Sunday, 22 December 2013


If you’ve read The Sandman you’ll be familiar with Neil Gaiman’s fictional depiction of Lucifer Morningstar. Apparently somebody over at DC’s Vertigo offices read the series and was so impressed by this fairly minor character that they decided they wanted him to star in his own eponymous series.

And that’s how we got Lucifer.

Getting someone other than Gaiman to write the sequel series was a smart move. Gaiman clearly had little to see about or with the character of Lucifer otherwise he’d have featured far more prominently in Sandman. Giving the book to someone whom Gaiman approved of ensured that a similar authorial tone would be used but by somebody who actually had something of worth to say.

And this is the point at which I mention Mike Carey’s name.

It’s not that Carey’s a bad writer. I bought the first dozen or so issues of his Uwritten series before deciding that it was the sort of thing I’d rather own as trades (I’m shallow) and enjoyed the single Felix Castor novel I read well enough. No matter how friendly he is with Gaiman he wouldn’t be brought in to pen the follow up to such a massively successful series as Sandman if he was a bad writer. In fact his work here is of a higher standard than the Neverwhere adaption he did, because he’s allowed to use his own and build on Gaiman’s work rather than simply turn something that already exists into a comic script.

It’s just that… well, he’s not exactly a big name is he? And I think that’s part of the problem. Carey is viewed as a safe pair of hands brought in to do a competent job. He’s someone who’ll produce something that won’t get critics fired up into apoplectic rages, someone who’ll keep the money rolling in.

I’m sure that image is part of the reason more people haven’t read Lucifer and part of the reason it isn’t more regularly cited as a must-read. It’s not because of poor quality because actually Carey turned out a pretty good series.

Lucifer gets off to a shaky start, much like Sandman did before it, but once it’s underway it becomes something far more than just a hastily churned out cash-in. With Sandman Gaiman explored the nature of storytelling, dreams and reality. Carey picks his own themes, destiny and free will, and explores them in a similar fashion. With a central character who was created to be the antithesis of God, by God, this was a clever (or perhaps overly ambitious) decision. Surprisingly Carey pulls it off.

Lucifer also looks at religion more than Sandman did. Gaiman seemed to use iconography more than the actual religions themselves (look at the gods he chooses to use from the Egyptian pantheon and what he does with them) but Carey actually delves into the religions as systems of belief more. Carey makes great use of the Jewish and Christian religions and adopts Ragnarok as a running theme. He also dips into various other religions and mythologies in minor arcs too. It’s a far better researched approach than Gaiman used, and you get the feeling things aren’t just being used because they’ll be cool or impactful.

One thing that Lucifer lacks is a single standout artist. Sandman was lucky enough to cycle through a number of very impressive artists during its seven years on the shelves. Lucifer never gets an artist that provides any iconic images or does some career best work. Perhaps that’s another reason it’s not often cited as a must read.

Lucifer was never going to have the impact its parent comic did. Sandman, the book about dreams and reality, had a far cooler concept. It also had Neil Gaiman, a man who proved very talented at marketing himself. That wasn’t and isn’t a skill Mike Carey has. But with Unwritten shaping up to be the best Vertigo series in quite some time it’s possible people may be encouraged to delve into Carey’s proverbial back catalogues to see what else he’s produced over the years. If that happens then Lucifer may finally be viewed as the hit it deserves to be.

Just don’t expect it to get out of Sandman’s shadow anytime soon.

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