Friday, May 16, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Forever Carlyle (Lazarus)

This is totally not related to anything, but I'm pretty sure living in Western Washington for the past two years has made me incapable of tolerating heat or sun. I mean, I never really liked either of those things, but I did live in Los Angeles for a while, and also I spent some time in Vietnam during the summer, and heck, even Massachusetts gets more sun than we do here.

It's a roundabout way of saying that the weather was in at most eighties today and I felt like I was going to die. And then I felt like a failure for some reason.

So, with the daily whining out of the way, let's talk about a character who has everything way, way worse than I do. Let's talk about Forever Carlyle from Lazarus.

If your immediate reaction to the words I just said was, "Who?" and "Wait, is that supposed to be a person?" then you are in the same position I was about two weeks ago. I'd never heard of Lazarus, or Forever (who is, yes, a character), and I was perfectly happy living life that way. But then, like always happens, someone mentioned this new shiny thing to me, and I had to know about the new shiny thing, and here we are.

Lazarus is an indie comic from Image, created by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Santiago Arcas. The first trade, Family is out, which covers issues 1-4. The second trade, which will cover issues 5-9 comes out sometime this summer. Also it does come out in floppies.

The story is a little complicated, but it's a good complicated. It takes place in the indefinite future in America, where the government has dissolved, and society has reverted to the feudal system, albeit with much better technology. The country is divided up by various "Families", and each Family has the inner circle, who enjoy wealth and education and a pain-free existence, and then below them are registered serfs, who are given a food allotment and work for the Family. Everyone else, the millions of us, are "waste". Useless people, essentially, who depend on the Families for food. 

Each Family has its own private military, and they're very intense about it all. Each Family also has its own "Lazarus" - a chosen protector for the Family who cannot be killed (unless you blow them up into tiny little pieces, basically) - whose duty it is to protect Family interests and be their sworn representative. The Lazarus is a chosen and beloved member of the Family, hypothetically, the one child of the Family who is picked at a young age and then trained for nothing else their whole life.

It's a little messed up.

Forever Carlyle is the Lazarus of the Carlyle Family. They control most of Southern California and presumably some parts of Nevada and Arizona and stuff. Forever is a very skilled fighter, incredibly intelligent, and fiercely loyal to her Family. Her father, the head of the Carlyles, values Forever and appreciates her as their "sword", even going so far as to send her on sensitive diplomatic missions.

But all isn't really well with Forever Carlyle. For starters, she's way too compassionate. She feels bad when she kills people on the Family's orders, even when she knows that they have just killed her moments before. Since she can't really die, Forever doesn't tend to hold that against people. Her compassion makes her a relatable character, but it also makes her an unreliable enforcer. She's too nice, and the Family is getting worried.

Also a bit of a problem is the simple fact that Forever doesn't really know where she came from. I mean, she thinks she knows. She thinks that she is the youngest daughter of the Carlyle Family. She thinks that she has two sisters and two brothers. And she apparently doesn't think that the fact that all of her siblings are blond and fair skinned and at least twenty years older than her is worth commenting on.

Forever, for the record, is olive-skinned, dark haired, and built like an Amazon. Just saying.

Plus there's this thing where she gets an email that alerts her to the conspiracy of her birth - "Your father is not your real father. This is not your family." And there's a whole scene where her father talks, not to her, about how he had Forever "built".

Since I've only read the first trade so far, and this is precisely where it leaves off, I don't actually know how Forever deals with this information, or whether she deals with it at all. But I do know that I want to find out. And more than that, I know that I like Forever. I like her because she's flawed and doubtful and lost.

I like this world too. Or rather, I like how I don't like it. It's an interesting take on a dystopia, one I haven't seen done much before, and I am impressed by how Rucka has spun the consequences of this story out through the social classes. I enjoy reading about a thoroughly screwed up society, and I am excited to see Forever journey through this world on her inevitable path to becoming more socially aware.

And I really do like Forever. I don't know her super well yet - this is like writing an article on a character after four episodes of a television show. I mean, I don't know her in and out yet. I don't know without a shadow of a doubt what she will or should do in any given situation. But I want to know, and that matters a fair bit, I think. Forever, for all that she's unkillable, is actually really young. The story tells us that she's really only nineteen or so. She feels older sometimes because of the nature of her job, being her Family's enforcer, but then you stop and realize how sheltered and young Forever is. That's good writing.

See, this is the kind of story I like. Forever is young and curious and compassionate and unashamedly kickass with a sword and her fists and everything else. She's impossible to kill pretty much, but she still manages to have feelings for those who can be killed. She is fiercely loyal to her Family, even when they're not very loyal to her. She feels things deeply, even though she's been programmed not to.

In other words, Forever is complicated and interesting and compelling. She's not sexualized or demeaned by the story, she's not reduced to being a love interest or a subplot, and she's not turned into a goddess by making her unattainable and infallible. She's just a girl. A girl with superhuman regenerative properties and who was built in a lab, but still. Just a girl.

I think by now you can guess that I like my female characters to be well written. That should be a gimme. But I also like them to need a little help sometimes. Sometimes it's nice to get a female character who isn't all the way baked yet (thanks, Buffy, for the cookie metaphor). I want to know who Forever Carlyle is going to be when she grows up. Because I have a feeling it's going to be awesome.

Also, as a small sidenote, the third issue brings up the idea of how the Lazaruses relate to each other, since every family has one, and I find that fascinating. I hope it comes up more in future issues. I mean, they're supposed to be mortal enemies, but how would you feel about the only people in the world who can understand you? 

The upshot of all of this is pretty simple. If you like scary, depressing dystopian fiction (and don't mind a heck of a lot of blood spatter on the page), you should read Lazarus. It's very good. But even if this doesn't sound like your type of story at all, which is fair, I hope you can join me in appreciating its existence. It's not every day that we get to see a character like Forever develop in front of our eyes. 

I mean, it's not every day. But it should be.

Okay, the name is a little bit over the top.