On a press call this afternoon with Image Comics and Greg Rucka, we learned more about the writer’s latest collaboration with artist Michael Lark.
Engineered for martial prowess, Forever serves as a Lazarus in the defense of her family. The young woman believes she’s simply living out the expected role of a daughter, sister and protector. Her reality, though, proves a little more complicated.
In a world Rucka likens to Max Headroom’s, “set twenty minutes in the future,” and following a huge economic collapse, Families like the Caryles rule over the Waste. The Waste isn’t shorthand for an all-too-familiar dystopian wasteland. It’s what they call the have-nots, the riff-raff. The gulf between rich and the poor has never been so expansive. The opulent ruling Families like it that way. To safeguard themselves from the bread and circus crowd as well as other Families, each household enlists a Lazarus or some similar force. Rucka calls Forever the “standard bearer for the Family’s defense.” She’s the fruit of Carlyle research and resources, the pinnacle of eugenic progress.
“Her biggest ability,” explains Rucka, “is that she’s very hard to kill. Her ability to recover from injury is [derived] from a level of technology almost indiscernible from magic.” This is consistent with many other ‘Lazari’ operating in the world, so Forever isn’t exactly a snowflake when it comes to resiliency. On top of that is the exact type of genetic engineering you’d expect of a “warrior-bodyguard-soldier-spy.”
“I did a lot of research on this and then a lot of speculative extrapolation. It’s a leap from where we are going, but it’s not an impossible leap,” says Rucka. ”She is very quick, very strong. She has a variety of resistances and immunities, all of which arise from a genetic level. It isn’t, ‘I’m gonna lift a car and throw it.’ But it is a high upper-end human spectrum ability. There’s an interesting body of research out there right now that talks about where we’re going with, say, professional sports in the next twenty or fifty years, how gene therapy and blood platelet replacement therapy can very logically lead to these malformed professional athletes as you give them denser muscle mass. You need to redesign the skeletal system to support that, to provide a greater a thoracic capacity…so that’s sort of the skill set.
“Now, you can take all that, but if you put a sword into somebody’s hand with that ability, they may be able to swing it really hard but it doesn’t mean they’re gonna hit where they’re swinging. So [Forever] has been trained from the beginning to do certain things. More important or perhaps just as important, she has been raised to believe certain things. Like that the Family is correct. That these peasants, the Waste, do not matter. That her father is always right. That’s both conditioning as a product of nurture, but also part of her design. It goes into her maintenance schedule.”
As for her purpose, it’s as simple and as complicated as a game of chess. Any Lazarus is designed to destroy the enemy of the Family and to do that, she has to be able to defeat another Lazarus should they ever come into contact.
“So much of what drives the wealth of this world is about greed and possession, so the ideal conflict is one that retains infrastructure and material. ‘I don’t want to bomb your city. I want to take your city.’”
“It’s not a world of monsters, per se,” muses Rucka. “Some of the people are definitely monstrous. But certainly, at the start, the conflicts that she faces are with people of meat and bone.”
With Lazarus, the tension doesn’t concern the chance of our heroine dying, but in our hope that she learns how to live.
Revealed over time, it’s a cloak and dagger series of intrigue and political power struggles. Conflicts arise from within the Family just as often as they emerge from the outside world. It involves assassination and diplomacy, science and negotiation. Rucka was inspired by the writings of William Gibson, especially the way the Neuromancer author thrusts readers into fully realized worlds, foregoing dry exposition in favor of something closer to immersion. As Rucka’s describes in his extensive essay after the main feature, a lot of this also has to do with the Occupy movement and the pervasive influence of class warfare.
Perhaps the greatest boon is the freedom. Rucka and Lark have a sandbox and complete dominion over it. “When I’m working with Michael, the script is dynamic. You work at the Big Two and you’re working on say, Punisher. The script has to be in by X time so the artist can get to work on it. At that point the communication, the ability to alter the script on the fly and as inspiration strikes is very limited. Here, I email Michael the script and he works, then I get an email, I get a call, and it’ll be as much about storytelling as it is about the story that we’re telling. I love that. It’s so exciting. So energizing. It is the fullest sense of collaboration.”
Lazarus #1 hits shelves next week. I’ve read it, and it’s well worth your time. Rucka and Lark breathe new life into speculative science fiction. After all, Forever isn’t so far away.
For now, a prologue: