Because Fox’s version of Lucifer premiers tomorrow, I figured I’d review the first two issues of Vertigo’s re-lauched comic. But first, some context which will contain some spoilers for a series that ended nearly nine-and-half-years ago.
I didn’t discover Mike Carey’s spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s version of Lucifer from Sandman until its final issue. I chanced across it while perusing comics at a store near the university where I was about to begin divinity school. So, when I heard that Holly Black, Lee Garbett, and Antonio Fabela were bringing the series back, I was intrigued.
Before I get into that, Comics Alliance has a good interview with the creators of this new series, and, ETA, writer Holly Black has this to say about the blending of genres that frames this first narrative arc:
I think noir works really well, because it’s already a genre about moral ambiguity. Noir detectives come to their jobs disillusioned, often having been in a war — and what war is bigger than the war in Heaven? — and yet, they discover that despite that disillusionment, they can still be surprised by new and unexpected awfulness.
Now, to explain my interest, the seventy-fifth and final issue of Mike Carey’s Lucifer ends, as alliterator summarized in a post last July about Vertigo’s upcoming slate of new titles, with a simultaneously ambiguous and definitive conclusion:
God having left creation, with Elaine Belloc becoming the new God. And then in the end, Lucifer himself leaves the universe behind
To “unpack”that, prior to abandoning creation, Lucifer has a conversation with God, who wants a potlatch, which “means an exchange of gifts, gifts so precious that—” the Maker explains, which Lucifer interrupts with, “that their loss will ruin us.” God wants Godself and Lucifer to become “two beings, each possessing” the other’s memories.
To put a finer point on it, God says, “So each of us would be the hot metal to the other’s mold. As we flow together into our final shapes, you understand?” Ever the contrarian, Lucifer rejects God’s proposal, after which God tells Lucifer to “[g]o far. Stop for nothing. I give you my blessing, and this time my promise, too. I will not see you again.”
The final page of that series has three overlapping frames upon a blank white background, with Lucifer flying and becoming less and less distinct, until there’s nothing. Mike Carey writes:
On into the void he flies.
Unafraid. There is nothing in mere absence that might cow him.
Or loneliness or the lack of maps or charts.
For it is his own path.
And he sees by his own light.
We watch him from a great distance.
From a vantage point no less subjective, no less absolute.
And so it’s hard to tell whether he imposes himself on the emptiness—
—or becomes it.
As someone who’s long been interested in apophatic, or “negative,” theology, I was hooked, buying back issues at first and trade paperbacks later on. Not to mention there is that odd plural first person narration—who is this “we” that has such an extraordinary vantage point outside of creation?
At first and until this new series by Black, Garbett, and Fabela, I just assumed it was us, the audience. Now, though, I wonder if there was not another party privy to this tête-à-tête, which brings us to issue #1.
Cold Heaven, Part One: Prodigal Sons
If you’ve made it this far, then it’s fair warning there will be spoilers for the first two issues of the new series.
Lucifer has returned to earth, splashing into the ocean behind a demon couple canoodling on the beach. While the male demon brags to his date how well he knew Lucifer and what great friends they were, he provides the audience with a nice thumbnail of Lucifer’s narrative arc from the original series. Before that, however, an omniscient narrator details Lucifer’s ascent from washing up bloody and injured on the beach to opening his new club, Ex Lux. Accompanying him were strange incidents shown to us in a montage: children seizing a candy story, a new type of penetration soiling the casting couch, sharks making no pretense about stealth, all the while, “A nameless hunger blew through the air.”
Somewhere/when during Lucifer’s travels in the void, he was attacked and stabbed, which left behind some “subtle matter in [his] side, [that is] worming its cold way toward [his] heart.”
While he can now bleed, his outlook has not changed. As he talks with a fly-headed bartender at Ex Lux, describing the unimaginable travels he has undertaken and the wonders he has seen, he still thinks, “the sheer audacity of this world—the ready combination of perversity, despair, and ennui—really is unique.”
The character of Lucifer (Milton’s, Twain’s, Gaiman’s, Carey’s; and other demons, actually, e.g., in The Screwtape Letters) allows for a perfect, if possibly bitter, lens through which to view humanity, one that upends any now clichéd appraisal often seen in science fiction (“Yours is an interesting species...” and you can fill in the rest).
In any case, Lucifer always needs an opponent, it’s just his favorite sparring partner, God—AKA, the Presence—has been murdered. Thus, Metatron, the Chancellor of Heaven, dispatches Rafael and Raguel to collect Gabriel, who is now a literally heartless lush, squatting in Newark, New Jersey. He is, to the say the least, hesitant to accept Metatron’s mission to investigate the murder of the Presence quietly so no one besides the archangels—not demons, not other pantheons, not even other, lesser angels—will find out.
Armed with Metatron’s flaming sword, Gabriel makes his way, off-page, to L.A., where he confronts Lucifer in the middle of a packed Ex Lux. I’m surprised he didn’t play a ditty on his trumpet beforehand, to be honest.
The scuffle that ensues lasts two pages until Gabriel notices Lucifer is bleeding. Lucifer thinks Gabriel means blood from the hand with which he stopped the sword, but Gabriel actually means the wound in Lucifer’s left side, which is not healing. Using the blood from his sliced hand, Lucifer opens a portal into Hell, while telling Gabriel he will help him find God’s murderer, “Because no one gets to kill God but me. And because he was my father, too.”
The first issue ends with a demon running through the streets of Hell, which is “currently the finest place in any world to be tortued for all of eternity.” (There are some sight-gags in these panels that make Hell seem like it’s now a destination for those who thought Fifty Shades of Grey was their kind of paddle, only to find out S&M wasn’t for them.)
The issue ends with the demon reporting to Mazikeen, whose half-mask now includes a half-crown, sitting on a thrown, with nails driven through the backs of her hands.
Let’s just say, she is not amused by the news.
Cold Heaven, Part Two: Lady Lucifer
This issue has more action and humor than the first, with Gabriel acting as the wise-cracking partner in an unlikely duo brought together to solve a crime that hits home for them both. The action comes from an impromptu trip to Hell, and the humor comes from Gabriel’s pride in his ratiocination, which will carry a steep price later on.
While the horn blower’s attempts to remove all of the “subtle matter” from Lucifer with a pair of tweezers fail, he’s able to get a piece out after causing the Morningstar much pain. The animate black metal seems familiar to Gabriel, but it is also slippery, flying out of his hands and into Lucifer’s right pectoral, again hurting him. During this scene, we also get our first description of who attacked Lucifer, and it does not bode well.
After the make-shift surgery, Lucifer opens another portal to Hell, and they go through it. Immediately, they are attacked, with a very well drawn four-page spread of the melee. They get rescued by demons that fly in, with one, Asmodeus, swearing—“In Lucifer’s name!”—and are taken to Beelzebub’s castle, where they are treated to dinner.
It’s here, during some flirtation between a female demon and Gabriel, that the pride he takes in his newfound detective work comes back to flay him. Gabriel thinks he is following a lead, asking this demon, who’d complimented his scars then said she’d wanted to give him more, about the strange black metal. Of course, she’s seen what he’s talking about, only it’s “[i]n Beelzebub’s private chamber.” While she does warn him it’s dangerous to enter without the lord of the flies’ permission, they walk away from the dinner table.
The next time we see Gabriel, the female demon has him pinned against a wall, a hand over his mouth, a knife to his throat, as Beelzebub enters, saying, “Ahhh, good. I have zzzome questionzzz for our guezzzt.”
And then, poor Gabriel, well, he really takes one for the team. Beelzebub interrogates him, trying to find out what Lucifer’s plans are. But when the castle comes under attack, Beelzebub leaves Gabriel hanging, at which point he begins his escape and is aided by Lucifer. They then fly to “[t]he highest peaks of Hell, where Lucifer’s own throne once rested,” and have a chat with Mazikeen.
It goes about as well as can be expected, after all the hurt feelings and broken promises, but Mazikeen points them (not literally; again, her hands are nailed to the armrests of her throne) in the direction of some possible answers. And this sets up a trip to the Dreaming, which worries Gabriel because of Morpheus’ penchant for holding grudges.
In the first and second issues, we get the story of Lorin Hammon, who is in the flop house with Gabriel and a few others when Rafael and Raguel pay him a visit. Unlike the other mortals, Lorin somehow manages to remain conscious, and he’s even able to pluck a feather from Rafael’s wings. Of course, Raguel catches him, reads him, then commands him to leave that “sinful place and do not return.” His story in issue #1 ends with a house fire, him tying the feather into his hair, and the foreshadowing that he has been called as a prophet. In issue #2, his story is relegated to a single page, in which he is leaving Newark and his girlfriend because he feels drawn elsewhere by the feather.
A new character takes up the majority of the pages in the second issue not detailing Lucifer and Gabriel’s visit to the former’s old stomping grounds. Her name is Teena Hornick, and hers is a sad, tragic story involving social isolation, familial disdain, and demonic persuasion. While we get to see what she imagines doing at one point, when she actually carries out those acts, the full page only shows white silhouettes against an uneven black background. Still, the violence in those outlines is brutal.
It’s not quite clear how Lorin Hamman and Teena Hornick are going to play into the bigger picture, but what Black, Garbett, and Fabela have presented us with so far is narratively quite strong and visually compelling.
I’m most looking forward to finding out what could have possibly killed the Presence, the identity of Lucifer’s assailant, what else happened to him in the void he was last seen soaring into, and what role, if any, Elaine Belloc has played or will have to play in this tale.
Cost: $3.99; publication: on or around the twentieth of each month.