Lazarus Planet: Alpha #1 Review: An Absolutely Gorgeous Mess

Save for the story spinning out of the recent Batman vs. Robin series—specifically Batman vs. Robin #4—Lazarus Planet: Alpha #1 is a book that comes seemingly entirely out of left field. The Lazarus Volcano has erupted and as a result is spewing something into the Earth's atmosphere with devastating effects on not just magic but science-based things as well. Up is down, left is right, and from the jump there's a cacophony of challenges with various antagonistic figures all of which center around the villain, Nezha and a seemingly rag-tag group of Earth's heroes who are trying to not only mitigate the impact of the Lazarus Volcano but also put a stop to things as well.

If that introduction to the story sounds like a lot and it doesn't exactly make sense, you're right and that is very much the tone that Lazarus Planet: Alpha unfortunately sets almost from the first panel. Writer Mark Waid offers readers no opportunity to acquaint themselves with what is going on or even why they should care. This is very much a situation where one is dropped in media res and while that's not always a bad narrative choice, it's one that simply does not work here. It takes roughly six pages before we get any nod to a previous comic story with influence on this one. While Waid does some work in fleshing out what's going on with detailed narration explaining the volcano's impact on magic users and science, it's still pretty jarring.

Also jarring is how this issue definitely reads like exposition. Because there's no real previous story—for most readers—to hang it onto, this issue has to do all the set up. That means we're getting everything at once and that means a lot of switching around between different characters and their various challenges. It's pretty obvious that the issue is setting the stage for different characters to have different battles—the discussion of how the Lazarus eruption impacts characters with magic and science-based powers is about as subtle as being hit by a freight train in broad daylight—but it feels extremely disjointed, both in tone and pacing. Particularly out of place is actually one of the best parts of the whole book, an exchange between Monkey Prince (who, while we love to see him, seems randomly inserted here) and Black Alice. It's beautifully done and so nuanced, but it is entirely out of sync with the rest of the issue and if you haven't read Monkey Prince, some of it simply doesn't make sense (though, as a side note, there is a backup story in this issue that sort of ties things together, but again, the connections between various titles are poorly set)

But just when you think you might be getting a story that is going to dig into a lot of different characters, Waid whiplashes it back to being something else yet again, leaving the issue on a cliffhanger of sorts with a "transformation" for one character that chucks everything back to Batman. In the end, there's a lot going on, little of it makes sense, and it all somehow comes back to Batman and a story that is barely referenced that many readers may not even know. At every turn, this comic is a storytelling mess. However, what the issue lacks in coherence in words, it has visually in spades. Riccardo Federici's art here is really fantastic and a visual treat, particularly with Brad Anderson's colors. Those things together make it worth getting through the entire issue. This is also a case where you really notice the lettering as well and Steve Wands does a fantastic job. Without these elements, this book would just be a stack of confusion captured on staple-bound pages or digital format of your choosing.

The bottom line for Lazarus Planet: Alpha is that this is what it looks like when what might be an interesting idea isn't given the proper space to develop. Instead of something with strong connections to narratives that readers already know, understand, and have some investment in, they get a batch of wild ideas, a hope it is heading somewhere, a mildly-interesting premise, and great art — and the artwork is really what's worth writing home about.

Published by DC Comics

On January 10, 2023

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Riccardo Federici

Colors by Brad Anderson

Letters by Steve Wands

Cover by David Marquez and Alejandro Sanchez