Monday, 15 November 2010

Lucifer: Three Of A Kind

Is it through planning or simply happy coincidence that the third book of Lucifer begins with "Triptych"? It seems oddly in keeping with the comic itself that we can't be sure.  Certainly, the word is of crucial importance. These stories do not form a trilogy, nor a mere trio. Triptychs come in three parts as well, of course, but always the centre is the anchor, the root, and commonly the largest - or at least most important - piece.

Perhaps then it is puzzling that the central story should not be Lucifer's, but Elaine's.  Even beyond his position as eponymous character, Lucifer is engaged in the rather weighty matter of crafting a new universe.  For that matter, Mazikeen is on trial, possibly for her life.  In such surroundings, a tale of a little girl, whatever her provenance, searching for her dead friend might perhaps seem of somewhat small importance.

But then that's the problem.  You can't say "Apart from her provenance Elaine is unimportant" any more you can say "Apart from its water, the ocean is dry".  Elaine's ancestry is critical here, because it directly outlines what these three stories are all about: potential.

Elaine's story here, then, is an announcement: the board is changing.  She is the daughter of the Archangel Michael, and she has the attention of Lucifer himself, to the point where he curses her foster father to ensure the man cannot touch her.  Lady Lys of Effruil and Duma of the Host clash over her fate (one doubts Lys would waste precious armadillo grapeshot on just any interloper).  Within a few issues of learning the truth about her heritage, she has learned to leave her body and travel through the land of dreams and into Hell, whilst capably defending herself from at least some of the nastier inhabitants that reside there.  Whatever Lucifer sees in her, we would do well to see it too. Tearing Samael from his solipsism, however briefly, is not something many people can manage.

Mazikeen's story is about potential as well.  On a direct level, this applies to Mazikeen herself. She enters her audience with Briadach, Loth and Misran as little more than a prisoner, and departs as War Leader of the Lilim in Exile.  Whether she can ever be a true equal to Lucifer is debatable, despite what Briadach tells her, but this is perhaps the closest she can manage, and the strongest position with which she can approach him.

There is more to the Lilim than Mazikeen, however.  It is Briadach himself who relates the tale, and for him the potential of Mazikeem is a supreme irrelevance, beyond her ability to get him what he wants.  All that matters to him is the potential of the world Lucifer is shaping.  The chance to emigrate to a new Creation, in which the Lilim are once again untainted, is more than he can risk.  He is willing to sacrifice Mahu, who has been beside his side for at least "a century of centuries". Mahu, who is so blind to the past it blinds him to the present, too: the "dog driven mad by abuse", unable to "[understand] deferred gratification".  Such a creature has no potential, save as a sacrifice, and so sacrificed he is.  And in the turmoil, as Briadach finally acts to nudge destiny in the direction he thinks best, he finds himself unable to see the future any more. The fate of Lucifer, Mazikeen and humanity is no longer his to see.  He has blinded himself to the future by reshaping it; by giving birth to it.

All he sees now is potential.

I've always wondered why exactly Lucifer believes he needs his own Creation.  It seems perhaps that he has fallen into that pernicious of traps: the idea that one can only attain freedom by controlling everything else.  This never really made any sense to me, at least as far as Lucifer is concerned.  If you asked him why he abandoned his control of Hell (and you managed to catch him in a good mood), he might argue that what made his responsibilities chafe was the fact they were handed down by God.  At least in part, though, I would think the problem was caused by the fact that responsibilities and freedom tend to rub against each other.  Of course, as absolute ruler of his brand new universe, Lucifer can abandon his duties at any time, but his devotion to proving himself at least as worthy a Creator as the Creator would turn such a surrender into a defeat.

And make no mistake: Lucifer is inviting comparison.  Creating over six days; designing a beautiful garden; creating Man. The parallels are entirely obvious.  Lucifer is staking one of the central tenants of his existence - that there exists no being he should feel inferior to - on the outcome of his Creation.   This is his first message to his Father; the same message every son tries to send, sooner or later "I have your potential."  Further, by demanding he not be worshipped, Lucifer is sending a second: "I can create the world without demanding I be thanked for it."
This congenital aversion to worship (Lucifer demands others respect him, but that is very different) is half of why Lucifer creates his own answer to Adam and Eve.  As a test; a flight of fancy.  Can humanity turn out any better when their desires are encouraged, rather than railed against?  If they can, Lucifer proves his point.  And if not, well, that proves something too.

Here, then, we arrive at our own potential.  Lucifer has no doubt that God bungled the mankind issue horrifically.  His only question is over whether the catastrophic flaw lies in the programming, or the manufacture.

Why else would he be so happy for Amenadiel to interfere (in the guise of a snake no less, which amuses me no less than it did Lucifer)?  For millenia, people across the world (including myself) have argued that the world might be somewhat better if we spent less time judging each other for the things we like to do.  There are limits to that philosophy, of course, but specific examples are hardly difficult to come by, and more to the point, my limits are not the same as Lucifer's, and in fact it's easy to believe he has none in any case.  Lucifer wants to see how well his philosophy can work with something as frail and confused as mankind, and whether we voluntarily yoke ourselves to flagellation and self-denial because we're just that fucking stupid.

This is what Lucifer is pointing out to Amenadiel during their brief conversation.  The fact that Lucifer's "Adam" has fallen into temptation (interesting that this time it's the man who falls first - indeed, falls alone - something which is interesting to bear in mind when considering the matriarchal society of centaurs that apparently take humanity's place in Lucifer's Creation) does not mean has failed, it means that man - the chosen of God, loved above cherubim and seraphim and every other form of life and will in the cosmos - man himself could not succeed.  You have not failed to play a tune if you've been handed a broken flute; or in this case, incorrect instructions as to how the instrument should be carved.  Lucifer punctuates this point by handing Amenadiel an apple he has bitten from, because the loyalist angel has never been very smart, but the meaning should be clear to the rest of us from far earlier on.

Where "Adam" failed was not in questioning his desires, of course.  It was believing that the only way to tell right from wrong was for someone else to tell him explicitly.  If human potential means anything, it means that we have the capacity to consider our actions, to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, and to accept when we make mistakes or when our ideas prove ridiculous or even harmful.  That, perhaps, is Lucifer's point.  Just as God needed a race that worshipped Him, He needed one that needed Him.  That needed telling what to do.  Our potential was to have no potential.

Lucifer's success with his "Eve" gives him some guarded optimism.  But it's in Elaine, perhaps, that the theory truly breaks down.  Her heritage is heavenly, but her upbringing - her reactions and morality - are strictly terrestrial. If she breaks away from the cycle, if she navigates the paths between God's insistence on self-denial and Lucifer's refusal to compromise or consider cost, then that sounds like an actualisation of potential to me.   Clearly Lucifer has some kind of expectations along those lines, for him to delay the furthering of his immediate agenda to check up on her.

Of course, Lucifer has been wrong before.  In some ways, he's always been wrong.  But that's something to return to another time.  Before that, it's time for a quick trip to Effruil...

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