Lucifer Vol. 1: Cold Heaven
Writer: Holly Black
Artist: Lee Garbett
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: Dave Johnson
A review by Stephanie Pouliotte
The devil returns in Lucifer: Cold Heaven, a continuation of Mike Carey’s acclaimed Lucifer run that ended in 2006. The character of Lucifer was first introduced in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman #4 as part of a triumvirate ruling the underworld; he later resigns and closes down hell after realizing that it was all a part of his Father’s great design. In the introduction to Carey’s first volume, Gaiman recalls sitting across from many skeptical writers and suggesting a Lucifer spin off, often having to reassure them that it really was a good idea. Luckily, Mike Carey came along and fleshed out a wonderfully manipulative, charming, and unforgiving character, one that returns again in this first volume by writer Holly Black. I dove into Lucifer Vol. 1 with cautious excitement, worried that the devil might indeed be in the details, but Black finds some of the dark and twisted wit that made the original Lucifer series so wickedly ensnaring.
After forsaking his father and abandoning creation, Lucifer returns to Earth gravely injured by a shard of viscous black metal. But something isn’t right in the universe. The Father of creation is dead, and as the last person to see Him alive, Lucifer is the prime suspect in the murder. The Host enlists disgraced Archangel Gabriel to bring his brother to divine justice in exchange for atonement, but before he can kill him, Lucifer convinces Gabriel that he can prove his innocence and the two set off to uncover the true culprit.
The premise is definitely intriguing, turning the direction of the Carey’s run on its head and hurtling Lucifer back towards the great design he sought to escape. Black shows a deft understanding of the character by pinpointing the one thing that would move Lucifer to become entangled in his family’s affairs again. After all, no one gets to kill God but the Devil. Of course Lucifer has his own agenda, one he keeps hidden from his brother (and the reader) until the very end. The prose didn’t always flow naturally and was loaded with exposition in some passages, but overall I felt she nailed Lucifer’s dry wit and irreverent tone, while injecting a bit of morbid levity from time to time.
Black weaves between their journey and the story of Madjene Parker, a young girl adopted into a nasty household who encounters Azazel — a demon who ruled alongside Lucifer in hell and was trapped in a jar by Morpheus in The Sandman: Seasons of the Mist. Madjene’s story harkens back to that of Elaine Belloc’s in Carey’s run, providing a captivatingly dark and disturbing side story that eventually connects with Lucifer’s in the final chapters.
The end proves to be a bit anti-climactic; the first two third of the Cold Heaven arc were definitely much stronger. That being said, I think much of the criticism I’ve read of the book’s culmination lies in the expectations of the characters. You didn’t need to be familiar with Mike Carey’s run in order to follow the story, but having some knowledge of the characters does help put their actions into perspective.
It may seem as though Azazel’s end comes quite abruptly at the hands of Lucifer, making the secondary storyline seem basically irrelevant, but I beg to differ. I never really expected Azazel to play a large role in the climax; I was pretty secure in thinking he was a red herring whose main purpose was to help introduce Madjene’s character (who I believe will return in later issues), and that a larger conspiracy involving the Host was more likely. The moment that Lucifer coaxes the shard into destroying Azazel, revealing his ulterior motive and that he essentially played Gabriel the entire time was the moment I was waiting for. It’s Lucifer’s signature style. He has little regard for anyone other than himself, killing his former ruling partner without a second thought. Azazel was always a means to an end and nothing more, something I think is important to establish about Lucifer early on. You had to expect that this would end with Lucifer deceiving someone for his own personal gain, and his irreverence when confronted by Gabriel is absolutely classic.
Lucifer was already onto the killer fairly early on, but doubted his own conclusions. It was still necessary for them to journey to the Dreaming in order for him to figure out that Azazel was linked to the shard and also to test his theory that Gabriel may be unknowingly hiding something. Lucifer is always three steps ahead and travelled with Gabriel to keep an eye on him until he could confirm his suspicions. I didn’t have any issue with Gabriel being the culprit. The reader feels led on that Lucifer knew Azazel wasn’t the real killer, but that’s his modus operandi. He deceives, he manipulates, and he doesn’t reveal his hand until he’s holding all the cards.
We still don’t definitively know who manipulated Gabriel into killing God and attacking Lucifer outside creation (nor how he found Lucifer in the first place), though it is heavily implied that Metatron and the Host had a hand in it. Even though I felt this ending was a bit flat and lost pace due to the heavy exposition, it did what was necessary in establishing the cunning and ruthlessness of Lucifer’s character and setting us up for the next arc.
** Spoilers End**
Buy it! If perhaps a bit heavy handed in her prose, Black is able to capture the essence of this anti-hero’s dark appeal in Lucifer: Cold Heaven. Even though the story lost some momentum in the final issues, this first volume is a strong start to a promising series that lives up to its predecessors in both the storytelling and the artwork. Garbett’s distinctive penciling and Fabela’s muted hues create a truly dark atmosphere, almost an homage to Peter Gross’ style. I feel as though Black will be facing tough comparisons to Mike Carey’s Lucifer, which is second only to The Sandman as my favorite comic series, but she truly is a talented writer who understands the nuances of Lucifer’s character. In the end both Lucifer and Gabriel have changed in interesting (and unforeseen) ways, and I have no doubt that the next story arc will be as captivating as the first.