Monday, 24 December 2012
One of the nice things about Mike Carey as a writer is the effort he puts into identifying the purpose of so many of his stories, saving me time and effort. Take "Brothers in Arms", for example, the thirteenth arc of Lucifer. When at the conclusion to the first issue Lucifer catches sight of this week's terrifying threat to all creation and says "I'd have expected the comic interlude to come further down the bill", the reader knows exactly what's going on. After the six-part "Naglfar", crowded as it was with untold destruction and cosmic angst, it's time to kick our feet up and have a bit of a chuckle.
This has its advantages and disadvantages. These three comics are certainly funny, even if the humour is often exceptionally black (which, admittedly, is exactly how I like it). I can only nod to examples, rather than give them, because too many of them are bound too deeply into context to be extracted, but a Titanic cyclops who's drawn an Egyptian symbol around its eye and is pretending to be Deceit of the Endless is a particularly delicious sight gag. The Titans' attempts to act as the God they intend to replace are hilarious, too (though again in tremendously bleak ways), blasting to dust everyone they see unless they were obeying traffic signals at the time, for instance.
The downside to this depends a great deal on one's taste, I suppose. After "Naglfar" shifted the status quo and our perceptions so fundamentally, one could make a case that three issues spent pissing around with two Titans trying to steal control of Heaven might seem a bit of a momentum killer. Generally speaking, this is the side I would fall on, and that's with reading all three comics in the same morning; spending a quarter of a year on this dalliance may have struck many as patience-trying.
On the other hand, of course, that's an argument that only holds on the one occasion when you read Lucifer for the first time, and it strikes me at least as generally the case if not actually axiomatically true that sacrificing a story's structure upon repeat readings in order to make it slightly more palatable for one's first go around is a bad idea. Perhaps when one returns to Lucifer (and I don't understand anyone who wouldn't want to), this pause for reflection with added jokes offers a welcome respite. I still don't feel that way even after a third reading, but I can certainly see the point.
In fact, though, I'm maybe being a little unfair. Like all the best comic interludes, "Brothers in Arms" offers commentary on the wider story, sweetening the bitter pills one must swallow elsewhere.
Case in point: Lucifer's destruction of the Mansions of the Silence, and the resultant dissolution of untold billions of souls. I mentioned last time around that this was a deliberate move on Carey's part to bring home the foolishness of sympathising with Lucifer, or treating him as hero rather than amoral protagonist. That's actually a pretty scary thing to do with a narrative, to brutally reinforce the fact that we're watching someone who would murder us without a second thought (or even a first one) for the very slightest of gains, or even no gain other than the maintaining of his pride, just at the same point as the Lord of Creation decides he's giving up on the whole idea and pissing off elsewhere.
So if "Naglfar" was a brutal gut-punch to our expectations of who Lucifer is, "Brothers in Arms" is the reminder of what we should have seen him as all along, the alternative to total domination by the laws of causality. He is not our hero. He does not fight for us. But if we're to be allowed to fight for ourselves in any meaningful sense, we need him around.
Once again, Carey rather makes this literal by having the Titan usurpers create the anti-Lucifer, a black-skinned simulacrum intended to obliterate itself and the Morningstar the instant they come into contact. In other words, the exact opposite of Lucifer is a mindless slave bound to an insane, violent creator with a massive body count. The significance of this can be left as an exercise for the reader. That said, Carey's smart enough to keep things ambivalent. Lucifer's ultimate victory over his negative self ("feels like masturbation") rests on the fact that the creature was woven from memories of Samael that are inaccurate. Memories taken from Beatrice, a woman hopelessly in love with Mazikeen and hopelessly unaware of what Lucifer is or represents. But are Beatrice's impressions of the Morningstar any more reliable than ours? We may have made the same mistake; indeed I've been arguing for several posts now that Carey has assumed we have. "Naglfar" demonstrated how totally we misunderstood what this comic was about. "Brothers in Arms" lets us know that this is entirely our fault.
It should also be taken as a warning, however. Just because we've learned our old assumptions were mistaken, it doesn't mean our new assumptions will be any nearer the mark. So whilst this arc once again ends with Michael and Lucifer joining forces to beat up a common enemy, suggesting their separate insistence that they have no interest in replacing their Father may not be entirely believable, the broken, pathetic form of Beatrice - waiting in the darkness of Mazikeen's tent for the slightest sign her love even remembers she exists - should be enough to remind us that getting too drawn in to the world of Lucifer can leave us burned, and that thinking we understand the flow of such cosmic events can leave us dead.
If one thing has been left abundantly clear, however, it is this: the Titans were only the first and least subtle of supernatural powers willing to take advantage of Yahweh's absence. There will be others. A story that began concerned with creation has now become about destruction, and the most important question now hanging over the series is this: how much more can the universe afford to lose?