From Near-Future Dystopia To Depressing Documentary–An Interview With Writer Greg Rucka On “Lazarus Risen”

by on April 2, 2019

Writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark debuted their near future-set Image Comics series “Lazarus” in 2013.  It immersed readers in a future where economic inequality is a hundred times worse than the present day.  Thanks to the Macau Accords enacted in Year X, the world has for decades been openly run solely for the benefit of sixteen wealthy and immensely powerful Families.  Every other human on the planet either works for the Families as a Serf (and the Families are very choosy about who gets Lifted to serfdom) or else they’re Waste who exist at the Families’ sufferance.

            Heroine Forever Carlyle is the Lazarus of the agribusiness-based Carlyle Family.  She’s a genetically modified super-soldier who’s head of the Carlyle security army, the Carlyle Family bodyguard, and the Carlyles’ private wetworks specialist all in one.  The relatively youngest member of the Carlyle Family, Forever’s emotional attachment to her Family is not necessarily reciprocated by the other Carlyles.

            “Lazarus” is now being adapted for an Amazon streaming series.  Rucka was unfortunately unable to provide any details on the status of the streaming adaptation.

            However, on the comics end, Rucka and Lark have just returned with the first issue of “Lazarus: Risen.”  The new quarterly series begins two years after the events of the first “Lazarus” series’ end (“X + 68” in the series’ chronology).  Rucka responded by e-mail to some questions raised by Beyond Chron regarding the new series. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Beyond Chron (BC): “Lazarus: Risen” is set during the Conclave Wars.  Dramatically, what’s at stake for the story’s main characters? Will the wars see Families vying to be top dog of their near-future world, a sort of science-fictiony “Game of Thrones?” Or could these wars be the spark that will finally bring down Family rule?

Greg Rucka (GR):  That’s hard to answer because there’s so much going on.   At its core, I suppose the stakes are survival, nothing less.  Carlyle is in dire trouble at the beginning of Lazarus: Risen.  It’s been two years since we last saw Forever when she fought the Zmey, when Sir Thomas was killed and Joacquim Morray betrayed her.  Her Family is now surrounded on three sides, and on the fourth there’s the Pacific. It’s turning into a war of attrition, and if things don’t change and change soon, there won’t be a Carlyle Family by the end of the year X + 68.

But Johanna (Carlyle) has a plan, and it’s one that hinges on Forever’s cooperation and trust. So the big question, two years on, is how much do they trust one another.  How honest has Johanna been? And how convinced is Forever?

Your second part of the question, though, you know I’m not going to answer that. You’re asking me how the series is going to end. Wait and find out, like everyone else!

BC: The set-up described in previews for the new series draws from classic storytelling tropes.  There’s the kingdom lost to treachery and there’s the survivor trying to restore the kingdom’s former glory.  Ironically, Johanna Carlyle, the survivor character here, was first introduced as a scheming snake trying to foment a Family war.  And it’s not clear who or what Forever is fighting for. Where does the hook lie in getting readers to see what happens next?

GR:  First and foremost, Lazarus has always been the story of Forever. How she goes, so goes the world. Will she rise? Will she find agency? Will she be an instrument of oppression or of liberation? Will she sacrifice family for Family? And who are her family? What makes her family?

In Forever’s wake are the stories of others.  Johanna has certainly come to the fore, and she has clearly evolved (or alternately, been revealed as more complex) from how she was originally perceived. One of my favorite things in this new issue, honestly, is that we finally get to show a little more about what makes Bethany tick after all this time. But I pride ourselves on having a deep bench, so to speak; we’ve got a lot of characters who, in one way or another, I believe are each compelling and each worth following. That’s the hook.

BC:  The Families jealously guard the information that give them their respective forms of power.  That phenomenon reminds me of the ferocity with which drug manufacturers and the music industry fight to protect their copyrights.  Yet innovation and invention depends on having some degree of free flow of information. Just how creatively stagnant is the world of “Lazarus?”  Are there very few DIY efforts among the Waste (the peasantry of “Lazarus”‘ future) to innovate or circumvent outside Family control?

GR:  The Families hold all the cards, that’s a given. They guard what they deem “proprietary knowledge” very jealously, indeed; so jealously that industrial espionage is grounds for war according to the Macau Accords. Their technological and scientific advancement is thus retarded.   But it has not, by any means, been stopped. So in terms of that kind of “creativity,” it has certainly slowed – which is useful, as it allows us to write an indeterminate future that is always recognizable as grown out of our present.

But for the Waste, it’s a different matter entirely, and that becomes the other route to advancement, so to speak. Because people who have nothing will use everything, and will find new and innovative ways to do so. That’s where you’re actually seeing the most growth.  The Families are of course aware of this, and they exploit that as well. There’s a section in the World of Lazarus sourcebook for the Green Ronin Modern Age RPG that talks about the black markets of Sana’a – and how the Families use the city as a test-bed as well as, by definition, a hub of espionage. The Waste own nothing, remember; what they have, they have by dint of the Families, who will take it without hesitation or regret.

BC:  You’ve done an insane amount of research to make “Lazarus”‘ world seem a logical extension of the present moment. Have there been sociopolitical and/or scientific developments since “Lazarus”‘ 2013 debut which have forced changes in your overall story beats or a particular character’s arc?

GR:  Honestly, I’ve been…disappointed isn’t the right word. Michael is fond of saying that when we started the series, it was dystopian science fiction, and now it’s a documentary. And there’s a joke in there, but honestly, it’s not much of one. I thought things would move more slowly, frankly; I didn’t think we’d turn this quickly to the darkness. But the world keeps proving that nothing I can create can beat what it comes up with. People talk about “realistic” fiction, but the fact is that if you try to write realism, you get something that nobody is willing to accept. Our world is far stranger. I thought Sixteen Families controlling the world’s wealth was extreme – but as of last year, Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report states that 42 people now own the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population.

The idea behind the Families was always based in fact. I was just too optimistic about how we would deal with this problem. And I maintain that everything we’re seeing in the world today, the rise of extremism and ultra-nationalism and the balkanization of society, all of it comes from this grotesque wealth inequality. At the end of the day, it is always always always about money.  This end-stage, out of control capitalism isn’t just destroying society, it’s destroying civilization.

BC:  Faux News’ apologists for the rich haven’t attacked “Lazarus” yet for being comics propaganda for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ political agenda.  But among actual “Lazarus” readers, have there been those who think your series is unfair to the concept of Family rule? Or that a kinder, nicer version of some aspect of the Families’ world should be replicated in real life?  What has your response been?

GR:  There are readers who absolutely disagree with my and Michael’s politics (and Michael, I should point out, is even further to the left than I am). We get letters – there’s one that I’m running in Lazarus: Risen 1, in fact – where readers like to crow about what I get right and what I get wrong, about how Trump is really a great guy. My response to that, I think, is self-evident. But, you know, at the end of the day, we’re not Saga, we’re not The Wicked + The Divine, we’re not a dozen other books I could name. We’ve got a (relatively) small readership who are, thankfully, very dedicated, very patient, and very devoted to the series.

The politics of art are important, and I have never shied away from that. But my job is also to tell a story, hopefully to tell it well, and in that to provide some entertainment as well as some opportunity for deeper thought. Working with Michael guarantees that we can entertain, and for many, that’s enough.

BC:  “Lazarus” first came out in the wake of public discontent with income inequality, expressed in America with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Now that the likes of Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have been pushing economic inequality issues into mainstream discussion (or dismissal), do you feel the world has stopped marching to a future where real-life Families take over the world?  If not, what more do you think can be done to prevent “Lazarus”‘ future from coming into being?

GR:  Oh, Hell no. I think we’re running faster and faster towards it, actually. Seriously, do you see Bezos or Musk or any of the other known (and unknown) multi-billionaires actually giving up a penny of their wealth willingly? They know what’s coming. They’re planning for it. They’re buying real estate in New Zealand and building bunkers and figuring out how to arm their private armies and how to control those armies so they won’t turn on them when the time comes. They’re researching (how) longevity works, and fuck the rest of us. The world is splitting, and the only winners are going to be those who have enough money they won’t need to worry about the ruins.

People expect seismic events, but they don’t understand what the seismic event itself is, even when it’s beneath their feet. We passed that point; the question is now whether or not there’s a way back. And as for that, yeah, I have opinions there, too. But that’s for another time.

(The first issue of “Lazarus: Risen” is now available at such comic shops as Comix Experience (305 Divisadero, SF).  For those who prefer to order directly from publisher Image Comics, go here.)

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment

Translate »