Devil in the Gateway

by John Burnson



Devil in the Gateway

(DC Comics)

Review [1.Sep.2006]

Lucifer Draws a Bead

DC has done an unusual thing to promote one of its best new books: It’s done nothing. And that’s devilishly good.

The book is Lucifer. The main character is not a portentous name saddled onto some flying dog or a mindless robot from the future. He is the true First of the Fallen. He has a mission, and, if you’re lucky, it won’t involve you.

There are a few things that you need to know before we go any further: Lucifer no longer rules Hell. Quit the gig. Too many late nights. Instead, he runs a piano bar. Takes requests. Mingles. Just to, you know, get away from it all. The bar is called “Lux.” It’s in Los Angeles (naturally). And, he always knows your favorite drink.

This version of Lucifer appeared from time to time in the seminal comic The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, and it was there that the one-time Satan requested and obtained his retirement. Then, there came the water-testing 1999 mini-series, The Sandman Presents: Lucifer (which bore the Ludlum-esque title of “The Morningstar Option”). In it, Lucifer is sought by God to look into some icky business that threatened to muck about with the whole of Creation. Lucifer, bored, agreed; for his trouble, he requested from the Almighty a “letter of passage” — a document that would allow Lucifer to return to the realm of his choice, either Heaven or Hell.

The real nature of the document given to Lucifer is the impetus for the ongoing series, which debuted in April 2000. Lucifer’s “To-Do” list has included venturing to the Japanese underworld to reclaim his wings (He voluntarily relinquished them in The Sandman #23 so that he could leave Hell); opening a door to his own cosmos; and bartering with a young woman for a very old, very angry fetus. Like any good general, Lucifer makes both enemies and allies. However, he no longer has an army to instruct. He is aided only by Mazikeen, a demon who chose to continue with her infernal master. Her speech was originally slurred because she had only half a face — Mazikeen hid the other half with a plain white mask a la Phantom of the Opera — but a recent encounter left her “cursed” with an intact visage.

Akin to his other literary incarnations, this Lucifer has been called “charming.” But, although he is both well-mannered and impeccably dressed, “charm” is the wrong word. “Charm” suggests warmth; Lucifer has all the warmth of an ice pick. Don’t confuse this Hellish character for the lead of DC’s Hellblazer, John Constantine — the chain-smoking, trenchcoat-wearing, and conscience-heeding street mage. The two characters seem to patronize the same barber and enjoy similar monikers; the likenesses end there. Constantine hates to shut up, and, if he’s not smiling, he’s leering. Lucifer’s face would crack if he smiled. Such mugging is meant to convey information to one’s fellow man, and Lucifer has no fellow men. Nor is Lucifer the Spectre, the superheroic manifestation of God’s wrath that appears regularly in the mainstream DC Universe. There are no “capes” here - Lucifer does not test Superman or Batman. He does not have a human love interest. He does not quiver with delight at the taste of an orange.

Then what’s left? Only Everything and a plan to get it. The focus of Lucifer is focus. There is no wasted word. There is miniscule characterization. One suspects that, if we could see this Lucifer in the flesh, there would be no wasted movement either. Lucifer is a “Lightbringer,” all right, and the light is a blood-red laser.

This singleness of purpose extends even to the book’s publisher, DC Comics. Despite the rich pedigree of the main character and the multitude of Hell-raised and -raising characters that inhabit DC’s mature Vertigo line, no fanfare accompanies Lucifer. There are no cross-overs. There are no special guest stars. Lucifer — both the book and the character — can’t spare the time. In fact, it’s almost as if none of creative team has any relationship to, or care for, the larger comic-book industry from which the book sprang. If, for example, you were to mention to this Lucifer that he was hatched from the head of Neil Gaiman, Lucifer would spare one glance for you, a glance that said simply, “I’ve places to be.”

This sense of superiority — nay, invincibility — is one of the pleasures of Lucifer, especially when backed by the lead character’s wherewithal and writer Mike Carey’s finesse. Yet Lucifer’s great resoluteness is just the flipside of his other defining trait: his terrific selfishness. And, if Lucifer’s determination seems godly, then his selfishness — his utter contempt for all other life — is all too human. Lucifer is, in a way, the ultimate sinner: the first, mightiest, and most tragic of the Fallen. And, it’s impossible to read Lucifer and not simultaneously wish oneself into (and see oneself in) the character.

Lucifer’s solitariness makes it tricky to jump onto the title. He doesn’t outline his plans in conversation with himself like some fiendish mastermind while monitoring the world on banks of TV screens. His actions speak for him, and, even then, only incidentally. You are forced to learn about Lucifer by studying him, like glimpsing a quiet neighbor through hedges. The sole concession from DC to Johnny-come-latelys is a trade paperback, Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway, which is due in May and compiles the initial mini-series and the first four issues of the ongoing series. But nobody will alert you when it comes out, and nobody will care if you don’t pick it up.

That’s because, like the Great Deceiver himself, Lucifer simply goes about its business. What a concept.

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