing ending.
Tell about the stories included in Lazarus Book Tow, primarily “Conclave” and “Poison.”
Greg Rucka: Wow, how do we describe the stories…well, they're the third and fourth arcs, but that's not really the answer you're looking for.
These are the stories that now shake the world, I mean, that's what we're doing. We're four complete arcs in and every engine is firing, man. This is the stuff where all the ground work we did in the first volume, the first hardcover, pays off. We’ve got Lazari fighting Lazari, and we've got families at war, and we've got high stakes and high drama and some frankly devastating revelations at the end of “Poison.”
Everybody talks hype when they talk about their books, but honest to god, every story we do is I think better than the last one. I think that that's really evident here, and I don't think we started weak. I think “Conclave,” when it came out, was our strongest story, and I think “Poison” is even stronger. This is a lot of stuff and this is a big damn volume, it covers issues #10-21 inclusive. So that's two complete arcs with two stand-alones, basically, that feed into it, not counting all the extras. There is a glorious gallery of [Eric] Troutman magic, there is a really cool sequence when Michael talks about how he did the sword fight in “Conclave,” we've got Owen [Freeman] back. Every time we sit down to do one of these we want to do a book that we're really proud of. We want it to be a book that'll justify the price point because it's a hard cover. These things aren't cheap, you know?
Michael Lark: If I can add to what Greg said, I think that the first volume was really like setting up a chess board. For me, I think that, beginning with the “Conclave” arc, we really started to explore. Greg says that this is was the world, but I think that what we're really seeing is, okay, this is how the world that has been so carefully built is affecting our main character. This is where her journey really starts. It's where the rubber really starts hitting the road on her journey. The first two arcs, we were kind of just showing, “This is who she is, This is the setting that is part of the conflict.” Now everything is moving into place. Our book is really more of a slow burn than a big explosion in your face. Hopefully this is the one where it pays off for the people that have been patient enough to keep reading.
What kind of world building goals did you have or these stories? About how far along in the overall narrative are you?
GR: We're probably about a quarter in at this point, maybe. Yeah, I would say about 25-30 percent.
So even with everything that’s going on in these stories, the overall narrative is still ramping up?
GR: Yeah. I mean, there are some big revelations that hit at the end of “Poison,” the last arc we completed. The next arc, the arc that Michael's currently drawing, and that we're working on, “Cull,” it's just going to continue what we started. There's always been a very definite journey for this in mind. There's an ending that we've always had in mind. I think at various points, Michael and I have looked at it being, I think, longer than we've ultimately decided that it needs to be.
ML: Or they weren't able to do it.
GR: That may be it too, we ain't as young as we once were. But I think also, the biggest issue in writing this thing is always an issue of pacing and what parts of the world are we going to be able to spend time on? So that's its own cost.
I think that when you talk about world building, everything we do in every issue, in some way, contributes to it. It's not that we hit world building and then we stop and say, “Well now we built it, let's tear it down.” The destruction of elements of the world is evolution of the world. It's still moving forward, it isn't static, and I think that one of the best things, I think, in an abstract, is that at this point, I think the world is very much alive. For people that are following it, for people who have been reading the book, who are invested, they now have a sense of what the world is and the way it continues beyond just what we see on any given page.
You mentioned earlier that there’s some bonus material in the collection about how Michael constructed the swordfight scene for “Conclave,” which was a great sequence. Can you tell me a bit about your goals for that scene and how you approached it?
GR: It mattered to me that, when the time came for that fight, it be a big damn fight. It had to be something special. That it was something that really up, until that point, almost fourteen issues of the series had been building towards, roughly. We wanted to see what it is like when two of these Lazari go at it. In a way, it was scripted fairly lightly, because my script was more about pacing the combat to reactions and the cutaways of what else is going on. When it came time to do it, I actually choreographed the fight with a friend, we shot in on video. We gave it to Michael and then Michael used that to dictate his choices and how he was going to depict it. We spent a lot of time on that fight. We don't phone anything in on this book, but that one was extra credit work.
ML: I think what Greg just kind of alluded to is there's so much more to it than just the fight and the choreography. A fight without any kind of emotional attachment to the characters in the situation is meaningless. There's plenty of comics that have plenty of that, if that's what you want. We were more interested in, “What does this do with the characters? Where do we go with the characters?” What happens in that fight sets up things that are going to be happening through the next arc, and there's stuff about it still going on in the issues that we're working on now, in the next arc after the second volume. Again, it goes back to how we're pushing the characters forward. That was what, I think, our ultimate goal was with it. Yeah, to have a cool fight, but also to say, “This is setting up more of the larger conflict and more of the journey that Forever’s going on, because of her relationship with Sonya.”
One of the most compelling scenes in this collection is when the lazari gathered together for a card game during the conclave, intereacting as friends even though their families may be enemies. How did you devise this kind of relationship for the lazari?
GR: Look, I'm a huge espionage fan, as Queen and Country can attest. One of the things I always liked, especially amongst professionals and professionalism, is the ability to look at one’s position within a larger political scheme. I think Armitage’s lazarus, Sir Thomas, says it best. “We all know what we are, and we all know our duty, and, when the time comes, we'll do it, but that doesn't mean we have to like it, and that doesn't mean we have to be dicks to each other about it.”
I wanted also - and it was something Michael pointed out fairly early, I'm not even sure if he remembers it - the lazari are different, and it’s not simply by nature of their office. They are made to be different. The only other people who are going to be able to understand them are other Lazari, because the only other people who have their kind of points of view with the world, the way they are changed due to their job, and they are changed, there's nobody else they can share it with and they have more in common. And this is the thing, you're gonna find spies or soldiers, they have more in common with the people on the other side sometimes than they do with the people they're working for back home, the people who are giving them their orders and have no idea what is required for them to accomplish the thing they've been told to go and do, and that was really crucial for me, that you needed to see that the lazari can like each other even if they're going to have to trod down on each other.
ML: Yeah, that was my favorite thing about that scene. It shows that, yeah, these people are outsiders. They're different. Even though Forever is a Carlyle, she's a Lazarus first and foremost.Even though she's part of that family, she's probably part of the lazarus family before she's part of the Carlyle family, whether she knows it or not. Greg, you may disagree with that?
GR: No, I think that that's kind of a tacit understanding with all of them. And I'm not sure the families themselves understand it. If you look at Forever, she is reminded that she is the daughter almost primarily in relationship to her duty as a Lazarus. So the fact that she's a Lazarus is her primacy. That's the thing that defines her most, and that's the thing her family uses to define her. It is how they refer to her, and if you extrapolate that to the other families then, logically, you get a place where they all speak the same language.
ML: Yeah, you can really tell, I think, in that scene that, and I think earlier too, the scene where Sonya and Jolani, when they're in the gym with Forever. That they're a lot more relaxed around one another than they ever are around their family. Even if they don't know each other, even if they've never met. Like Sonya had never met Jolani, and Sonya is by nature more shy and reserved, but there was still more connection and she was more relaxed than anybody is in any of the other settings. When they're with their families or whoever they're with.
Given how terrible the Hock family comes off in these stories, especially when we visit the family’s own territories, it would be easy to look at them as the villains and Family Carlyle as the heroes, largely thanks to the readers’ connection to Forever. But things aren’t that simple, are they?
GR: Yeah, I think that Carlyle is certainly depicted as one of the best of the bad lot, but that doesn't make them good. You know what I mean? It's easy to root against Hock, because Hock is so patently vile. Everything we know of Hock is just reprehensible, and icky, and ghastly, so it’s very easy to look at that and go, “Well, there's a bad guy,” but it's a deliberate trap, I think, of the story, that one can get seduced into believing that Carlyle is the good guy. It's wise to remember that this world is the world that Malcolm made. He's the driving architect behind there being sixteen families that now rule the globe because they had the most money. He's the guy who said, “Yeah, you know the rest of you people, you're employment. That's that. You're raw material to be used.
ML: I think we kind of set some of that up in the first arc and maybe even in the second arc, to some extent. Where Carlyle soldiers and the Carlyle family were definitely kind of portrayed as the villains, and then all of a sudden we turned around and saw, yes, there are degrees of villainy as well. There's, all of a sudden, the people who had been bad guys through the first two arcs, we realize there is somebody even worse. I think that was very intentional on our parts.
It was fun doing the Hocks. They started out as kind of these - we saw the irregular members of the Hock army, with their patchwork uniforms and kind of a bunch of fuck-ups, who fight over Jonas' shoes that he'd dropped in the river. and all of a sudden we're seeing these guys in these faceless body armor, with Nazi style helmets and family seals that look like Nazi paraphernalia and stuff like that. It was definitely an intent on our part.
Speaking of the Hock army, can you tell me about the inspiration for the soldiers’ design?
ML: Whenever this comes up, Greg and I have talked about this, I think any time that we've had new soldiers appear, it's been like, “Okay, well how do I do body armor this time?” There's only so many different forms of body armor that you can draw, and they were definitely meant to be scary. I definitely scoured the internet for pictures. A lot of times it was riot police and stuff like that from different countries. They just have this kind of scary, faceless quality about them that I go for. You know, they're storm troopers. To some extent they're cannon fodder, but they're supposed to be kind of scary faceless cannon fodder.
GR: And when you extend that, and you go, “Why do you hide their faces? What does that mean? What does it mean to the population?” These are the people who “protect you,” but you can't see who they are. And it is meant to be ominous as hell.
I mean, design issues notwithstanding, the fact of the matter is every family has its own aesthetics, so poor Michael, I can easily write, “Now we're looking at Rausling soldiers, and he sends me an email going, "You bastard. Now I have to design those uniforms, and I hope you burn in hell." Sorry, it's kind of what you signed on for.
ML: When I signed on I didn't realize I was going to be designing all these other families and stuff. When Greg described the first parts of the concept to me, all I thought I was going to be doing was Carlyle stuff. And then all of a sudden I'm doing all this stuff.
GR: We call that showing Michael a bill of good. Otherwise he never would have agreed.
ML: Before I signed on to do this book, I vowed I would never do science-fiction again.
Greg started to say something about family aesthetic. We talk a lot about, “What's the Hock aesthetic?” and what the different familes’ aesthetics are. I don't think we've gotten as much into the Rausling aesthetic, in the current story arc, but we definitely talked about the Bitner aesthetic, we definitely talked about the Hock aesthetic.
GR: And Armitige, we've talked about.
ML: I think there's a lot of Armitige stuff that didn't ever get seen.
GR: Yeah, there's a lot of Armitige stuff that never made it to the page.
Can you tell me a bit about the impetus for the Sister Bernard story? Will we see her again? Is the flu virus that she uncovered going to be a plot point going forward?
GR: It’s less about the flu virus. The flu virus was the McGuffin for the story.
It was the second time we've seen Bernard. We're going to see Bernard again, actually sooner than you might think. Bernard provides a really interesting character window, and I want to exploit that and saying more risks tipping my hand. I think it's important, and going back to when Michael and I worked together on Gotham Central, I think one of the things that made Central work - and I think on a good thing to remember or at least keep in the toolbox when we're doing a story as grand as Lazarus, a big scale story - is what it looks like from the outside.
When we're with Forever, we're inside. When we're with Johanna, we're inside. We know what's going on in the family. When we're with Joaquin, we see what the Moray family is like, but even when we're with Hock, we get to be in Hock's penthouse. We're not in the apartments of his non-persons. Having story opportunity serves both a story need, but also provides those windows, adds to the story overall, and certainly adds to the universe. I love doing that. I love being able to say, “This is what it looks like from outside.” It's one of the reasons the Barretts are so important in our second arc. We spent the first arc going, “This is what it looks like, and this is what it means if you're Carlyle.” Then you get the lift, and you're like, “This is how crap it looks if you're not.”
You’ve set this world up as a kind of near future extrapolation of real world trends. What do you consider Lazarus’s relationship to reality to be?
GR: I'm going to let Michael go after that one first.
ML: Look at what's going on in what passes for politics, in a political race right now. You've got one of the – well, at least he claims to be one of the richest people in America - trying to become President. In 50 years, he could be Hock. It's not too much of a stretch to actually envision that.
GR: Well, he certainly talks Hock’s game. “Be afraid. I will protect you. Be angry because they made you afraid. I will protect you. I will get you your revenge.” Lazarus is, by its nature, political. It’s certainly not meant to be a polemic.
As you asked earlier, Carlyle is not the good guy, right? It's not like we're saying the Carlyle system is the system we all should strive for. It's a great big 'f'd'up situation. It also, and a lot of people don't talk about this, it's also, in no small part, a story about the tyranny of the wealthy over science, that when we have these technological advances, those go to the hands of the rich. They do not fall to the every-person. It's always an active consideration.
I think the quote I was trying to get out of Michael was, "When we started Lazarus it was sci-fi and now it's a documentary," and it really does feel like it. I got sent today, to the Lazarus email, a guy sent me, and you can't make this up, he sent an ad from a company called Origene that says, “Mnock out any gene,” and it's an ad for the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing kit. It quite literally looks like something Troutman would have designed as a joke. I got this today, man, I got this today.
ML: Greg's probably already seeing where I'm going to go with this, because I do this almost any time we start talking about the politics of our book. Really, yes, there is that aspect to it, and it's a big aspect, but more than anything, the politics, and the world building, and all that other stuff are meaningless without the character arcs and the character stories, and those, I think, go beyond the political and the social. There's a reason that our first story arc, Greg named it “Family.” There are things being explored there that are way beyond politics. I think there are issues of family loyalty, what it means to be part of a family, what it means to be. I think Forever is struggling with things that are much more universal than the Lazarus world and the Lazarus political system.
ML: I think a lot of the things she struggles with are universal and sometimes it does a disservice when people focus so much on the political and the world building aspects of it. Those are fascinating and they're fun, but I think that if we're not careful we can risk - I don't want to say alienating readers if they don't agree with the politics. I think it's easier to get drawn into the story if you realize that....
GR: Well, the story isn't politics.
ML: Right, it's easier to get drawn into it if you realize that a lot of the conflict is universal. Those conflicts can be disguised in different ways, and put in any kind of other setting, and be universal and still be true.
GR: Look, this is a story about a dad and a daughter. At the end of the day, this is a story about a young woman trying to find her place in the world and discovering the truths of who she is. That's universal and that's what this is. World building, politics, all that goes to the story of the world, but this story of Lazarus is the story of Forever Carlyle, and how she goes so follows the world.
Is there anything you can tease out about how the surprising conclusion of this volume will effect Forever’s story going forward?
GR: It has a massive ripple effect. The thing to remember is what is revealed to the reader is not revealed to her.
ML: And also, that was a moment we've been talking about from the very beginning of the story. Maybe not from the very beginning. I think once we came to the point where we realized that…gosh, it is hard to talk about this without revealing something to someone that hasn't read it.
GR: It was there form the start. I'm not sure what more there is to say. The revelation at the end of “Poison” has a huge effect. It dictates a whole lot of what comes next in “Cull,” a whole lot of the decisions that are made by people, how they feel the need to protect Forever, all of that. It comes directly out of that. I'll admit this freely, more so than I had initially thought. When I had finished “Poison,” I was like, "Oh, hahahah, this is going to be a problem." Then I started to sit down and write “Cull,” and I realized, “Oh my god, it's such a problem. It cannot in any way, shape, or form be downplayed or ignored.” Quite literally one of the major thrusts of issue #22, which was the June issue, the first issue of “Cull ,” is entirely dealing with that. It is entirely dealing with the problems that arise from the end of #21, from the end of “Poison.”
ML: You asked earlier about where we're at in the story, and for me, I don't think Greg is a huge fan of getting too much into structure, and following certain kinds of structures, and things like that, but to me it was definitely that end of an act one plot point where everything spins off in a different direction because of this. I mean, yes, there were lots of other people who knew that secret before we knew it, and certainly they still know and Forever doesn't, but the reveal of that definitely gives the story a whole different spin.
Lazarus Book Two goes on sale May 18.