Saturday, 20 October 2012

These Are The Voyages...

(So after last time's two issue breeze, this thing is five issues long, and stuffed with enough to talk about that I'm stretching this over two posts).

The thing about stories is that eventually, they have to end.  And because they have to end, they also have to reach their middle.

Everything has an exact centre, whether it be measured by run time, page count, or number of installments. This is axiomatic.  What is less common is for that middle to be entirely obvious at the time it arrives, rather than in hindsight. You can highlight such things numerically, of course: "Part three of five", but doing so thematically is an exceptionally tricky proposition.

It is my contention that "Naglfar", the halfway point of Lucifer in terms of its 75-issue run, does a better job of announcing the arrival of the series' Lagrange point than almost any other series. The Morningstar's struggle against his Creator is an existential game of two halves, and this is when the half-time oranges are consumed, along with much else. As Lucifer himself puts it in the story's final part: "The rules of engagement have changed."

Of course, this is Carey we're discussing, so the line of demarcation here is really more of a plane, slicing through various threads.  The most important of these, actually, regards the pathos of the comic as a whole, but to get to that we need to work through what's actually going on here.

The implication at the end of "Come to Judgement" is that Lucifer has secured the mythical Naglfar - a sailing ship forged from dead men's fingernails and guarded by the trolls and giants that used to give Thor so much trouble - so that he can captain it on a perilous voyage towards a mysterious goal.  We quickly learn in "Mansions..." that this assumption is in error; Lucifer has collected a crew for the ship, but has no intention of going with them.

Indeed, he can't.  Their goal is to rescue the spirit of Elaine Belloc, the angel-human hybrid who sacrificed her life for Lucifer's back in "Purgatorio", and that requires heading into the Mansions of the Silence, the realm of the dead populated by those neither Heaven nor Hell has any interest in collecting.  "The edge of the coin", as Bergelmir puts it.  Lucifer can't show his face there any more than we could put a face to the coin-edge; reality requires certain things do not intersect.

Which explains why Mazikeen captains the Naglfar; she's the only person Lucifer could be said to trust even slightly.  But what about the rest of her crew?  The duplicitous Bergelmir; the supernaturally-pregnant Jill Presto; the poorly-assembled human-angel hybrid Cal; the neurotic ghost David Easterman, who in life was the husband of Elaine Belloc's birth mother; and the fallen Cherubim siblings Gaudiam and Spera.  What was Lucifer's intent in choosing them, other than,as Gaudiam says, setting up a weird kind of sitcom?

By the first issue's end, we can certainly assume that his stated reason - that they alone have some small chance of returning alive - is unlikely to be the case. Cal has "obvious casualty" written all over him, Easterman is already dead, and Bergelmir and Presto are both people Lucifer has more reason to want dead than alive, the former for trying to trick him into suicide, the latter because of the monstrosity growing inside her womb.  Further suspicions are roused when Lucifer helps the ship escape its giant guards by incinerating everything in range, an act which sets the Naglfar's sails on fire and damn near obliterates her entirely. "It's hard to tell his assistance from his vengeance" Bergelmir notes sourly.  Of course it is.  It's difficult to tell a suicide mission from a death sentence, too.

So if Lucifer doesn't seem entirely invested in the mission's success, and he's certainly not interested in the well-being of its crew (Mazikeen aside, though one imagines Lucifer would be prepared to sacrifice her if only to prove that he isn't interested), what exactly is going on here?  The Morningstar is kind enough to explain this in the second issue. Of course, being who he is, he only reveals a part of the truth, but between his explanation and Mazikeen's, we can sketch out a plausible approximation of what's really going on.

Mazikeen, you see, believes she's been sent on a mission to save Elaine's soul, a payment from Lucifer for the life-debt he owes.  This, as far as it goes, is probably true.   But does Lucifer's debt require him to actually save Elaine, or merely to make a plausible attempt.  Does sending the Naglfar in itself constitute repayment?  In which case, it didn't really matter who else was onboard so long as it was theoretically possible they would succeed.  With Mazikeen as a competent captain, and David Easterman able to summon Elaine's guardian spirits and thus act as some kind of mewling undead GPS, Lucifer was free to pack the ship with every loose end and annoyance he could think of.

This is a typically Lucifer set-up, then.  If the Naglfar doesn't return, a number of potential problems just go away.  If she comes back, well, then his debt has been paid, he gets a shiny new chess piece, and maybe there will have been a few casualties along the way to sweeten the deal.  And either way - and it is this part that Lucifer explicitly acknowledges - the wild cards have been cleared off the table, for now at least, leaving him free to decide what to do next.  The train of events kicked off by fashioning his own Creation finally seem to have reached an end.  Both Susano-o-Mikoto and Amenadiel are dead, the Basanos has immolated itself, and Michael and Duma both seem to be teetering on the brink of betraying Yahweh.

It's time, in short, for the second act to begin.

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