Comic Review: Lucifer
By Scott McNee
When Neil Gaiman finished his epic Sandman comic series, there were the inevitable attempts to create spin-offs (Dead Boy Detectives, The Dreaming, and Gaiman’s own Death and Sandman Overture). All have been lacklustre, including Overture, which is still running. All, of course, except Lucifer, the rare series that is better than its parent. Originally running from 1999 to 2006, the series comprises 75 ongoing issues, alongside a three-issue miniseries and a one-shot, all of which have been recently reprinted into five books.
Early in The Sandman, Lucifer Morningstar, fed up with his rule over Hell, surrendered the deeds and keys to the afterlife and retired. Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ Lucifer finds him tending a piano bar in Los Angeles, discontent once again. When an offer arrives from Heaven, a minor request for some dirty investigative work, Lucifer schemes and names his price. His reward is a ‘letter of passage’ from God’s creation, an exit from something that does not end. Lucifer promptly creates his own universe alongside ours, infuriating every pantheon, including Heaven.
As a protagonist, Lucifer is borderline humourless, strict and with a very legal interpretation of the truth (he rarely, if ever, tells an outright lie). He wears a tuxedo, he’s explicitly modelled after David Bowie and he cares for little except himself. He also manages to be oddly sympathetic, a frustrated son who has realised his famous rebellion was all part of God’s plan and finds himself once again kept from free will. Part of the sympathy also arises from the fact that the angels of Heaven are a smug Aryan bunch, while Lucifer’s allies and minions vary from an English primary schoolgirl, a demon hostess, a cocktail waitress and fallen Cherubim. Lucifer and his supporting cast are the new arrivals, modern and interesting, while Heaven’s angels condescend like Tolkein’s repugnant elves. Lucifer is a story about growing out from under your parents, something as visible in the supporting cast as it is in the existence of the series itself, growing out from under The Sandman.
While the familial drama between God, Lucifer and the Archangel Michael remains the focus, Lucifer quickly branches out into a sprawling epic, especially as other religions and mythical creatures make their play for various power vacuums left by Lucifer’s schemes. In Hell, a damned soul starts a revolution against Lucifer’s incompetent, Principal Skinner-esque replacement. From the Aesir, the wolf Fenris plots to destroy Yahweh’s throne to fulfil his purpose as a personification of chaos. From before Yahweh’s creation come the Jin en Mok and the Silk Man, terrifying predators. And of course, from the earliest Jewish myths comes Lilith, Adam’s first wife, a character much like Lucifer himself, ready to cleanse Heaven for her ill-treatment.
Despite all this, Lucifer rarely displays much action. Violence and horror, yes, but the stakes are too cosmic for anything approaching traditional comic book fighting. The struggles of various gods and demons is presented more in the line of political and legal manoeuvring, with shady deals and the occasional assassination more dangerous than the threat of assembled armies. The typical encounter with Lucifer is defused quickly when the fallen angel reveals his cards. Of course, the human body count is higher, and none of the higher beings notice, not even the benevolent ones.
Early on it is clear Carey has an endgame in mind, though the sprawling nature of the story obscures it somewhat. Early threats The Basanos lack the overall importance of later conflicts, and the sheer number of different narrators occasionally becomes confusing. And there is a sense that Carey is sometimes restricted by comic continuity – the Archangel Gabriel is conspicuously absent, killed by the machinations of John Constantine in the pages of Hellblazer. However, these restrictions drive Carey to more obscure reference points, which in turn creates a more original universe in terms of its population.
Peter Gross’ art never quite escapes from the common tropes of DC’s Vertigo imprint – like Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher, the presence of a consistent artist is perhaps better than the fluctuating visuals of modern comics. Similarly, the colouring pegs the comic as a product of its time, lacking the sheen of Image Comics’ output (the best modern-day equivalent to Vertigo’s classic 1980s-mid 2000s period). However, the characters are immediately recognisable, and the moments work – possibly the best example coming in Book Three, when Lucifer pushes open the gates of Hell, a tiny figure against the landscape, and announces: ‘Lucifer Morningstar speaks for himself’. And when it comes to the mythological beings, Gross shows a brilliant and gruesome inventiveness – the shapeshifting demons the Jin en Mok being particularly memorable as shifting, grinning masses of cartilage and lung.
Neil Gaiman described The Sandman as one character’s struggle against change. Lucifer, less segmented and more focused, tells the opposite – one classic, flawed character’s struggle for change in the face of an uncaring, unshifting universe.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);