I’ve always been a big fan of standalone issues in comics. I think it’s because they’re often more focused on developing characters than advancing the plot, but by the virtue of standing alone they also have to do so much in a small amount of time or they’ll feel like a waste of time.
In The Sandman #13, “Men of Good Fortune”, Neil Gaiman takes a break from an intricate plot about dream vortexes and a serial killer convention to tell a lighter story about Dream slowly befriending an immortal man over several centuries. When the second arc of Locke and Key began with an issue titled “Intermission”, I yawned preemptively and steadied myself for a flood of exposition. And while the issue definitely delivered plenty of necessary information about our villain and the town of Lovecraft, it did so by showing it all through the eyes of Professor Joe Ridgeway, an aging college professor whose story is so tragic and complete in its execution that it elevated a comic I already enjoyed to a new level.
Lazarus #10, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Michael Lark, continues this tradition by taking a step away from our protagonist Forever Carlyle in favor of watching her brother Jonah. Outted as a traitor to the Carlyle family, Jonah flees across the states in order to make a bargain with Jakob Hock, the Patriarch of a rival family, but finds that he might not receive the royal welcome he was expecting.
While #10 isn’t completely separate from the main plot of the series (the ending more than hints at what will be the centerpiece of the next arc), I still count it as standalone because 1) Forever Carlyle isn’t seen, heard from, or even mentioned and 2) the introduction of new characters and concepts that stand out from everything already established. In just 22 pages the Hock family, only alluded to in previous issues, is fleshed out, Jonah is put through the ringer physically and emotionally (and he deserves it, the little shit), and we’re given a glimpse at the lives of the drug-addled citizens of the Hock nation, which may somehow be more dystopic and hellish than what the Carlyle’s have to offer.
The art by Michael Lark is a treat as always. Several times during this issue, the dialogue drops out and we’re left with silent, sweeping panels to tell the story. One of my favorite scenes is a jet making an emergency crash landing on a river bank. The sequence plays out over three panels with zero sound effects, a smart stylistic choice in my opinion. Every crash and crumple was replicated perfectly in my head without assistance from an onomatopoeia cluttering the image.
With this issue, Lazarus has changed gears from a large but focused sci-fi thriller to Game of Thrones with assault rifles and super soldiers. I’ve always been a big fan of this series, but from now on I'm making sure it's at the top of my pile every month it ships.