Lucifer Morningstar steps out of the pages of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman for a second Vertigo series. The credits read “Based on characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg” (the original Sandman creative team), but in fact the character and tone owe a lot to Mike Carey’s original Lucifer series, as does the TV series. In this way I think the situation is similar to the John Constantine character. He was created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben in Saga of the Swamp Thing; but he was not truly fleshed out until Jamie Delano and John Ridgway featured him in Hellblazer.
The basic setup is the same as the first series: Lucifer has abdicated from ruling Hell, and come to Earth. Specifically to Los Angeles, where he opens a fancy bar called Lux (named “Ex Lux” in this series). There is one significant difference. Instead of accompanying him, Mazikeen (one of the race of Lilim, a descendant of Lilith, who is sometimes credited as Adam’s first wife) has taken over the ruling of Hell as Queen (she is portrayed with a mask covering one side of her face, as depicted in the comics, but not the TV show).
The title arc is a murder mystery, and it is as much about the angel Gabriel as it is about Lucifer. Gabriel is sent from heaven to kill Lucifer, who the heavenly host believe has murdered God. Lucifer says that he did not do the deed. But since he should have been the one, he proposes an investigation to uncover the real culprit. He also has a personal agenda, to rid himself of a mystical shard embedded in his body, and slowly working its way towards his heart. At the same time there is a parallel story line showing demonic influence in human affairs in Sulphur, Oklahoma (yes, that’s how they spell “sulfur”) and Norman, Oklahoma.
Lucifer and Gabriel travel to Hell and to the Dreaming, giving Black ample opportunity to revisit several classic Vertigo characters (many of them first introduced in earlier supernatural-themed DC comics, e.g. Cain and Abel). There is an early reference to the first Hellblazer series as well (with a literal footnote to Issue #66).
The solution of the mystery creates a new dynamic, with Gabriel joining Mazikeen in Hell. That ought to generate some stories quite different from Carey’s series going forward. Lee Garbett’s artwork is generally realistic, with emphasis on facial expressions and minimal backgrounds. All of the legacy characters (especially Lucifer himself) are portrayed as they have been in previous appearances, which helps give the series an “in-continuity” feel. I’m not sure I’d call it classic Vertigo, but it does call more recent titles like Fables to mind (maybe because Gabriel bears a resemblance to Bigby Wolf).
The collection concludes with the one-shot story “Son of the Morning.” It starts out looking like a slight story about a young woman bringing her new boyfriend home to meet her parents–who happen to be Satanists. At the big church meeting he is revealed to be the firstborn son of Lucifer Morningstar and Izanami-No-Mikoto. His uncle, the demon Asmodeus takes them both back to Hell to challenge Mazikeen’s rule (triggered by Lucifer’s return, so there is some connection to the previous issues). For such potentially weighty issues, there’s plenty of banter that lightens the tone. I guess future issues will show how serious this setup is.
The keywords on the back cover of this first collection of Soule and Browne’s series (below “Mature Readers”) are “Fantasy/Humor/Koalas,” which summarizes the tone very well. It stars a wizard named Wizord and Margaret, his talking koala sidekick (who asked to be switched to a koala after realizing how people responded to rats). He was sent to destroy the world–apparently his master back in the Hole World needs it to retain his magical powers–but it takes him over a month to get ready, and by then he has changed his mind.
This does not escape the notice of his master Sizzajee, who sends another wizard (named Cornwall) after him. His battle with Cornwall threatens his freshly created image as helper and protector of humanity. And his victory in that battle drives Sizzajee to take the radical step of cutting off the source of Wizord’s magic. Margaret figures out a way to uncover the secret sources of magic on Earth–which involves things like emotions influenced by movies, stage illusions, and gambler’s believing in luck–and helps Wizord to power himself back up. He’s in a hurry, because his ex Ruby Stitch has been dispatched to finish the job. At the climax of their battle Ruby can’t bring herself to kill him: so their master cuts off her magic, too.
So at the end of the volume there are two formerly evil wizards in the world, who are probably going to have to work together to prevent the Earth’s destruction. Expect lots of complications, as well as lots of laughs. This is a fun series. Soule seems to have given his humor full reign: he’s clearly not afraid of bad puns, or any other over-the-top humor.
It’s been awhile since I started a new series created by a writer/artist, and they are quite uncommon outside of the “art comics” world of imprints like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics (or First Second, more recently)–I think of Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire, although Lemire has increasingly written for other artists. Johnson has created a compelling cyberpunk fantasy world, and peopled it with hard people struggling for revenge and power. The Mad Max comparison on the cover is apt, including the ruined civilization scavenging through the ruins for advanced technology they no longer completely understand.
Right from the beginning the central conflict between the Paznina and the Roto clans is established, in a violent assault that leads our heroine Thea (whose chief talent was creating art) to the loss of her mother and her drawing hand. The rest of this opening arc is devoted to a series of battles in which the Roto clan seeks revenge against the Paznina. They are bloody and violent: the chopping off of hands is a recurring motif, as well as good old beheading. At the end Thea attempts to escape with her brother Rollo in a small airship, but is apparently shot down by the young Paznina woman whose facial disfiguration started the whole cycle. This sets the stage for potential split story lines following the main Roto forces and the siblings on their own.
Johnson has a distinctive visual style. It reminds me of Paul Pope more than anything (another comics creator whose work is primarily as a writer/artist). This world has plenty of unusual things to draw, such as floating islands, gigantic insects, and an ancient android (called Shiloh, from his designation as a SHILOH class warrior) who befriends Rollo. The action isn’t completely narrowly focused–there are also flashbacks of Roto life before the attack, and Thea’s artistic calling (the source of the collection’s subtitle)–but it’s always compelling.