Hell Frozen Over: Mike Carey talks about "Lucifer's" final year

Thu, August 18th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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Cover To "Lucifer #66"

In today's highly competitive comic book market, there are two truths rarely argued: it's hard to launch a new comic book series successfully and it's hard to break into the industry. There's also a third truth: British writer Mike Carey has defied convention by launching a successful ongoing series, "Lucifer," through the DC Comics/Vertigo imprint when he was unknown to many American readers. Mid 2006 will see the series end with "Lucifer #75" and with the final plot points coming together for an explosive conclusion, it's the last chance for readers to catch the adventures of this fallen angel. For more on the series' conclusion and a brief re-introduction to the series, CBR News caught up with Carey at his home in England.

"'Lucifer' is about the adventures of the devil on Earth and is increasingly about a situation that has arisen in the book, where he's become the God of his own universe," explained Carey. "For the last couple of years we've been building up to a huge climax involving Lucifer's creation and the original creation of Yahweh, both of which are threatened with death and disillusion. All of our large cast from the past few years is involved in either stopping that from coming to pass or working to see it through."

Comparisons will be- and have been- drawn to Vertigo's seminal series "Sandman," from which "Lucifer" spun off and which it will echo in series length, though Carey said that isn't because he is trying to ape Neil Gaiman's opus. "I'd always seen the series as having a definite story to tell with a definite end point. I'd always known where it was going to go. Just as in 'Sandman' the seeds were laid in the first story for the final one, that was the case in 'Lucifer', too. We start with the creation of the Gateway, which leads out of Yahweh's creation and into the void, then we move onto Lucifer's creation of his own cosmos and everything since then has been playing out the logical consequences of that - the impact of the devil having his own creation. The end point that I've got in mind doesn't rule out stories afterwards, it just ends the story I wanted to tell."

The layered subtext in "Lucifer" has been one of the main reasons for the critical acclaim the series has received, and Carey says that while he isn't going to be on his soapbox come issue #75, he does feel there's something extra that curious fans can garner from reading the series. "I think there's a worldview that comes out of it and I think it arises out of how I view the world. I don't think there's a message in the sense of some paraphrasable statement that comes out of all the stories and there isn't even a message in the sense of Lucifer speaking my opinions or anything as crude as that. It deals with things that are important to me in terms of the nature of belief and how belief impacts on your life, along with the importance of family and family structures. 'Lucifer' is about the big cosmic struggle but on a smaller level it's about family and how within family, there is a kind of dialectic of freedom and control. It's all summed up by the relationship between Lucifer and God- God is his father and Lucifer is like any son, he wants to be himself and wants to be the author of his own life. The trouble is when your father is God, everything is controlled by your father and the autonomy that Lucifer seeks is elusive. It's about that struggle, that never ending quest to be yourself."

With all that subtext so pervasive in the series, it's interesting to note that Carey is rarely- if ever- accused of using the series as a mouthbox for his particular feeling on a hot issue and the scribe says it comes down to a simple philosophy. "I think what you have to resist is the urge to make any one character your puppet, your voicebox. You create a stage in which arguments can take place- not just verbal- but a stage where characters can represent different points of view and you give them all a chance to have their say, with their words and actions having a definitive point of origin. So I don't think you have to share my opinions or prejudices to enjoy the book- it's an exploration, not a textbook or a sermon."

Lest one forget, "Lucifer" has been home to a diverse array of characters, from unlikely favorite Gaudium to the broken man Christopher Rudd, and Carey says we should expect to see a lot of familiar faces as the end draws near. "Just recently we've had characters from very early in the series reappearing, such as Rachel from the original 'Lucifer' mini-series who re-appeared as the midwife in a recent story. We'll be seeing Gaudium again in issue #66- a one off about him which breaks the long story arc, 'Morningstar,' into two shorter sequences. It's a kind of bizarre, darkly comic story breaking up the epic events of 'Morningstar.' I think it's fair to say that every character with a speaking part in the series will be seen again before it's all over."

After having worked for approximately six years on "Lucifer" in some form or another, Carey's had a lot of time to reflect on the storytelling choices he's made and feels confident he did more things right than wrong, adding that he feels the Christopher Rudd storyline & revolution in Hell turned out better than he expected it would. "I think all of the broad strokes have worked out exactly as I would have wanted them to. More and more as you go on with a monthly book, you realize that every story you tell is closing the door on another story you could have told and you're unwriting, choosing certain threads and ignoring others. There are lots of stories about Lucifer's Creation that we could have told but you really have to discipline yourself. I love writing the Centaurs and had fun with the one off- issue #24. I would have loved to tell more stories about them. Like I said, the broad strokes I'm satisfied with. There are small parts I might change, but I'm happy overall."

One of Carey's most satisfying experiences was getting all the elements in the series to "click" and provide the creative momentum that has propelled the book forward every month. "The big breakthrough came in issue #4. I think 'Six Card Spread' was me trying to write like Neil [Gaiman] and some people found it a bit empty because it wasn't my voice. Issue #4 got very positive reviews, and I think people were responding to something that was happening there. It was the issue when we knew we had something and we were going to make it work. Then with issue #5 Peter Gross came onboard. I loved his work on 'Books of Magic,' so with him putting his indelible stamp on the book, it helped shape it a lot. Then the Eisner nominations in the second year- for cover artist, for the series and for 'The House of Windowless Rooms'- were a real honor."

Those accolades and the buzz surrounding "Lucifer" have lessened in past years, with it seemingly being an accepted fact that the book is critically acclaimed but with few new fans jumping onboard. "I think it's become a kind of hermetically sealed fanbase," explained Carey. "It's almost impossible to jump on, and partly that's inevitable because you're telling such a large story over six years. I think, I could have maybe done more to provide jumping on points for readers. I haven't really done that consistently. But people who are reading are still enjoying it - the monthly has an incredibly loyal readership. The trades are where we've seen the expansion, as far as that goes: they're selling through really well, and the word of mouth is great. The difference between the monthly and trades of course is that the trades are always there, always available, so there are new readers but they're discovering the books in trade form as opposed to monthly form."

Cover To "Lucifer #68," Feat Elaine Belloc

From Elaine Belloc to Gaudium, many of the supporting characters in "Lucifer" are popular with fans, which leads one to wonder if we'll see any spin off series. "There is a potential for more stories. I obviously can't tell you which characters will come out unscathed [laughs], but some characters will still have their lives and untold stories. Whether I want to do it? Yeah, I'd love to go back and do some more with Gaudium- I think he's a character with potential. Beyond that, we talked about doing a Mazikeen mini at one point, an Elaine mini, I wouldn't rule anything out, but not at the moment."

With "Lucifer" existing at first as spin off from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," it stands to reason that one day characters from "Lucifer" might just get their own projects… albeit with a different writer. Considering the years put into the series by Carey and the personal connection he has with the characters, how would it feel for him to see someone else putting words in the mouths of these characters? "I'm not overly protective. Vertigo are great at bringing you in on things like that. When Jon Vankin was writing 'Lucifer' in 'The Witching,' I got to look at the scripts and the words coming out of Lucifer's mouth, told how he was going to be used and it was great to be part of that creative process. Vertigo has every right to let someone else just cut loose with a character they own, but they don't tend to do that. They're considerate of your feelings. I think it might feel weird if someone was writing Elaine, because she's partly based on my daughter Louise after all and I feel like maybe she is a character I'd be protective of."

When "Lucifer" does end next year, it'll be the first time in six years that readers won't have some kind of monthly dose of Carey's writing and that begs the question- what's next? "It is going to be absolutely weird, having lived with 'Lucifer' for six years, to not be writing it anymore. I guess this is a transitional time. I have got pitches in for monthly books at Vertigo and Marvel. I've got a lot of mini-series projects on here and there for a wide range of publishers, but I would like to do another monthly book and I have high hopes for this prospective Vertigo book. I can't say much about that now - not in any detail, anyway. It has fantasy elements in it, though it would be different from anything you might expect. It would be a huge departure for me, sort of mixing the aesthetic of 'My Faith In Frankie' with the darkness of 'Hellblazer.'"

Given the critical acclaim lauded upon 2004's "My Faith In Frankie," it would seem natural for the writer to want to do a sequel, but Carey says it isn't the case. "No, I've told my story and I wouldn't want to do a sequel to it, though I'm doing other things for a similar audience. I have another project in the works with Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel, called 'Re-gifters', which will come out next year. It doesn't have the supernatural, fantastical adventures of 'Frankie,' but it does have a similar type of wry, humorous tone to it and a very endearing main character. Sonny & Marc are doing the work of their lives on their book: it's even better than 'Frankie'- and I thought 'Frankie' was glorious."

Despite his previous exclusive contract with DC Comics, fans haven't seen Carey really get to work on any of the big superheroes, with his proposed "Firestorm" reboot scuttled and his "Superman" arc not on the schedule, but fans have seen Carey at Marvel Comics. His work on their "Ultimate" line of comics has met with good reviews and many have found it surprising to not see him on a DC superhero thus far. "That's a historical accident really. The problem I was in with DC was that I was exclusive to them, but all the work I was doing was in Vertigo and I was kind of a victim of my own success. I was seen as a good, solid Vertigo writer and it made it harder to pitch to the DCU. I had something going on with Firestorm but as you know, that didn't come to anything in the end. After that, I thought, well, I don't need to prove my credentials to myself, but I need to go somewhere else to prove my credentials to some other people. I grew up reading DC & Marvel books- I love the classic, core characters in each universe- so it is wonderful writing Daredevil, Elektra and the Fantastic Four, but it would be equally wonderful to write Superman or Batman, Flash and so on. It wasn't a case of me jumping ship because I prefer the Marvel Universe, though I think it's a wonderful place to play and I hope to do more there in the near future. I don't know, I've got a lot of respects for superhero stories. I know there are other British writers who regard superhero work with a certain amount of suspicion. But for me, the superhero genre is essentially something that comics have made their own: one of the few genres that always works better in comics than any other medium, and so I like superhero stories when they're done well. I love playing with these great iconic characters like the Fantastic Four- they're such a big part of my youth. They were always there, and that hyperbolic claim, 'The World's Greatest Comics Magazine'… when you were reading it at age ten, that didn't seem too exaggerated. In terms of DC, there is a Superman arc I've written and there is a Batman arc I've written, but I'm not sure if or when they'll see the light of day."

Cover To "Lucifer #67"

With all the crossovers and "fixing" of comic book continuity in 2005, and planned for 2006, many fans and writers have voiced concern about the potential for superhero comics to become too insular to appeal to a larger audience. While Carey doesn't believe that to be the case yet, he does have some concerns about the direction of superhero comics. "I've got to say that in some ways it recalls the bad old days of the huge company crossovers in the 80's, which, with a few exceptions, were extremely decrepit and discouraging events. I'm thinking of 'Legends' and there was an Eclipse crossover I'm thinking of… there was a time when you couldn't get away from the bloody things [laughs]. Very often the continuity was being dictated at a high, editorial level and in ways that stifled any real creativity. As a reader I thought they sucked- they were a slightly cynical way of getting you to buy into other titles you didn't normally buy. They broke up storylines in a way that would sometimes destroy what the creative teams were trying to set up just for the sake of increasing sales for a couple of months. I tend to come to these big events with a kind of "prove it" state of mind. Having said that, I am interested in the 'Infinite Crisis' and House of M, and things coming out of them."

One series that you can be sure won't end up in any crossovers is Carey's Marvel Comics series "Spellbinders," which he co-created with artist Mike Perkins. "We're both keen to add to the 'Spellbinders' continuity and we want to do it, but we have to wait to see how the digests do since the monthly sales weren't colossal or earth-shattering. If the digests sell well, we'd love to do more stories."

Expect to see Carey gaining new fans in another medium soon: as he reveals, "The big thing in my life, outside of comics, is the series of novels I'm writing for Orbit, the 'Felix Castor' series. Castor is an exorcist in a world where the dead have risen in variety of anti-social forms. He's not a priest or religious man in any sense, he's just a guy who has a skill, a natural talent for binding and expelling ghosts & demons. He's also a very cynical and hard character, somewhat in the style of a Raymond Chandler detective. There's a female lead in the books as well, who is a demon raised from hell. She's supposed to kill Castor but forms a different kind of relationship with him. I've written the first one - the final draft is with the publisher now - and there will be at least two more. The initial contract asks for three books but we're looking to extend it far beyond that."

And does Carey have a message for the fans who have supported "Lucifer" over the years? "Yeah, I do. Thanks, definitely, thanks! [laughs] I'm so grateful that we've been able to tell the story we wanted to tell and have been able to see it through to the end: there were other books that were launched around the same time - other good books, like Delano's 'Outlaw Nation' and Brubaker's 'Deadenders' - that didn't get that chance. It wouldn't have been possible without the readers who were prepared to try the book out once, and who then stuck with it through those bumpy first few months. And everything I've done since has come out of 'Lucifer:' it's been a great springboard for me. So there's a sense in which - even after issue 75 - this is never going to feel like it's over. Not for me."

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