RUCKA & LARK on LAZARUS' Slow Burn, The Upcoming 'Cull,' & Possible TV Series

"Lazarus #22" preview
Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)
Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

After a six month hiatus, Lazarus readers will find out what's next as Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's creator-owned series returns with Lazarus #22.

The slow burn series ratcheted things up with Johanna’s rise to the top of House Carlyle, the curing of patriarch Malcom, the apparent death of Forever, and the grand reveal of a new and younger Forever.

Now, Rucka and Clark promise to deliver some answers about these events and more with the beginning of their next chapter: “The Cull.”

Newsarama sat down with the two long-time collaborators to discuss all things Lazarus – from the past, present and future – in the lead up to their return to their sci-fi epic. We also spent a little time digging into the process that goes into crafting an extensive world such as the one taking place in Lazarus as well as collaborative process these two creators employ that helps breathe life into this series.

Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

Newsarama: Greg, Michael … it’s been six months since readers had their hands on the last issue of Lazarus. What have you both been up to since that time?

Michael Lark: Drawing issues! We started this book behind the eight-ball due to a number of scheduling issues – for whatever reasons those might have been. But the idea was that this six-month stretch would allow me to get caught up and ahead of schedule. I’m a couple of issues further along in the story arc, so that’s what I’ve been up to! 

Greg Rucka: We did the source book, the hardcover, and we’ve written the next couple of issues. We’ve also been working with the TV development of Lazarus. I’ve also been doing this other book with DC Comics.

Nrama: That would be Wonder Woman

Staying on topic, I remember hearing about the Lazarus TV development in the past, but are there any updates that you can share with us?

Rucka: I know I say this every time I get asked, but I hope we’ll have something we can share soon. I’m leery of saying thing right now, but the process has been particularly good. It’s an interesting experience. I’ve had a variety of different projects go through one level of development or another in Hollywood, and if there’s a pattern that I had previously noticed, this one’s broken it. So, from a development side, it’s been without question, the best experience I’ve ever had. But without questions, development is one thing but getting it set up somewhere is another thing entirely. That’s where it’s at right now.

The market has done some things that people haven’t expected, but I’m still optimistic as hell though I have to be a little circumspect right now. I think there is a real hope of everyone involved that we’ll have an announcement for Comic-Con International: San Diego. I think I can be quoted on that, but in Hollywood, things change, so who knows.

Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

Newsarama: Broadly speaking, Lazarus #21 left off with what appeared to be three major twists – spoiler alert for those who haven’t caught up. First, we see Johanna has taken over the family and helps engineer the turning of the tide in favor of House Carlyle – an interesting turn of fate since she’s bucking the traditional line of succession as the youngest.

Rucka: Yes! Her long game has come into fruition, even if it’s not in the way she had planned it. [Laughs]

Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

Nrama: What was your interest in this character, who was one of the least members of House Carlyle?

Rucka: It was always my interest in bringing her here – that’s always been the goal. I think I had a realization where I screwed up with Jo. I was drawing pretty broadly, and I know this has been quoted many times, but Michael told me how the script I first delivered wasn’t anything like I first told him it was going to be. He didn’t like any of these people! And then he said “Even Hitler loved his dog.” And he had a real point there. It’s uncharacteristic of me, but I had originally been drawing characters much more broadly and Jo was definitely getting short-shrifted in those early issues.

Now, let’s be honest: She’s not a good person. She’s not heroic. But her place in the story and her motivation, well, she’s a human being. She’s not a caricature. I wanted people to see more of her, and I’ve always known from the beginning that she was angling for dad’s chair. The way she went about it is absolutely ghastly, but one of the things we’ll see in “Cull” is an answer to the question of what kind of leader she is. And whether or not she’s better or worse than her father.

Nrama: Well, and that brings us around to Malcom, who had been on his death bed for all of “Poison,” but now it looks like he’s going to recover.

Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

Rucka: Malcom is not a nice person. We forget that he made this world. Hock’s evil is obvious. Malcom’s is much more banal. It isn’t there’s a reason why Jo wants to succeed her father. It’s not so she can have the Roll Royce, the coke parties, and burn people at the stake for her own amusement –

Lark: That’s probably what Jonah would have been happy with!

Rucka: Exactly. He wanted to be king so he could do whatever he wanted! No one would ever say no. But Johanna, well, I don’t want to give it away, but a lot of what she wants will be revealed in “Cull.” I hope people will dig it – that whatever we do they’ll dig!

But Malcom? He’s present. But I don’t give anything away.

Nrama: Fair enough! Now, the final thread from #21 found readers seeing the remains of Forever being carted away after having called in close air support on her position in order to neutralize the Hock forces. Yet, we then see what appears to be an adolescent version of Forever approach Sonja Bittner looking to spar. So not only do we realize there is a second Forever in play, but it also raises the question over whether the one we’ve gotten to know is the first one…

Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

Rucka: You will actually find out exactly how many there have been – I think – in Lazarus #22. But people who have already picked up the Lazarus Sourcebook will already know the answer to that. The next question, of course, is what happened to the other ones…

But you don’t need the Sourcebook to read “Cull,” but you do get a lot of great Easter eggs.

Nrama: Shifting gears a bit, something that struck me in particular about this last issue was the frenetic pace – moving between the battlefield and the war room. How did you go about recreating that experience so that it felt authentic? Because, and let’s face it: When scenes like this that are depicting military operations are not depicted well or accurately, it can really pull a reader out.

Lark: I really have to give all the credit in the world to Greg here. He paces things out really, really well. It’s something he’s really good at doing. I’m mostly just trying to interpret what he’s doing in the script. For me, it was a matter of making sure each of those panels had equal weight so everything had the same timing and skipped around really quick. I try to focus more on the character aspect of the story, and I let Greg worry more about the timing details. I focus on what the people are doing.  It’s not that much different than doing any other scene for me.

Now, a sword fight scene will be a lot more labor-intensive than those final scenes from issue #21 moving back and forth between the war room and the battle with Forever and the Hock forces.

Credit: Michael Lark (Image Comics)

Rucka: Well, I’m glad you felt it was authentic! And this is for everybody involved, especially Mike’s designs and art, as I think it’s one of the strengths of the book is that we do a lot of research. We look at emerging technology – where we can find it and where we can use it. In one of the upcoming issues you’ll see where we introduce this zero gravity treadmill. Now, I sent Michael some reference, but he felt it looked like a sci-fi bounce house and didn’t like it. And that’s okay! Here’s the scientific principle behind it, but go ahead and change the aesthetic of it. It’s simply the need on our part to go “This is where we’re anchored in fact.” It’s not a magic piece of technology. That’s Forever herself.

For the final sequence of “Poison,” that’s the result of our research of seeing what’s available that we can build off from, and working with Eric Trautmann [collaborator and designer] who has a lot more connections in the STEM field to help with accuracy.

So, to make that sequence work, we had multiple passes on the dialogue. We needed to make sure it was authentic enough, but then if it was too authentic, it ran the risk of being too incomprehensible and laborious. It needed to have brevity but clarity as well as authenticity.

But yes, it’s frustrating when you see someone put a silencer on a revolver. It can throw you out. It’s one of the reasons why when we do the fight sequences, Michael and I go to great lengths to make sure there’s a realistic flow from panel to pane. The verisimilitude is one of the strengths of the book, and while I’m really proud of the world building we’ve done here, it’s really only the scaffolding that the story stands upon. The truths of the story need to be supported by the scaffolding, and that’s why world building is important, and you have to make it plausible for the reader when they see Forever traveling through it.

Credit: Michael Lark (DC Comics)

Nrama: In a slightly similar vein, Michael, one thing I hear regularly from artists is they tend not to love drawing a lot of technical subject matter given the tediousness and difficulty of it. Looking through Lazarus, however, this book is absolutely full of it as you go about building that scaffolding. Is this something you enjoy or are there elements of what Greg writes that are more challenging at times?

Lark: You know, the first comics I did at DC was Terminal City, and it was a different kind of sci-fi book than this though still a sci-fi book, but I still said “I’m never going to do technical drawing again!”

Nrama: I see that plan worked out for you!

Lark: [Laughs] It’s a lot of work! But at the same time, when I was a kid growing up, I wasn’t into comics, but I was into Joe Johnston designing spaceships for Star Wars. And I do get to do that. And I do have an interest in industrial design. I’m probably not as well versed in it as I used to be or could be. It’s something that had fallen by the wayside that I’ve had to pick back up again. I’m not a skilled designer for that kind of stuff, and I feel like I’ve had to fake it.

If we’re ever falling behind with a book, that’s why. Drawing the pages doesn’t actually take that long. Once all of that stuff is in place, it goes pretty quick. But creating those pieces, like Forever’s motorcycle, it can take several days. It can take me as many days to design the motorcycle as it will for me to draw all of the pages that the motorcycle appears.

Nrama: And that’s just to go about doing the research to figure out what would work in a realistic way for that bike to exist?

Credit: Michael Lark (DC Comics)

Lark: Yeah, the research and trying to make sure there is verisimilitude in it, as Greg said, because when I started out, I was a little more loosey-goosey. I know Greg mentioned writing his characters out a little more broadly early on, and I think I did much of the same thing. As we got further into this, we realized how important it is to get this as realistic as we can. So yeah, it’s a lot of work.

And it’s a double-edged sword because people want their comics when they’re supposed to get them. If you’re a week late, some people might act like it’s the end of the world, and I want them to cool their jets – it’s just a comic! But at the same time, I fully understand where they’re coming from. It’s a tough balance as we equally want to get them the book they want and expect. That’s why it’s been almost six months since the last issue came out. I could churn out the pages and crank out a book once a month, but at some point, I’m going to have to phone it in and I don’t think anyone wants that – especially me.

Rucka: We take great pride in the fact that when you pick up a copy of Lazarus that every page is content. That’s a real pride to us. But, if it’s not good content, then it’s just filler.

Lark: And I’ve never been good at phoning it in. There are some artists who can just crank it out day in and out, but I’m just not one of them. I wish I had the speed of these folk, but it’s just not the type of stuff we do.

Nrama: We’ve spoken a lot of what’s come before, but I’d like to take a look at what’s ahead. This next issue opens up the first part of a new story arc – “The Cull.” Rather ominous stuff, no? We’ve already seen Forever and most of her squad taken out by Hock’s forces and operating mainly in a defensive manner – does this mean it’s time for Carlyle to begin striking back and flex their muscle?

Rucka: Yes. This is the counter-attack. Hock went into conclave knowing what his ideal outcomes would be, and one of the things he had foreseen was Bittner flipping. And Bittner got screwed entirely the moment the war broke out because their respective forces had been integrated using Hock pharmaceuticals. So, it was pretty easy for Hock to rule over Bittner. When you come into “Cull,” you’ll see the result of that, and it knocks everybody back on their heels.

Frankly, there’s also the fact that Stephen is not a great war leader. 

Lark: He’s too nice!

Rucka: Right. He still retains some sense of human decency. His empathy overrides his logic, and he’s not good at the kind of math that Malcom is an expert at dealing with. And Johanna, of all the kids, is her father’s daughter who has been waiting for her moment.

Nrama: That’s interesting because I’ve read online --

Lark: Well, that was your first mistake! [Laughs]

Nrama: [Laughs] You’re probably right! But still, it was about Lazarus being viewed almost like a sci-fi version of Game of Thrones where we see this epic game of chess playing out across the known world by a select few families with the politics and intrigue we see as they vie for “the throne,” if you will.  

Rucka: I think there could be an element of that. But I have to admit that I’ve had to eschew all things Game of Thrones. I never read the books, and I can’t watch it now, due to Lazarus, as I don’t want to unintentionally crib from them.

Lark: But all you have to do with Game of Thrones is throw in a few more rape scenes since they seem to see that as a “plot point” …

Rucka: Um. Yeah. Be that as it may, you can reduce Game of Thrones down to Macbeth. These are eternal stories, which we tell over and over again. So, sure. A sci-fi Game of Thrones if that’s a form of shorthand you want to use, that’s okay. We have a large cast of characters, Game of Thrones has a large cast of characters. We are telling a long story; they are obviously telling a long story. Beyond that, I don’t have the reference points to say more.

Lark: I think the comparison does work to some extent, but I think we’re more focused on a single character than Game of Thrones is. We’ve got all of these other characters who are doing their things, but it’s Forever who’s really the heart of the book. I’m not sure Game of Thrones has that one, single character if you want to play with that comparison. That’s a huge difference. There’s no one character in that story.

Nrama: In a similar vein, I’m curious about Forever’s role in this grand power play. We root for her because like her, in a way, we – the readers - are also being used by those in power. With Forever’s resurrection, it seems she’s lost some of her agency: a smiling, willing new Lazarus to learn from those around her. Does this raise a question of whether or not it’s back to business as usual with her eventually doing the bidding of her family? Or does this raise the possibility that the older, and slightly-more-blown-up version of Forever will come face to face with her younger, cloned self?

Rucka: [Laughs] Slightly more blown up version?!? [Laughs] Being leery of spoilers, look, we’ve been criticized for being a “slow burn” book. Now, that’s not really a criticism – that’s a taste issue. And that’s fine, but yes, it is a slow burn. I think that’s a very interesting question about whether or not it’s a loss of agency for her. And … you’re going to see that answered in “Cull.”

One of the things we know about Forever at this point is that the situation she found herself in with “Poison” is a direct result of her engaging in an act of rebellion. As a result, she’s going to be scolded for it, but she knows what she knows.

And Jo needs Forever on her side. Jo is also the only member of the family who – and this is giving something away – who truly sees Forever as a person and extends full empathy to her. One of the things about creating Forever, Malcom allows himself to love her, but he’s also allowed himself an easy out when he makes her do horrible things or subjects her to horrendous things because she was made for this purpose. Jo doesn’t extend that allowance. She sees that they made Forever with a heart, and they’re going to make it break. They didn’t take her empathy, nor could they raise her that way, because if she was a sociopath, she’d be an unreliable tool. So, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise a Lazarus as is seen.

Nrama: Despite being a tool for House Carlyle, then, she will still retain that sense of self?

Rucka: People can look at the end of “Poison” and see a new Forever and ask whether the story is going to now transfer to the new one, but the answer is “no.” The young Forever you meet has her story, and she’s crucial to what’s going to come, but the story of Lazarus is the story of Forever Carlyle. And it’s been the story of her learning the truths about herself and the world as well as what she’s going to do about it. Matt Tolmach – the producer who is working with Michael and I to adapt Lazarus for television – he and I were having a conversation at one point and he said “As Forever goes, so goes the world.” That is, I think, a great one sentence for the series. She is going to make some decisions – some small, some great – and they will determine both the fate of her story and her world.

Newsarama: Now that you’re back, what is one thing you are most excited about that we can expect from “The Cull” – either in the upcoming issue or later on in this new arc?

Rucka: [Laughs] I am gleeful as the pages keep coming in. Michael and I are exactly the same when it comes to our work. I’ll send him a script and tell him it’s not very good, to which he’ll respond “You’re high.” [Laughs] He’ll send me some pages, then, and tell me how Panels 1, 2, and 3 aren’t very good but Panel 4’s okay, and I’m yelling “Are you out of your mind?!? I love this!!!”

There’s so much in this arc that I’m really excited about. There’s a Lazarus free-for-all, and Michael is just killing it on this – especially the fight between two Lazari. Again, he’s sending in the pages and isn’t feeling it, but I love it! There are also some character development scenes coming up, a scene coming up in #24 that I’ve been waiting for the start to write!

Lark: Really? See, this is all news to me when I hear it. [Laughs]

Rucka: It’s the storeroom. I’ve been waiting to write this forever, and I can’t wait. It’s going to be the centerpiece for issue #24, and I also think we’re going to see some romantic developments in #25 at the end of the arc. There’s just a lot of slashing, stabbing, politics, and personally, I’m finally getting to give Johanna her due. You might not like her. She’s done some vile things. But you may just come out of “Cull” understanding her and why she did what she did.

There’s a scene in #22 with Jo and Marisol where Michael responded “I still hate her.”

Lark: I still hate Jo. She’s the most scheming and conniving character, and it’s really hard not to draw her that way when Greg’s trying to make her sympathetic.

Nrama: But you bring up a great point here, Michael. How do you treat these characters fairly when you hate them?

Lark: Well, I don’t hate them. I think Jo’s a great villain. I want Jo to chew the scenery in every scene, but Greg’s trying to rehabilitate her, and I hope I’m staying on board with that. I love these characters, even the bad guys. Who doesn’t love a good bad guy – they’re good stuff!

My first love is Forever, and she will always get the cover treatment over every other character in that book, but I love all these characters. I mean look: This is a pretty bleak world that they live, and I have to be in this world for at least 10+ hours a day, seven days a week. I have to find something redeeming in it, and it’s the people – they’re real. Not caricatures, not 2 dimensional. They’re going through the same kinds of struggles everyone goes through at one time or another. Otherwise, there’s no reason to be living in this bleak world for me when there’s no hope for anyone. I’m a pretty happy guy, and so I need to have something to grab ahold of.

The other Lazarus that I’m drawing – the one Greg mentioned being locked in combat with the other – he’s a total jackass! But he’s so fun to hate, I’m enjoying it!

Rucka: This is the thing: We have our villains and we have our protagonists. Our villains can be sympathetic and our protagonists can be … less so. They can all do things that change our feelings about them but it doesn’t change the war.

Look, I’ll go to the Big Two for this one: The best villains are the ones that give you pathos. People love the Joker and they cling to The Killing Joke because it gives them his origin. It gives them his source of sadness. And never mind opinions on The Killing Joke; he tells you he’s lying throughout the book at different times. There is no empathy for the Joker to be found there. He’s trying to sell you a bill of goods. Give me a Harvey Dent. Give me a Pamela Isley, right? Every day of the week, these characters who break your heart. They do horrible things, but you know what led them there, and you know the pain they’re in. You can empathize with them.

Lark: Well, it’s Darth Vader, right? Part of the reason of Empire Strikes Back is so good is that he’s no longer just this guy in a black mask striding through a battle and choking people with the Force. He’s Luke’s dad and he’s fallen from grace. That’s the case here: People are three dimensional and not cardboard cut outs. To me, there’s no interest if that’s not there. Otherwise, what’s the point if there are no emotional contact points.

Rucka: It’s been a bitch and a half to write, but I am really excited about what we get to do in this arc.

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