David Fairbanks: When DC/Vertigo/Fox announced that there would be a Lucifer television series based on the Mike Carey / Peter Gross comic series, I was cautiously optimistic. Then it was announced that the Devil would be helping the LAPD solve crimes. Somewhere in the mix, a new Lucifer series was announced. I’ve been digesting the last issue for about a month now, and I have to say that I really like the lettering. That’s perhaps not much of a surprise to anyone who has read Vertigo comics in the last twenty years, though, as Todd Klein was responsible for filling the word balloons and captions with Holly Black’s writing. Klein lettered the entirety of The Invisibles, Sandman, Promethea, The Dreaming, and almost every DC/Vertigo book that even comes close to dipping a toe into the supernatural. While the job of a letterer can so often be to simply fade into the background and deliver the text of the writer, Klein’s lettering stood out to me as one of the few interesting things about the Lucifer resurrection.
Everyday characters, humans and mortals, are written with what I would call a standard comics font. It’s nothing extraordinary and is about what you would expect for unobtrusive lettering. When it comes to the few demonic characters we are introduced to in the first issue, their word balloons might bear different colors and angular shapes, but the font looks to be the same as used in the captions and the speech of mortals. It’s where the divine are concerned that things get interesting. A much more fanciful script is used for the divine characters, one that looks like it’s been penned with a calligrapher’s touch rather than the simple, workmanlike letters used elsewhere. There are two things that interest me about the switch in fonts between the divine and the lesser: Lucifer’s dialogue is all written in the heavenly script and Gabriel’s is not. Whether they intended this or not, I think the creative team behind Lucifer struck a kind of gold here in the implication that The Adversary, The Lightbringer, The Devil is closer to divinity than a recently fallen Gabriel.
Mark Stack: I did not like the lettering. Like you said, the normal human talk is unobtrusive; exactly what you expect from the invisible art of conveying words that clutter up images. But that angelic text is just the worst, laziest, and ugly looking shit I’ve seen all week. It’s immediately reminiscent of that Asgardian font that’s been haunting up Thor comics for as long as I can remember but the letters themselves are asymmetrically stylized, adding an ugly edge to the somewhat refined font. That might actually be a smart design choice, though, even as it’s one that I find to be the design equivalent of rubbing sandpaper on my eyes because it’s taking something that’s supposed to be beautiful but revealing it to be hideous in subtle ways much like the dick-bag angel characters themselves. But one (with that “one” being me) has to question how smart a choice is when it reaches a desired effect to such a degree that it begs one to stop reading the book entirely.
I spent a lot of time looking at the lettering and observing it before eventually diving in to read the words it strung together. This book is boring on a written and artistic level. It’s just… empty. The book skips over a potentially interesting story about Lucifer returning to Earth and getting his new operation up and running in favor of a bland “find out who killed Dad” mystery that skips over just about every potentially dramatic beat possible. And the book really does skip around, with panels feeling so disconnected from each other on the page that the strongest example of visual storytelling doesn’t come until two panels near the end where a match is struck. Lee Garbett isn’t a bad storyteller but his work here is as static as it’s ever been. Hence why the lettering suddenly becomes such an appealing topic of conversation.
Fairbanks: I find it really interesting that the lettering for the divine characters throws you off as much as it does, particularly because I tend to agree when it comes to Thor yet enjoy it quite a bit here. I can’t remember if you’ve read Sandman before or not, Mark, but have the often unconventional fonts bothered you there? I’m particularly thinking of Dream because of how prevalent he is, but Delirium’s is perhaps the furthest from normal.
And I agree with your criticisms of Lucifer as a whole: the colors are mostly muted, the art is rather uninventive (Gabriel looks like he was practically traced off of the Winchester boy from Supernatural, the least favorite boyfriend of Rory Gilmore), and the writing falls apart for me. There are multiple captions where it feels like Black is trying so very hard to be clever, slowly and carefully winking at the audience in a way that made me just put the book down the worst time it happened.
The second issue on Black’s writing might not be her fault, but the Lucifer she is writing is not the Lucifer Mike Carey wrote — and that would be fine if this book didn’t feel the need to shove itself in direct continuity with the events of Carey’s, going so far as to recreate a scene from the last issue of Carey and Gross’s mammoth series.
The lettering was the thing that helped me at least find some kind of depth to this first issue. Part of me is wondering if this is simply a thing I got used to after reading Lucifer and then Sandman or if we have different tastes on the matter.
Stack: My Sandman experience is minimal at best. I only just read the first trade late last year and I didn’t like it very much at all. That said, the lettering choices in it worked for me quite a bit because it seemed in step with the choices being made by the other members of the art team. The fourth issue of that series has a memorable foray into Hell and Lucifer (who I guess is technically the same character as the one in Lucifer #1?) speaks with a font that looks sharp and dangerous. It suits his portrayal as an angular figure with sharp wings whereas his lantern-jawed, generic good looks in this comic barely register on the same level as his speech. And, again, that might be intentional to create a form of speech that runs counter to his appearance but the dichotomy doesn’t deliver anything particularly interesting
That’s actually a huge problem with this book: presenting something boring while alluding to something interesting. I haven’t read the original run of Lucifer but reading this comic last night had me wondering if I had missed out on a comic where Lucifer left the universe to go create his own. Now, a comic about the fucking Devil teaming up with an angel to solve God’s murder also sounds interesting but ends up being bland in execution here so maybe the original Lucifer could have gone the same. But the fact that I began to wander during my reading and start thinking about other comics I’d like to read instead is not a good sign. A small piece of advice to writers out there: don’t reference something that sounds better than the work you are creating, because it will just have the effect of reminding the audience that there is something better out there.
David, did you want to read Lucifer #2 after this or did you really want to crack open those old Lucifer trades that I’m sure you keep on a nightstand? What is the purpose of this comic? To sell new Lucifer comics or to sell old Lucifer comics? I mean, it’s definitely both because if you wanted just the former then you might as well not call it Lucifer and if it’s just the latter then you’d just reprint a $1 Vertigo Essentials: Lucifer #1.
Fairbanks: That’s an interesting point. I actually notice a pretty significant evolution from Lucifer in Sandman to in his titular series, but they were still clearly the same character, and maybe that’s what’s making nu-Lucifer so off for me. Again, I dig the lettering for Lucifer in the new series. I think it’s important that his speech resonate in the same way that the angels do (albeit without the blue hue that their speech bubbles have), but I can totally support why you liked that lettering in Sandman as well; Lucifer was much spindlier, much more wiry in Sandman, after all.
If you’re not a fan of the more lantern-jawed Lucifer, you might take some issue with the art teams that worked on Carey’s run on Lucifer, though your curiosity about Lucifer creating his own universe adjacent to our own… that was one of the longest running stories in the previous series. You should probably read at least the first volume or two. I think it’s really interesting that you found those allusions to be roadblocks, that they took you out of the story by telling of the pretty awesome adventures Lucifer had before he was somehow dragged back into our reality. I get the feeling that this comic could have been one that fucks — as Chase Magnett would say — if it weren’t so intent on poorly tethering itself to the previous series. At the same time, it wants to do things with elements from that series and doesn’t seem to trust the readers enough to simply offer a very brief prologue “Things happened since Paradise Lost. Lucifer gave up the key to hell. He opened a nightclub. He created a new universe and handed it over to a young woman to rule. He fled creation when God offered to share the throne with him. And now he returns. For more, read Lucifer Vol 1-5 from Vertigo.”
As to whether I wanted to read Lucifer #2 after this, I did not, no. I subscribed to the series at my shop because of how excited I was for it and have decided to ride out the first arc more out of loyalty to them than out of any real interest in the series. For those curious, the second issue is better about some of the issues we’ve discussed, but it’s still not particularly good. As to the purpose of the comic, Mark, I think it’s clear: to cash in on Lucifer show on Fox, because comics companies still think that single issue sales are impacted by film/TV adaptations. From what I can tell, Marvel had a good time selling Alias reprints in the wake of Jessica Jones hitting Netflix, but I’ve never known DC to actually look at the things Marvel does and learn from them (at least not in a timely manner).
We’ve started to deviate quite a bit from lettering here; maybe we should wrap things up. I liked the letters (and not much else) about the new Lucifer while you… you didn’t really like anything about it except what may have happened in the old Lucifer, I take it? I’m sorry I made you read this, Mark.
Stack: Apology not accepted, friend. But by mentioning the television show soon to be airing on Fox, I do have a small measure of sympathy for the creative team having been put in the position of needing to both continue the previous series while also having to create a comic that at least somewhat resembles the procedural show that functions as a loose adaptation. It can be hard enough just having to do one of those things.
Since you’re sorry, though, David, I think there’s a way we can rectify this. See, I have a penchant for procedural television shows featuring a pair of mismatched detectives with unresolved sexual tension. Lucifer promises to be that kind of show. Won’t you review that pilot with me?
Fairbanks: Considering that I am uploading this as the X-files finishes and my DVR records the clusterfuck that is likely to be Fox’s Lucifer. Life is busy, but I’ll probably make time for it. For you, Mark.
David Fairbanks has bios all over this site and isn’t feeling like copying and pasting them right now.
Mark O. Stack just turned twenty-one and makes David feel old.