Time for a round up of all the graphic novels I’ve read since Ablogalypse went on hiatus. In my review of Lazarus Volume 1 I noted that it was a fairly conventional, if enjoyable, dystopian action comic and I boasted that I thought I had the plot of the rest of the story figured out from day 1. I’m happy to report I was completely wrong. Not only does Lazarus Volume 2: Lift take the series on a rather different trajectory than I had imagined, it adds a whole lot of depth and colour to the world and the characters sketched out in volume 1.
The volume still follows Forever Carlyle, the immortal, indestructible guardian of the powerful Carlyle family as she struggles to maintain order in the face of the various political and military threats and internal power struggles of post-apocalyptic America. In this volume, however, she shares protagonist duties with the Joe and Bobbie Barnett and their family- destitute “waste” whose livelihood is destroyed by environmental damage and who are forced to make the perilous journey to the Lift Selection, where millions of starving families travel each year in the hopes of being selected by the Carlyle family to work for them and thus be lifted out of poverty. The narrative is split into three strands- the Barnetts on their dangerous trek through bandit infested badlands to the Lift, flashbacks to Forever’s training as a child, and her attempts in present day to track down a terrorist cell plotting against the family. The flashbacks to Forever as an anxious, affection-starved child helps add some attachment to her as a character where she previously seemed a bit of a blank slate, and the depictions of her father and other family members are interesting in that they’re no longer quite so black and white- Old man Carlyle is a cold, greedy bellend but he does, in his own way, really care for his family. But it’s Joe and Bobbie’s pages that really invested me in this volume as their determination to forge a better life for their children and their pain in the face of disaster and loss is very affecting. “Waste” are spoken of mostly as numbers and as a problem to be solved by the family members, but by getting a closer look at the lives of these brave survivors you get to see how wrong that is- these are strong, capable people made helpless by cruel circumstance and the greed of others, and it’s powerful stuff. Makes you think of the lies that rich people use to make themselves feel better about being rich: that poor people are only poor because they don’t work hard enough. Greg Rucka’s writing here serves as a big middle finger to that ridiculous notion.
The art style is, just as in volume 1, spot on. Dark and gritty, with lots of faded and subdued colour, but enough light and detail to really frame both the decadent California beach-house living of the family and the rural hardships of the waste. Michael Lark also nails facial expressions better than pretty much anyone else I’ve seen, which really helps the emotional moments of the story to come across. So Lazarus Volume 2 looks good and the story is branching out and developing nicely. I get the feeling we’re still barely scratching the surface of the big overall plot, and you could certainly say that the story arcs presented thus far are a bit slight and the bigger ideas and plot points are taking a while to get going. This is also kind of a strength though, as it makes the volume a very easy read and means you can probably pick up the story at any point without being lost for long. It also makes reviewing it about a year after first reading it and freaking AGES since reading volume 1 much easier, so I’m not complaining. The thing I liked most about Volume 2 was the grey it brought to a world that previously seemed pretty strictly divided between the evil rich and the good, suffering poor. The whole notion of the Lift shows that the family aren’t completely evil- they are willing to help people out of poverty- if they have something to offer. All told I’d say the world of Lazarus is shaping up nicely and when it finally does get going it’ll be all the better for having built up such a solid foundation. Volume 3 and 4 are already out so given that I still have a good £70 in Amazon vouchers saved up, maybe I won’t have long to wait to see how things go from here.
-Review by Paul Ewbank-