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September 24, 2017

Return of the Morningstar


Lucifer #1 (2016 series) [review]
DC Comic, December 2015
Writer: Holly Black
Review by Neil Raymundo, 21 December 2015.

In April 1989, the fourth issue of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” introduced the fallen angel Lucifer. Mr Gaiman initially modelled the look of Lucifer after David Bowie, and the character seemed languid and detached from reality. When the character returned in the acclaimed story “Seasons of the Mist” within the pages of “The Sandman” he was somewhat different: tired, resentful if unrepentant, the abdicating ruler of Hell.

In 2000 writer Mike Carey began the ongoing adventures of the character. This iteration of Lucifer was different again. Obviously patterned after the Miltonian version, Lucifer does not tussle with superheroes, does not have ridiculously overbearing supervillain monologues (Mr Carey deliberately shied away from internal monologue, preferring the story to be told from the perspective of various supporting characters), and – unlike other depictions of the devil in comics – did not hide his name behind vague nom de guerres in an effort to mollify religiously conservative readers.

Mr Carey’s Lucifer is will incarnate, one of the most powerful beings in all of creation, and someone who will do what he desires regardless of who or what gets in his way. The character wanted retirement, freedom from God’s plan, from predestination.

In an interview in 2000, Mr Carey noted,

“We play safe. Most of us do, most of the time… but Lucifer doesn’t know the meaning of safe, and he never bothers to look down at the tramlines. He goes wherever the hell he likes, picks his fights where he finds them and generally wins… following [his] own will and [his] own instincts to the very end of the line, no matter what the obstacles are.”

Mr Carey’s meticulous and masterful handling gave the character a sharper edge than Mr Gaiman’s version, and a certain charm that gained readers’ support for his exploits and more specifically the character’s rebellion against the tyranny of predestination, but not their approval for his Machiavellian methods.

The 75-issue Lucifer series ran from 2000 to 2006 and took the character from being the bored proprietor of a posh Los Angeles piano bar accompanied by a demon named Mazikeen, to the creator of a new universe, to literally achieving an enlightened, Zen-like nothingness existing outside of God’s destiny. Along the way Lucifer helped angels, killed angels, murdered gods, destroyed universes, and met his creator one last time. It is a complete and satisfying story with a clear beginning and end.

The relaunch of the series, conveniently coinciding with the planned TV series, is an exercise in skepticism, especially given neither Mr Gaiman nor Mr Carey are at the helm of writing.

Instead, the series is written by Holly Black. Ms Black’s past credits include The Spiderwick Chronicles. Lucifer #1 is a deliberate repetition of the events which started the 2000 series. Lucifer returns to Los Angeles and his bar, along with exposition about the effects of his return – unexplained violence among people, odd behavior from animals, and a “nameless hunger blowing through the air.”

In this first issue there is nothing that the reader has not witnessed in some form or another throughout Carey’s original run. In the 2000 series, a dangerously pragmatic angel named Amenadiel visits and offers the role of being an assassin. This is mirrored in the 2015 series. Lucifer gets a visit from former archangel Gabriel who in turn has been commissioned by the Host (the conclave of angels) to avenge the death of God. It seems God has been murdered. As Lucifer was the last being to ever meet the presence, Lucifer is prime suspect in the eyes of the Host. Given the character’s penchance for ruthlessness, regardless of the context or evidence, Lucifer was always going to be prime suspect in the eyes of the vengeful angels.

Unfortunately for Gabriel, things aren’t that simple, and neither is Lucifer. Lucifer asserts that he has no idea who killed their father, and that an entirely unrelated incident was the catalyst for his return from oblivion. Whatever that event was, Lucifer is weakened and wounded. Lucifer offers to help solve the murder, both out of pride (Lucifer believes that the only one who has the right to kill God is Lucifer), and – in another example of the complexity of the character – because he still acknowledges the fact that God was their father. The issue ends in Hell and its new ruler being notified of Lucifer’s return. The identity of this new ruler is Lucifer’s former consort, Mazikeen.

The issue is an entirely encapsulated plot springboard: Who killed God? Why did Lucifer return? How is it that Mazikeen became the new ruler of Hell?

Lucifer #1 is exceptionally written, and is not divorced from the quality that ran through the pages of Mr Carey’s run. The only detriment is by no means a fault of Ms Black. It is the unfortunate side effect of picking up a masterfully written story that was neatly told, wrapped, and finished. There is this nagging feeling that the new story diminishes the significance of everything that happened in the pages of the first series. After all that Lucifer had to go through in the 2000-2006 series, all the things and beings that the character sacrificed, Lucifer is literally back where he started – weakened, running a piano bar, and stuck in the middle of someone else’s masterplan. One almost feels sorry for the character.

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