Reading 'Lazarus' in the Year Minus-X

I'm not writing this because Greg Rucka recommended REIGN OF TERROR in the backmatter of Lazarus: Risen #7, out now from Image Comics. But I'm not not writing this because Greg Ru

Reading 'Lazarus' in the Year Minus-X
Every issue of Lazarus. Photo by Spencer Ackerman

Edited by Sam Thielman

FOR THE PAST NINE YEARS, the best ongoing comic book has been, in my opinion, Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.

Lazarus is an intimate family story set within the indifferent world created by the family patriarch, Malcolm Carlyle. We're two or three generations into the future and the era of the nation-state has ended. Finance capitalism has completed its transition into neo-feudalism. The Family Carlyle controls a vast swath of western North America bounded by the Rio Grande, the Mississippi and the Arctic Circle. Malcolm, an economist, heads a technocratic tyranny of the Far-Less-Than-One-Percent, served and administered by a small middle class of Serfs, who contribute economically to the Domain of the Family. Life for them is one of some material comfort and little to no political freedom.

Then there are hundreds of millions of people known, in the logic if not parlance of  neoliberalism, as Waste. We are told they do not contribute economically to the Domain of the Family. When we see the Waste, the people who the book is telling us we will soon be, we see them caught in Family Carlyle debt traps that strip them of their possessions and their livelihood and prompt them to embark upon perilous mass migrations to population centers where they can degrade themselves for the prospect of Serf jobs. So much for not contributing economically to the Family. The Family is for them a predatory force, even though they may never conceive of it that way.

The protagonist of Lazarus is an enormously compelling character named Forever Carlyle, daughter of Malcolm. Using wonders of medical science soon to be available to the richest in the book’s era of pharaonic capital hyper-accumulation, Malcolm enhances Forever into a functional superhero, the invincible knight of Carlyle. (Though, to be clear, Lazarus isn't a superhero comic.) Sometimes Forever operates as an assassin, other times she's a (very high ranking) platoon commander. Her father is fighting a global war, but his primary military target is the domain of the eastern former United States, a drugged-up North Korea controlled by, essentially, a pharmaceutical company run by Carlyle's vengeful former friend Doctor Jakob Hock. If you have experience with Marines, Rucka’s portrayal of a military culture derived from the Marine Corps will stun you by how familiar it feels, and I've had the pleasure of telling Greg that. If you are a FOREVER WARS reader, whether or not you're a comic-book reader, you will love this book.

It's become a bit of a cliche to say that the world has caught up to a work of science fiction, but it has come uncomfortably close to Lazarus. When the comic launched nine years ago—now that I look, it debuted during the month I spent doing nothing but working on Snowden stories—the gyre of neoliberalism was spinning toward catastrophe, but the dissolution of the United States seemed unthinkable. Since then we've lived through years that contained decades. When I contemplate the Marines who side with the Carlyle forces during what Rucka and Lark present as a decades-past Dissolution War, I think about the choices different Security State institutions and sub-factions will face once Republicans in the House of Representatives have the numbers and the Constitution-backed opportunity to throw out a presidential election in which the Democrat triumphs and decide for themselves who the winner is. At that point, there will be two people who will claim to be president of the United States, two people who claim the Constitution is on their side, and two people who claim the other is a usurper. Who will the military obey? Who will decide?

In the world of Lazarus, we're nearly 70 years after Year X, the year a diplomatic agreement ratifies the twilight of the nation-state and grants corporation-families economic receivership of the earth. We accordingly read Lazarus in Year Minus-X, never knowing how far we are from this historical inflection point, yet certain that our current economic, social and political trajectories propel us, inertially, toward it.

THE LATEST INSTALLMENT of Lazarus, Lazarus: Risen #7, is the greatest yet. After 44 issues—28 of the monthly-ish comic Lazarus, six of the background-character-focused supplementary series Lazarus: X+66, three sourcebooks with worldbuilding on the Family and some of its rivals, and now seven issues of the oversized Lazarus: Risen comic—major questions animating the series are finally answered. Malcolm gets to narrate why he made the world the way he did. Hock, his enemy, presented throughout the series as both the monster he is and the villain he may not be, complicates Malcolm's story, and recontextualizes his own. Then we get the reward of the action scenes that Michael Lark paces so precisely, renders so evocatively, and characterizes so effortlessly. It's a thrilling, perfectly executed story that moves Lazarus into the series' endgame.

And that makes it a special honor to read Risen #7's backmatter and see Greg recommend REIGN OF TERROR. I've been humbled by the reception REIGN has received, but please understand: no one else who liked the book wrote Gotham Central. Imagine reading "there is an enviable precision in the way Ackerman tracks the political and social changes of the last twenty-one years" from one of your favorite writers. And it's printed in the best issue of your favorite ongoing series.

If I've made you curious, please go to your local comic store and pick up Lazarus. If you haven't read literally every single issue, I would hold off on Lazarus: Risen #7 until you get there. It's the only way you'll properly appreciate what this review means to me. Go for the collected editions. I've given them as gifts to writers I respect. I really cannot overemphasize how much you, a FOREVER WARS subscriber, will find nourishment from Lazarus.

While you're at the store, paying for your Lazarus bounty, please tell them you'd also like to pre-order WALLER VS. WILDSTORM #1, and for that matter the other three issues of the miniseries, since comic stores rely very heavily on book requests in advance. I cannot imagine WALLER VS. WILDSTORM without the influence Rucka and Lark have left on me. Greg’s Checkmate series is foundational to how I see Amanda Waller, the book’s protagonist, and Checkmate, its institutional labyrinth. His Lois Lane 12-issue maxiseries with Mike Perkins is another heavy influence on the Lois of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM. As fate would have it, Mike is drawing one of the variant covers for issue one. Gotham Central by Rucka and Lark is a modern classic of the superhero genre, punching their tickets for comics immortality.

And then there is Lazarus, a comic whose ambition—in critique, in worldbuilding, in conceptual focus, in characterization—is surpassed only by its execution. What an example to aspire to.

ALLEGEDLY, SOMEONE CLIMBED A FIRE ESCAPE into the Homan Square police warehouse before police shot him inside. That's the story the Chicago Police are telling and while I have done zero journalism on this particular story, in my experience, they lie about everything.

The most amazing thing that's ever happened to me in journalism is suing the Chicago Police Department over withheld records from Homan Square. Homan Square is the west-side warehouse where for 20 years the Chicago police have held people for hours and even days without booking them and abused them during the non-time they're inside. Not only did my legal team get to depose senior Chicago police officers, meaning we were conducting journalism on the police while wielding the sanction of perjury, the judge made the police pay my legal bills.

I would be surprised to see someone who was not bitten by a radioactive spider jump up to the fire escape on what my memory and this video recall as the only ungated approach to the warehouse. That someone is alleged by prosecutors to be 47-year old Donald Patrick of Waukegan, Ill, whom police shot, and who faces multiple charges of assault on a peace officer and burglary. Do you not have to leave the premises with stuff for it to be burglary, or…? I note as well that police shot Patrick and news reports say an officer got a sprained ankle.  

It's always conspicuous when news accounts cite a police description of a security-camera footage rather than the footage itself. I would think the police have an interest in releasing a video that would back up its narrative, and in not releasing one that doesn’t. It's also conspicuous that the Sun-Times story cites police saying there's no video of the shooting itself. Let's see what the actual story turns out to be.

Finally, it's typical that the Chicago Tribune doesn't mention all the off-books detentions and interrogations at Homan Square, while the Sun-Times story does so only before citing the police's non-denial denials. My stories are not allegations to be disputed. We successfully sued the Chicago police and published stories based on their own internal documents from and about Homan Square. We supplemented the documents with the accounts of two dozen former detainees and attorneys with experience attempting to access Homan Square. Read this one to see how we used police documents to contradict the police's public description of Homan Square. I will leave it to others to judge which of us is actually doing professional journalism in the interests of the people of Chicago.

THIS WEEK, "PUTIN'S CHEF" Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted something he once sued Bellingcat's Eliot Higgins, and not only Higgins, for reporting: He's the founder of the Wagner Group, the Russian Blackwater. Recently the Guardian reported Progozhin descended into a prison from a helicopter to recruit inmates for Wagner work in Ukraine. "He wasn’t trying to sweet talk us. He said we were going to enter hell, but that it could be our lucky ticket out," inmate Mikhail told the paper.

YOU KNOW WHAT'S A RECORD THAT FEELS UNFAIRLY ECLIPSED? The 2011 Jamie XX remix of Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New Here. I wrote this edition to that LP. Also: do any FOREVER WARS readers have any Shit Present vinyl? I will buy it from you or trade you a lifetime subscription of my stuff.