Last week, I picked up a couple of new books. Phoenix Comics owner Nick Nazar suggested that I try the first issue of Lazarus, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. And I decided to give the first issue of Sheltered by Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas, a whirl. They're both excellent first issues.
Of the two, Lazarus is probably closest to what you expect from a comic book. It's the story of a woman named Forever Carlysle who gets shot and dies while protecting her family's property. Because the book takes place in the far-flung future, and because Carlysle belongs to one of the wealthiest families on the planet, her death is impermanent; most of the issue deals with her readjusting to the living world. A lot of information gets dropped on us in the course of Lazarus # 1: we learn the characters are living in a dystopian future, where all the wealth belongs to the top .00001 percent, leaving everybody else to scramble for essentials. Despite basically being a huge exposition dump, in this issue Rucka manages to introduce us to several characters and their motivations and connections without it feeling at all forced. Much of the easy flow is thanks to Michael Lark's art, which is smooth and stylish and reminds me of John Cassaday in a lot of ways. The female lead doesn't feel sexualized, which in comics is a minor miracle, and the tech looks believably futuristic. In the back text pages of the issue, Rucka promises that Lazarus has a planned ending, but that the ending is a long way off. I'm looking forward to what appears to be a solid sci-fi story, spun out in monthly chapters.
- Sheltered #1 art by Johnnie Christmas.
But still, things are getting crowded in the post-apocalypse; everybody has a story about the end of the world. Sheltered bills itself as "a pre-apocalyptic tale," and that alone is enough to make it interesting. The first issue introduces us to a community of preppers. They're not militia—they have (and use) guns, but they're not interested in taking over the government. They're just interested in surviving the end of the world, which they believe to be imminent. Brisson doesn't turn these people into right-wing caricatures, even though he acknowledges that it takes a...special type of person to want to move into the wilderness with a year-and-a-half supply of canned goods. We start with a day-in-the-life scenario showing how the camp is run, but then a plot twist at the end of the issue really sets up the story's central conflict. Christmas's art is just cartoony enough to keep the book's sudden brutal violence from being too jarring, but he's an excellent storyteller, using characters' body language and facial expressions to tell the stories going on just beneath the narrative's surface. I don't want to spoil the fun, but Sheltered looks like it could be setting up a doozy of a crime thriller. Part of the fun of reading this book is the complete lack of context I have for it—unlike most comics, which nestle comfortably in superhero and science fiction tropes, you get the sense that anything can happen in Sheltered. That's the kind of feeling that keeps me coming back to the comic book store on a regular basis.