The Mary Sue Talks to Greg Rucka About Forever Carlyle and Lazarus
Greg Rucka is a comics writer whose female characters we love to follow, from detective Rene Montoya and Kate Kane (The Question and Batwoman, if you’re nasty) in post-crisis DC comics, Rachel Cole-Alves in Marvel’s Punisher series, and that’s all without mentioning British special operative Tara Chase, Portland PI Dexedrine Parios, or steampunk pirate captain Lady Seneca Sabre. He’s got a new comic series with its first issue out tomorrow, featuring a new improbably named heroine, Forever Carlyle. Rucka sat down with us and some other reporters last week to answer questions about Lazarus. We invite you to read the interview and check out a prelude story and preview pages from Lazarus #1, which will hit physical and digital shelves tomorrow.
Moderator: We can just open with you saying a little bit about it, about Forever, our main character and the world.
Greg Rucka: Well, I dunno, we’ve been describing it as sort of Godfather meets Children of Men but I suppose that’s a little disingenuous. We’ve used the phrase dystopian future, but I suppose that’s a little tired. The idea behind the series is one of those sort of – like they used to say on Max Headroom: “twenty minutes into the future.” But it’s further than that, it’s a world that has suffered a huge economic collapse, where the rich and the poor are incredibly divided, where there’s very few of the rich and there’s lots and lots of the poor. And those who actually have wealth, you know, wealth has become the truest instrument of power, so that those who have it will do almost anything they can to keep it. And into this world is Forever Carlyle, who is the, quote unquote, “youngest” daughter of the Carlyle family, one of these sort of wealthy ruling families, and she is sort of their – I don’t want to say their secret weapon, but she is the standard bearer for the family’s defense, and as a result of that she is the recipient of everything that the family can offer. Carlyle’s wealth and power has come initially from agribusiness and that has lead to genetic modification and that has lead to gene work with people. Every family has either a Lazarus or a similar force, and it is a title, it is a slaying term for this type of person, this individual who is the sort of bloody sword and iron shield for their family. So that’s it kind of in a nutshell, and then Forever’s story is of course that she is, you know, not who she thinks she is, and it is in many ways a journey of self-discovery. I’m not sure that’s helpful, I give a really bad pitch [laughs].
Reporter: You’ve said that Forever is kind of a genetically modified human, and yet she’s still supposed to be part of the family. Does that kind of separation in biology lead to any conflicts that kind of push the story forward?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that (and it’s very clear, actually, in the second issue when you see her other siblings; she’s got a brother named Jonah) Forever has been raised to believe that she is the biological daughter, but she’s not. I mean, how she was made is a mystery to her, and there is a sincere concern that should she ever find out the truth behind her creation, they would loose control of her. So there’s actually active deception. We did that four page prelude story, and it was a three character story: it was her father Malcolm, talking to, basically, the lead scientist who monitors and maintains her (because she has to be maintained, she has a maintenance schedule, effectively), and at the same time were’ watching Forever off doing Dad’s dirty business. And her father tells James, tells this scientist, “She believes she’s my daughter, she believes that I love her, and that is how I control her.” You know, obviously, one of the immediate tensions is when that’s going to break. How long can you maintain this deception? And different people within the family have different agendas with regards to her, they want to control her, or they want to use her for their own ends. I don’t know if that answers the question.
Reporter: That was great, thanks.
Yay! I got one right!
Reporter: Can you talk a little bit about some of Forever’s training, what she’s capable of, and maybe the kinds of obstacles she has to face, what kind of forces she needs to be a weapon against?
Her biggest ability is (and this is, I want to say, semi-consistent through the other Lazur…i (I guess) from other families), is that she’s very hard to kill. She’s not immortal, but her ability to recover from injury is a level of technology that is almost indiscernible from magic. I did a lot of research on this and a lot of sort of speculative extrapolation on it, and it’s a leap from where we are going but it’s not an impossible leap. So that’s essentially her primary – her primary strength is that you just, you really can’t stop her. And that right there is a problem. Then on top of that you have the exact kind of genetic engineering you would expect if you were going to put this into your warrior/bodyguard/soldier/spy, she is very quick, she is very strong, she has a variety of resistances and immunities, all of which arise from the genetic level. It isn’t “I’m gonna lift a car and throw it,” but is 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 in, say, professional sports in the next 20 or 50 years, and how gene therapy and blood platelet replacement therapy and so on can very logically lead to sort of these malformed professional athletes. Because as you as give them denser muscle mass and so on, you need to redesign the skeletal system to support them, you need to provide a larger thoracic capacity for respiration and circulatory purposes. 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 going to hit what they swing at. So, she has been raised from the beginning and trained from the beginning to do certain things. And more importantly, or perhaps just as importantly, she’s been raised to believe certain things like… the family is correct. That these peasants, The Waste, as they’re called, do not matter in the face of the family. That her father is always right. And that’s both conditioning as a product of nurture as often as her design; it goes to her maintenance schedule.
There are things that she faces… in theory, the ultimate purpose of a Lazarus is to destroy the enemy of the family. To do that you have to be able to destroy the other family’s Lazarus. And since so much of what’s driving the wealth of this world is about greed and possession, the ideal conflict is one that retains infrastructure and retains material, right? “I don’t want to bomb your city, I want to take your city. I want to chop off the head; there’s no point in me destroying your people. Especially if your people don’t matter to you. My goal is I’m gonna need to be able to take you out.” So, there’s an aspect of sort of that upper level political slash military conflict that she should be able to act well on a battlefield, but she should just as easily be able to survive in very specific assassination operations or one-on-one combat. It’s not a world with monsters per se; some of the people are definitely monstrous, but certainly at the start the conflicts that she finds herself involved with are with people of meat and bone. Long rambling answers. I’m good at those!
The Mary Sue: I’ve always enjoyed your big ensemble casts in Queen and Country and Gotham Central, and I was wondering if you could talk about about the extended cast of Lazarus.
Um. Oh boy, how do I answer… Well, lets see. Obviously her family… it is a large family, so her siblings, her parents, all play a part. She’s got her dad, she’s got two older brothers, Steven and Jonah, Jonah has a twin sister Joanna, and then she has another older sister Bethany. All of them have very specific agendas and opinions regarding Forever. Her mom, we actually (it’s funny Michael and I have been talking about this a lot lately) her mom we’re holding in reserve. When her mom appears that’s actually a story for her. For lack of a better phrase, I guess, her presumptive mom, as opposed to her biological mom. Her relationships with family are all power relationships. She’s not a servant, but she is always aware of her place in the family. Some do a better job than others of interacting with her. For instance, Bethany worked with James, the doctor, one of her designers. Bethany worked with the man who created her. Forever doesn’t know this, so Forever doesn’t understand why Bethany has this particular interest in when she takes her pills, why she’s always getting checkups from her sister, other than: that’s the thing Bethany does, Bethany’s focused in the sciences. Her relationship with James is far more intimate. But one of the ways that they control her is through I think, again, that withholding and granting of affection and of approval. There are very few relationships that she has within the family structure that are not dictated by that. In our third issue she has been sent – again, I don’t think this is a spoiler – in the third issue she’s been sent to another family, at her father’s request, to basically engage in negotiations. And when she arrives, she is interacting with their Lazarus, a man named Joachim, and that relationship is entirely different, it isn’t as adversarial as one might presume. So part of what the story is, is actually how her experience with other people outside of this rigid structure she has been created in leads to more questions, and her growth, and the way she changes. When Joachim shows up I think, I’ve really, I’ve been having a lot of fun with the character. I’ve been having a lot of fun the whole book, I mean, frankly, it’s, right now, the book that I want to be working on when I’m working on other things, for the most part. Which I take as always a good sign.
Reporter: I’m curious how the working relationship with Michael Lark is different on this book than some of your DC or Marvel collaborations.
I mean obviously the editorial system with Image is entirely different. Our ability to, you know, jump in and collaborate really, fully top to bottom on it, it’s not a relationship that one can easily find at either of the Big Two. I’m sure there are people who have successfully been able to do it, I’ve rarely rarely been able to accomplish it. Michael is, I think he’s one of the best graphic storytellers working today, I mean without question. One of the other things that, you know ’cause you don’t see it, it doesn’t look like it falls into his domain when you’re reading the book, Michael is actually terribly, terribly smart and he’s got a great story sense. And the ability to collaborate with him so fully, that’s unique. I mean, I’ve just, neither of us have had this opportunity before. So I can call him up and literally say “I’m thinking this thing,” you know, or “this is the idea,” and he’ll come back with three or four other things. And the other thing that I really love in the working relationship with him is that the script is dynamic. When I’m working with Michael the script is dynamic. You work at the Big Two, you know, and you’re working on say, Punisher. The script has to be in by X time so the artist can get ot work on it, and at that point the communication and the ability to alter the script on the fly, and as inspiration strikes, is very limited. Michael and I, I give him the script, he works, and then I’ll get an email, I’ll get a call, and it will be as much about storytelling as about story that we’re telling. And I love that, I mean I just, it is so exciting and it’s so energizing. It is the fullest sense of collaboration. It’s been fantastic so far.
Reporter: Can you talk al little bit about world building and how you reveal the scope of this world to the readers? Is this the kind of story where we’re gonna have a good sense of how big this world is, how many players are involved, after two or three issues? Or is it something that’s going to take a bit longer? Or is it always going to be a little bit mysterious?
I think it’s a little of column A and a little of column B. I think one of the things that we’ve done successfully in this first arc, in these first four issues, is to sorta paint the world broadly and paint the, sort of, political tensions, the power balance of the world? We do not have a lot of opportunity in these four issues to really go down amongst the people who are suffering the most. That’s something that is in our second arc. We reveal more of that.
We don’t list all the families. You get mentions of this name or that name, we know there’s Carlyle, we know there’s Moray, there’re like 28 other families… So I’ve always… this may be an odd answer: I remember picking up William Gibson‘s Neuromancer when I was in high school and thinking that the way he had revealed the world as the book progressed was just brilliant. I loved that aspect of there being enough detail to make you ask creation questions and enough details to fill in certain blanks, but he never gave you everything. And I’m leery, as a writer, of exposition, you know what I mean? [laughs] Does the story provide the opportunity to show how the world works and to reveal more and more of it? That’s great. But the idea that idea of needing to turn around at any point and say “This is the way it works,” to me that’s boring. And sometimes I think it also risks really insulting your audience. And you know I’ve been in comics for fifteen years now and one of the things I’ve discovered is it’s a really smart audience, man. And two things that come from having such a smart audience: the first one is they know if you’re condescending in any way. And they also, I think they want to be engaged. They want that. We’ve talked about Saga as sort of our model for publishing? And I think Saga‘s also a great model for storytelling, you know? You get more the further you go, but the goal is always to make sure you have enough.
The Mary Sue: Is the fact that Forever was created as a female character… not as a female character, as a female sort of warrior/protector/sword of her family, is that more reflective of a sort of futuristic shift and more neutral thinking about which gender is more suited towards being playing a martial role in society? Or is it more of, maybe her father seeing her creator seeing… making her female would make her easier to manipulate.
I do think that… how to put it. The families are conservative by nature; there is a certain amount of sexism. There is a huge vanity in naming your child Forever, you know? [laughs] So Malcolm got what he ordered. He had a checklist. And there is very much a sense of, yeah, controlling her through that “Daddy’s little girl” thing. So it is, ironically, perhaps, among certain families that element of sexism is still extant and practiced, though it may be in many ways very much like our sexism today which tends to be a muted cultural one. Where down amongst the Waste, there’s really not, there’s no time for it. These are people who are desperately trying to survive. And desperately trying to find their way out of this horrible poverty they live in, and so issues of gender amongst the Waste are far less crucial. But yeah, there is, you know, an absolute… Forever is as she is by design, and that means she’s a woman by design. And actually once you get into the second arc, you see, and this is… trying to figure out how to phrase this because it’s just kind of spoilery. You see more evidence of how Malcolm manipulates his daughter and how long it’s been going on. And how that “Daddy’s little girl” relationship really factors into things. I think that’s the best answer I’ve got for you.
Moderator: Anything else you’d like to add, Greg?
Yeah, I actually do want to add that everything about this has been terrific. I am so excited about this book coming out. Image has been incredibly supportive. This is a whole new publishing experience for me, so top to bottom I am…
[laughs] Aside from one mistake that I caught in the first issue and it’s my fault… It’s the oxytocin/oxycontin one, and I saw it yesterday and I went “Oh god, nooo. I thought i corrected that!” [laughs] The way I’m looking at it is it gives us – now I know what I’m starting our second issue letter column with.
Look, I don’t like books that are polemics, and I don’t like reading something that feels like I’m being lectured to. We talk about the economic divide and things like that, but the fact of the matter is that this is an adventure story, this is a story about a woman, it’s about Forever Carlyle. Everything else is backdrop to that. And, you know, just the opportunity to do this story the way we want, how we want. Man, I love it, I’m so excited, and I’m so excited that we finally get to show people what we’ve been working on for so long. I really do hope folks will dig in, I really do. I think Michael has done some of the best work of his career on issue one certainly, and I’m just having a blast, so. That’s what I’ve got to offer.