19 December 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Lucifer, Part I: Murder Mysteries

And here we are, starting off on a new installment of Faster than a DC Bullet! I've survived my journey into Marvel, so it's back into the DC universe with yet another Sandman spin-off. (Man, there are an awful lot of these.) It's time to meet Lucifer...

Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries

Original Short Story and Radio Play: Neil Gaiman
Graphic Story Script and Art: P. Craig Russell
Coloring: Lovern Kindzierski
Lettering: Galen Showman

Before reading Lucifer proper, I decided to read Murder Mysteries, a graphic novel by P. Craig Russell adapting a short story by Neil Gaiman. Murder Mysteries tells the story of the first murder-- the first murder, even before Abel and Cain, when one angel killed another. It's not technically part of the Sandman/Lucifer canon, since the short story was standalone, and the comic book was published by Dark Horse, but it's Gaiman writing Lucifer, and the story even refers to its environs as the Silver City, which is the domain of the Lord and his angels in the DC universe as well.

The story revolves around an angel named Raguel, the Vengeance of the Lord. He is assigned by Lucifer, the commander of the Host, to investigate the murder of Carasel, one of the angels working to create the universe. From this point on, the story unfolds like your typical murder mystery. Raguel interviews witnesses, those who knew the victim, those who may have had a motive. There's all the detective stuff, like where he interviews people who don't seem to have a connection to the case, but he and you know better.

(There's also a frame story about a slightly weird 20-something Brit, who visits a female friend of his in L.A. and gets a blow job, hearing the whole story from an old guy on a park bench who is actually Raguel. I like the frame, but I don't quite know how integrates with the main story, especially in the slightly disturbing way that it all ends.)

The great thing about this whole detective story thing is how it ends. Raguel calls everyone together into a room (of course he does): Lucifer; Phanuel, the senior designer of the universe; Saraquel, Carasel's partner; and Zephkiel, the other senior designer, who never leaves his cell in the Silver City. Raguel solves the murder, of course, and enacts the Vengeance of the Lord, distintegrating the murderer. (I'm not going to tell you who the murderer is, but there are some pretty big spoilers here, so be careful if you don't want it ruined.) Lucifer reacts badly to the whole thing. "Perhaps Saraquel was the first to love," Raguel says, "but Lucifer was the first to shed tears." Lucifer begins to wonder if the Lord's will is just after all and flies off. It's a powerful scene.

But what comes is even more powerful. Raguel realizes that there is another murder in the room. The Lord Himself.
"Because nothing occurs without a reason, and all the reasons are Yours."
And just like that, Gaiman , in mixing a murder mystery with theology, creates something new out of both. Because at that moment I realized, There is always another murderer in the room, and that murderer is always the Lord. It's one thing to know this-- certainly Gaiman is not the first person to observe the theological problems that result from having an omnipotent creator managing a universe with injustice in it-- but in depicting it through the generic tropes of murder mysteries, Gaiman makes it real to me all over again.

Just like that. I've sometimes been skeptical of Gaiman. I mean, I liked The Sandman a lot, but it took me half the series before I was finally sold on it. This, though, is powerful, creative stuff.

Of course, it's not all Gaiman. He wrote the story on which this was based, but Russell did all the work not only of illustrating it, but converting it into the format of a comic story. I don't know how much the latter involved, but he does a magnificent job at the former. His art is clean and beautiful, everything a story about angels at the beginning of Creation requires. Russell was also the illustrator for Don McGregor's run on Killraven, but suffice it to say that that never sang like this does.

Lucifer is only a small part of this story, but just like that, you understand so much more about him. Lucifer, the comic series, has a lot to live up to if it's going to follow on from this...

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