Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Vogage Home

(Part I)

It is of course entirely fitting that a new era should start with Michael and Lucifer, just as it did eons ago.  For those who put stock in literary allusion, one could argue this suggests more than the middle point of Lucifer, but rather the centre of Creation itself, but we'll find out soon enough whether or not that holds water.  Let's focus on what we can see right now; Lucifer is once more arguing that Michael owes nothing to his Father and, after the death of his daughter, Michael is a little less opposed to the idea than he once was. And with the demon Scoria having gone to such lengths to bore his way into the mind of God, it would be almost rude not to go take a peek.

But if this new stage in the story is about Lucifer and Michael arguing about what lessons to draw from God, and what actions to take in response, one can feel justified in asking how much of what is going on is revelation, and how much is repetition?  Again, if we engage in the reading of portents, it can't bode well that as the two archangels travel to the Realms of Pain to make use of Scoria's machine, the Naglfar finds itself beset by the spirits of those angels killed during the original War in Heaven [1]. Nor can it be particularly welcome news when the two travellers dive into their Father's mind - Michael hesitantly, Lucifer with eagerness - only to find that this, too, Yahweh had always known would come to pass.

Not everything in what follows can be fully understood.  This is as it should be, naturally; we're talking about the thoughts of God.  Even when fictionalised, there has to be a limit to what we can process here.  Plus, as Yahweh points out, everything Lucifer knows about secrecy and deceit, he learned from his Father.  He's hardly more likely to spill the beans than his son is.

In any case, what he does reveal is stunning enough, and brings back into play the themes the comic has been juggling since the very beginning. In all our talk of Lucifer's struggle against pre-determination, we've kind of tip-toed around the existential elephant in the room. Does the Creator of all that was, is, or will be get any more free will than the rest of us poor schlubs?

This is hardly a difficult question for a Christian, of course. Indeed, there's a section of Christianity that's very specific on this point: it was making us in His image that caused all the trouble in the first place, because offering us the same capacity for choice He enjoys immediately led to us plotting apple pies and the creation of pants.

But let's unpack this a bit, we mere mortals.  Free will is an escape from determinism, and determinism is the absence of randomness.  And as Einstein often said, God doesn't play dice.  Randomness isn't a sufficient condition for free will - biological and social programming could be quite capable of overriding the effect of a few zig-zagging subatomic particles - but it's certainly necessary.

At least, it is for us.  It's possible God is in the unique position of having free will despite an entirely deterministic universe, because he set it up in the first place. A bullet always goes forward, but the shooter gets to pick a direction.  That brings us to the problem, though.  If God always knows every direction, every location, and every speed, then what use is choice in any case.  We need randomness in order to define free will, and as He laments later, God breaks randomness simply by touching it.  Perhaps what He requires is surprise.

This is what Yahweh explains to Lucifer and Michael.  He could have created reality no less easily without them.  The angels that fill the Silver City were for their benefit, not his, context for their actions and grist for their plans.  Plans that God hoped would surprise him.

Here is where things get difficult.  Trying to figure out a message from Yahweh to his archangels is bound to require some heavy lifting.  How can He simultaneously berate Lucifer for trying to rebel against the determination of God and admit He came close to despairing over Michael's refusal to rebel?  Shouldn't He know Michael's faith was (until now) unshakable?

The best I can do here is this: there is some kind of interaction Yahweh is or was hoping for between Michel and Lucifer that would break the logical flow of reality, by leading God to make a choice that, much like Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, He couldn't forsee ahead of time.  Both of them needed to rebel; one alone wouldn't get the job done.  It's difficult to get my head around this idea; that two deterministic processes could interact and generate randomness, but this seems to be the implication here.

Well, that's the implication from our perspective (or the best one I can spin out).  Michael sees things rather differently: that millenia of faithful service has led to his Father's despair and pity.  This, to put it mildly, puts his nose out of joint. If his Father wants rebellion, then that's what He'll get.  Perhaps Yahweh could have just been mean to Michael at the very beginning, and saved us all a lot of trouble.

The effect upon Lucifer is no less profound, and gets us back to a promise I made in the first part of this essay: to talk about the seismic shift in pathos we're getting here.

In truth, we've already seen the beginnings of the process in "Come to Judgment".  As I said in that post, we were being served up a warning of sorts, a reminder that the motivations of demons are inscrutable, and their results unpredictable.  35 issues of watching Lucifer become more and more sympathetic, at least in comparison to the forces arrayed against him, and we're dangerously close to considering Lucifer heroic, or at least hero-adjacent.

If "Come to Judgment" was the warning, "Naglfar" is the realisation.  The first piece of this is revealed as the fourth issue comes to a close, and those crewmembers of the Naglfar still standing discover who is holding Elaine's soul in the Mansions: Tsuki-Yomi.  The Japanese God that Lucifer could have let fade into the ether, he instead exiled to the Mansions, presumably simply because he could, and as a result an exceptionally powerful enemy stands between Lucifer's allies and Lucifer's goal.

That's strictly small-fry compared to what's coming.  Where Michael saw a rebuke in his Father's sermon, Lucifer has seen an opportunity.  God has made his only unforseeable choice, and left Heaven (he does this a lot, now I think about it). The truce between Lucifer and Heaven - as uneasy and bloodstained as it was - no longer has any effect.  What few things Lucifer might have thought better of attempting are now back on the table.

So Lucifer enters the Mansions.

The results are exactly as expected; the edge of the coin collapses entirely.  Only Lucifer and the Naglfar crew survive - along with the spirits of Elaine and her friend Mona - from the untold billions that once existed there.  It's an outrage so vast and incomprehensible that even Bergelmir, giant-blooded trickster with the hobby of forcing people to dismember themselves, is left aghast by the body count.

This is what happens when you forget what Lucifer is; he slaughters tens of billions without a second thought.  Because it gets him what he wants.  Because he can.

Which means as we pass into the second half of this ongoing story, the very question that underlies all that happens has shifted.  With Elaine rescued and Jill Presto now seemingly free of her unwelcome passenger, all previous questions of damage control have been resolved.  We no longer have to wonder how the damage of the past can be repaired, or how Lucifer will next choose to kick against the pricks.

The question now is: what happens to the world if no-one can stop Lucifer from kicking?

[1] It occurs to me that I'm somewhat skirting around the Naglfar's voyage here, which seems odd not just because of the title of the story, but because a warship constructed from the fingernails of the dead that's sailing through a place that is to Purgatory what the ocean is to a seaside B&B should really be worthy of careful consideration.

For the record, then, it's not that the journey isn't interesting in and of itself, it's just that its place in the narrative makes it less useful to analyse.  At least for my purposes: I'm sure there's plenty to say about the aesthetics involved, and the idea that the Mansions represent some kind of intersection for multiple Creations throws up a host of questions that I alas lack room for here.

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