If I was more egotistical, I’d suggest that Lazarus #15 is a comic written to appeal to me. Anyone that reads my reviews here at ComicBook.Com on a regular basis is going to notice several themes of what I look for in comics as an artform popping out in a 13 page sequence of this issue. Reading it felt like Michael Lark and Greg Rucka had sat down and tailored something to specifically make me want to go out and rave about Lazarus. That’s obviously not true, but it still feels that way. The meat of Lazarus #15 is a perfect expression of craft, one that reveals both the mastery of its makers and the unique potential of the comics form.
That 13 page section of Lazarus #15 comes in the form of an extended fight sequence between Forever Carlyle and Sevara Bittner. It comes as no surprise, the inevitability of this conflict was the cliffhanger of the previous issue and the pages leading into it here do not allow for any doubt about what must come next. In this 13 page sequence Rucka and Lark distill three significant strengths of their work and the medium: the importance of empathy, the power of violence, and the power of images.
- The Importance of Empathy
A great deal of the impact in this sequence comes from how well Rucka and Lark have set up the conflict. It’s not just the immediate stakes of a fight to the death with enormous costs for either Forever’s father, Malcolm Carlyle or his bitter rival Jakob Hock. Rucka clarifies everything that is at risk in the opening pages of Lazarus #15 making it clear that this fight will impact characters in a significant way for a long time to come. This isn’t a numbers game though. The tension and pain of the fight stems from Forever’s personal experience.
Rucka and Lark have done a wonderful job of detailing Forever’s perspective thus far in the series. They have allowed us to experience her most intimate fears and desires creating a sense of empathy that cannot be resisted. It is not only that we fear for Forever’s life in these moments (even with a series named after her, the creators manage to make her death feel like a genuine possibility), but that we understand her fears. Sevara is her friend in a world where she has very few, and even less of whom have been faithful to her. She is having to hurt and attempt to kill someone she cares for in order to protect people she loves, but whose love has been called into question. She finds herself in a heartbreaking dilemma questioning everything she has been taught. That’s every bit as painful, even more so, than the grand chess game being played between Carlyle and Hock.
- The Power of Violence
Fear is there from the beginning, and pain is quick to emerge from the very first cut. It’s not difficult to find comics that contain violence with little impact or consequence. Flip through almost any superhero book and you will be treated to endless displays of fists, swords, and guns where no one is ever truly hurt. Forever’s ability to heal from almost any wound might suggest the same effect in Lazarus, but that is certainly not the case. Violence holds weight and power, and Lark ensures that the terrible costs of violence are felt in his work.
Every cut from a sword or blow from an elbow is made to hurt. Lark’s depiction of each panel is detached in a manner that feels almost documentarian in its style. Rucka once described Lark’s art using the Mamet term “the uninflected shot” and that is certainly the case here. There is no need to exaggerate or heighten the drama of these moments. The simple act of depicting violence honestly is enough to summon all of the pain and hurt necessary to make you cringe with every blow.
- The Power of Images
There is only a single word uttered in 13 pages of physical combat, and it arrives in the very last panel. No sound effects or dialogue exist here. None are needed. There is an incredible level of mastery being expressed by Lark in his panel layouts and individual compositions. Attack, parry, counter-attack, feint, riposte: Each action and reaction of the fight is there to be read. The momentum and flow of the fight is so clear that it calls into question why anyone would ever choose to narrate the action of a swordfight in a comic book.
Lark spins beauty and terror together into a bloody web of offensive and defensive maneuvers. He understands how each and every panel ought to connect in order to present a complete narrative. All of this is accomplished while also moving the “camera” to varying angles and distances, creating an immersive and dynamic experience. Unlike the best told action sequences in film though, Lark is capable of holding the most impactful shots, allowing readers to pause just long enough to relish the physical and psychic toll of this fight. It is a duel shown in slow motion without losing any of its speed or ferocity.
This, all of this, is what I talk about when discussing comics that are revelatory in nature. It’s not simply about craft or storytelling or artistry; it’s about all of them functioning together. These 13 pages function on every level and the result is something at which we can marvel. Rucka and Lark are doing the best work of their careers in Lazarus, and we are all reaping the benefits.
The truth is that the pages leading into and out of the action sequence aren’t perfect. Some of the dialogue is a little bit perfunctory and the final twist is so compressed that it feels rushed after the protracted, agonizing assault that was just witnessed. However, the centerpiece of Lazarus #15 makes these flaws seem all the more minor by comparison. When I turned the final page of the issue, my heart was still racing and my neurons were flashing. It was such an eloquent culmination of tension and plotting that it is difficult to imagine any intro or outro holding its own in comparison.
Lazarus proves itself, month after month, to be one of the most compelling serialized comics in publication. Rucka and Lark are applying decades of experience to craft a story that works on every level. I have no doubt that years after the series has been completed, it will be spoken of with the same respect and admiration as other modern classics like Y: The Last Man and Transmetropolitan. Lazarus #15 will be one of the issues that people recall when discussing the series, specifically the perfect 13 pages that lie at the heart of the issue. Whether you read this on Wednesday, in a collection a few months down the road, or after the series ends (hopefully many) years from now, this will be a comic that sticks with you. It’s too damn good to forget.