The New Status Quo: Image’s Lazarus
It’s a powerful force, perhaps the powerful force … at least in the present moment. It’s brought us stealthily through the past fifty years right into now, and it appears to be towing us ever forward into the future, drawing us further into its jaws with every turn of its gears. It brings with it interminable, inescapable agony akin to a neverending sequence of paper cuts that inevitably leave us all hemorrhaging – and like those metaphorical tiny slices across our skin, it leaves many of us bloodless. It is the slow death we all fear, and yet can never seem to escape.
I’m talking, of course, about debt.
There’s no beating around the bush at this point, folks. It’s not just individuals who are feeling the sting now: the city of Detroit is officially a ghost town, squeezed dry of every indentured penny over the past decade of combined real estate debacles, oil price fluctuations, and business closures. Europe is a rapidly-spreading wildfire of austerity with no end in sight … at least, as long as things stay the way they seem to be going.
Even here in my own home, my mind is split, half of my thought devoted to writing this op-ed masquerading as a comic review while the other half spins in mathematical circles, adding and subtracting, prioritizing pleasures and necessities to ensure that all of the financial leg-breakers of the world keep their baleful gaze from my doorstep.
But then there’s the other side of the coin (there’s always another side of the coin, isn’t there?). Our eyes and ears are force-fed an unending stream of advertising, bright colours flashing across our vision as loud voices command us to buy this phone or sign for this plan, consolidate our loans with a bigger loan carrying a larger interest rate over a longer period of time. Most of us see it for what it is – trading a bowl of turds for a deeper dish of the same odorous confection – but somehow, those hooks dig their way in and we find ourselves staring incredulously at the bottom of the contract, wondering who signed our names there so nonchalantly.
“He/She was so friendly,” we tell ourselves. “They made it so easy.”
But the smiles and handshakes mask the desperation in their tone – because they’re in it just as deep as we are, and the only way out is on our backs.
The reality, folks, is that this isn’t a race. There isn’t even a finish line. It’s a treadmill, and we – and by we, I mean everybody – have been told that our choices are to run or starve.
And so we run … and starve nonetheless.
As always, however, I can’t help but look forward and consider what’s next. I’m forever stretching my neck to look over that seemingly insurmountable hill to check the next horizon. You see, in spite of the mathematical gymnastics I’m currently performing in my head, I still remember that this isn’t anything new. It’s not fair and it’s definitely not ethical, but looking back over history, this is the prettiest that indentured servitude‘s ever looked. Historically, the current debt crisis is no different for most of us than 19th Century slavery, or the serfdom imposed as a result of feudalism in the Middle Ages. The only real difference between then and now is that now we have a carrot in front of us to substitute the whip at our backs.
But it’s not the seemingly revolving door of servitude we keep reeling around that concerns me the most; what really worries me is that it’s not over yet – or worse, that this is better than what’s coming next.
And it appears I’m not alone. Mark Rucka has seen the dangers of an indebted future, and he’s created a visually-striking new world for us to experience it in.
You may have heard of Rucka. If you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve read some of his work: he’s written Batman (Detective Comics), Wonder Woman (2003-6), Wolverine (Vol. 3), and was a co-writer for DC’s pivotal 52 series. Now he’s contributing his considerable talent to Image’s inventory in the form of a new series called Lazarus.
Before I get into the story, I have to give some textual high-fives to artist and letterer Michael Lark, whose list of comic involvement is longer than my introduction. Seriously, Google this guy and try to keep your jaw closed while you read his resume. His work on this series alone has me excited to see what’s next in his future (hopefully more Lazarus!). Santi Arcas’s colouring also adds such an essential element to this comic; like I mentioned in my article on East Of West, a good colourer can enhance the story as much as they add to the art, and Arcas does just that, allowing the blue ambience of underground lighting to permeate the interior and lengthen the shadows of this dark future dystopia, while the washed-out colours of the harvest fields add to the melancholy of the scene.
Alright, enough blabbing – on to the plot!
The world of Lazarus takes place at an undetermined point in the near future, where the world is now split along very different lines. Where once the planet was divided by political or cultural boundaries, it is now under the purview of a select group of families. Each Family owns territory and controls all of its resources – one of those resources, of course, being people.
The families are small but powerful, holding all of the technological advances, transportation services and financial clout of their particular section of the world within their grasp.
Obviously, these families don’t all get along. The interplay between rival Families is reminiscent of mafia-style gangs: there’s an appreciation for power or a mutual respect based on trade, but they’re not afraid to lay waste to each other at the slightest hint of weakness.
But what of the other people?
Well, they (or we, as the case may be) are split up into two groups; the smaller of the two works for their respective Family, born into indentured servitude for their entire life.
The rest? As Rucka puts it in his introduction, “All others are Waste.” The Waste have yet to be introduced to us at this point in the story, but the implication is that they live a life of pure subsistence, barely able to scrape by while under the purview of the comic’s corporate offspring.
Sounding familiar? It should be. The more I read the news, the more I get the feeling that we’re not as far off from this possible future as we may be led to believe.
What I find the most fascinating about this story is the perspective Rucka chooses from which to explore this eerily-realistic future.
The first issue introduces us to Forever, a member of the Carlyle family. Forever isn’t just any Carlyle, though – she is what’s known as a Lazarus (hence the … you get it, I’m sure); a cybernetically-enhanced enforcer whose sole purpose is to defend her Family from any encroachments on their territory. She possesses heightened strength and agility, as well as a ridiculous healing factor. In addition, every Lazarus is remotely monitored by both an engineer and a doctor at all times. She’s also the de facto commander of the Family’s security forces.
What I find so fascinating about Rucka’s chosen protagonist is that she appears, at least at first, to be one of the bad guys. It would be like telling the story of the 2008 real estate crash from the viewpoint of Goldman-Sachs‘ head of security: you feel for the guy, but you also kind of wonder how he sleeps at night.
As the story progresses, however (and it’s not that far along – going on six issues – so sink your teeth in now!), you begin to appreciate Forever’s difficult position all the more. She may be an enforcer, but she’s no less stuck in this mess than the rest of the herd. In fact, she seems to be as much a victim of the system as those who slave in the fields. She wears chains, just like the others – hers just shine a little brighter.
After all, what kind of freedom comes with a killswitch?
Beyond that, for me there is a pervading feeling throughout the story that he’s not telling you a tale from the other side of the fence. As I found myself coming around to respect Forever’s situation, I slowly came to understand the real reason why I related to her, even though we’re such profoundly different people in such different worlds.
You see, ladies and gents, we relate to Forever Carlyle not because she is a tragic hero, but because she is just like us.
She, like the workaday men and women of today, is simply a person trying to do the right thing in a deeply fucked-up situation. She’s desperate, fighting with her own indentured status while she keeps the rest of the slaves in line. She sees the tragedy of her own circumstances, but simply digs herself a deeper hole, blinds herself to the plight of her fellows because it’s “not her concern”. She has her own battles to wage, her own demons to fight. She, like us, is in it up to her eyeballs.
And the only way out is on our backs.
Until next week.
Posted on January 26, 2014, in Image Comics and tagged Art, Ben, DC Comics, Detroit, East Of West, Family, Goldman-Sachs, Google, Greg Rucka, Grim Corner, Lazarus, Michael Lark. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.