Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lucifer, Vol. 1-11 (Mike Carey)

A spin-off series of Neil Gaiman's landmark Sandman books, Lucifer begins as an episodic, day-in-the-life-of-the-lightbringer tale, quickly evolving into a labyrinthine, often nonplussing, epic which spawns dozens of characters in a myriad of locales, factual and mythological.

Unlike Gaiman, Carey's imagination for unique voices is slim, so the characters will blend and blur if you're not paying attention. But like Gaiman, Carey has a flair for pacing, staggering plot arches, and interweaving mythos and drama. The question will be, how much of that staggering and interweaving can you handle. Take a step back after closing the last page and you'll notice that the 2000+-page story wasn't a complex one in terms of actual events. But in the middle of the fray it feels like too much has happened to hold it all together.

The story picks up where Sandman left off, but after an indeterminable length of time. In Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists, Lucifer Morningstar finally grew too contemptuous of his position as God's shadow and abdicated. After locking up hell and kicking out its last few hangers-on, the devil opened a jazz club called Lux where he seems to be its only patron along with his non-hetero-life-mate, the split-faced, marble-mouthed daughter of Lillith, Mazikeen.

It looks like Old Scratch is going to hunker down to an eternity of near solitude in his creator's universe, learning the piano, and drinking from fluted glasses. But when Carey picks up the pen, it's home-is-where-your-rump-rests for Lucifer as he gets caught up in countless intrigues and conflicts and wars all centering around ownership of existence. And, yeah, some other existences get created, and yeah the furtherance of life as everything knows it gets put on the brink more than a few times, but hey, isn't that supposed to be the fun?

The trouble for me starts with the fact that while Gaiman's Endless are silently, supremely confident about their superior roles in the universe, and think nothing of how every culture's individual mythos can somehow coexist without canceling each other out (which always made me suspect that the cultures were less fact, and more collective imagination manifest), Carey's essentially Judeo-Christian reality takes its rules so seriously that you begin to wonder why it concerns itself with the rules of other mythos/cultures, since the buck appears to stop with the capital G God. So references and occurrences that take place within the realm of these other cultures take on a kind of lip service quality, robbing them of any real dramatic worth. That said, what Carey manages to communicate using the Judeo-Christian symbols is astounding.

Where Carey's writing and plotting fail, the art succeeds, since, like Sandman, this project attracted a big crowd of big talent. Everyone from Peter Gross to P. Craig Russell to Ted Naifeh was brought in to draw an issue or three and the result is a visual smorgasbord that moves things along when Carey gets bogged down in philosophical meandering.

The greatest triumph of the series is Carey creating an entirely plausible and engaging yarn about what could happen in the modern universe if God and the devil were really beings that had to live with one another, and deal with old grudges.

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