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Lucifer Vol. 1: Devil in the Gateway Paperback – June 1, 2001
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In his introduction, Gaiman states that whenever another comic writer would ask him what he thought should spin-off from Sandman, he always told them "Lucifer," which is likely not what any of them wanted to hear, instead hoping for dream assignments (pun intentional) like Death, Desire or Destiny. But, as in most things relating to his comic, Gaiman was spot on. He had already covered the possibilities with the Endless, while Lucifer was the perfect protagonist: extremely flawed yet ultimately intriguing, charming and deadly, full of pride but also hubris. Lucifer is the character you don't want to like, but you can't help yourself from doing so because, unlike the throne of Heaven, Lucifer is much more like us. The Bible may say that man was created in God's image, but our personalities were grafted from Lucifer.
This collection has three main story arcs: "The Morningstar Option," where Lucifer fulfills a job for Heaven, and shows that he's a right bastard to any who doubted; "A Six Card Spread," in which Lucifer attempts to discover if his payment from Heaven has any strings attached that he wasn't aware of; and "Born with the DEAD," which seems ancilliary to the ongoing story, as it's about a young girl who tries to figure out how and why her best friend died with Lucifer showing up near the denounement to provide a favor which will put the girl in debt to him. There's a thread of story that weaves through these three, but, as in Gaiman's Sandman, it will take at least another three or four collections before you start to see the resulting weave that begins here.
Each arc has a different team of artists. I appreciated Scott Hampton's work on "The Morningstar Option" the most, because his art is both exact and yet abstract, almost dreamlike in its openness. The art by Weston and Hodgkins for "A Six Card Spread" is too realistic for a horror/fantasy comic, which works in this case by making some of the uglier parts of the story even uglier. "Born with the DEAD's" Pleece and Ormston ply a middle ground between realistic representation and a Marc Hempel-style abstraction. Their's is the kind of art that I don't like for its own sake, but works extremely well with the story.
See what I did there? I wanted to talk about "Lucifer" but I started with "Sandman". I guess that comparison is imminent. I'm not sure whether that thrills Mike Carey or not. If I were I writer I wouldn't want to live in anybody's shadow. Thing is, the first part of this book - the story from "The Sandman Presents" published in 1999. - reads and feels just like the "Sandman" and one can see that is no coincidence. Especially when one compares that one with other stories within this volume. From ethereal art and page layouts to the characterization of both Lucifer and the world he lives in. One can see a lot of Gaiman in "The Morningstar Option". This is, of course, understandable considering how Lucifer came to be and what was to become of it. Though understandable I find it somehow lacking. It almost reads as a fan-fiction (which should be ok for fans but I was looking for something different).
Then came a "Six-cards spread" which moved Lucifer to a different plane of existence, separating him (poetically) from "Sandman". Chris Weston and James Hodgkins were to "blame" for that. Distancing themselves from the style of "Sandman" narratives, they managed to create much cleaner, more "conventional" world for the main guy to live in. Mike Carey did the same, writing something like "action-noir-horror" with a dash of out of place German Nazi - jugend vs. immigrant gay moment. Appearance of the Lucifer himself was quite different from the one before. Physically, he was much more an action-type guy with strong facial features instead of an ethereal, out of focus, anthropomorphic personification of a concept that he was before. This change was both good and bad at the same time. It showed the will to escape from "Sandman" umbrella, it invited people which weren't big fans of "Sandman" art to come in, and it provided for cleaner, more intuitive storytelling. Basically, it created a unique world for a unique guy. Bad part was, once again, personal. I preferred the Scott Hampton's concept however much it have been influenced by the concept of "Sandman". It was somehow more "proper" for this world full of symbolic mysticism. Mike Carey did a well-enough job, creating a setting for a story to come. It served as an introduction and its quality was introduction-like. You know, setting up the character, giving him some background, providing him with a weak opponent etc.
"Devil in the Gateway" closes with a short-story titled "Born with the Dead" in which Lucifer is something like a guest-appearance, much like Morpheus was in certain Gaiman's stories. While the story itself was good-enough (nothing special about it but still the best story from the lot), Warren Pleece and Dean Ormston kinda washed it down the drain. Their take on the Lucifer's world was horrendous (it was different from everybody else's I'll grant them that) what with the "ugly-looking" two dimensional characters without anything like (visual) characterization, what with the accompanying, washed-out color which rendered this story as something from an underground magazine. If you were immersed into Lucifer's world this art, for no apparent reason, pulled you out and gave you a smack behind the ears.
So, for me, "Devil in the Gateway" didn't quite make it though I believe I'll check out the second volume just too see where it will go from here. Heaven vs. Hell narratives (structure vs. anarchy) always had a certain appeal to me though I rarely found a writer that was capable of writing intelligently about it. I'm not sure that Carey is the one but I'm willing to give him one more chance.