Thursday, March 31, 2016

Lucifer, Book One (Lucifer New Edition #1) by Mike Carey

Lucifer, having quit his job as hell's keeper, is happy running Lux (his piano bar). Lucifer is offered   a mission to stop a creature which is providing wishes for mortals, because God does not want to get involved.  As a boon, Lucifer requests a letter of indulgence from God, which gives him access to an alternate dimension outside of creation.  Of course there's a catch. When Lucifer enters the portal, though he will effectively become a God,  he cannot return.  Lucifer, not satisfied with the deal decides to take action to make it more to his liking, thus drawing attention of the angels and Amendial in particular, who is determined to go to war. If that were not enough a whole host of supernatural beings are determined to use the portal for their own ambitions.

Let me start off my saying that if you pick up this comic in the hopes of a connection between it and Fox's show Lucifer, you will be sadly disappointed.  Vertigo's Lucifer is a far cry from Fox's and the storyline itself is vastly different, even though both use some of the same characters.

As a protagonist, I must say that I found Lucifer very engaging.  He's always one step ahead of everyone who is out to get him.  Even when he arrives naked and unarmed in the "realm that knows no mornings", Lucifer is able to outwit his adversaries by playing their own game. No matter who proposes to bring an end to him, Lucifer is always more than ready to deal with them, making deals when necessary, sometimes using force and other times, simply being more cunning.  He makes for a very interesting protagonist, even if he is the classic antihero.  It's very difficult not to root for him.

Much of this comic concerns predestination.  God supposedly knows how each situation will turn out because of predestination. This gives rise to the question as to whether anyone truly has free will? Lucifer is determined to be an independent agent whatever the cost and this is why he actively questions what the catch is with his letter of indulgence.  If people are just playing out the roles they have been given, then choice is all an illusion.

My biggest problem with this comic are the moments of transition. Carey randomly introduces characters and they suddenly disappear, as Lucifer moves onto something else.  Several pages later, the character may or may nor appear again, forcing the reader to try and remember not only who this character is but why they are relevant.  At times, I actually was lost and had to go back and search for the initial introduction of said character to figure out how they fit in.  Book one has absolutely no flow to it whatsoever and I can imagine reading it as individual comics (how they were first released) would have made it that much more difficult to follow.

Carey introduces several marginalized characters to the story and unfortunately every single one of them is problematic.  Ray is a young gay Indian man and he is infatuated with a young man who unbeknownst to him is a White supremacist.  Though Ray's family does not know about his sexuality, his friend encourages him to ask Karl for a date.  When Ray finally works up the courage to ask Karl out, Karl uses it as an opportunity to set Ray up to be beaten up by his White supremacist friends. Karl stops just short of sodomizing Ray with a broken bottle. Later, a guilty Karl calls emergency services. While Karl waits for help, he is confronted by the angel Melios about his actions.  It seems that Karl attacked Ray because he was disturbed by his attraction to him. I am sick to death of the idea that gay bashing is the result of a closeted gay man.  Not only was the beating of Ray graphic and visual, to then have it arranged by another gay man is beyond problematic. In fact, this little snippet of the story is absolutely toxic. Neither Ray or Karl are major characters in this story and Ray's bashing seems to exist for the soul purpose of having Jill Peterson (Ray's friend) realise that she is magical now and able to see the different paths of destiny and exact punishment. It's Jill who kills Ray's attackers save Karl, promising to get to him later.  We never learn if Ray survives or if Karl gets the justice he deserves.  It's just a small little subplot for the growth of Jill's character. Need I say what's wrong with this?

Most of the storylines for marginalized people are simply small asides and yet Carey manages to insert toxic tropes.  When it comes to people of colour, the most obvious example is that of Musubi in the realm that knows no mornings. All of the characters in this world are Asian and some definitely fall into the inscrutable Asian stereotype. They are all drawn in a way that's absolutely racist. Musubi, who is a demon, first appears as a geisha like creature and she bathes Lucifer and even offers him a happy ending.  I could have done without that racist representation. It turns out that it's all a ruse because Musubi intends to kill Lucifer.  Naturally, Lucifer talks her out of killing him and instead kills her, only to resurrect Musubi later to become his servant.  To be clear, an Asian female demon was imprisoned by her own people and saw being a servant to Lucifer as freedom. Yeah for progress.

Though there are several strong female side characters, they are all in someway extremely problematic. Erishad was supposed to remain pure and when she became pregnant, in order to regain her innocence in the eyes of her Gods, she was told to kill herself . Erishad refuses to commit suicide because doing so would kill her child. As a result of her decision, Erishad is cursed with immortality which causes her to have a miscarriage each morning.  This is useful for Lucifer because he uses the fetus which by now is eons old to attack angels.  Erishad takes her revenge and kills the people who cursed her. I very much feel that Erishad's character is a commentary on women's reproductive freedom.  Erishad is absolutely framed as a character we should feel sympathy towards but her character is based solely around her reproductive choices.  We don't learn anything about her, her motivations, her likes or dislikes, just that she sinned and got pregnant.  Erishad is simply one walking womb.

Mazikeen is described as Lucifer's lover and she is the only one he never has to trick into doing his bidding. When the void is opened, it's Mazikeen who Lucifer leaves behind to protect it.  Mazikeen proves to be just as clever as Lucifer which is nice to see.  What is particularly interesting is that when Mazikeen is near death, Jill arrives and decides to fix her.  Having no real idea what Mazikeen looks like, Jill gives her an idealized female face. Mazikeen is enraged by this, not wanting to be the prefect looking female with the symmetrical face.  Mazikeen likes that her face used to look supposedly normal on one side and demon like on another.  Even though Mazikeen nearly lost her life defending the void for Lucifer and he sympathises with her, Lucifer refuses to help Mazikeen get her old face back.  Despite how powerful Mazikeen is, at the end of the day, she is nothing but a convenient servant to Lucifer and he refuses to be distracted from what he deems important to help her.

None of the tropes which Carey injects into the story are absolutely necessary to plot, particularly given that the characters are small side characters which serve to move Lucifer's mission along. It's further problematic that these sometimes toxic, racist, homophobic and sexist representations all serve the purposes of either character building or advancement of the meta, thus making them all reductive.  I found that they all pulled me out of the story and sometimes left me with a feeling of utter disgust.  When combined with the abrupt way in which Carey chooses to move locations and introduce characters, it very much makes this comic a displeasure to read. No matter how smart or engaging the protagonist is, when placed in rapidly changing settings which are problematic and coupled with a disjointed plot, the story cannot be salvaged.  All the good work Carey does in establishing Lucifer as an interesting character absolutely dies in this directionless story, with too many characters and too many settings.