July 10th, 2006

Illuminati

Review: Lucifer

A bit of history: A section of the comic "Sandman" revolved around Lucifer resigning his position as ruler of Hell, thus throwing all sorts of things into disarray. It provides both a chunk of plot and an example of a ruler abandoning their responsibilites (and important theme in the series). He spends some time in retirement, unable to decide what to do with his life, and that's where Sandman leaves him. The comic "Lucifer" then picks up from there with his recruitment by Heaven to carry out a job for them. The series follows the various events this triggers, including him creating his own universe as an alternative to our own, God vanishing, another war with Heaven and some very tricky alternate tarot cards. The scale the story is told on varies from epic to personal, with story arcs alternating with side-stories and digressions, and it's the most worthy follow-on to Sandman I've read.

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This weekend I bought the final issue of Lucifer. I've been reading it for 75 issues - six years and three months, since the heady days of 2001. If you include the 4-part miniseries that it followed on from then it started in 1999. And if you take it back to his appearance in Sandman (one of which is replayed in the final issue) then I've been reading about this character on and off since 1989.

And as I re-read the final issue for a third time I realised that I still don't have an emotional handle on the main character. In fact, he continues to fascinate me precisely because he's defined so much through his action that the mind behind it has remained a cypher. He doesn't explain himself, he doesn't engage in ordinary conversations and he never lets his guard down. He has such total faith in himself that he never questions his own actions or has a crisis of conscience. When a plan fails or is disrupted he simply changes tack and forges ahead in a different direction. He is, in fact, the avatar of pure will, acting only to free himself from all things that might oppose or contain him.

All of which would make the book a very dull one if it was actually about him. I've had people complain that they didn't like him as a protagonist, and that's understandable, he's not heroic and when he does act in a positive way it's always for his own ends. I can't see me managing 75 issues of a selfish person manipulating all around them for their own ends. Thankfully, that's not what it's mostly about.

Instead it's largely about the various demons, angels, ghosts, lilim, humans and miscellanious other beings who are caught up in his wake, their lives shaken upside down by his movement through the world. And their lives are both fascinating and touching. I can thoroughly understand why ladysisyphus found the penultimate issue much more effective - we get to say goodbye to some of the characters who loved and worked with him and it's terribly moving. The final issue, however, has a few final things to say about Lucifer himself, and as such it's fascinating and well-written, but impossible to empathise with in more than an abstract way. The character arcs are already tidied by then, and all that's left is for Lucifer to make his final statements and choices and leave the story behind him, as unwilling to remain inside its embrace as he was to live with any other confinement.

And its these stories that really give substance to the book as a whole - the personal ones of people struggling out of their depth, the mythic stories of WorldTrees and Angels and the intricately turned plot where a throwaway line turns out to be vitally important a hundred pages on. There are characters with real depth, there's comedy and tragedy and everything in between, because writer Mike Carey has realised that when you're dealing with a canvas this big there's room to tell any story you like and make it all mean something.

If you like wonderfully crafted stories of a mythological kind then I can't recommend Lucifer highly enough. Just don't expect to like him very much.
how big?

Shortened Meme

Your porn star name is your first pet's name followed by your mother's maiden name. Mine is the best ever. I am....Mitch Bliss.

(cue 70's twangy guitar)