The opening scene of Holly Black and Lee Garbett’s “Lucifer” #1 finds the devil driving back into town. It’s pitch perfect — so perfect, in fact, that it may set up unreasonable expectations for the rest of the story. Reading it feels like listening to the opening of a classic rock song: it’s full of style and aggression, but also has a kind of purity to it, like the character himself. Black’s captions show off her command of rhythm and diction in prose. She’s cognizant of the sense of drama appropriate to this occasion and is quick to exploit it. Lucifer’s re-entrance into L.A. is a homecoming of sorts, and so is his return to the pages of comics. It’s delightful to see Todd Klein on letters for “Lucifer” #1. He uses all of his original distinctive designs for Lucifer’s speech and other angels.
Garbett’s panel compositions and bold lines amplify the drama of the opening. His art in “Lucifer” #1 is stronger than his recent work for Valiant. There’s beauty in the details, like the zip-a-tone shading on a car, the fragile edges of a shark fin or the joke of Lucifer’s vanity plates. Garbett’s comfort with liberal amounts of ink is a huge plus for the title. It looks bold and smoky on the page, appropriate for Lucifer’s image. He also visually reinforces biblical themes: fire and brimstone, the duality of good and evil, the Fall and Lucifer’s original role as light-bringer. For example, the dark silhouettes of Rafael and Raguel introduce moral ambiguity into their promise of “glad tidings.”
Fabela’s palette alternates between dense, opaque reds and oranges, rich and warm for Lucifer’s scenes, or faded neutrals to show the desolation of Newark or the aridity of the Silver City. The first page is perfectly balanced and contains gorgeous details, like a trail of red light, but he overuses oranges and mauve shadows for the tussle between Gabriel and Lucifer, and those panels look flat and cluttered as a result.
Indeed, the art and writing as a whole starts off beautifully and then becomes less smooth mid-issue. Garbett’s facial expressions are too wooden during much of the conversation between Lucifer and Gabriel, and the fight scene also looks stiff. He nails Lucifer’s smirk to accompany his riposte “Oh, never doubt my readiness,” but Lucifer’s wings are too heavily outlined and his fingers are too elongated the same panel.
Black’s approach to the character is closer to Neil Gaiman’s darkly ironic creature than to Mike Carey’s frostier, more aloof but still ironic take. She immediately brings back all his old charm but introduces an earthier, more human side. The story immediately feels more mundane when she introduces another protagonist, Gabriel, who is warm and weak where Lucifer is chilly and strong. They couldn’t be more obvious as foils, even though they’re both fallen angels. One is blonde and clad in clean white, and the other is dark-haired, stubble-faced and wearing black, of course. Gabriel’s callowness is wearying, because he seems too old and too experienced to be this earnest, and all his decisions so far feel predictable. Black’s introduction of two human characters hints at another layer, but they don’t add anything yet.
At the conclusion of the fight and talk with Gabriel, Lucifer’s decision doesn’t have the impact that it should. Garbett’s panel composition doesn’t support the moment of revelation. It doesn’t quite ring true emotionally. Of course, Black needs Gabriel and Lucifer to team up, but their joining of hands is too rapid and doesn’t feel natural. The last scene and cliffhanger is a refreshing surprise, though, with a sharp plot twist that made me nod appreciatively. Black’s dark sense of humor and Garbett’s panel progression are excellent here.
The strengths of “Lucifer” #1 are Black’s prose and Garbett’s eye for outlines and texture, and the weaknesses are in expressivity and pacing. It’s friendly to new readers while making some nods in the direction of those who have read all of “Sandman” and Carey’s “Lucifer.” The positives outweigh the negatives, and — as Lucifer sets off on a new adventure — I’m looking forward to more.