This week’s been a big week for comics! All kinds of goings-on were, well, going-on. I’m narrowing it down to just the two comics, though. The ones everybody’s been talking about. Lazarus #1 from Image, and Hawkeye #11 from Marvel. Both books have fantastic creative teams and all the goodwill in the world pushing them onwards. Were they good?
Greg Rucka (w), Michael Lark (a, l), Santi Arcas (c)
The long-awaited return of Greg Rucka to comics (even when he’s only gone a few months, his return is long-awaited) comes in the form of Lazarus, a new series with Michael Lark at Image. Immediately settling straight back into old form together, the first issue is a solid read – I just wonder if it’s not a little too familiar.
We’ve got a capable but lied-to hero, who has a practical sense of reasoning and iffy family. She’s isolated by circumstance and personality, and faces a mystery betrayal she has to solve. In most respects, Lazarus is Rucka 101. I feel like I can already tell the different beats which will be playing out over the rest of the issues, and what we can expect next. Whilst it’s as thoroughly professional and engrossing as you’d expect from the writer, I can’t help but think that this first issue could’ve done with something more surprising.
It’s a relatively straightforward opening issue for a series like this, and is at times surprisingly broad in the way it introduces and uses characters. Some of them feel stock, where they should feel natural. This might actually be due to the lettering, though – Lark letters the issue, and I’m not sure if it wouldn’t have been a stronger issue if he hadn’t. Several pages seem to place emphasis on the wrong parts of the speech, such as a page where a character tells our hero “I would NEVER betray your confidence. I PROMISE you”.
Which… immediately makes the dialogue sound sarcastic, as if the character is reaching out and jabbing you in the head with a finger whilst he tells her his lies. We are made completely aware that he’s not to be trusted – and the main character seems idiotic for not being similarly aware of this blatant villain.
The opening narration, a dialogue between two characters told via caption boxes, doesn’t differentiate the two speakers. Whilst the lettering tells the story, I can’t help but feel it leans too heavily for the reader, and spells things out when they don’t need to be accentuated.
I enjoyed the issue thoroughly despite all this. Rucka’s dialogue still comes across as effortlessly natural, whilst Lark and colourist Santi Arcas make sure that this feels like a realistic and normal world, despite the futuristic equipment and life depicted. Things look worn and battered, rather than glossy and sharp. The locations look like they’ve been lived in, which immediately brings the reader into the world of the book. The characters are shadowy and drawn so they don’t give away too much expression – were it not for the lettering, the mysteries of the book would be a lot harder to work out.
The centrepiece of the story is lead character Forever, and she stands out above the rest of the characters immediately. Not just in look and dialogue, but in personality and perspective. She views things differently, and gives us a reason why we should view her as the most important person here. She follows a long line of Rucka heroines, and stands alongside them all nicely. Overall, Lazarus is a decent piece of fiction. It hasn’t blown me away, but it’ll make a nice enough trade once it’s collected.
Matt Fraction (w), David Aja (a), Matt Hollingsworth (c), Chris Eliopoulos (l)
The much-touted ‘Pizza Dog’ issue of the acclaimed series, in which we follow a nagging plot point through the eyes of the Hawkeyes’ pet dog. Cutting out the majority of the dialogue in order to focus on artistic and design-based storytelling, this offers a masterclass in craft from (especially) Chris Eliopoulos and David Aja. The lettering alone is brilliant, but Aja’s storytelling and sequencing is on-point throughout. Everything slows down in order to completely switch the focus from the human characters to this dog, and it gives us a totally different perspective on all the characters, and of the series itself.
This is decompression at an extreme. This level of pace effectively buries the reader into the world and atmosphere of the building in which Pizza Dog lives. We move painstakingly slow, which might annoy some readers – but every ounce of nuance is wrung out onto the page, giving us a real sense of place and location. We’re given the option here to read the comic through at a breakneak pace, or to stop and sniff at all the details and clues laid out by the creative team, just as Pizza Dog does. It’s a well-executed premise for a standalone issue.
The issue does play a little bit on us as readers. By now you need to be invested in the series in order to really enjoy the issue. I came in without knowing the last five or so issues, and parts of this sailed over my head. There are also a few of the pacing issues which have picked into this series from time to time, especially during the climax moment of the story. When we get to a point where nerves are at their tensest, the narrative drops the ball and skips a crucial moment which would’ve provided a catharsis for readers. Instead, the story leads us up to a single incident and immediately wipes it clean and skips the aftermath. The main narrative is then completely forgotten about so we can return to the story from (presumably) last issue.
Minor complaint. One which has been present from the start, though. If anything, the ramshackle approach to pacing is a part of Hawkeye’s charm, and hopefully the creative team are doing it deliberately. It’s a unique, fascinating one-off idea for an issue, and one which Fraction has clearly spent a lot of time thinking through. Every detail is carefully crafted, making this feel like a comic where a lot of work went into it. That makes me like it for any flaws it has – there are too few comics of any kind which feel like they had so much hard graft go into their making
It’s a very inventive comic, which pays off for the reader. I understand that the comic will now be splitting into two tangents, one handled by Aja and the other by Annie Wu. If there’s any book which I think will be able to keep up with that kind of pace, it’s Hawkeye.