Early on in our conversation, Holly Black tells me, “there’s a lot to love about Lucifer.”
She drops it in casually as if it won’t destroy her future shot at running for public office, fueled by the delirium of a UK writer’s retreat and a clear passion for fantasy that has propelled her career from Tithe through the success of The Spiderwick Chronicles to the pile of work she has on her desk today. Standing in the smoldering ash of that pile is Lucifer.
When it comes to Vertigo’s hellacious hero, she speaks with the buzzy enthusiasm and calm confidence of someone who has invested time deciphering the character even before she got a chance to tell his story.
“I love him in his Gaiman incarnation, I love him in his Mike Carey incarnation, I love him in his Miltonian incarnation,” Black says. “What’s always compelling is that he’s charming in a way that makes you want to identify with him and want him to be better than he is. You start making excuses for him, and then you’re brought up short again and again because he is what he is. He’s a trickster figure, and he’s a force of chaos. It’s a character that’s fun to write, a character that’s fun to read. It’s a character that’s constantly bringing plot, you know?”
Black’s recent plot saw Lucifer and Gabriel attempting to solve God’s murder, and now, as of Lucifer #9, the old bastard has returned to Hell to play his part in the fight over its throne while juggling old enemies and a fresher sting of fatherhood. It’s that family aspect of the story that’s piqued the writer’s interest this time around — an exploration of the unending turmoil we all find ourselves in with parents and siblings and children. That’s especially potent with Lucifer, who’s identity is largely wrapped in rebellion against the most powerful father figure in existence. Black wants to turn that on its head.
“Mike Carey, when he closed down his run, so many things were sewn up, but one thing that’s still open is the idea that Lucifer potentially has a child. The idea of that is a really weird one, because he’s the child. He’s the perennial bad kid. His whole thing is that he’s the son, and he has this father that he’s against. Plus, who are you going to rebel against when your father is gone? What happens when you’re the power?”
As Black points out, Lucifer is a particularly tricky character because what drives him is wholly different from anyone else. He’s ruled Hell, turned down the chance to rule Heaven, and he’s made his way through the human world. He’s been everywhere, man, so where do you take him from here?
“He wants to stay, but how can he admit to himself that he wants to stay?” Black asks. “What does that character have left to want? The answer has to be individual things. Things that are not just symbols of power. To make this world different, or make up with a brother. He’s working through what he really wants. He’s thinking, ‘I’ve had hell, I could have had heaven, but I’ve also had “leaving,” and that wasn’t what I wanted either.'”
That’s where the sulfur-burning rubber hits the road for Black as a writer. In Lucifer, she faces the challenge of crafting stories and characters that are intuitively logical — instantly obvious in their sensibilities — yet marked by outsized movements. They’re all playing in a cosmos-sized sandbox, imbued with powers that scramble our minds, but their human nature (and the ties to family) have to ground the mythos.
That’s the challenge, and it’s clear that Black and artist Lee Garbett have nailed it. Their deeply dramatic run continues with a grotesquely tangled weave of profound power grabs and daddy issues all flavored with an eyebrow-raising knack for creating clever mythological elements that dot the background or explode in the splash pages. It all, naturally, falls in line with what Black appreciates about fantasy to begin with.
“The thing that I love the most is always a challenge to get right. I was once on a panel where someone asked what the difference was between dark fantasy and horror, and the person who answered — and I’m so sorry I can’t attribute this — said that horror is this rejection of the supernatural. Terrible things happen, and it’s an aberration. There’s an essential wrongness to it. Dark fantasy has a feeling of awe. That even when some creature rises from the deep and is about to kill you, you sort of think that the world is better with them in it. Bigger and more magical. To me, that sense of awe is really the thing that I love about fantasy and makes me come back to it again and again.”
Lucifer Vol. 1: Cold Heaven and Lucifer #9 are on comic shelves now.
We spoke to the cast of TV’s Lucifer at Camp Conival!
Featured Image: Vertigo