There is a hauntingly seductive nature to a character like Lucifer, both in fiction and in religious text. You can call that blasphemy, but it’s pretty much what the guy is known for, and the very idea of a figure who would rebel against an omnipotent force is remarkable no matter what side your morality and ideology falls on. The strength of the few against the overpowering many is a tale as old as the written word and has become fodder for pop culture since mankind orated stories around campfires. Works like Joe Hill’s Horns posits the question, “Is the devil just misunderstood?” And the short answer, at least in that novel (and in The Sandman Universe), is well, yes. He kind of is.
Neil Gaiman introduced the DC Comics version of Lucifer in Sandman, where he was depicted as a beautiful, blonde man who was sick of running Hell, and thus abandoned his position. Now, being sick of a job and waiting for the right moment to drop a resignation letter on your jerk boss’ desk is a cathartic moment a great many of us can relate to, which makes Lucifer’s introduction in this comic world instantly compelling.
Writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross would continue Lucifer’s journey as he traversed Heaven and Earth in a titular solo series for the better part of a decade. When DC’s New 52 initiative was launched, the version of Lucifer we grew to love (or at the very least, respect) was pretty much scrubbed. Now, after a handy dandy retcon, we're back on the tracks Carey and Gross originally hammered down for readers with Lucifer #1, and the devil is in the lack of details.
The Sandman Universe titles' biggest strength (and weakness, to some degree) is how unwilling they are to spoon-feed readers information. Much like House of Whispers and The Dreaming, there is a feeling like you've just been tossed into the deep end with Lucifer, even if you're familiar with Carey and Gross' run (which ended over a decade ago). This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The weirdness and provocative imagery may not be for everyone, but if you're willing to dip your toe in the water, you might find yourself with a desire to swim to the bottom of the pool.
Lucifer #1 vacillates between two stories. The first finds our titular anti-hero stranded and apparently missing his powers. Despite all his proclamations and moxey, no one in the realm Lucifer is trapped in seems to give a damn about who he was. It makes for some cute, broad comedic moments and some curious character insight (side note: the fact Lucifer looks like a ginger Jesus Christ in this issue has to be deliberate). The other story follows a police detective who is trying to cope with watching his ill wife slowly pass away. Despite the ostensibly grounded nature of the B-plot, it quickly becomes apparent there is nothing natural about it. How, exactly, Lucifer's story will connect is still yet to be fully seen, but you know it's coming.
The team on this book do outstanding work here. Dan Watters (Image Comics' Limbo) feels right at home in this insane world, writing Lucifer's laments with a biblical righteousness that is both dead serious and delightfully silly within the context of the issue. Max and Sebastian Fiumara's illustrations are also solid. They present the world in exaggerated strokes that give the book a sense of desperation in both story lines. Lucifer's gaunt figure and haggard long hair is a far cry from the character we knew all those years ago. Their art is accentuated beautifully by Dave McCaig's colors; warm reds and yellows in Lucifer's world which stand in stark contract to the cool blue tones in Detective Decker's bleak story arc. And do we need to say anything about that amazing cover by Jock (no, seriously, put that image on t-shirts right now, DC)?
Lucifer #1 is a good read, and it feels like it's the start to something potentially great. For newcomers, it might be a bit obtuse to wrap your head around without any prior knowledge of the world, but don't let that scare you off. If you were willing to lean into the weird of the other The Sandman Universe titles and you have't yet decided to run for the hills, this book should be in your stack this week for sure. Something dreadful is already building, and we're not going to let a little sink or swim storytelling deter us from finding out just what exactly it is.