52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Greg Rucka is a man who has been a talented writer from a rather young age. By the age of ten, Rucka was already winning writing awards for his work with short stories. From there his love for writing only grew, as he continued to educate himself in the art form through higher learning. Rucka would go on to graduate from Vassar College with a Bachelor in Arts for writing, as well as attending the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing Program, of which he graduated with a Master Of Fine Arts. In the end, Rucka’s journey to becoming a writer was a long and tumultuous one with many heart breaks and triumphs. He got his big break in writing with his Atticus Kodiak series before breaking into comics with “Whiteout” under the publisher, Oni Press.
Lazarus Volume 1
Many years into the future, the world as we know it has changed. The world economy has shifted dramatically, placing families with wealth and power in control. These families control everything from agriculture to general science, money to media, and everything in between. Each family has its own set regions wherein they reside and much of the population suffers as serfs or waste. Although the world has changed dramatically, it is still fairly harmonious because of the influence of these families and the truces they share. Unsurprisingly, harmony can only be upheld for so long as each family is still out for their own personal gain, looking to expand their territory further out of greed or necessity.
Enter the Lazarus, a genetically modified “super soldier” who is essentially the guardian of each family. The Lazarus for every family is a physical and tactically brilliant specimen, often placed in charge of their family’s army and with the responsibility to protect their family at any cost. Forever Carlyle is the Lazarus for the Carlyle family, being placed in a difficult position when the Carlyle family is lead to believe they are being betrayed by another family within their alliance. It’s up to Forever to try to unravel this plot that threatens the safety of her family while also keeping peace with the other families that the Carlyle family are aligned with.
Greg Rucka teams with Michael Lark to bring the world a fascinating Sci-Fi political adventure with Lazarus. Rucka presents a fascinating world to the reader, showing us what the world would look like if everything fell apart and the wealthiest families around were placed in charge. The sandbox that Rucka places his characters into with Lazarus is perhaps one of the best parts of the series. The government structure, technology, agriculture, and so much more all play a key role in the story Rucka sets out to tell. With the wealthy families dominating the world and placing themselves into power, we get to see glimmers of great and horrible things. On one hand, the technology that comes from these changes is simply incredible, combining medicine and science together in unusual ways to show us the amazing attributes of the Lazarus, all of which potentially could have never happened if these families didn’t establish their own pseudo-government structure. The equal negative effect to these families being in control is evident by the struggling population of waste and serf within the regions of each family. The horrible conditions some of these people live in and the struggles they face are only shown briefly here but still reiterate the fact that the world essentially reverted back to feudalism with these powerful families sitting atop the food chain. There are so many brilliant but simple things that Rucka and Lark bring to the table with Lazarus, with their world building being one of the most important parts of the entire story.
In terms of a cast, Rucka keeps the characters pool rather small, focusing almost entirely on the Carlyle family for this first arc of the series. The Carlyle family consists of multiple members, with her father being the head of the family and making all of the key decisions. Consider him the “king” of the Carlyle family if you will, forced to make the difficult call and always keeping the family in check when he needs to. He’s a stunningly cold man who feigns compassion brilliantly, serving to be the perfect leader for the Carlyle family. His two sons, Stephen and Jonah, are like the two princes of the family, with Stephen being much like his father in regards of wanting to be serious and responsible but lacking the cold, calculated mind that his father has. Instead, Stephen is a far too compassionate man to ever lead decisively. Jonah, on the other hand, is the equivalent of a brash prince, respecting next to no one within his family and feeling as though he is the most important member. Vile, deceitful, and fairly arrogant, Jonah thinks he’s far more intelligent than he actually is.
The three sisters of the family are Johanna, Beth, and to a looser extent, Forever Carlyle. Johanna is similar and close to Jonah, being a manipulative women while Beth is a hyper focused scientific mind. Now when I say that Forever Carlyle is loosely considered a “daughter” it’s because she technically isn’t a daughter, being made to feel that way by her father but still technically not. Forever is the primary protagonist of the story as we follow the trials and revelations that come with her life. Being a genetically enhanced “super soldier” isn’t an easy thing for Forever, as throughout the duration of this first story she struggles greatly with her emotions and how to control them. She is supposed to be a calculated killing machine, willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family, but she hesitates. The philosophical side of the character is often conflicted with her role versus her desire, wanting to truly feel like she’s part of the family but always being a literal foot soldier for the family’s gain. It’s these emotional wrinkles to the character of Forever that make her a compelling lead character, as she isn’t just this badass, unkillable lady. Even though that you know Forever is more than just a regular human, her emotions tell you otherwise, convincing you that she has a kind and gentle heart within her modified body.
Lazarus is essentially a dystopian political action series, showing us the world as it is when controlled by sixteen wealthy families. There is so much going on in this series at all times, even as you follow Forever and her missions to protect the Carlyle family as well as their interests. There’s this sense of complexity that bares down on the reader, knowing fully well that just because you’re following Forever doesn’t mean that there aren’t other pieces moving around the rest of this world without you knowing. At times it makes it hard to nail down just what Lazarus is. Some moments it can feel like an espionage thriller, at others times it’s science fiction at its finest, only to then turn around and be a full-blown action movie. It’s not even that the story or themes are inconsistent, as everything loops back to Forever and the Carlyle family. It’s just that this book is completely different in the way it seems to do everything, being almost steps ahead the rest of the curve. Rucka does this incredible thing in creating a comic that can be whatever it wants, whenever it wants while still staying true to the main character in Forever and showing the reader a heckava good time along the way.
Collects: Lazarus #1-4.
Best Character: Forever Carlyle.
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “It matters if there’s still a traitor in our house! Why would you throw your life away?” – Forever Carlyle.
Best Scene/Moment: Forever teaches a Bittner soldier a lesson in respect – Issue 3.
Best Issue: Issue 4. The story climaxes in dramatic fashion with the final issue in the collection, setting up the series to explore some fascinating areas with the future arcs. You get an absolutely killer opening, crazy action sequences, an unraveling betrayal, increased intrigue all around, and to top it all off the issue ends in a way that makes you question everything you just learned in the previous three issues. This issue is a defining moment in what Greg Rucka is trying to achieve with Lazarus.
Why You Should Read It: Forever Carlyle is a badass, female protagonist and that alone deserves your attention. Rucka creates a character who is equally strong yet frail, crafting this super soldier like character into one of the most human characters in this entire story. The world building is fascinating and on point, the lead character is fantastic, there’s as much mystery as there is action, and everything is pretty much awesome the entire time you read it. Give Lazarus a whirl, you won’t be disappointed.
Stumptown Volume 1
Greg Rucka has bounced around a bit in the comic industry, finding a home in DC for many years before working for other publishers like Marvel, Image, and Oni Press. But Oni Press will always be Rucka’s first home, breaking into the industry with his first ever comic work on the series Whiteout. Although he hasn’t produced a lot of different works under Oni Press, a lot of the work he has produced for them is considered some of the best of his career. From the aforementioned Whiteout, to Queen and Country, and today’s book, Stumptown, Rucka has shown that when he deals with characters he creates is when he’s truly at his best.
Dex Parios is a Private Investigator with a big problem. A near $18,000 problem. Dex has a gambling problem that she just can’t shake, getting placed deep in debt to the local Casino. As a result, the Casino owner decides to call in a favour from Dex to settle up her debt. The owner’s granddaughter has suddenly gone missing, suspecting her to have run off with some boy because of her young age. Dex is tasked with tracking down her granddaughter, Charlotte, requesting that she provide daily updates on her progress until she is found and returned, resulting in the erasure of Dex’s debt. Dex gets right down to business but quickly regrets it, as she’s made an immediate target by some hired muscle who try to kill her. Although their attempts fail, Dex still manages to find herself in an even more difficult position as she is offered money by the Marcena crime family to find Charlotte and bring her to them instead. Now wrapped up with not only a debt but an aggressive crime family as well, Dex’s whole day just got way more complicated than she ever could have imagined. She probably should have stayed in bed this morning.
Stumptown is a modern-day American detective story set in Portland, Oregon following the most unlikely Private Investigator you’ll ever meet, Dex Parios. From the opening moments of this collection, Rucka sets out to make Dex’s life difficult and doesn’t stop until he wraps everything up at the end. Dex, to put it lightly, is a screw up, having a hanging debt over her head that she just can’t shake because of her gambling problem. It’s the vulnerability and the honesty that Dex displays that makes her such a loveable protagonist. Never in all my years of reading comics have I seen a character with as much bad luck as Dex has in just these four short issues. Actually, correction, Peter Parker has some pretty crummy luck but Dex Parios gives him a run for his money here. Nonetheless, she’s a character who has so many problems that you actually could lose count of them all by the end of the story. All that these problems show us as readers is that Dex is a remarkably normal and human character for the reader to relate to. When she isn’t peddling away all of her cash at the casino she’s taking care of her mentally handicapped brother.. It’s these scenes with her brother that show how compassionate Dex is as a sister, never being frustrated with her brother and warming your heart with every panel they spend together. It’s no surprise that every simple scene they share together becomes one of your favourite scenes from this story. Greg Rucka almost molds Dex into a character who tries to please other people because she’s incapable of pleasing herself. She spends her money on booze and gambling, smokes too much, and leads a life that’s far from materialistic, yet when approached with a problem from someone else she jumps into the situation. Dex isn’t the greatest P.I. ever to walk the Earth, it’s how ordinary and flawed she is that makes her such a compelling character to manoeuvre this story with.
There’s plenty of characters thrown into the mix of this one, ranging from the Marcena family to Dex’s mentally handicapped brother. The Marcena family as a whole are the key characters that stand between Dex and her goal of finding Charlotte, as each member has a selfish stake in finding her as well. How each member of the Marcena family contrasts each other is fun to see, creating an interesting familial dynamic for this story. Mr. Marcena, the father of Oscar and Isabel, is a simple man who only wants what’s best for his family. He’s a direct man who seems business focused, but still values his family dearly. Oscar is a bit of a meat-head, being brash, self-righteous, and fairly arrogant. He’s one of the earliest characters that you can take an immediate dislike to, which is surprising consider how he’s one of the last characters to truly get introduced. Isabel is almost like a snake in the grass, knowing how to play the game but not being nearly as clever as she thinks she is. She’s the type of woman who will take matters into her own hands but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the best results. Dex’s brother is a simple but excellent addition to the cast, never feeling as though he weighs down the story. As a matter of fact, he does more for explaining who Dex is as a character than he does for the story. Rucka presents the character’s dialogue in such a way that clearly illustrates that the character suffers a handicap but never really lets that impede who the character is or the relationship he shares with Dex. He almost serves as a grounding element for Dex, something to bring her back down to Earth amidst the craziness that is her life, all while being a character who ends up being a scene stealer because he’s a character who brings with him complexity but is still so easily understood.
The truth about Stumptown is that it isn’t some groundbreaking new-age detective story. Quite honestly, it’s incredible basic in both its approach and execution. It’s a simple story that doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s the nature of Rucka’s writing and how his characters function within the story that make this story fun. The mystery to this detective story couldn’t be more straightforward and easy to “solve”, using that term loosely as there isn’t much to really solve at all. It’s more so the misfortunes Dex experiences on her route to completing the case that help to string everything along. As I stated earlier on, Dex ranks fairly highly up there in terms of “Comic Book Characters with Awful Luck”, with each issue seemingly finding a new way to test her luck in a manner that only makes her life more difficult. In the end, this series ends up being a detective story more soundly rooted in the lives of the characters it gets wrapped up in that it does about the actual mysterious element, which is fine by me considering how much you fall in love with the lead character in Dex.
Collects: Stumptown (vol 1.) #1-4.
Best Character: Dex Parios.
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “I’m sitting here in my second-best bra. Give my vanity a break and pretend you’re having trouble maintaining your detachment.” – Dex.
Best Scene/Moment: Dex pays a visit to the doctor – Issue 2.
Best Issue: Issue four. Issue four is a satisfying conclusion to this batch of stories with Dex. Everything weaves together, makes sense and payoffs in a way that makes you glad you picked up the series in the first place.
Why You Should Read It: This is just a solid modern American detective series. You’ve got a “down on her luck” PI who is a total train wreck but you can’t help to fall in love with her. Dex is a witty and snappy lead in all the right ways, making you feel some form of emotion every time she opens her mouth. She isn’t complex, she’s simple and that’s what makes her fun to read about. If you’re looking for characters to care about with a solid story to back them up, then give Stumptown a try.